Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Shepard Fairey: Vandal or Artist?" You've Got the Wrong Guy

As the city waits for Fairey to return to the CAC next month, the typical questions about art and vandalism begin to surface. This is always an attractive debate about the definition of graffiti, street art, crime, tagging, freedom of speech, private vs public and the list goes on. There seems to be as many self-proclaimed professionals on this topic as well. It is not surprising then to see this story by Larry Shields on WCPO. The problem though is this is the wrong question to ask when discussing Shepard Fairey.

Last March, I first posted about the controversy surrounding Fairey's use of Mannie Garcia's photograph as a source for the Obama Hope poster. In that post I referenced the disdain by graffiti artists and the number of challenges these artists have issued to Fairey that have since gone unanswered. If you follow the argument of graffiti artists, Fairey is certainly not one of them. Maria Seda-Reeder's claim that street artists consider Shepard "one of the biggest in our country, if not the world" therefore begs clarification. Biggest what? He's certainly not a graffiti artist. Street artist, maybe. But what does that mean?

As explained in the news report as well as the call for sites by the CAC, the community-wide project is by definition not a graffiti project. The sites have been secured with permission. This project is no different from the MuralWorks projects successfully led by ArtWorks. And we don't consider those examples of vandalism. Instead, we rightfully celebrate the murals with formal openings and recognition of our local artists. To call into question the motivation of the CAC project and collaboration with Fairey risks criminalizing ArtWorks. Or worse, the line of the debate presented by Larry Shields, even if inadvertently, exploits MuralWorks, the work of our local artists teaching emerging artists, and engaging in civic pride, effectively stirring up controversy that is not there.

Linda Holterhoff of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful shouldn't wait for Fairey to speak up against local acts of vandalism. He is simply not the authority. If there is a rise in vandalism during Fairey's visit back to Cincinnati, it will be the result of stories like that of Larry Shields that confuse the issues by asking the wrong questions.

The "art vs vandalism" argument is reserved for graffiti artists. Fairey continues to straddle the fence between graffiti and art as a way to attract controversy. As with the use of Garcia's photograph, Fairey is simply riding on the backs of those artists who do the work. My hope still is that the upcoming CAC show and accompanying programming will be strong enough to begin asking relevant questions.


Anonymous said...

There is no end to Fairey's Circus sideshow; from uninformed WCPO reporters who discuss issues which are not relevant in contention with the main issue at hand, Fairey is an opportunist who steals from multicultural artists and movements then obstructs and fakes federal evidence in an US court of law, He has been dropped by his legal representatives for being a blatant LIAR and now the CAC would like to make him a Graffiti street hero without proper question?
I beg to differ...
Earlier this month the Wende Museum and its exhibition committee chose to suppress my right to free speech in removing my art from participating at the 20th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall Exhibit at LACMA. My artwork was considered and I quote, " inflammatory” and obviously objectionable, harmful, or inconvenient to the organization and its community as determined by their own criteria as a censor. Through this act the Wende Museum has shown that it has decided to control free speech in the favor of siding with Shepard Fairey in promoting his career of lies and thievery in demise. The Wende Museum had the opportunity to engage in a community discourse but chose the path of an event planning organization. Later on during the holidays I received a Soup Plantation Gift Certificate from the Director as a gesture of kindness. Censorship is the polar opposite of freedom and of aesthetics as forms.

Great Reporters have expressed their dissension against the Fairey...

"It's a disgrace that Shepard Fairey, an unoriginal artist who's now admitted to deceiving a court, and also someone who clearly admires the totalitarian regimes whose ethos the Berlin Wall embodied, gets a place in this (Wende) exhibition

Charlotte Allen
OP ED Author of LA TIMES “Shepard Fairey's true colors”,0,32327.story

The Phantom Street Artist has said:
People will one day speak of a Future Day and Time when a coined term will come from the voice of the streets. The term will be a definitive colloquial called Fairey Use TM to mean when an artist out of disrespect betrays important historical and revolutionary cultures, languages and authors to advance his own selfish interest in greed and mammon. This is called Fairey Use TM when an artist steals from other artists, cultural references and fails to give proper credit then tampers with federal evidence then hides behind important movements like the creative commons and attempts to escape justice under interpretative legal defense. Oh then finally dropped by his legal representative Anthony Falzone...
In a sentence:

Mommy is that artist pulling a Fairey Use?

For this reason.. Art Saves Lives and I are respectfully interested in seeking support from conscientious individuals like yourself in the realization of our next social campaign. Our intent is to organize through social change a charitable event where The Phantom Street Artist will personally challenge Shepard Fairey and only Shepard Fairey to A Cage Match for a charitable benefit.

Where’s my Shoe?

The Phantom Street Artist
Calling our Kulture in Question...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fairy is welcome to express his art anywhere, as long as he has permission. I am not criticizing his art, his influences or his stature as an artist. I only want people to have the right to clean spaces where they can feel comfortable and prosper.

Maria Seda-Reeder said...

While I think your question regarding what constitutes "street artist" vs. "graffiti artist" deserves attention, you misquoted me Kathy.

Had you watched the video, what I actually said was, *"in terms of 'street artists'* he is one of the biggest in our country, if not the world." I refer to Fairey as a "street artist" because he rarely--if ever--puts his own work up illegally anymore. However, he made his name putting up his work on the street, so the term is fitting in my opinion.

Neither this nor your previous post about Fairey clarify your assertion however, that there are any artists (besides your anonymous commenter, who I would take a wild guess is the same "Phantom Street Artist" you referenced in your earlier post) who are "issuing challenges" to Fairey.

If there are indeed others challenging Fairey, such is the M.O. of most graffitists.
Ever heard of "The Splasher"? (
Or more recently, the anti-Banksy campaign? (

(YAWN) This is how graffitists one-up each other. They cross each other's work/name/tags out; they ride on the coattails of others whose work is more famous by publicly dissing their work.

But you're right, Kathy. WCPO's Larry Shields did not ask the right question. To pander to the "is it art or vandalism?" schtick is both boring and been done before. Did Keith Haring have to defend himself every time he had an exhibition just because he also got up in the street?

Why not talk about the fact that Fairey uses the visual language of predecessors like Barbara Kruger or that he has a Factory producing his work, much like Warhol? Or why not question him for being a sell out because he has a successful clothing line and probably hasn't done an illegal piece in the street for years?

One question I posed to Shields (SO much of my interview of course wasn't included) was, how can Linda Holterhoff and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful condone MuralWorks but be so against an installation (illegal or not) by Fairey? I know from my own tenure with the wonderful organization ArtWorks, that Holterhoff has personally worked as an advocate of murals in the hopes that it will discourage graffiti. But whose opinion of "what is art," is at stake? Are we to believe that every city should have a moral authority spending tax payer's money to "clean up" the art of those who *don't* have a dealer/advocate/museum backer?

The issues of "freedom of speech" & "private vs public", which you so offhandedly throw around actually do matter to some people. Maybe not to you. Maybe not to Larry Shields. Maybe not to Shepard Fairey. But they matter to me.

Anonymous said...

Maria Seda-Reeder's claim that street artists consider Shepard "one of the biggest in our country, well she just put her foot in her mouth if not the world" therefore begs clarification. Biggest what? Shepard Phoney is the biigest Rip Off Artist!!!

Me said...

First, I do not believe I misquoted you. In fact, I suggest that you in fact are possibly referring to him as a "street artist" then go on to ask what that means. My blog post implicates Shields' question, not your answer.

The questions you pose here are exactly the kinds of questions I would rather have asked and I am happy to see that you are asking them. In fact, it seems from your response you and I agree on the role of MuralWorks and how this questioning of Fairey calls ArtWorks into question. That is the point of my post.

Finally as a blogger, I'd be the last person to take lightly or "throw around" issues of freedom of speech. I think it is disingenuous if not alazy stab to take at me. What I meant to suggest is that these can be rather tired topics, but more important they really have nothing....absolutely nothing to do with Fairey. You can try to make it so, but as soon as the "call for sites" goes out and business owners respond, "freedom of speech" and "public vs private" discussion though interesting to have, are moot.

Fairey is now a commissioned and commercial artist. To speak of him as a street artist is fine, I guess. We can go ahead and compare him to Kruger and Warhol, but not graffiti artists.

Thank you for your response. Again, I am happy to see the show come to Cincinnati. My interests though is making sure the the right questions are being asked...that the discussion is not simply a controversial one for the sake of upping the audience. I therefore saw it as important to call attention to the same old-ness of WCPO reporting.