As we celebrate the life of legendary Detroit guitarist Ron Asheton, 1xRUN is proud to present new collaborative editions from one of Asheton’s infamous partners in crime Niagara, blended with the iconic work of Shepard Fairey.
For the first time ever, iconic contemporary artists Shepard Fairey and Niagara have collaborated on two stunning silkscreen editions that pay tribute to the late legend. Available in three distinct color variants, “Let There Be Dark” and “Tomorrow’s Another Night” capture Asheton’s unique relationship to Niagara, both musically and romantically, in a whole new light. Read on as we get the background on this historic collaboration from Shepard Fairey and Niagara…
1x: For these two prints we took a unique approach, which as Shepard pointed out is called exquisite corpse, wherein each collaborator adds an element to the other’s piece, so for these images we had each of you do a background and a foreground and then switch for the other to add the corresponding elements. Can each of you talk about the imagery for each foreground and background, as well how and why it was chosen?
Shepard Fairey: For “Tomorrow’s Another Night” I chose an image of Ron and Niagara where I think they both look amazing, but there was a nice balance between in-your-face aggression with Ron’s pose making eye contact holding his fist up, and Niagara’s seemingly demure embrace of Ron, but anyone who knows Niagara understands that though she may look sedate, she’s pulling the strings. I added a switchblade that she is caressing with her finger, as a way to amplify her femme fatale chic, and because I thought it lent itself to my original idea of a title ‘Bonnie & Clyde Were Lightweights.’”
Niagara: Shepard’s images of us are done so well. It’s not easy to get to the essence and Shepard has honed his powers to perfection. I’ve also always loved doing collages and inking. For Shepard’s image background, I only used Destroy All Monsters or Dark Carnival’s real press & vintage flyers. I just grabbed a couple handfuls & combed through, cut out, glued down and passed out.
Niagara: For our portraits, I thought Ron & I should be live-action onstage. I painted ourselves on canvas in black and silver (silver paint & silver metal leaf.) I closely recreated of a photo of myself. Ron’s image is a composite of photos and memories. It is as close to reality as it had been onstage. Just the facts.
Shepard Fairey: On “Let There Be Dark” for my addition to Niagara’s art, I riffed upon newspaper headlines and punk flyers with my own pattern elements woven in as well. To me, punk has always been about provocation and an ability to work both inside and outside the framework of mass culture. I love Niagara’s subversive sense of humor, so I did my best Niagara impersonation with the fake newspaper headline ‘Let There Be Dark.’”
From founding The Stooges to joining Destroy All Monsters (and later Dark Carnival) with Niagara, Ron Asheton is remembered as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. In his partnership with punk-pop revisionist Niagara, the two would shape the future of rock n’ roll and contemporary art simultaneously.
Niagara: The Stooges! I got to see them a few times. Astounding. For a long time they were not taken seriously by many. Though art that really endures has to prove that it endures, simply by enduring.
Ron was at an Ann Arbor club when we met. He was perfectly put together, dressed very natty. German leather WWII coat, shirt, vest, scarf, cigarette holder, aviator glasses, perfect hair. He was imposing to most, but very friendly. He seemed more adult than anyone on the scene. He had been an Eagle Scout when young and also had learned to fly planes. His father had been a fighter pilot in WWII and Ron embraced a certain amount of regimentation.
He talked to me of beautiful German women’s WWII leathers, which impressed me as a unique pickup line. Ron was smart, talented and witty. He joined the art band that I was in and made it a real band. I moved into the Asheton household. Ron’s brother, Scott (The Stooges’ drummer), lived there too. Every night we all came back from practice or gigs, we three would continue cocktails, drugs and hilarity. Priceless times.
1x: Shepard, we know you are a huge fan of all things Stooges, as well as Niagara and Destroy All Monsters, what are some of your earliest memories both with the Stooges and with seeing/hearing Niagara’s visual and sonic work?
Shepard Fairey: The Sex Pistols were the gateway drug for a lot of good things for me (or bad depending who you ask) including my discovery of the Stooges, because the Sex Pistols covered the Stooges song “No Fun.” The Stooges made a lot of my favorite music, so of course I’m a huge fan of their guitarist Ron Asheton.
I’ve also been a big fan since the ’90s of the artist Niagara who makes very stylish, pop-noir paintings with a dark sense of humor and sly wit. What I did not know until maybe 15 years ago, is that Ron Asheton and Niagara, both hailing from Detroit, were romantically and musically entangled! They played together in Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival… both great post-Stooges bands. I’ve become friends with Niagara, so we decided to collaborate by both making Ron and Niagara portrait art, which we’d then hand over to the other to enhance/destroy as they saw fit.
1x: Do you have a favorite solo (or song) featuring Ron Asheton? If so why?
Niagara: I’ve listened and sang those Stooges songs a million times. They’re tops.
Though the night of practice when we wrote “Bored” is my favorite if only because Ron started playing a riff he had, the band took it up, and I went through my song book (my lyric jottings) and started singing the words to “Bored.” You don’t forget when it all comes together like butter.
Niagara: A lifetime. Don’t let anyone kid you, it’s the culmination of a lifetime.
Shepard Fairey: 6-8 minutes for me, in my garage…and yes, a knife was involved.
1x: What is unique about this piece compared with your other work?
Niagara: I’ve never painted myself before, nor wanted to. I’ve painted Ron before, in color. I’ve done silver and black high-contrast portraits before. I’m lucky to keep doing collage work for Hysteric Glamour couture in Japan, these last ten years.
Shepard Fairey: I’ve collaborated with artists before, but never in exactly this way, and though I’ve done many tributes to musicians, never have the musicians also created art the way that Niagara does.
1x: Why should people buy this one of these prints?
Niagara: Don’t buy any art unless you love it. Did I forget to tell you how much you love it?
Shepard Fairey: Because they’re bad people with good taste or maybe good people with bad taste.
1x: Describe this series in one gut reaction word.
Shepard Fairey: Destroy.
1x: Bring us up to speed on what you’ve been up to, do you have any big shows or events coming up that you’d like to share?
Niagara: Val Kilmer’s new art gallery has asked me to do a solo show in January 2020. I said yes.
Shepard Fairey: 2019 has been the 30th anniversary of the Obey art project and I’ve done 7 solo exhibitions of the “Facing the Giant: Three Decades of Dissent” show. A special fine art version of the show is on view now in Los Angeles at Over the Influence and I have an opening on December 3rd in Miami which will be the final show of this body of work. I’ve also completed my 100th large scale painted mural recently and even onto 101, with 2 more happening before the year ends, so it’s been very busy. I’ll be announcing a big collaboration in Miami as well which will start a new election year campaign that will be taking place throughout 2020 with new murals in swing states. Check social media for more details!
1xRUN: Where else can people find you?
Niagara: Instagram @niagaradetroit
Shepard Fairey: @obeygiant on all social.