By Aspen Matis
Attributing human behavior and emotions to our animal brethren is as old as the first myth—or, if you want something a little closer, as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Rarely, however, have they been displayed as poignantly or hilariously as in Romeo Alaeff’s new book of drawings I’ll Be Dead By The Time You Read This being released Nov. 29 by Plume, an imprint of Penguin.
The Midtown West-based artist is known for his sticker art and the years he animated kiddie favorites such as Dora the Explorer and Wonder Pets for Nickelodeon. His newest project was born out of a sticker series that has been slapped on buildings, fences and streetlamps from New York to Paris to Shanghai.
I’ll Be Dead matches overheard phrases with drawings of different animals to stunning effect. One page shows a frog saying, “I’m afraid of changing”; on another, a butterfly says, “I wish I could just start over.”
The pairings aren’t arbitrary. Alaeff has compiled more than 3,000 sayings that he has overhead everywhere from subway conversations to bar banter.
“This project is about how and why we’ve evolved to experience the emotions we do. It’s a humorous way to get people to contemplate their situations,” he said. “Why did we evolve to feel such despair? Most people, in some way, are not completely satisfied with their lives.”
The drawings for the book started as a highly successful set of intricate pen-and-ink drawings.
“So I made them into stickers. I would give them away and they spread like crazy. I had no idea that they would become what they became. I started getting pictures back of my stickers from Tel Aviv, Iceland, Gabon, the Congo, in front of the pyramids in Cairo, on the glass pyramid of the Louvre—anywhere you can imagine,” he said.
Alaeff’s life has been as varied as his stickers dotting the globe. The native New Yorker has lived in New Orleans, Atlanta, Rhode Island, Texas, Scotland and Berlin, among other places.
The success of the animal drawings landed him in Stuck Up Piece of Crap: Stickers from the book Punk Rock to Contemporary Art last year. He’s currently working on a half-dozen other projects including gallery shows, a children’s book, a new drawing series and his ongoing 16-year documentary series There’s No Place Like You.
Despite all of their exposure, the animal drawings still have a soft spot in his heart.
“The stickers became interesting to me because people were interacting with them. And that’s why the book is interesting, too—it’s just another way to get people to interact,” he said.
The public can interact with the artist and pick up a copy of his book at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at PowerHouse Arena in Dumbo. There will be drinks, a Q&A, original artwork for sale and a chance to chat with the artist. NYPress.com and Our Town Downtown are co-hosting the party with Penguin and PowerHouse Arena, among others. (Full disclosure: NYPress.com and Our Town Downtown are part of the Manhattan Media publishing family, which publishes West Side Spirit.)
As to how many of his animal stickers are currently out there in the world, Alaeff doesn’t have a clue.
“Thousands? Tens of thousands? I don’t know. I’ll never know.”
For more information, visit www.illbedead.com.
Romeo Alaeff’s latest book observes the absurdity of the human condition through the eyes
of animals. PHOTO BY Andrew Schwartz
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