Posted December 7, 2011 by whopperjaw in Art

Meet The Sign Guy

Whopperjaw owns an original painting from The Sign Guy (who prefers we use his art name here). We picked this deranged bunny from the outsider artist for less than 50 bucks at a festival in the eclectic near west Cleveland neighborhood of Tremont. The Sign Guy paints superhero salt shakers, fire-breathing “Catzillas” and other bright cartoony creatures that often have a slightly mischievous (sometimes even malevolent) edge.  And he does it all on repurposed materials and found objects.

The Sign Guy was and is first and foremost a graffiti artist, but the well-deserved interest in his distinctive creations are giving him a more legitimate outlet for at least some of his inspirations. We had an opportunity to talk to The Sign Guy in his living room, which doubles as a studio and is crammed with works in progress, collected artwork, finished pieces, more than half a dozen hanging bikes and two very adorable cats.

Did you grow up in Cleveland?
I grew up in Perry, Ohio, which is about 40 miles east. There’s a power plant there and everyone says that pretty much explains everything.

Were you interested in art when you were young?
Not really. I was kind of a bad kid. I kind of gave my parents a lot of grief over the years. But I did make bike sculptures. I took the back ends of bikes and I spread them apart so that the bike would have three rims and I would hang them in my parents’ woods. They’re still out there hanging, which is really a little weird.

How long have you been doing graffiti?
I’ve been doing graffiti since 1985, which is a long fucking time. It’s not something I am going to stop doing. It’s illegal and the consequences are really bad. Actually, the fines around here are really bad.

So what’s the appeal?
You want to put your work out there and get recognition. When I started doing The Sign Guy stuff putting art on found objects and putting those pieces around the neighborhood, people were talking about it. That’s why I continued them and did more.

What originally motivated you?
A movie that came out on PBS about guys who live in New York City and paint subway trains and listen to hip-hop. When I saw that, it just lit a fire under me. Growing up in the country, we didn’t have subway trains, but we had freight trains.

Were you the only graffiti artist in Perry?
No. There was a group of us. We were all friends and we’d write the crew name everywhere, then I took that as my own name in 1988. I really didn’t take it seriously until 1993 or 1994 and I got my first graffiti magazine and then it spiraled out of control. I’m glad I did that or I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.

How did you develop the characters?
I started doing them in 2005. A lot of my graffiti friends were do tattooing and graphic design, but I just never switched over to those things. A friend wanted me to start channeling my artwork into something more positive . . . He gave me a bunch of acrylic paint and brushes and told me to experiment.

The guy who got me into it, I have to thank him even though I’m not friends with him anymore. At the time, I was doing butterflies and birds and flowers because I worked at a nursery so I knew my plants. I would draw dogwood plants and flowers and hang them up. They just morphed into all cartoony birds and animals and stuff.

There are different eras for different characters. I’ve been doing the bird for a long time, but it has changed a little bit. There are some old birds hanging up around the neighborhood and the only way you can really tell the difference is the wing. The wing now is pointy, but I can make these birds do anything. The only thing they can’t do is ride bike. For me, that’s impossible, these birds don’t have knees.

Do people now bring you found objects?
I get a lot of wood for free. Over the summer, someone stole a bunch of wood from my yard. I posted something on Facebook, and a guy went out and bought me wood and dropped it off. He didn’t have to do that.

Is this a full-time job?
No, but it does help pay for things.

Are you just selling your pieces to Clevelanders?
Because of Facebook, I’ve been shipping stuff out. Not big stuff because the shipping would be ridiculous. But I’ve been shipping some of the smaller stuff.

So, do you aspire for more recognition?
Yes. All you need to do is find the right niche and I think it could spiral out of control.

And would you like to get to the point where you can do this all the time?
That would be great. Kids’ rooms. Businesses. Insides. Outsides.  I can adapt to it. I don’t know how I came up with characters . . . They just pop into my head. Now, I want to do things on a bigger scale. I want to go bigger with them and create other


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