ARTmonday: Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand

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A few weeks ago I went to the press preview for the Shepard Fairey show at the ICA. I normally wouldn’t have gone – street art isn’t my thing. (Big surprise.) But I had an assignment for Lola magazine on the museum, and the timing worked out perfectly.

The overall museum experience, as always, was bliss. The vast white space, the expanse of glass overlooking the Boston Harbor on a snowy day. There was even swag – a Shepard Fairey tote. What’s not to like? The art.

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To be fair, as an exhibit, it was aesthetically pleasing. Very orderly, graphic and color consistent. It’s all carefully manufactured, so expect nothing less.

As for the images on their own, after seeing a few, they’re all pretty much the same. Here’s the “now iconic” (as they never tire of saying) Obama portrait, and an amusing depiction of his charming predecessor:

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Fairey’s into images of other iconic, political, controversial, famous for being famous folk, like Andy Warhol, Mao, Lenin, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and of course AndrĂ© the Giant, whose image he displayed on a homemade sticker in ’88 as a student at RISD. He also fawns over music personalities; the exhibit includes portraits of Jim Morrison, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett, and David Bowie.

He said that morning: “I create portraits of people who made a very strong impact on me, but whom I am not necessarily aligned with.”

Fairey seems pretty chill, but it’s hard to tell. For a guy who’s become known for street art, i.e., graffiti, and who is constantly arrested, he’s also a corporate enterprise, with a thriving graphic design enterprise, plus a wife and kids. I can appreciate the graphic design and business aspect of his persona. The “artist” side, I’m not convinced.

The enormous murals in the exhibit are give more of a sense of a person behind the work. He says he works (or at least used to work) on sheets of old wallpaper. You can see the layers of the patterns, the newspaper, the ink. Here are a couple of details from larger works:

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As a museum-worthy artist, I’m not sold. But now that I’m in on it, it’s fun to see the works plastered around the city. There’s a few on the side of a building at the ramp onto the Mass Pike at Mass Ave. and Newbury that I noticed immediately after attending the preview. The ICA is actually organizing bike tours around the city to see the on site works. You can see them on Flikr too. That’s probably all you really need.

peace

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