Fanzine captures art, history and culture of SLO's Bubblegum Alley
Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo is one of the most talked about (and grossest!) landmarks in SLO. Printmaker Alex Lukas features the location in his Written Names Fanzine.
Lukas seeks out unusual places where people write their names. He calls it unsanctioned public name writing – some examples include letters nailed into wooden railroad ties, rock formations, and names made of chewing gum.
“For the Written Names Fanzine series, I started in 2016 and I was interested in these spaces where weird graffiti traditions happen,” he said.
Lukas takes photos and publishes the images in Fanzines. A Fanzine, he said, is like an old-fashioned brochure or pamphlet that appeals to a certain fan base – in this case, fans of graffiti art.
“It has the sort of tactility and look of screen printing, of old off-set lithography,” he explained.
He said Fanzines are meant to be inexpensive and shared or traded among friends. He produces only small quantities using a special graphic copier called a Rico printer.
“I print everything on 11x17 sheets, fold them in half, staple them along the spine and then trim them down,” Lukas said.
As an assistant professor at UC Santa Barbara, Lukas teaches publishing and printmaking. He said Fanzines are popular among Gen Z students precisely because the publications don’t aspire to be a more precious art form.
“I think of it a lot in parallel to punk rock. Would you teach punk rock in a classical conservatory? No. Is there still room for it as a cultural and pedagogical structure for creative practices for looking at the world? Absolutely,” Lukas said.
His latest Fanzine features names written in chewing gum stuck to the walls of San Luis Obispo’s Bubblegum Alley.
“I loved how the gum accumulated this sort of layer of dust and grime and you could tell what was fresh on top of it,” he said.
Lukas searched the narrow alley in downtown SLO until he found his treasure.
“I liked that within this sort of larger tradition of simply sticking a single piece to the wall, some people had done this more ambitious name writing act,” he said.
According to VisitSLO, Bubblegum Alley, located off Higuera Street, began decades ago when local students stuck wads of colorful bubblegum up and down the alley walls. It was well established by the 1970s and past attempts to remove the graffiti were unsuccessful as more and more gum appeared.
“This act of graffiti is ephemeral, it’s gonna change, there’s always the chance that the history will be wiped out,” he said.
Lukas said he can’t explain why people leave their names behind, nor can he fully explain his fascination with the behavior, but he said certain spots attract this type of attention and organically morph into a shared experience among strangers.
On a recent fall day, Bubblegum Alley attracted the attention of some Cal Poly students, who were unanimous in their fascination, appreciation and disgust.
“It’s definitely interesting. It’s a little gross, but it’s cool that there’s so much history built up over time.”
“It’s gross, but it’s fascinating how everyone continues the trend.”
“It’s gross, but the memories — it makes it worth it.”
Lukas said he wants to preserve this type of localized graffiti art through his Fanzines – even when it’s a little sticky and gross.
The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.