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The street artist Shepard Fairey may get a lot of laughs when he visits Portland, but if he sets foot in Detroit anytime soon things will get very serious. Last week a felony arrest warrant for the globetrotting street artist was filed with the 36th District Court, accusing him of $9,000 in property damage and two counts of malicious destruction of property related to unsanctioned works he created when he visited Detroit in May to create an 18-story mural and open an exhibition of his work at the Library Street Collective. He could face more than $10,000 in fines and up to five years in jail, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“Just because he is a well-known artist does not take away the fact that he is also a vandal,” Detroit Police Sargent Rebecca McKay, the officer in charge of Detroit’s graffiti task force, told the Free Press. “And that’s what we consider was done, in these instances, was vandalism.”
Fairey seems unfazed by the threat of jail time — he’s been arrested some 17 times in the two decades he’s been a practicing street artist. He called the warrant “hilarious” and told the Independent: “Sometimes when I’ve been arrested I’ve pretended not to be me, but a disciple of me, as it were. This is because at some point I realized that some people in the police force, if they realize you’re a bigger fish, then they want a bigger notch on their belt.”
Prior to completing his enormous mural in downtown Detroit last month, which was commissioned by property developer Dan Gilbert for his building One Campus Martius, Fairey told the Free Press he planned to create a number of unsanctioned works as well. “I still do stuff on the street without permission,” he said. “I’ll be doing stuff on the street when I’m in Detroit.” Indeed, a number of his signature Andre the Giant wheatpaste portraits appeared around the city. The case crystalizes competing imperatives for high-profile street artists, who increasingly rely on benevolent property owners — or malevolent developers — to execute their biggest and most elaborate works, while also needing to maintain their street cred by constantly putting up smaller, unsanctioned pieces.