Why you should care
Because nothing really great is coming out of a gallery first.
Abe Lincoln Jr.’s first performance piece, if you had been lucky enough to be stage side at Palo Alto’s now-defunct New Varsity theater back in the 1980s, was as unexpected as it was welcome in the midst of a super-serious hardcore show. Entering from the wings across from his partner in crime and meeting in the middle, they proceeded to greet each other and shake hands. Twenty minutes later they were still shaking hands, each iteration of the handshake — behind the back, in the air like Indonesian shadow puppets, under their legs — was accompanied by a running commentary that was equal parts doggerel, street slang and inside jokes.
And it was funny as shit and not even what Lincoln did really well, which was make art.
But the ’80s ended and Lincoln, bored with California and chasing a girlfriend, headed to New York, dug in good and tight to a Times Square apartment back when Times Square apartments were nothing you’d tell your parents about. West Coast–East Coast constants? Street art, graffiti, skateboards, bikes and music — both playing it and listening to it — that pissed people off.
“I grew up going to hardcore shows in the Black Flag days,” says Lincoln, now a father of two. “But as I got older, all my musician friends traded in their thrash for acoustic guitars and feelings. Not my cup of tea.” So he started a good old-fashioned ’80s hardcore band called Gettysburg Express, to reawaken the troops, and dubbed himself Abe Lincoln Jr., complete with an orange convict suit with a gun on the back, a fake beard and a top hat.
The plan was to sing songs about the Civil War from Honest Abe’s perspective. Details magazine got wind of it, and before Lincoln had written even one song, he was doing interviews in which he mangled U.S. history by having Abe cutting down cherry trees and eventually a showstopper: a 15-minute show, the end of which John Wilkes Booth shoots him.
Cut, print and step dead center back into his first love: art vandalism, as well as graffiti, comics, T-shirts and toys. Most significant of all is the Sticker Social Club, where, as a result of open sticker drawing parties that gather a bleary bevy of street artists and fellow collectivists such as Cosbe1, Fling_1 and Mister_guh, the byproducts are stickers you can buy. They are irreverent and sometimes amusing, and, like some of our favorite art, infused with a multicolored spirit of idiosyncrasy. It seems what a gallery would want, so why not go the gallery route?
“I’ve been challenging myself to not bow to pressure, internal or external,” says Lincoln, “to do anything specific with this art career-wise.” So he just does what he wants, up to and including gallery shows when he wants to, exhibitions and, always, the streets. The latest and greatest? A sticker and T-shirt line just in time for any holiday that involves Jesus (it features a Kawaii Jesus and the words “Jesus Loved These Hoes”). And by way of tentpoles? Girlsbike.com for his handprinted works of art and Fugue State Records, a fictitious and nonfunctioning heavy metal record label that has Lincoln creating merch for bands that don’t exist — merch and demo tapes made out of blocks of wood and shoestrings.
“After a certain point, we’re just coming for the joy of seeing someone relentlessly pursuing any muse, but most importantly their specific muse,” says animator and art teacher Pilar Newton-Katz.
Which Mr. Lincoln most assuredly does.