Shepard Fairey was here

February 10, 2009

I met Shepard Fairey on the corner of Mass. Ave. and Newbury Street in June of 2000. He was climbing down from a utility pole, where he had just plastered his ubiquitous Obey stickers. I introduced myself, he handed me a batch of stickers, saying “I think you know what to do with these.”

When I asked him what he was doing in Boston, he told me he was in town for a showing of his most recent poster work. Not at a gallery – he was considered a “street artist” and couldn’t be shown at the usual Newbury Street spots – but at Smash City Records, a basement level used CD store. I told him I’d check it out, then watched him cross the street and work his way down the embankment to the walls flanking the Mass Pike.

I went to Smash City and bought an artist’s proof of this poster:

Propaganda Engineering

On the way back to work, I peeked over the embankment fence and saw that Shepard has posted two huge Chairman Mao “Obey” posters.

Last summer, a new store, Grand, opened in Union Square. The owners were graphic designers, so they filled the store with little well-designed items. They also had their friend, Shepard, put up a poster on the outside wall of their building:

Grand Wall

Note the “Obey” in the lower left corner.

Here are some closeups of the smaller frames:

Detail 1Detail 2Detail 3Detail 4Detail 5Detail 6

It’s a welcome relief to see this collage, it’s a little oasis in a morass of road construction and shabby buildings.

Not long after this was completed, Mr. Fairey attracted national attention as the artist who created the iconic Obama campaign “Hope” poster, a copy of which now resides in the National Gallery. Although his working methods hadn’t changed, he was now a legitimate artist, and was invited to mount an exhibit at Boston’s new ICA. The grand opening would feature a party at which Shepard was to be the evening’s first DJ.

Until he was arrested by the Boston Police last weekend on two outstanding warrants. It seems he never paid the fine for his 2000 postering of the Mass Pike of the vandalism complaint brought against him by the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay.

This is why Boston will never be a great modern arts center. If the old money doesn’t understand it, it is to be feared or ridiculed. This is the same town that had performance artist Joe Coleman arrested for using an “infernal machine” – firecrackers taped to his chest – indoors (coincidentally, at the old ICA), the same bunch of yahoos who had a terrorist meltdown over the Adult Swim LED signs, and the same idiots who arrested an MIT sophomore for wearing a sweatshirt with blinking lights on it.

I suspect that if Fairey knew that the South End was the hipper neighborhood, and he had targeted his postering and stickering there, that the residents would have thanked him for brightening up the joint.

Maybe he’ll get a presidential pardon – Obama owes him.

Obelma

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