So nice to see a familiar face: the original and a-bit-famous skullphone—so named because it is a big black-and-white poster of a skull talking on a cell phone, penned and wheat-pasted by the artist sometimes known as Spazmat—is by now about five years old, and in street time, that's halfway to classic and ready for the leap from art crime to art concept. Which won't cause a career sprain for Spazmat, who's always leaned to the legit side of street-arters like Shepard Fairey even after a mention in the New York TimesMagazine; his "All These Things May Burn" finds newer hosts for his pet visual virus.
Grandpa skullphone is still hanging around—the battle-damaged incarnation of an original image that haunted walls all the way back to about 2000, weathered to indicate age with deliberate scuff and noise, the messy equivalent of laugh lines around a smile. But beside him now is son of skullphone: the next-gen graphic, smaller, subtler, with sharp fine edges, enjoying an untroubled adolescence on metal plates or gallery walls and exploring a new and sneakier ubiquity that amplifies graffiti's drive to get everywhere practically into your own bathroom.
Precisely what the skullphone is trying to say (too enduring for "cell phones suck," too funny for "we're all gonna die") is still buried under cheerful cave-drawing crudity—as an icon, he enjoys a strange and ambiguous detachment: easy to recognize, slippery to analyze. Li'l skullphone, however, is nestling even deeper into his native environment: instead of just appearing on dumpsters, he now appears on advertisements for dumpsters—infiltration of the dominant visual language of the streets. "Burn" has him in a series of screened-to-metal cameos in ads for dumpsters and iron gates, as well as blown up into a gas station's weights-and-measures seal; not included in this show (but worth watching for) are the tiny skullphonized LAVE SUS MANOS stickers on restroom hand dryers.
The show's big pieces have a by-the-acre charm, particularly the salvaged Mobil Pegasus sign sandblasted out and replaced with a skeletal Pegasus—it even lights up at night, a creepy pale-horse/fossil-fuels riff that tints a warm orange street with a bitter fluorescent glow—but it's the glimpses of surreptitious skullphone ubiquity that are most . . . haunting? Jumbotron hijacks are one thing—impressive!—but the army-ant relentlessness of sneaky small skullphones is another—a more concentrated interruption of regular programming. Spazmat's busy little skull has a resonance at least as deep as Angelyne—they've probably shared billboards—but now he's hanging out at eye level too: on your gas pump, in your men's room, and where else? Everywhere I look, I see tiny skulls; not sure what they're saying, but they're definitely all trying to tell each other something.
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"SKULLPHONE: ALL THESE THINGS MAY BURN" AT OPEN, 144 LINDEN AVE., LONG BEACH, (562) 499-OPEN; WWW.ACCESSOPEN.COM. TUES.-SAT., 11 A.M.-8 P.M.; SUN., NOON-6 P.M. FREE. THROUGH FEB. 19. VISIT SKULLPHONE AT WWW.SKULLPHONE.COM.