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Shepard Fairey’s Obama portrait on a banner in Chicago in 20108 (photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the seven years since Shepard Fairey created what might be, to date, the most iconic artwork of the century — the “Hope” poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 US presidential campaign — its subject has had to make a lot of compromises and its creator has lost a lot of hope. In a recent interview with Esquire, Fairey expounds on his frustrations with President Obama and calls for massive campaign funding reform.

“Obama has had a really tough time, but there have been a lot of things that he’s compromised on that I never would have expected. I mean, drones and domestic spying are the last things I would have thought [he’d support],” Fairey told Esquire. “I’ve met Obama a few times, and I think Obama’s a quality human being, but I think that he finds himself in a position where your actions are largely dictated by things out of your control. I’m not giving him a pass for not being more courageous, but I do think the entire system needs an overhaul and taking money out of politics would be a really good first step.”

A Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster (photo by Lord Jim, via Wikimedia Commons)

Fairey’s disillusionment with the Obama administration echoes the frustrations of many of the president’s would-be supporters, particularly over issues like the NSA’s surveillance programs. His sentiments stand in sharp contrast to the optimism he captured with his “Hope” design and expressed following the 2008 election.

“I think the Obama image is a triumph, in that, well, I think Obama’s going to be a great president so there’s the triumph there,” Fairey told Suicide Girls in late 2008. “I’m cautiously optimistic … For me it’s a very, very sensitive time right now. Because I don’t want to look like I’ve been brainwashed and I’m going to be 100% complicit with everything that’s going on just because Obama’s the president, but at the same time I think it’s much easier for negativity to flourish. I kind of want to see what happens to see what topics I really need to make art about.”

Accordingly, Fairey has been making art about environmental exploitation, campaign financing, gun control, immigration reform, among other issues on which Obama has come up short. But does that mean he’s done making campaign posters? Will he be throwing his support and design savvy behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign?

“I mean nothing against Hilary,” Fairey said. “I agree with Hilary on most issues, but campaign finance structure makes me very angry, because it means that politicians are going to have to raise a huge amount of money, which narrows the field dramatically. There are only certain kinds of people that either have the preexisting resources or the willingness to work in a way that will get them a lot of money from donors. That narrows the field right there.”

All told, it sounds like Fairey will spend next year’s election season campaigning for issues, rather than a candidate. Perhaps a line of “No Hope Before Campaign Finance Reform” posters, stickers, stencils, and murals is in order.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

2 replies on “Shepard Fairey Has Lost All Hope in Obama”

  1. Fairey is a thief and a criminal. Who cares what he thinks. I’m sure he can find yet another PoC with coat tails he can hitch a ride on just as has with much of his work that takes the images or photographic work of PoC so he can sell the images to rich collectors.

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