Shepard Fairey Maps Out New Detroit Murals, Rizzoli Book and Obey’s Influence – WWD


NEW YORK – Before the street artist Shepard Fairey received an honorary title at the opening ceremony on Friday, 23 years later he had a confession for the President of the Pratt Institute, Thomas Schutte.

Chatting about RISD, which Schutte ran when Fairey was a college student in the early 1990s, Schutte recalled an incident where someone moved around a billboard owned by former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci. Fairey laughed heartily and said, “I just told him, ‘Uh, that was me.’ “He raised his hand as a token of responsibility.

Surrounded by Pratt alumni at Madison Square Garden, Fairey was reminded of graduating from RISD in 1992 and spending the following four years in the Atlantic Mills building in Olynville, honing his skills in a studio large enough to house all of his screen printing equipment and a device to accommodate skateboard ramp. “It was a real luxury to be broke and have all this space,” he said.

Eventually, the Charleston-born designer grew out of the indie town – literally no more large buildings to house and label his work – and left. But Obey, the absurd sticker campaign he launched at RISD in 1989, has since grown into a multi-million dollar clothing brand with thought-provoking political messages. Fairey said, “The great thing about the clothing store is that I can do a lot of other things,” including some that it will launch in Detroit on Saturday. One of these will be his largest work to date – 185 feet tall (about 17 or 18 stories high) and 60 feet wide.

After the design has been drawn up and some blocks of color are already in place, Fairey and three assistants are hoisted onto a window washer to paint the details. They work in sections like a grid over the building. “I like to do this because you’re working on a wall. Then when you come back and see something so big taking shape, it is a very gratifying achievement. It’s not like working with you [size-] two hairbrush and as a master on a canvas. It’s a lot more blue collar, work hard and get it done, ”he said. “The wind is bad, but we are excited. Sometimes we do things with boom lifts and they are very, very sensitive to wind. And these are really going to feel like this thing is going to tip over. I wouldn’t be here if it had ever been done. “

After Fairey completed more than 50 large-format murals – several hundred eight-foot posters were used in his first monograph in 2005 – he photographed each one until he was tired of the redundancy of repetitive exercises. “I’ve traveled all over the world and used a lot of paper,” he said, but still not let the heights put him off. “I used to do a lot of illegal things. Simply climb up lots of drainage pipes and ledges – anything to get onto the roofs of buildings, on billboards or whatever. Lots of things that I would consider a lot more risky than these murals. “

Intrigued by Detroit’s avid residents, textures, and the silver lining in a place with such industrial decay, Fairey was all-in when Library Street Collective called. The Detroit Gallery, which has worked with favorite artists like Tristan Eaton, Swoon, Revoke, and Cleon Peterson, featured a large wall in an art-covered alley, a DJ, and a show for Fairey. “I’m a populist. I try to involve people in different ways and they ticked every box. “The challenge is putting the right variables together to make time for a place like Detroit that isn’t new to York, San Francisco or Tokyo. Some of the funniest shows I’ve ever done have been in places like Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Detroit – places where people aren’t spoiled or exhausted. “

In September Rizzoli will publish his fourth book “Covert to Overt” after the Jeffrey Deitch Show, which covers Fairey’s work from 2010 onwards.

Obey supports a new cause every season, and Fairey said he always used the fashion label to “reach out to audiences that don’t tend to go to galleries, museums, or care about art with a capital A”.

“It’s good to support things like compliance because clothing can be so superficial. This is a way to remind people that I am doing all of these things not just to move units – not that I am ashamed of making a living. But there can be something altruistic woven in, ”he said.

As someone who works closely with his design team, which includes a designer who used to work for Vivienne Westwood, he said, “It’s a tough business, but I like it. A lot of people don’t understand that I’m the creative director for the brand. They think, “Oh, he just collects checks – he makes someone do it.” I am actually very committed. But I also keep making new art pictures and working on these street art projects and charity projects. “

As influential as Fairey’s 2008 “Hope” poster from Barack Obama was to brand the future president, he has mixed views on today’s culture of self-branding and its role in politics. “There are things that are fundamentally flawed with the two-party system, with the structure of the campaign funding, that lead me to push principles, not personalities, to try to change the nature of the system. Because the system corrupts even the most idealistic people, including Obama, ”said the artist. “Branding will always be part of our culture, especially with all that social media, the white noise and the speed with which people digest things. It’s very easy now to be very superficial and let people take you at face value and not question it because they are so impatient. You just move on to the next step. It happens in the media all the time. You see a press release with a very specific point of view, basically just propaganda that is blown back by the media for being too lazy to go into any deeper.

Fairey declined to comment on the copyright litigation with the Associated Press over the “Hope” campaign poster, which was settled out of court in 2011. The following year, he was sentenced to two years probation in Manhattan federal court and fined $ 25,000 for manipulation with evidence in the case.

“With my work, I try to get people to dig deeper into issues,” he said of the famous poster. “Even with the ‘Hope’ poster, I tried to say, ‘Look at this guy. Let this be the beginning of the conversation. ‘This is not usually how propaganda works when this is the end of the conversation and you should better accept it. “


Dusty Kennedy