Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Invasion of Spring, The Invasion of Shepard Fairey

- DANGER: Do Not Enter, beware of geese.

Right before I started typing this I was outside where the temperature had dropped to 37 degrees and rain was coming down like a monsoon, meanwhile Channel 5 just warned me that a "light dusting of snow" is possible tomorrow. However, last week it was 70 degrees and Sawyer Point was packed with people enjoying the beautiful spring weather right as the river crested just below flood stage. Spring's invasion of Cincinnati had begun.

- Purple People Bridge and the Big Mac Bridge.

- The Serpentine Wall.

- Yeatman's Cove.

- Under the (Taylor-Southgate) Bridge.

- No Parking.

- The Majestic.

- Come 2011, the surroundings of Great American Ballpark will be quite impressive upon the completion of the Great American Tower and "The Banks."

 - If you have any idea who this man is, you know hes a local legend and all around bad ass. Cincinnati's international man of mystery.

- After the Cincinnati Streetcar is completed and Newport/Covington build their own, I propose they run part of the line through these tracks in Sawyer Point. A modern streetcar would look great running through this park on the riverfront.

The Invasion of Shepard Fairey

- One of six Shepard Fairey murals around the city as part of his new exhibit currently on display at the Contemporary Arts Center downtown.

On February 19 Shepard Fairey debuted his new exhibit, "Supply and Demand," at the Contemporary Arts Center on the corner of 6th and Walnut. Best known for his "Obey" campaign and his "Obama Hope" poster, Fairey is no stranger to controversy. The night of his opening, the line to get in was wrapped all the way around the building up Walnut street. At least that's what I heard, I don't know, I was probably in some abandoned subways or climbing something. I wasn't too concerned because I wasn't a big fan of Fairey's work. Am I now? No, not really, but I did go see the exhibit to give it a fair shot. I'm no fine art critic and my opinion of art isn't really of value to anyone, but here's what I think just in case you care, have some time to kill or are already so mad that I don't like this "art" that you're going to leave me a nasty comment about how I suck:

Fairey's "Obey" theme and proaganda posters are pretty interesting. Creative and unique? Not so much. His constant use of the words "Obey" and "This is your God" to represent money in propaganda was already seen years earlier in the 1988 cult classic "They Live." The other reason I dislike his work, the Obama poster and the credit he gets for it. Apparently propaganda was an ironic tool for Fairey until he wanted to use it for his own political beliefs. From his work I seem to get the message that propaganda is wrong and he makes an ironic joke of it through his work. When it's convenient though, he'll use its exact powers of persuaison when it works best for him to push his own agenda.

- (Left) Fairey's famous Obama "Hope" poster. (Right) The image Fairey used to create the poster, originally taken by AP photographer Mannie Garcia.

Here's the deal. Per my major in college I'm enrolled in fine art studio classes. Through these classes I've gained a higher appreciation and understanding of art and it's potential to carry messages. However, the Obama poster really irks me. An original print of it currently is hanging at the CAC, the description card reads: "Fairey renders Obama with his face slightly lifted, gazing into the distance with resolute optimism..." The problem is, Fairey doesn't render anything. Obama "slightly lifted" his face and "gazed," Mannie Garcia of the Associated Press captured the photograph, captured the moment and captured the slightly lifted gazing. Fairey altered the colors and added the word "Hope." Put Garcia's image in photoshop, play with the filters and read an internet tutorial on vector art, you can do the same thing.

Ok, I get it. It's Fairey's process, he made the work his own. It all plays into his theme of propaganda and it was an iconic image of the campaign. There's a legal dispute between him and the Associated Press who believe he didn't have the right to use the image, he claims he can under "fair use." The Obama campaign never actually officially used the image as part of their campaign material since it was obtained "illegaly" from the Associated Press. However Obama had no problem thanking Shepard for making the poster (you can see his letter of gratitude on display at the exhibit). For Fairey its ok to take someone else's work and alter it to his own, but don't you try to take his work! Per Fairey's request (I've since been informed that the no camera policy is actually most likely the museum's general policy, I had been told it was up to the artist), no cameras are allowed in his exhibit at the CAC, unless you're sneaky. The CAC even dispatches attendants that carefully watch you to make sure you're just texting and not snapping photos with your camera phone. Even as you pay admission you're asked "Do you have a camera with you?" It's too bad I couldn't conceal my Digital SLR camera inside, I could've captured Fairey's work and edited them in photoshop to be my own. That's "fair use," right? Since Fairey wants you to "Obey" his demands and keep your cameras away from his work, I'll jut have some fun with the stuff he put outside...

- Fair Use.

There might be something to like about Fairey's work, I personally like his original "Obey" campaign, but overall I feel its really not that creative, at least not his most recent works like the "Obama Hope" poster. It would be one thing if these works were done in an age when Photoshop wasn't readily available through easy illegal downloading to any teenager wanting a cool facebook profile picture. However, vector art and replacing colors in photos has been done for years. The image of Obama "gazing" is a strong moment captured in reality by photographer Mannie Garica, not by Shepard Fairey. Overall I think Fairey's work was inspired by watching "They Live" late one night on AMC and seems to be most popular amongst angsty teenagers bent on hating the government, listening to Green Day and skatboarding in the suburbs. I understand if you like it, I understand a lot of my friends like it, however, I don't. You can't appreciate Fairey's work without understanding that a lot of it comes from the hard work and creativity of other people combined with his slight alterations. That's my opinion, I'm sticking to it. His work does make for great t-shirts that could be sold at Hot Topic and an excuse for suburbanites to say they drove downtown to go to an art show opening though. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my opinions on the exhibit, I think 5chw4r7z sums it up best when he said: "I think my definition of art, "does it raise strong emotions?" has been fully met by Fairy. Love him or hate him everyone has strong opinions."

For another perspective/view of Fairey's exhibit, check out Jeremy Mosher's review at Urban Cincy and the one by 5chw4r7z.

"I came here to chew bubble gum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubble gum."-Rowdy Rody Piper in "They Live."

Updates | Oct. 16, 2017:
  • Over time, opinions and attitudes can change and mature. Looking back on this post seven years later, I cringe at what I wrote about Shepard Fairey. These days, I really appreciate and enjoy his work. 


  1. LOL
    I thought of They Live, too. I briefly considered wearing cheap black sunglasses to the Fairey exhibit.
    I kinda agree that hawking the modified images on t-shirts, flyers & stuff is ok but viewing the work as modern art is kinda nuts - but that boils down to issues of legitimacy and/or prestige as it's still arguably copyright infringement slapping the images on a t-shirt.
    Do you get flack from the fine art guys for being "just a picture taker"? A button pusher?
    I take pictures in Spring Grove a lot but I frequently feel like I am cheating since the place is landscaped for beautiful views everywhere you look.

  2. You don't suck at all, but you do have your facts wrong. One glaring mistake: the ban on picture-taking at the CAC is not per Fairey's request, it is per museum policy.

  3. Molly, I apologize for that and thanks for reading. However, I had been informed that it was up to the artist to decide if their were to be photographs allowed in their exhibit. Thanks for pointing it out though.

  4. Thanks for the shoutout Ronnie.
    One comment "you can do the same thing" true, but you didn't. (not you but someone)
    Thats all, I understand completely people criticisms, but if you want to be an artist you have to create art.
    I was torn about Fairey until I saw his stuff up close, I have a new apreciation for the street influence it shows.
    But, thats the great thing about art, there's many artists I don't like or get, but theres always someone else to apreciate.

  5. Man, you know what's really creative? Those sweet bridge pictures you took above. Man the composition of the couple in the one (nice use of 1.8 by the way), and the feeling I get from the underside of the Taylor Southgate bridge. Simply Amazing!!!!

  6. @5chw4r7z No problem with the shout out, I think you said it best. I agree, seeing his work in person gives you a new appreciation for it. I like his propaganda posters that were placed along that long wall, I think those were great, however, I just don't care for the whole Obama poster image and the similar images he made of other icons. What made those images strong was the photograph, not his chosen color scheme, in my humble opinion.

    @Quim I don't think its so much as copyright infringement rather than he gets a lot of credit when others did most of the work. Oh well, he did do it first as 5chw4r7z said and at the least he brought a ton of people down to a really great museum.

    @Anon, good use of sarcasm, you could do better though. Good try.

  7. Love, love, love that picture of Great American Ball Park with the new skyscraper behind it. Very interesting/unique angle, and terrific imagery all around.

  8. You're like a month and a half behind dude. Where was this post in say February?

  9. I don't know. It was february, LOST was back on tv, the cyclones were I was probably either watching hockey or watching LOST. If not, then I was probably trespassing in something.