Shepard Fairey

By Elisa Bronstein

With a recent arrest on graffiti charges in Boston, an ongoing lawsuit with the Associated Press, and the opening of his first solo exhibit, Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, it’s safe to say the only thing Shepard Fairey is not guilty of is lethargy. Fairey’s name has been added to the prestigious list of contemporary artists who have made it into one of the four displays the ICA of Boston promotes. The controversial Frank Shepard Fairey, underground-anything-enthusiast, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1970. Fairey hasn’t always been known for such straightforward artwork. His notoriety began with his love for wheatpasting his posters to public property, sticker tagging, and stenciling for the love of art.

Fairey seems to live up to his artist’s nature; he creates works and will share them with people “by any means necessary,” in addition to creating a constant buzz. Hearing Fairey speak is both riveting and real, and allows the listener to gain a better perspective on the distinctive man behind the art, despite the overwhelming amount of negative publicity recently associated with him. Fairey’s famous HOPE poster used during Obama’s 2008 campaign was recently inducted into the Smithsonian and not only has made Shepard Fairey a household name but also has strengthened the already well-established Obama brand.

Fairey had avoided endorsement of mainstream politicians but was so impressed by Obama that he was inspired to “take a simple image and encourage people to do more research into Obama’s views and ideas,” as he states in his interview with Charlie Rose. Although he may now be best known for the campaign artwork, he states he never intended for it to become so widely accepted; nonetheless, he did create the piece with the hope of reaching beyond his regular audiences.

His current exhibit at the ICA, which runs from February 6 through August 16, 2009, has aroused interest in his controversial, moving pieces from the past two decades. Fairey’s art consists of graphically altered images, usually in a bold black with subtle images spattered in the background, which evoke a feeling of mystery, curiosity, and defiance. These already iconic pieces are inspiring both socially and artistically; Fairey has charged these familiar images with his sentiments and ideals. The exhibit, a strong representation of Fairey’s belief in the provocative, looks to be an indication of where things are heading for him; the recognition will give him the clout to work in a positive light and still make headlines doing so. If you haven’t checked out Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand, be sure to do so soon.

Images courtesy of Shepard Fairey

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