While running errands last Saturday in West Chester, street artist Cassius King glanced at the large vinyl sticker of soul crooner Al Green that had been in the front seat of his car for weeks.
King created the sticker earlier in the summer, waiting for just the right moment to apply it to the Bradford Plaza Walgreen’s Pharmacy sidewalk sign. It would read, “Algreen’s.”
King decided that it was the right moment. It was around 6 p.m. when he drove up to the sign near the corner of Downingtown Pike and Route 162 and parked his car. He hopped out, ran up to the sign, and installed the sticker on top of the W. The 27-inch-by-21-inch sticker is a photo of a shirtless, afroed Green from the cover of his 1975 album, Al Green’s Greatest Hits.
King was prepared with tools to cut a piece of white foam board to cover the areas of the W that the sticker couldn’t reach. He also supplied an apostrophe. After a few minutes, the sign read, “Algreen’s Drive Thru Pharmacy.”
During the installation, “there’s this rush of adrenaline going through you,” King said in an interview Thursday. “Once the piece is up, it’s really about getting the right pictures and snapping as many pictures as you can. … I have to accept that the moment you walk away, it could come down at any time.”
The sign remained for four days but was removed on Wednesday. A Walgreens manager said they weren’t at liberty to discuss the details of the sticker’s removal. Calls to Walgreens media relations department were not returned Thursday.
Also on Wednesday, the real Al Green tweeted, “Who did this?” along with a photo of the manipulated sign and a laughing emoji. About three hours later, Walgreens official Twitter account retweeted Green with the caption, “We were just tired of being alone.”
“Al Green’s people reached out to me on Wednesday,” said King. “They asked me for my address to send me some of his records.”
King said he’s been an admirer of Green for years and that “all I cared about was [Green] seeing that it was out there in the world.” To King, Green’s retweet was a form of approval and the entire experience has been “unreal.”
King has produced this type of street art, which he’s dubbed “street-fiti,” since 2017, and he has 10 years of experience in graphic design. The stickers are fairly easy to produce and take about a day to create. But the installation happens in seconds.
King, who declined to publicly disclose his real name and age, has lived in West Chester for 20 years. He’s a professor at a local university. He has installed dozens of street art stickers around West Chester, including another Al Green sticker at the same Walgreens in 2018. King said that installation was removed in less than 24 hours.
“That was pre-COVID and things are just different now,” King said about the earlier installation. This time, the sticker, “just wasn’t at the top of their priority list or they didn’t notice it until it went viral.”
He’s installed stickers on stop signs, changing the sign to quote lyrics from Michael Jackson, “Don’t STOP ’til you get enough,” and the Supremes, “STOP in the name of love.” Another installment recreates a famous scene from the 1999 film The Matrix. And another positions rapper Vanilla Ice in the lettering of an ice freezer. King also works with projection art, casting images onto sides of buildings.
King said most people react positively to his work, but there are a few who disapprove. Last year, two West Goshen detectives visited King at his home to warn him about installing sticker art on walls and street signs. King said the detectives also mentioned that they were fans of his work.
The mayor of West Chester, Dianne Herrin, “is also a fan,” of the sticker art, King said. “I’m partnering with her to put on a rooftop drive-in,” with projection art, which will help raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts. The West Chester police department and mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the sticker art.
Mural Arts executive director Jane Golden loved “Algreen’s” but acknowledged that sticker art “can be problematic.” The key, she said, is permission. Golden says that the scale and the magnitude of the work should always be considered when critiques of public art are made.
“Is it damaging property? Is it hurting anyone? Is something being taken away that’s important?” Golden asked. “I think when the line gets crossed and what makes it vandalism, is when it’s done without permission or without inherent respect for who’s there. I think we all need to be cognizant that we should do the work in a respectful manner.”