There are hordes of artists who try to make a name by wheat-pasting their work to billboards and the sides of buildings, freeway signage and the sides of boxcars, but none of them are more prolific, perhaps, than California’s native son, Skullphone. He’s conspicuously absent from Wikipedia, and information on the artist is surprisingly sparse. Reveling in the anonymity that taggers seek and traditional artists hope to eschew like the modern Black Death, Skullphone keeps almost every detail about himself a secret. Cobbling together the small handful of interviews the artist has done, one can surmise that he was born in suburban California and might have attended a college in the state. But the clandestine nature of the artist’s persona perfectly punctuates the abstract nature of his work.
Skullphone’s work can be seen posted from Southern California to Brooklyn, a smiling, two-tone skull gabbing on a cell phone. These are stylized self-portraits of the artist (one supposes), often slipped subtly into existing signage or reworking signage space, begging the question of where legitimate art space exists. What does it all mean? Guess it’s supposed to be as mysterious as the artist’s identity. But lumping the anonymous iconographer in with all the other street artists that have been shown in Riverside this year would an oversimplification of such simple work.
“Skullphone isn’t the first person to do street art,” says Lee Tussman, adult education curator at the Riverside Art Museum, which is hosting the exhibit. “His work embodies iconography. It never says exactly what it means, and it doesn’t have any text. It’s a challenge to incorporate street art into a gallery setting, but I think we’ve done an interesting job doing that.”
The display is a retrospective of Skullphone’s career and, like the artist, details on the exhibit are hazy at best. As with all great art, it’s best left to your own inferences. (Phil Fuller)
Skullphone History Museum at RAM, The Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside (951) 684-7111; www.riversideartmuseum.org. Thru July 26