SIGNMAN: John Law @ ProArts Oakland June 7 – August 24 2019

Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS, Oakland, California

 June 7 – August 24 2019

Thursday & Friday, Noon – 6:00 p.m. or by appointment

OPENING RECEPTION: June 7 2019 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

PDF version of the Press Release 

I’m real sick, 1977 “Jack Napier” (JLaw) & BLF Photo of original billboard improvement 18” x 12”

SIGNMAN: John Lawis a three-month long retrospective of John Law– an American artist, culture-jammer, and co-founder of the Cacophony Society, the Burning Man Festival, and other seminal artistic and cultural movements that continue to inspire contemporary artists today. Curator of this retrospective is Executive Director and Curator of Pro Arts Gallery, Natalia Ivanova Mount.

fun 2010 mixed media John Law

SIGNMAN: John Law will feature original works, spanning the last four decades ofLaw’s art practice.As part of this exhibit, visitors will encounter rare documentation of events, pranks and actions by seminal art and culture movements of the past; neon sculptures; photography; and multi-media installations.

“John’s work offers tales from the underground that challenge our contemporary moment, characterized by a zombie like addiction to social media, weakened ability and will to gather, explore and wonder informally,” says curator of the retrospective Natalia Ivanova Mount.

We need the rituals of the underground today more than ever so we can imagine the world beyond capitalism, beyond commodification, and the menial production of objects and ideas in an art world, beholden to a market value. It is time to give props to one of the most under-recognized luminaries of the avant-garde, John Law.

To contextualize the importance of John Law’s work within the eco-system of the San Francisco independent and alternative art scene, luminaries in their own right, Don Herron, Julia Solis, Ron English, William Binzen, Mark Pauline, and Scott Beale will contribute to the retrospective, through the In Conversationpublic program series of talks and presentations.

The Suicide Club © Bob Schlesinger

Originally from Michigan, Law has lived in San Francisco since 1976. His first taste in the avant-garde SF art scene of the late 70s was his involvement with the The Suicide Club, founded by Gary Warne in 1977 as a class at San Francisco State University’s free alternative school, Communiversity. The Suicide Club, known for using the format of urban adventures, street theatre, and public pranks, such as the naked cable car rides and stunts like climbing the Golden Gate Bridge, became an important artistic and cultural movement that countered and disrupted the hegemony of the mainstream, modern life. This group is noted as a primary progenitor of the modern urban exploration (UrbEx) movementas well as an early touchstone for the developing hacking, culture jamming and street art movements.

In 1986, when The Cacophony Societyemerged, John joined the rest of the founders. This San Francisco movement, based in the aesthetics of the Dadaist and Situationists, organized events such as the Bastille Day celebration, during which guests dressed in 18th century attire fed cake to the homeless while guillotining political effigies. By the late 90s, The Cacophony Society was big with chapters in LA, Seattle, Portland, over twenty North American cities, and even International countries, influencing forever the trajectory of American transgressive art, pranking, street art, and what the Europeans have termed “psychogeography.”In 2013 John Law, along with Kevin Evans and Carrie Galbraith, co-authored Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society, a book published by Last Gasp, documenting this seminal movement. Apropos, The Suicide Club and its later incarnation The Cacophony Society are quoted to be the primary inspiration for Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club


The Cacophony Society

In 1977, John Law cofounded another seminal, guerilla art movement with roots in San Francisco – the Billboard Liberation Front. BLF raison d’etre was to make “improvements” to billboard advertising. BLF influenced contemporary artists like Shepard Fairey, Swoon, and Banksy. Over the years, Apple Computers, Levi’s Jeans, Marlboro and Exxon have all fallen victim to the BLF’s clandestine billboard hacking. To date, the group’s best-known piece remains the 1996 “improvement” job of a Joe Camel ad, which even included the wiring of a new neon sign. 

Law has been a neon sign tradesman/contractor for 35 years and his trade was an influence on his avocation as a neon artist.

Law is cofounder of the Burning Man Festival. Along with Kevin Evans, Law was the primary influencer in moving Burning Man to the Black Rock Desert in 1990. He originated the neon skeleton for the figure of the manand was among the first artists to contribute to the desert festival. Due to artistic differences, Law left the Burning Man Festival in 1996.

 Black Rock Spring with Water Sprites - Water + Night, © William Binzen



“Considered one of the “OG’s” of the UrbEx movementand the art of ‘hacking’ hidden spaces, John continues to adventure with San Francisco’s pranking and transgressive art communities. He also continues to climb bridges, explore tunnels and explore with the current iteration of mysterious “UrbEx” characters. Law is a crew members of Survival Research Labs (SRL) and SF CyclecideBike Rodeo.”

Golden Gate Bridge vertical no hands, 1986 Color photo 18” x 12”

Along with Flecher Fleurdujon, Law directed and produced a feature documentary, Head Trip 

that featured bike rodeo antics, and San Francisco artists on a road trip to New York City.

For over a decade now, Law has lectured in museums, libraries, tech conferences and universities around the world on the history of the Bay Area underground art & pranks scene and its influence on the larger world.

Since the late 1980s, Law has conceived, designed and fabricated many mixed media art pieces, all incorporating neon as a primary element of the pieces. In his shop on Treasure Island, San Francisco, Law is currently creating new neon art pieces incorporating various plastic media, transparencies, found objects, and text. Several of his past neon works were part of elaborate pranks including three of the pieces on display in the upcoming SIGNMAN: John Law retrospective. 

Public Programs

Opening Reception: June 7 2019, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

 In Conversation Public Program Series

Friday June 21 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.| Mark Pauline& John Law.

Thursday June 27 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.| Don Herron& John Law
Thursday July 16 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.| Julia Solis, Ron English & John Law

Thursday July 25 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.| William Binzen& John Law
Saturday August 24 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.| Scott Beale& John Law

Closing Reception: August 24 2019, 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

About the Artist

John Law

John Law has been embedded in Oakland and San Francisco underground art, pranks and events world since 1977. A member of the legendary Suicide Club, Law was instrumental in forming the later Cacophony Society which in turn gave birth to the Burning Man festival and the Billboard Liberation Front. Cacophony was the inspiration for the novel and movie Fight Club.

Law was a performance artist and an aerial performer in the 1990s working with machine art and theatrical troop Seemen and his on aerial performance troupe Aerial Action Team. An avid urban explorer, Law photographed many major bridges around the world while climbing them creating some unique images.In addition to cofounding and acting as Operations Manager of the Burning Man Festival during its early years,

Law pioneered the use of neon at the now world-famous festival and originated the neon outline for the Burning Man figure. Laws neon work included other desert collaborations, prominently Desert Site Works with photographer/artist William Binzen.

Law, along with with Flecher Fleurdujon, directed the feature film Head Trip showcasing the antics of punk rock performance troupe Cyclecide accompanying The Bay Area’s massive Doggie Diner heads on a cross-country trip to perform at the famous punk club CBGB’s in New York City.

Law is currently involved in creating new neon art pieces incorporating various plastic media, transparencies, found objects, and text. Law has lectured around the world on the history of Bay Area underground arts scene and its influence on the larger world.

Law remains deeply involved in the ongoing worldwide UrbEx scene and collaborates with many extreme underground exploration characters and secretive cabals.


About the Curator 


Natalia Ivanova Mount is a dynamic cultural activist and organizer with extensive experience in nonprofit leadership, development and strategic partnerships. She has organized numerous exhibitions and site-specific projects, experimental theatre productions, sound-based performance, film, radio, and public programs and events. Originally from Bulgaria, Mount lived in New York, where in the early 2000, she co-founded FLUX Art Space – a pioneering nonprofit organization that commissioned and produced long-term art projects, claiming the intersection of art, technology, and civic engagement. In 2010, Natalia launched the first radio station in Central New York, Redhouse Radio, that aired exclusively arts and culture programs. During that time, she was also the Executive Director of Redhouse Arts Center, a multi-disciplinary space and residency program, located in Syracuse. In the beginning of her career, Natalia worked at MoMA PS1 and the Clocktower, both located in NYC. Currently, she is the Executive Director of Pro Arts Gallery & Commons where she is actively engaged in the co-creation of the first Art & Culture Commons model in Oakland. Mount is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards in recognition of her cultural practice. She holds a BA in Criminal Justice, MA in Art Market, and MBA in Media Management.




SIGNMAN: John Law is funded in part by The Zellerbach Family Foundationand the Rex Foundation.

Zellerback foundation Rex Foundation








About Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS

Pro Arts Gallery & Commons 

Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS is a space for art, debate, experimentation, and collaboration. We are a multi-use space in downtown Oakland, California that houses exhibitions, symposiums, debates, music events, film screenings, literary events, residencies and publications. We are also a global networked community that shares values, as well as material and immaterial resources in the co-creation of ideas and critical engagements with the world. Both on local and global level, we are communizing the practice, production and presentation of art.


150 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza

Oakland, CA 94612




Pro Arts

Pro Arts began in Oakland in May, 1974 under the name Alameda County Neighborhood Arts Program. An offshoot of the Arts Commission, the Alameda County Neighborhood Arts Program was funded through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA)​ program and soon after its founding, became a national model for utilizing CETA funds for artists and arts projects. CETA was a federal jobs program that, like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) before it, funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to visual and performing artists. But unlike the WPA, CETA was decentralized; from 1974 to 1981 it was administered by local city and county agencies all over the country.On January 30th of 1981, The Alameda County Neighborhood Arts Program became Pro Arts, after it filled for a change of name. Located at 550 2nd Street in Oakland, the organization continued in its original mission, expanding it to include an exhibition space with a general emphasis on programs and services in support of the visual art field. With its roots in the “alternative arts organization” movement of the 1970s, Pro Arts is still going strong today, serving as the primary venue for experimental, independent visual artists and culture in Oakland.

Suicide Club

The Suicide Club was the organization that Cacophony morphed out of some years after the Clubs demise in 1982. Begun in February 1977 and growing out of former S.F. State University “free school” Communiversity (that went rouge breaking free of institutional restrictions and forming a non-profit school) Communiversity birthed the Suicide Club as a “class” in it’s Winter 1977 calendar of free classes. The Suicide Club became known for bridge climbing and other urban infra-structure exploration, Infiltrating cults like the Moonies, street theater (naked cable car stunt, etc.) and live action games on city streets among other types of events.

Tribute to Paranoia – photo by Bob Campbell

Louise Jarmilowicz, Nina Feldman, David T. Warren & Kathy Hearty at the Suicide Clubs “Tribute to Paranoia” at the Roxie Cinema.

One of the many endeavors of Gary Warne during his short life was an early “weird film” series that he co-hosted with Ron Sol called The Fantasy Film Festival. Each week at Gary’s bookstore on Judah St., you could settle into a giant pile of pillows and futons and watch a double bill of movies that were guaranteed to keep your interest. Perhaps the hi-light of the series took place at the Roxie Cinema in late 1978 when Gary showed the (long forgotten and virtually unknown at that time) “Dr. Suess’ Five Thousand Fingers of Doctor T.” The second movie on the bill remains one of the very strangest I have ever seen: the Italian made “Catch as Catch Can. This film starred Vittorio Gasman as a fastidious, dirt loathing TV star who is incessantly attacked by any and all animals (bulls, pigeons, insects) that he happens to run into.


Suicide Club food fight "before" - photo by Greg Mancuso
Suicide Club food fight “before” – photo by Greg

Communiversity Summer 79
Communiversity Summer 79

This parody of hippy dippy new age
free schools such as “Lifeschool” (real non-profit school in SF in the
70’s) and Marin County sensibilities in general went out with the class
calendar mailer for OUR hippy dippy new age free school, Communiversity.

SFSC newsletter #14.12
SFSC newsletter #14.12

SFSC newsletter #14.13
SFSC newsletter #14.13

Suicide Club event planning tips 1977-pg 1
Suicide Club event planning tips 1977-pg 1

Suicide Club event planning tips 1977-pg 2
Suicide Club event planning tips 1977-pg 2

Santasm (SantaCon, Santarchy, Kringle Klot, etc., ad nauseum)

SantaCon started in San Francisco in 1994 when Santa Chad Mulligan
listed the event in ROUGH DRAFT. Santa M2 & Santa Melmoth assisted.

A Small Sampling of Rough Draft Newsletters

The US mail delivered Cacophony Newsletter ended up with the oddly appropriate title “Rough Draft” when no one could think of a name for it. Rough Draft excited Cacophony Society members mail boxes (metal or wood containers in front of your house/apartment that wo(men) in uniforms used to deliver paper documents to) from August 1987 til 2001 when the internet made such arcane communication (sadly) unnecessary.

RD147-b December 1998
RD147-b December 1998

RD006 February 1987
RD006 February 1987

RD082 July 1993 Cover
RD082 July 1993 Cover

RD082 July 1993 Back Cover
RD082 July 1993 Back Cover

RD104 May 1995
RD104 May 1995

Billboard Liberation Front at Steven Wolf Fine Art

This show is not a retrospective, rather a small selection by Steven of two memorable BLF “Improvements” with beautiful photos by A. Leo Nash and Nicole Rosenthal. We’ll be sharing the gallery with  Anthony Discenza, Jacqueline Gordon, Victor Moscoso and psychedelic poster artist Robert Fried. The opening is this Saturday the 12th of July, 2014. I won’t be there – I’m off on a UE trip to the Midwest. Other BLF Ops may be in attendance. Steven is planning a closing party for August 16th which I will be attending – I’ll be missing Lynyrd Skynyrd to be at this closing party, a sacrifice I had to make, so I hope you will drop what you’re doing and stop on by too.

SB to_serve_man_182 copy 2



The BLF finally retired a few years ago after a 35 year run. It had been a lot of fun, but the thrill was gone. Addressing later generations in a book foreword, Shepard Fairey said (to paraphrase a bit):  “Check out the BLF, they’ve been hacking billboards since before you were born!” And that was  years ago.



Then, a few years later, I was inadvertently outed by my pal, rocker Anton Newcomb and, unlike Banksy, no one seemed to notice or much care. Ow! Then I outed long time copywriting partner and retired BLF propagandist Stuart Mangrum “_____ DeCoverly”. Bruised egos crave company….  Well, I had to remind myself, it was a heckadventure and, after any number of close calls, we remained unscathed, un-injured (35 years and not one single work place accident!) and with the exception of the initialSuicide Club improvement in 1977, un-captured. We had stayed incognito, using silly nom de guerres, sporting masks, dyed hair, funny glasses and the like, for decades. We kidnapped journalists, shocking and amusing them enough that they wrote about our exploits with humor and energy without being too critical. 2299339442_3cb655b744_o

By the end of the new millenniums first decade, the new generation of BLF Ops had moved on to the serious pursuits of middle age. Many passed thru the organization over the years, most were fellow pranksters in Cacophony and the earlier Suicide Club. Co-founder Irving Glikk (David T. Warren, co-founder of the Suicide Club and early ignitor of the silly wooden figure now worshipped on the Black Rock Desert each year) passed away in 2010 at seventy-one. Dave was one of the great inspirations in my life. He was the “Spirit of Chaos” in the Suicide Club. Once in the late 70′s as I was just embarking on a lengthy solo cross-country hitch-hiking adventure, Dave with somber mien, gave me a giant rubber thumb declaring: “Here kid, you’ll need this on the road!”

2299346658_472e38004a_oThe BLF was a primary creative outlet for me for many years, but all things come to pass. I’ve settled into other pursuits in recent times, becoming more interested in and energized by slipping back into small group UE adventures, restoring the ridiculous and sublime giant DogHeads that I somehow have become responsible for, and knocking off the occasional book event for our history of the Cacophony Society with co-author (and past BLF Art Director) Carrie Galbraith “Ethyl Ketone”.


Former BLF operative Conrad Hoc “Scott Beale” our first webmaster, got us online initially, and way back in the 90′s convinced me of the importance of the digital realm as a means of archiving and preserving work done in meat space. Milton will probably link this blog post to the official BLF website<> and we’ll call it a day with the exception of any future gallery, academic, historical or law enforcement interest (the statute of limitations is closing fast, fellas..)


Radio Interview on KBOO 11am August 29th

KBOOJohn Law and Carrie Galbraith will be the guests on a special hour-long episode of KBOO Radio’s Between the Covers tomorrow morning (Thursday August 29th) from 11am to noonto regale listeners with Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society.  In addition to our studio conversation, we’ll be including audio from John and Carrie’s recent standing-room-only appearance at Powell’s Books and from Portland’s underground Night Market event.
KBOO’s real-time webstream is available at via iTunes or Abacast, and on mobile devices through the TuneIn app.




KQED says “Not only a history text, but a menu of possible activities to recreate in your free time.”

kqed arts Great review in the KQED Literary sections! Read the full review at KQED 

Take away quotes:

” The group’s events took on surrealistic subversion as a rallying ethos. In this light the book becomes not only a history text, but a menu of possible activities to recreate in your free time.”


“The book, edited by John Law, Kevin Evans, and Carrie Galbraith and released by underground book publisher, Last Gasp, is a pastiche of flyers, memos, newsletters and previously unpublished photographs from the group’s more active days. It chronicles the birthing ground for today’s Burning Man ethos, and paints the Society as precursors to today’s tactical media jammers like the Yes Men and even Anonymous. The book, a memoir of a subculture, is an interesting insight into the ’80s and ’90s for those of us who, at the time, were focused more on legos and sleepovers than art movements. Read it for its alternate history, its retro aesthetic, and to remind yourself to try something new, something silly, something pointless, just because you can.”


The history of the most influential underground cabal you’ve never heard of