A lot can be said about Shepard Fairey. He is one of, if not the driving force in bringing graffiti and street art into the mainstream market place. He took an artform obsessed with spray paint and letters, and made stickers and wheatpasting the thing to talk about (not without help from REVS and COST of New York). He taught any interested graffiti writer the meaning of “phenomenology” and helped them to see that they were already helping to define the word themselves. In short, he helped to usher graffiti, one of the symbols of American modern art, into its very own “post-” period.
It’s well-known that Mr. Fairey began his stickering in Providence, a short drive from Boston, some time around 1989. From here, he took his sticker and wheatpasting campaign and went global, with the image of Andre the Giant and the message “OBEY” spreading across North America, Europe, and Asia. He has seen many imitators, detractors, and coat-tail-riders, but the man has persevered, evolving his work to his own tastes and reflecting the world around him. And this week, our local hero returns.
The Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston calls Mr. Fairey “one of today’s best known and most influential street artists,” and on February 6, 2009 his first solo museum show will open there, titled “Supply & Demand.” As a means of promoting the show, and as a way of breaking the typical “museum show” mold, the ICA has also organized a series of several wheatpaste installations throughout Boston’s neighborhoods, displaying Mr. Fairey’s newest motifs and imagery. The installations are a very impressive return to Boston for Mr. Fairey, who hasn’t had a show in town for a few years.
On a personal note, this reminds me of my first weeks in Boston, back in 1999; I was just starting my own tour in art school, at the Massachusetts College of Art. At this point, Shepard Fairey was a household name, if the household was that of a graffiti writer’s. I can clearly remember waiting to cross the street to class and looking down at the base of a light post to see a faded, yet untouched, Andre face stenciled in black on the shiny metal. Tags abounded all around it, but none dared to clip this stencil (a sign of true respect in the world of graffiti). It was probably close to 10-years-old even then — vintage OBEY. I would pass that stencil almost everyday while attending college, it became a friendly face. Years later, sometime after graduating, I went back to see if Andre was still there. Alas, he was not, but that is the true nature of graffiti — a lot of turn-over, going over, and overkill. But Mr. Fairey presses on, ever present in cities worldwide.
The photos included in this article are all examples of the city-wide installations that went up this week in Boston.
One more, in action: