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JULY 10, 2010

Shepard Fairey

[Having the luxury of time, like yesterday I'm revisiting last November.]

Obama poster and original photoFormer street artist Shepard Fairey has a masterful way with images, others as well as his own. He's been accused of ripping off everyone from Cuban poster artists to Manny Garcia, the photographer whose work (seen at right) became the basis of Fairey's famous Obama "HOPE" poster.

While he regularly works with the images of others as the basis for his work he also diligently maintains his own as a "street" artist. I'd say it was no coincidence that he was arrested in Boston for vandalism the same day a major exhibit of his work opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

But so what? The more important question is whether Fairey is "ripping off" or "appropriating" the work of others. Andy Warhol's paintings of Campbell's Soup cans are famous examples of appropriation in art. It was fitting, then, that Fairey's work was shown last year at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Any doubts I had about Fairey's artistic abilities were put to rest by the volume and diversity of work on display when I visited last November.Gallery wall showing many prints by Shepard Fairey

Seen assembled like this it's clear that Fairey constantly mines our visual culture to make his own social commentary. It's obvious that he's not pretending to be the originator of this wide array of familiar images. He's taking what we recognize and re-using it to make a different point. As discussed in Wikipedia, he's "recontextualizing" the images.

In addition to the many poster-type graphics, Fairey showed several large "canvases" at the Warhol, like this one showing a woman peeking through a curtain surrounded by vaguely MIddle Eastern patterns and images incorporating rifles. Pretty obviously a commentary on our current concerns about terrorism, although as with all art the exact point being made is up to the viewer.

Fairey woman image

Seeing a portion of this work on the wall of a building near the museum put yet another twist on the meaning, and went back to Fairey's roots as a street artist. Taking it off the gallery wall makes the message a bit more scary.

Fairey artwork on storefront wall


Pittsburgh: Shepard Fairey at the Warhol Museum - November 6, 2009
Scams & scammers - October 17, 2009
Art or plagiarism: Fairey/Obama poster debate continues - February 21, 2009
Private Property - No Trespassing? - February 4, 2009
Shepard Fairey: is it plagiarism - January 22, 2009

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