Foul Play Giant

I've always had a bad taste in my mouth from the folks who gush over the work of Shepard Fairey. And now I'm snickering to myself that his legal counsel is abandoning him after it was revealed that he lied about which source he stole from / traced over for the Obama Hope poster.

Fairey represents a lot of what I don't like about the art world - arrogant double-standards. His work is entirely derivative if not outright stolen, which in itself is not offensive to me. There's nothing wrong with appropriation when proper attribution is given. Yet he continually passes himself off as original, and profits from creativity that simply wasn't his - without giving proper credit where it is clearly due. In fact, he outright lies about his sources. And Fairey is clearly lying for the sake of his own celebrity and profit, not for the sake of art.

I've always insisted that the work that put him on the map, Andre the Giant has a Posse and the resulting Obey work, were obviously inspired by John Carpenter's They Live - which starred a pro wrestler and featured subliminal outdoor advertising messages that read "obey" (among other Big Brotherly imperatives). Too many coincidences.

Given that it's now common practice to sue musicians for sampling even small portions of someone else's work without permission and/or payment, Fairey deserves to be held responsible for his actions. It's clear that his primary concern is being a celebrity; perhaps his ego prevents him from being honest about his work, his process and his tremendous debt to pop and fringe culture that preceded him and all of his sordid merchandising.

Fairey is complicit in the ugly corporatization of celebrity - at the expense of honesty, integrity and authenticity. It pains me that only the Obama poster is drawing this fact into the public discourse.


Duh Only said...

When I first saw the Andre the Giant "Obey" stickers and posters out on the streets in the late 90's, I really liked them. It was fun looking for them in every big city I went to. I liked how they crept into the urban landscape. OBEY. It seemed mysterious because I didn't know anything about the artist yet. Seemed cool. It inspired me to immediately make my own stickers and put them out there. I had no idea so many images of his were "borrowed".

Fast forward a few years and you can buy OBEY images on t-shirts. Really expensive t-shirts. I'm not accusing sell-out at all, making money on your art is fine. What changed though is that this wasn't just a little street art project anymore.

When it was "just about putting the message out on the streets" it was perfectly acceptable to use appropriated images. But selling prints, t-shirts and exhibiting in galleries, and using other peoples images is completely different. Maybe this evolution happened so gradually and naturally that his use of others images was really meant to be "fair use". I feel like he probably felt that way.

But at some point, this turned into a career where as you said "he continually passes himself off as original, and profits from creativity that simply wasn't his - without giving proper credit and attribution."

Maybe it was only a matter of time before he sampled an image which the original artist would be willing to fight him for. Maybe his reputation will take a hit. Or maybe there's no such thing as publicity. I'll be watching with interest to see how this plays out.

PYLB said...

Right, when he first popped up, Fairey was all about "the medium is the message". I expected him to walk the walk more than just talk the talk.

What is the message you get from the medium of a mass-produced $50 t-shirt based on a tracing of someone else's art? Don't get me wrong, some of his work is arresting, but the message he's sending through each medium is a big disappointment to me.

IMHO, his work would be more rewarding if he attributed all those sources.