Fresh off his recent solo exhibition at Jacob Lewis Gallery, we caught up with Shepard Fairey, the man behind Obey Giant, Los Angeles’ Subliminal Projects Gallery and much more. This past summer Fairey came to Detroit to work on his largest wall to date, along with the latest incarnation of his Printed Matter series at Detroit’s Library Street Collective. In addition, the prolific street artist championed the importance of unsanctioned street work and allegedly added some illegal pieces throughout Detroit’s east side, from which charges are still pending. We caught up with Fairey to discuss his latest exhibition, influences and more in our latest 1xRUN Interview. Read on for more after the jump…
1x: What strides do you feel you’ve made with this most recent body of work On Our Hands?
Shepard Fairey: I think in the past I’ve made pieces that were about broad concepts, sometimes including or presented with decorative elements, but frequently those decorative elements were designed to make challenging topics more palatable. With this body of work, I’m talking about specific topics including – environmental destruction, campaign finance reform, abuse of power and the influence of the fossil fuels industries. My inclusion of decorative elements may soften visually, but upon further inspection actually intensifies the cautionary message in the works, because I’ve woven elements of the villains into the decorative elements in a way that is analogous to how they whitewash their insinuation and manipulation in our actual lives.
1x: Are there any specific influences new or old that you found yourself returning to as a source of inspiration for this latest body of work?
Fairey: A lot of the influences are things that I’ve dealt with before, but I think my understanding of the issues has sharpened my focus. There are several new motifs around oil and gas that are new to the show, even if they employ a similar graphic language to my larger body of work.
1x: You also have some limited editions that you created with Pace, can you elaborate on why editions have always had a special place in your heart?
Fairey: I’m always trying to make my work accessible by delivering it through many platforms including public art, t-shirts, stickers, and prints, as well as more expensive paintings. A lot of the works in the Jacob Lewis Gallery are out of reach financially for most people so I wanted to make more affordable works that are also special art pieces in their own right.
1x: What was the first print that you purchased? Do you still have it?
Fairey: I bought a photographic print of Johnny Rotten by Dennis Morris when I was 17, but probably the first real art print I bought was a Frank Kozic print of Reverend Horton Heat in ’93. I was broke when I was younger so Kozic was great because his prints were cheap. I also bought Melvins, The Cramps, and John Spencer Blues Explosion prints from him, as well as the original Dazed & Confused movie premiere screen print.
1x: The last?
Fairey: I don’t know if this counts, because I commissioned it as a print run, but I bought Gary Panter’s Screamers image, which is one of my all-time favorite music images, and also from the Provocateurs print set I helped put together. I’ve traded a lot of prints with friends like Cleon Peterson, Ravi Zupa, Ernesto Yerena, and Francisco Reyes Jr. too.
1x: How important is repetition or to put it another way, dissemination of an idea to you, and what else does it allow you to do?
Fairey: I’ve told you a million times, repetition works.
1x: You’ve been staying busy with street work this year, what have some of your personal highlights been as the summer winds down?
Fairey: I enjoy the challenge of every mural as I’m doing it. They all have there idiosyncrasies, but I have to say that the Detroit mural with it’s epic scale was an incredibly rewarding thing to see come together. I also was very happy with the way my recent Jersey City mural turned out and the enthusiastic response from the locals and the Jersey City mayor.
1x: You have done countless collaborations over the years, what are some of the aspects that you are drawn to about collaboration, both on a smaller scale say for an edition or a larger scale for an outdoor work?
Fairey: Collaboration forces you to step outside your comfort zone and formulas to find a solution that’s harmonious with your own needs and the needs of your collaborator. Sometimes something really special happens when you bounce ideas off of someone. Art is all about problem solving and sometimes introducing new variables into the problem inspire something unusual that can also be valuable to works that are not collaborative.
1x: Has that collaborative mentality carried over into your businesses as well? You have a creative agency, clothing brand, art gallery and your own solo career as artist, what a typical day look like from you from when you get up in the morning to when you get to bed at night? How do you go about managing to keep everything moving?
Fairey: With all the different things I’m juggling, collaboration with people I work with is essential. For many people being the creative director of a clothing brand would be a full-time job by itself, but that is just one of the things I’m involved in. Whether it’s the staff in my studio or the clothing brand, working closely with people who are very talented and whom I trust and communicate well with is essential. With the rapid pace of our culture, I don’t think I can effectively reach a broad audience, and do projects with a high level of quality, unless I’m willing to collaborate and delegate. It means that I’m constantly juggling and engaged, but it is important to me to use all the platforms I think are valuable. The cliché of the artist as a daydreamer who works when inspiration strikes does not fit me.
I get up around 8:15 in the morning, shower, answer email, check the news, and then go to my design studio or my art studio, depending on which I’m concentrating on that day and for that phase of my process. Often I’m at both studios during the course of a day, fortunately they are only a few minutes apart. I meet with my teams in both places to make sure we’re all well coordinated, and then I work on projects that require my art design and illustration or writing. I’m involved in my social media, but mostly to choose images to promote, and write about of my own, as well as other things that are going on, but then I delegate to my team to roll the content out to the different platforms. Social media is important, but it is more important for me to be focusing on new creations throughout the day. At night I go home to hang out with my kids until they go to bed, and then I work on a second shift of design and illustration at my house until 1 or 2am.
1x: Robbie Conal wrote a op-ed piece for us about your recent arrest here in Detroit, when did you two first meet ?
Fairey: I first met Robbie in the late ‘90s, but I was familiar with his work long before that. I saw Robbie’s Reagan “CONTRA Diction” poster in 1987 in LA and it was the poster that made me want to do the kind of work I have done with the Obey Giant campaign.
1x: Why did Conal’s work resonate so much with you personally?
Fairey: I was a big fan of the Dead Kennedys, Barbara Kruger, and the Russian Constructivists but Robbie’s work was the first contemporary work I encountered which fused art, humor, and political commentary.
1x: Who are some other influences of yours that may not be so apparent to viewers?
Fairey: Jamie Reid, who did the art for the Sex Pistols, because even though his work is mostly based on found imagery, he has a unique ability to combine memorable images with provocative slogans. The work is fairly simple but undeniably powerful. Another person is Barry McGee aka “TWIST” because he used a consistent language of characters and motifs along with red as a dominant color in his work. He was also one of the first artists I thought succeeded in bringing the energy and chaos of the streets successfully into the gallery in a sophisticated but authentic way. He was an inspiration for me on several levels even though our styles are very different.
1x: Anything else you want to touch on that we didn’t cover?
Fairey: Vote Trump for the very last president of the United States.
– Shepard Fairey was interviewed via email by 1xRUN Editor In Chief Pietro Truba. He has previously interviewed Ricky Powell for RUN #00881, Saber for RUN #00800 and Doze Green for RUN #00562. Follow him @Pietro1xRun