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Shepard Fairey’s sanctioned, 18-story mural in downtown Detroit (photo by obeygiant/Instagram)

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.

Shepard Fairey wheatpasting a poster on a water tower in Detroit last month (photo by obeygiant/Instagram)

“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.

One of Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant wheatpaste posters on a water tower in Detroit last month (photo by obeygiant/Instagram)

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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...

15 replies on “Detroit Police Issue Felony Arrest Warrant for Shepard Fairey”

        1. You’ve been the first to comment on two consecutive Hyperallergic posts about Shepard Fairey, so I ask you: why do you care so much?

          1. Yeah, guy… give your readers shit for actually reading and responding to your articles. Heck of a business plan you’ve got there.

          2. I care that you folks are devoting time to a thief and criminal who mostly just sells watered down “rebellion” to the wealthy and middle classes through clothing and art that trades on images of people who are often PoC or who are decidedly anti-capitalist often using images (with no credit given) originally created by PoC.

            I don’t care about Shephard Fairey. I care about what this site publishes. Your response was utterly asinine and was at best the work of a grade schooler.

          3. This is America. Shepard Fairey’s art, along with other street artists, reveals the state of our U.S. times more than any other genre today. When we look back through art history the most signifigant art of any time period is one that reflects the social and political environment. Whether you agree or not, our time in the art history archives will be known for street art. We currently live in a culture that thrives on producing unsubtle garbage for profit and according to your comment you would agree that S. Fairey is giving us that. The fact that he is considered a criminal and there is a warrant out for his arrest because he painted his original art on an ugly contemporary, industrial looking building creates an even better story about our current American atmosphere. Brilliant! I wonder why you care so much about him as well.

          4. No, the most signifigant art of any time period is art that examines and interrogates the social and political environment, not art that simply mirrors it.

            “The fact that he is considered a criminal”

            No, He is a convicted criminal.

            ” I wonder why you care so much about him as well.”

            See my previous comments about this asinine conceit.

    1. Just because I comment negatively about stories about Shephard Fairey doesn’t mean I care about those stories. It means I’m tired of hearing about this thief and as a reader of this site I said as much.

      Yeah, it was a terrific comeback… as long as you don’t actually think about it at all.

Comments are closed.