Shepard Fairey in San Francisco, 1999.
Influential street artist Shepard Fairey has been a consistent presence in national and international art scenes since the 1990s. The LA-based artist is perhaps best known locally through his downtown Detroit mural at One Campus Martius, his ubiquitous Hope image created originally as a grassroots activism tool to support Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and the pervasive We the People poster series for the 2017 Women’s March and beyond.
Shepard Fairey: Salad Days, 1989-1999, considers the first 10 years of Fairey’s artistic practice, and its roots in the graphic language and philosophies of the punk scene. Punk’s ethos played a decisive role in the artist’s early work. “When I discovered punk rock, and realized that music could have an attitude in its style but a specific point of view in its lyrics,” states Fairey, “I became even more interested in how it works as a way of shaping attitudes and culture.”
From 1989 to 1999, the artist adopted many of punk’s biting and playful graphic strategies, as well as its low-tech methods of production and distribution. Fairey created his first Andre the Giant has a Possesticker in a spontaneous DIY manner, appropriating an image of professional wrestler André René Roussimoff (aka André the Giant) from a newspaper. The image would gain iconic status when it spread via friends and fans to city streets across the United States and eventually around the world. The Andre the Giant campaign and image would transform in the mid-1990s into the Obey Giant series, which was inspired by John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror film, They Live (1988) and its plot about subliminal messages implanted in a society in order to control its inhabitants. Taking inspiration from early Russian Constructivist poster designs in particular and from revolutionary propaganda posters in general, Obey Giant prints were posted unsolicited on billboards, buildings, and other parts of the city.
“In Fairey’s earliest works we can see the inheritance of the punk ethos: the satirical impulse, the guerilla-style poster sniping, the oblique references to pop culture, and the very public stage of the street as a place for unapologetic individual expression,” states Blauvelt, Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum. He continues, “Shepard Fairey is a perfect bridge to connect the history of punk graphics that we are also exhibiting at the same time to his seminal work from the 1990s.”
Shepard Fairey: Salad Days, 1989-1999 showcased the artist’s formative years through a variety of posters, stickers, and archival documents showing his engagement with punk. It also featured a new installation in Cranbrook Art Museum’s galleries created by the artist.
The exhibition was organized by Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by Andrew Blauvelt, Director, and Steffi Duarte, Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow, with assistance from Library Street Collective. Cranbrook Art Museum programs are made possible with generous support from the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation, members of the Art Museum Committee, and ArtMembers at Cranbrook.
Shepard Fairey's work and practice disrupts the distinction between fine and commercial art. He has become widely known since the 2008 US presidential election for his Barack Obama “Hope” and Inauguration poster that hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. Fairey rose to prominence in the early 1990s, through the dispersion of posters and stickers that were labeled as “Andre the Giant has a Posse” which would later relate to his Obey Giant Campaign. Today the work is now regarded as an international phenomenon, having changed the language between art and the urban landscape.
Fairey sits on the advisory board of ‘Reaching to Embrace the Arts’, a nonprofit organization that provides art supplies to priority schools; and in 2007, he joined the board of the ‘Music Is Revolution Foundation’, a nonprofit organization that supports music education for public schools and for which he created a logo. In 2014, Fairey painted a towering mural paying tribute to Nelson Mandela and the 25th anniversary of the Purple Rain Protest in Johannesburg, overlooking the Nelson Mandela Bridge. He has always been open about controversial social and political topics and often creates or donates artwork in order to promote awareness for various social issues.
Fairey's works have been exhibited in numerous public and private institutions, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.
Shepard Fairey: Salad Days, 1989-1999, on display from June 16 trough October 7, 2018.
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