Recycle, reclaim, reuse – that’s the motto of Storefronts Seattle artist John Fleming. For his installation in Chinatown-International District, John used old traffic signs as his raw material. “There’s enough new stuff out there,” he said. “I love saving a tree or two by working with old stuff and creating new meaning for it.”
For his Storefronts installation, John wanted to change the rigid messages of the traffic signs – which usually state unfriendly words like “caution,” or “yield” – with new images. Looking closely, the viewer realizes that John has transformed these everyday signs into human faces.
“I chose old traffic signs because they glow in the headlights,” he said, and this is a perfect match with the mission of Storefronts Seattle, as the artwork indeed activates this once vacant space.
The faces in John’s installation are self-portraits of the artist at 3, 29 and 52 years of age. “Although these portraits are clearly different from each other, there’s not much change between my three-year-old self and me today,” he said. “Some days I feel young; I feel like I still have a long way to go, a lot to contribute.”
In fact, John’s work will continue to enliven new spaces for many years to come. The City of Seattle recently selected a few of John’s self-portraits to be installed on the fence surrounding the future Civic Square, a 40-story mixed-use development to be completed next year. John has also been selected as a finalist for a public art project in Rhode Island where a thousand little cubes made of old traffic signs may be hung as sculptural illumination.
John applied to Storefronts Seattle because of the tremendous exposure the project provides. “I lament when I see my work packed up and nobody sees it,” he said. “Storefronts Seattle is a gift to the city.”
You can check out John’s reflecting self-portraits at 409 Maynard Ave S in Chinatown-International District, in the space above Hing Hay Park.