Street artist Shepard Fairey took experience to understand how much art can have an impact on real events.
Years ago after Fairey added part of his “Andre the giant has a farce” imagery his art became known in the media on a political billboard – as did the politician Buddy Cianci, who later won the mayor’s race in Providence, Rhode Island.
Was it because of Fairey’s art? Fairey will never know. But in the OBEY GIANT documentary is now showing on Hulu, he said it taught him about the responsibility that comes with creating public art.
He brings this experience to his next two murals: In Old Town Rock Hill and then at the Queens University of Charlotte. Fairey flew from LA to Charlotte on Friday, October 15th.
Who is Shepard Fairey?
In addition to the “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker that turned into the OBEY GIANT art campaign, Fairey is perhaps the artist best known for Barack Obama’s 2008 “Hope” portrait.
In 2017 as part of a collaboration with Amplifier, he created “We The People” Series. âWe The Peopleâ is a campaign that uses art in public spaces and storytelling to create a non-Parisian dialogue about the identity of our country.
And in April 2020, our Charlotte area community had big plans for Fairey – but the pandemic had different plans for all of us.
“As is so often the case, I was a little over-optimistic about, ‘Oh, you know this project might be delayed for a few months,'” Fairey told CharlotteFive on Thursday night via Zoom. “Hey, better late than never.”
Why Fairey chose Charlotte
How were we so lucky to have Fairey around the Charlotte area? Well, that’s kind of homecoming. Fairey has lived in LA for 21 years but grew up in Charleston.
He has family in Rock Hill (one cousin and one uncle). His mother and sister both went to Queens.
He has friends here – including Ben Visser von Rock Hills Social Design House (the enterprise also designed Fairey’s website). The local artist Mike Wirth, a professor in Queens, was instrumental in the design of the Charlotte mural. His senior art assistant went to Winthrop University. One of his art mentors as a child was Winthrop’s art department chairman, Edmund Lewandowski, whom Shepard described as “an amazing painter”.
“There is my personal story – and then my opportunity to write history for other people,” he said.
Here’s What You Should Know About Fairey’s New Murals:
Wall mural from Rock Hill
The Rock Hill mural is on White Street in Old Town as part of the wall mile of the city Initiative. On Saturday afternoon when Fairey was painting, several members of the ward came out to watch. Some brought deck chairs. A family had a picnic in a meadow across the street.
Here’s what to look out for when you see the mural:
- SEW: âIt has some nod to Rock Hill’s industrial history. It has a reference to the textile industry with a sewing machine and it says “open eyes, open mind, sew and create” (you know, “go ahead and create”). I like the idea that people are sewing an ever-growing tapestry, writing the future, building a mosaic. There are some cool creative metaphors associated with sewing. “
- FREEDOM DRIVERS: âThere’s a train and it’s called ‘Freedom Rides into the Future,’ which is a subtle nod to that Story with the Freedom Riders but also just the idea of ââcreating a better future. “
- COKE: âThere is a portrait of the profile of a woman who meditatively looks into the distance. There is a dove of peace, there is a flower pattern, the Coca-Cola logo has a subversive touch (because of the Coca-Cola bottling plant there). “
‘RISE ABOVE’: âI love Andy Warhol, that kind of pop art component that also deals with the story, but there is also a line that says ‘Rise Above’. I think a lot of our political and social conversations have gotten very petty and I want people to think a little more about the bigger picture, human dignity and things that we should be united about, âsaid Fairey.
The managing partner for the ownership of the wall house, AJ Klenk (also owner of Old Town Kitchen & Cocktails in Rock Hill and NoDa’s The Goodyear House), CharlotteFive said last year, “The Shepherd mural will continue the celebration of all that is great about Rock Hill – past, present and future.”
The mural will take about two and a half days, Fairey said. It is part of a partnership between the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation (using the Barre Mitchell Community Initiatives Fund), Catalyst Capital Partners / URS Capital Partners, and the Women’s Art Initiative.
After Fairey finishes his piece of Rock Hill, he will emigrate to Queens. The mural will be located in the Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for the Arts and Civic Engagement building on campus. It is titled: âEmbrace Justiceâ. Here’s What to Look For When You See It:
“Embrace Justice” takes a few days to paint.
“My hope is that people will be reminded to reflect on how they are shaping the future of the culture of their group of friends, their city, the nation and the world,” he said.
âSometimes I think that the tendency of people to feel like someone else teaches them or didactically tell them what to think and do, which can lead people to do the opposite. But I think the tone of my mural is hopefully of intent and possibility – and it reminds people of these things in a way that is more encouraging than irritating. “
People will “OBEY” unless you tell them to
The planning behind the message isn’t all that different from Fairey’s famous “OBEY” art. He said that he chose the word obey because it is one of the least conscious and least unconscious things people do.
âMany of the principles from the ‘OBEY’ project that many people found antagonistic or provocative were actually driven by my belief in people – if they process things consciously – to make good decisions. I think the tone of what I created for this mural is more positive, but where it comes from is very similar, âsaid Fairey.
Advice for new artists
Fairey started out as an art student in a skateboard shop. Now that he’s famous, we wanted to know if he had any advice for aspiring artists. âFirst of all, don’t give up. Second, learn to live frugally. Be your own sharpest and honest critic while understanding that what you are doing is great personal therapy and only you know what you want to achieve, âhe said.
“Often it is difficult to determine what will go down with others, but if you develop your own style, your own aesthetic that stands out, your day in the sun will come if you are persistent.”
Experience Fairey’s work
Buy his art: some of Fairey’s original art is for sale at the mural site in Old Town Rock Hill.
Watch him talk: Fairey gives a student-run Discussion at Queens University.
This story was originally published October 15, 2021 3:24 p.m.