Who's Putting Up All the "Slow Down" Signs?
An interview with Matthew J. Feiner
If you're in New Haven, you've seen them: signs across the city with "Slow Down" spray painted alongside an Audrey Hepburn stencil. However, these signs take many different shapes and styles -- on cardboard, with Audrey and a cigarette, on a wooden blank bolted to a parking sign, Audrey's profile, etc. With help from friends we got in contact with the graffitti artist Matthew J. Feiner who did not want to be anonymous. We met up outside of Atticus.
How did you start this project?
I'm tired of people killing people. This is an extension of a 20 year program that I've been doing to stop cars from killing my friends.
What’s happened over the past 20 years?
I opened Devil’s Gear Bike Shop 21 years ago, and we immediately embraced advocacy. I started the group Elm City Cycling that's still here in town. It’s a bicycle advocacy group for the city and for the state. We've gotten three major laws passed by now.We got the three foot rule, which is that cars can't pass you on a yellow line. You can ride two abreast. But moving forward, I was just getting tired. The last 20 years, all these people were driving over people speeding. Just driving inappropriately. My horoscope told me a year and a half ago that I needed to slow down.
Interesting. What’s your sign?
I'm a Sagittarius with Gemini Rising. My horoscope said I needed to slow down, and so I did. I was writing it all over my studio walls, and I made a stencil out of it. I just started stenciling it on the ground. And then one day I was talking to one of the other artists in the building and I was angry about something because of the brain injury. It gets me angry. And I threw the stencil and it landed on top of another project I was working on, which was an Audrey Hepburn stencil. They landed on each other and it stained. And so 5 hours later, when I went to pick it up there, it was on the ground. It was the image you see around town, that “slow down” with the Audrey behind it with the eyes as accountability.
I was wondering why you chose Audrey Hepburn.
She's a saint. I was a very sick child, so I grew up watching movies with my mom. And the movies that really stood out were Audrey Hepburn films. Because not only was she a good actress, but she was funny. She could sing, and she was a great humanitarian. She helped so many people. She's a touchstone for me. When she passed, that was really tough because she was just such a good person.
Why did you make the Audrey Hepburn stencil?
I was working on them for the piece for my mom, she passed away in November. It’s a story about what my mother would have done if she wasn’t being controlled by other people, like my dad.
Did you have issues with people driving fast as a bicyclist?
Oh, yeah, yeah. I've been taken off the road so many times. It's not even funny.
When did you start putting the signs up?
I started two months ago, three months ago. I put 45 up at once. But those were the black ones and that just said slow down, and people thought they were from the state.
Where do you get your material?
I scavenge for my material that I print on. That first batch was a poly board which printed well, but it cost me more than I had.
What were you doing before the bike shop?
I coached Yale Biking. I moved back from Austin, Texas to move here. I went down to Austin for five years to figure some things out. And I came back here, opened the bike shop, and just been doing this ever since. I own the bike shop on paper, but I can't work there anymore because of the brain injury. I get really argumentative.
What do you do in your studio besides the slow down signs?
I do a lot of installation work. Right now I'm working on a piece that's 15 x 8 x 9 feet high. It’s two half shells that form a whole shell and then it has a cover. It's huge. And you walk in this area and as soon as you walk in, you can't tell where the openings are. So it feels like you're on the piece.
How many slow down signs do you think you put up?
Are they only in New Haven?
Oh, no. This morning a bike shop in Rhode Island picked up two pieces.
How did you get your brain injury?
It started with a bike accident. I had an undiagnosed brain injury. I went to the doctor to do an MRI, and I saw a brain injury. I reported it to my primary doctor who didn't read the whole record, and then it went undiagnosed for four years. Then I went into the Trinity Fire to get somebody out. Then I got another concussion and that made it worse. Last February, I had a seizure.
Have you had any issues with putting up the signs?
A couple people ripped them down. That's why I'm starting to try making them out of wood and bolting them under the sign so that they're harder to take down. I get good reactions. The best reaction I got was one day, I was putting up a sign and a car sped by me and hit the brakes. So I’m like, oh man, here he comes. He backed up slowly, rolled the window down, leaned over his passenger, looked at me through the window, and said, “You know. you’re absolutely right.” That’s so cool.
Yeah, it was telling to have that immediate effect like that. People are driving really poorly, man. People are. It was nice during quarantine because nobody was on the roads. And then when the cars came back, everyone had an escalation of misbehaving and misconducting, and people saw other people behaving poorly. There have been other situations where I've been chased.
You’ve been chased?
Yeah. People don't like their property. Yeah, some people are funny.
Do you try to do them at a certain point during the day to not get caught?
No one's watching in the middle of the day. I'm not kidding. Really hot days. Also, as soon as the sun goes down, my memory goes, so I have to do them during the day.
Where did you put up your first round of signs?
At all the major entrances to the highways. I wanted people coming into the city and leaving the city to see these slow down symbols.
Are you a part of any tagging community in New Haven?
I can’t really because of my brain injury. I'm just a lone wolf about it all. My girlfriend wants to come out and help me do it. I can’t, I don't instruct well anymore.
Any message to other artists?
Please put your art out there.