Tag Archives: Scott Blake

Scott Blake

October 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Scott Blake looks giddy as he weaves between traffic on 72nd and Pacific streets. He holds a tattered and discolored “now hiring” sign covered by a piece of cardboard—which he calls his “security blanket”—and his dark, disheveled beard frames a mischievous grin. In place of the ragged employment sign stands a provocative work of street art reminiscent of old-fashioned directional street signs. But instead of pointing viewers to local streets or nearby towns, his sign details distances to Benghazi (5,951 miles), Gaza (6,512 miles), and Guantanamo (1,920 miles) in crisp black letters. A three-dimensional star-spangled bomb tops his message like a star on a Christmas tree.

Blake is no stranger to unique and controversial art. Born in Florida in 1976, he first received widespread recognition for his Y2K-inspired barcode art, a project that has become increasingly interactive thanks to the emergence of smartphones and barcode-reading apps. His barcode portraits range from Jesus to Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee, and others.

His 9/11 Flipbook project also garnered national attention, which allowed him to donate proceeds to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, the Red Cross, and other charities. His work has been featured in publications like Adbusters, FHM, and The New York Times, and has been exhibited as far away as London, Paris, and Vienna. His accolades include several Adobe Design Achievement Awards, and a 2009 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for Best New Media Artist. But his controversial and covert signpost project is less likely to earn him any official recognition.

The current iteration of the street sign project has been ongoing for about a year. Blake cites two primary sources of inspiration. First, a San Franciscan friend who painted directions to Guantanamo Bay on driftwood. “I get a lot of my ideas from talking with people,” he explains, “but I also go the extra mile—I take it and do this, that, and the other, and make it specifically about Omaha.” Blake initially utilized wood for his own signposts but soon realized that the ubiquitous “we buy houses for cash” signs lining streets and cluttering medians were “like Omaha driftwood” begging to be repurposed.

His second—and more personal—source of inspiration is the iconic signpost from M*A*S*H, the show from the 1970s that features a fictional team of doctors stationed in South Korea during the Korean War. The sign in M*A*S*H points to locations like Boston, San Francisco, and Coney Island, places that represent home for the characters, but Blake’s signposts flip this idea on its head. “I’m already home,” Blake says, “so I want to know where the wars are at—I want to remind people where the boogeyman is.” He also notes that many of the locations have American bases and personnel: “In a way, I actually am pointing to a little piece of America.”

Blake’s process has become part of his daily routine. He takes his signposts with him when he runs errands, and he makes mental notes when he sees “Omaha driftwood” ripe for pilfering. He prefers outdated or illegally placed signs and avoids those that are political, charitable, or artistic in nature. The collected signs are taken to his home studio where they are painted white, cut into arrows, and labeled before being placed into the back of his car to await installment on one of Omaha’s major thoroughfares.

Blake argues that this kind of thought-provoking public art is particularly important when both major presidential candidates treat military intervention as a matter of course. “I consider (our ongoing) wars to be illegal and unjustified and I’m obviously anti-war,” he explains. “There’s no way I’m going to stop the wars; but at the same time, I’m not going to roll over. You can’t be against something—you can’t subvert something—without talking about it.”

Responses to the signposts have been mixed. “Is it weird to think that the bombs are cute?” asks Sarah Johnson, owner of Omaha Bicycle Co. Many locals have expressed confusion over the signposts’ ambiguous nature. An employee of SignIT (a local company that provides the materials for the star-spangled bombs) asked, “Is this a Fourth of July sign?” The conversation about Blake’s public art has even extended to the digital world. Reddit user ZOUG posted that the works are “Not much of a statement if no one understands what they are saying.”

But Blake isn’t too worried about these reactions: “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you for the war or are you against it?’ My number one thing is to get people thinking. I’m just reminding people that, whether they’re for or against the wars, these things are happening.” Blake has considered crafting signposts with directions to Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino, and other American cities affected by domestic terrorism and civil unrest, but for now he’s content with his current project.

“I’ll stop when the wars stop.”

Visit barcodeart.com for more information.

Encounter

scottblake1

On the Chopping Block

May 16, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Scott and Sara Blake first bought their house, they had visions of idyllic, sun-lit morning meals in their oh-so quaint breakfast nook.

“We imagined we’d be there every day enjoying the heck out of that space,” Scott says.

Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. Kitchen pots accumulated on the small table in the nook. In time, the table began to collect any bit of chaos the house had to offer. The final indignity: The recycling began to collect willy-nilly on the table.

“It was starting to get disgusting,” Scott says. “We ate there once. It was a complete waste of space.”

So Scott, an artist whose work has been in exhibits around the globe, and Sara, a hardcore culinary “hobbyist” who is working toward her teaching degree at UNO, got to work transforming the space. When she’s not studying, Sara loves to cook. But, the traditional galley-style kitchen in their Country Club-area Tudor was cramped with limited counter space. It was clear what was needed: A space to prepare food.

Scott got to work. What was the ideal? First, a deeper countertop; a space that could hold kitchenwares while still offering space for food preparation. The prep table would be 36-inches deep. Shelf space would be great, so, on his computer, Scott designed two deep lower shelves that—because of the spaced pine slats—look something like storage pallets.

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Scott had some carpentry and construction on his resume thanks to a youth spent building skateboard ramps. “I started building those with my brother at age 10,” he says. He made numerous trips back and forth to home-improvement stores for the right cuts and types of woods. He needed only basic power tools; primarily depending on a miter saw, jigsaw, and hand drill.
What Scott had little experience in was finish work. In his impromptu workshop in the garage, Scott spent a total of 60 hours getting the needed three coats of polyurethane on correctly.

“Drips—they can drive you crazy,” he says. “Watch for the drips.”

Finally, the stainless steel top. Scott sought a custom-built top from Hempel Sheet Metal Works in Omaha. The people at Hempel had a table top back to him in less than a week. “They were super cool about everything,” he says. “They were really into the idea.” The stainless-steel top has an added feature—a lightly distressed surface that hides dings or cut marks.

Now the Blakes have 86 percent more counter space (Scott meticulously measures such things). Now they have a deep, spacious surface for cutting meats and vegetables, laying out pastas, or preparing baking goods.

The stainless steel surface is particularly well suited for preparing cookie and other types of dough, Sara says.

“You want a cool surface like marble or stainless steel,” she says.

The final tally was about $1,300 with the biggest chunk being the $800 steel top. That was less than half the price of most custom-built tables on the market, Scott says.

The price was well worth it, the couple says. Basically, the new table has transformed a cramped, fairly dysfunctional space into the keystone of a fully functioning kitchen.

“It feels pretty good when you can take a dead space and turn it into something that transforms a room,” Sara says. “We never used this nook before. Now I use this table every day.”