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I can’t believe TMZ is in the art game (you know you’re mainstream when … ) but the look on street artist Shepard Fairey’s face when his wife offers her take on if he goes out on the street posting stuff anymore is priceless. Ouch.

hat tip Nick Riggle

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

26 replies on “Shepard Fairey’s Secret “Revealed”?”

  1. This is newsworthy about him… yet no one will point out his use of the work of other (mostly minority) artists’ work to make his work… without giving them credit much less any of the bank he makes off of his work?

    1. Yeah, TMZ’s really lost its roots. I liked it better when they were a show about exploring social and economic inequities in the art world. If it makes you feel better, I’ve never heard anyone say anything positive about Shepard Fairey in real life; it’s pretty common knowledge that he’s a douche, and we don’t need a television exposé to tell us that. 

      Also, what does race have to do with anything? Rich white Southerners are allowed to steal stuff and exploit people without it being slavery; sometimes people are just individually jerks. Chill.

      1. Whoa whoa whoa… did you just ask… on an art forum… “what does race have to do with anything?”

        Also.. I was specifically talking about HA’s coverage of this… not TMZ’s.  TMZ I expect to be shallow and superficial… not an art blog.

        1. I just scrolled up to check and it looks like I asked, yeah. Did you answer? 

          Just because it’s a topic that comes up sometimes in art, doesn’t mean it’s applicable to everything vaguely art-related. It’d be equally irrelevant if you’d said “other (mostly Neo-Dada) artists” or “other (mostly durational) artists” or “other (mostly hyperrealist) artists”.

          1. So.. you can’t quite understand how race would be important when it comes to a white artist co-opting the images of non-white figures, mostly revolutionary and dissident figures taken by mostly non-white photographers whose work he is at best making into a stencil and then putting in a decorative frame which he is then selling both as artwork and as part of his clothing line without any credit much less money given to the non-white artists whose work he is using in his “revolution for sale” artwork?

            Should I really have to explain how this is a problem???

          2. You clearly don’t want to. That’s fine.

            I just don’t understand why Fairey stealing stuff from Gary Grimshaw is different from Fairey stealing stuff from Rupert Garcia. He’s a thief – a term I probably wouldn’t use if he didn’t have a clothing label – and that’s it. He does what thieves do: steal. His interest is in counterculture, so he’s going to steal from counterculture, and counterculture is less white than the mainstream. Therefore, when he steals things he’s interested in, minorities are disproportionately affected. I don’t think it’s a concerted effort. 

            Listen, I dislike Fairey. I just think we should dislike him in the most bulletproof way we can, and I don’t think race holds up. I don’t think calling him smelly would work either. He’s making millions of dollars putting old anti-establishment posters in establishment galleries and selling them to collectors, many of whom are diametrically opposed (we can safely assume) to the images’ original values. That’s a much stronger argument, so let’s stick with that, hey? 

          3. I’m guessing you’re white…or maybe you’re not white…maybe you just live in a white neighborhood…or  maybe you don’t live in a white neighborhood but you have more white friends than “others”…or possibly you work with a lot of white people…or listen to a lot of white bands…or maybe you just live in a bubble…or maybe you’re just ignorant. Why do you consider counterculture less white than the mainstream? What do you consider to be part of the mainstream?

          4. Why do I consider it less white? Because we’re talking specifically about the Young Lords, Black Panthers, and the Chicano movement, each of which Fairey has stolen imagery from.

            I suppose I should clarify. I meant the subset of counterculture which is both on the Left and has a revolutionary rhetoric in line with Shepard’s own. 

            I might also be ignorant. Jerk.

          5. Sensitive to art and its discontents… but to co-opting of non-white revolutionary figures and the artists that portrayed them so a white guy can make a buck?  Not so much.

            “Therefore, when he steals things he’s interested in, minorities are
            disproportionately affected. I don’t think it’s a concerted effort. ”

            It doesn’t have to be.  Its just the latest in a long long line of whites selling concepts and images that were originated by non-whites to a (often wealthier) white audience.

          6. Just to clarify, I don’t have anything to do with Hyperallergic; the last time I was anywhere near their work process I spit a cup of wine all over Hrag. I’m sure, though, that they’re plenty sensitive.

            I just don’t see why it matters, is all. One time a Jew ran over a Guyanese child. Some folks portrayed it as the latest in a long long line of violence by whites against non-whites. One person died and 190 were injured. Race is an issue and it’s a big one and we need to talk about it, but it’s not always necessary. I just don’t think it’s applicable here, and I think it was pretty clearly implied in your original comment that you thought it was an important part of Fairey’s appropriation. He’s just an asshole, of whatever color. 

          7. Thanks for calling me a jerk. Why are you so oversensitive to race Will? How many of these arguments can you use? I guess when it comes to discussions that include an artist who appropriates images from the Young Lords, Chicano, Black Panther, not to mention the White Panther movements as well as other sources within and apart from his own culture we should completely not mention race…SMART!

          8. I wanna talk about art. Do you wanna talk about art? If you don’t, then we don’t wanna talk to each other. If the answer is that you’d prefer to talk about race, then we don’t wanna talk to each other. If the answer is yes, say something worthwhile to someone other than yourself. My deepest apologies both for calling you a jerk and being oversensitive. Ahem.

            Also, I’m not sure why you think citing my own evidence is going to make me change my mind. You’ve mentioned (following my post) three minority groups and one non-race-related group; any particular reason why you’re not responding to my comment that organized groups with established aesthetics and revolutionary Left-leaning rhetoric are predominantly nonwhite? Or are we just moving on from all the arguments you lose?

          9. I don’t get why you don’t think that conversations about race and art are mutually exclusive. While it can be argued that Fairey just steals from wherever suits him and those aesthetics just happen to come from nonwhite people, I’d say that whether or not it’s a concerted effort on his part is not totally important, given the longstanding history of social marginalization of nonwhite peoples. The fact that so many of left/revolutionary rhetoric and aesthetics he steals from are from nonwhite groups is evidence of that — those groups were fighting against the marginalization that still exists and manifests in the socio-economic systems that allow for white guys like Fairey’s success. I think that’s why Coco and Den think it’s important. No one’s necessarily calling Fairey himself racist or anything because of this, but  I think it’s important to recognize that his douchebaggery doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s less about Fairey and more about what it says about the art world/world at large. In light of such, it might behoove Fairey to give credit where credit is due and share the spotlight. 

          10. You’re not arguing the same point I am, though. I’m not saying Fairey isn’t relevant to the history of social marginalization of nonwhite peoples, I’m saying the history of social marginalization of nonwhite peoples is not relevant to Fairey. The two aren’t the same. Who the president is is important to me; who I am is not important to the president. Duchamp is important to Conceptualism; Conceptualism isn’t important in discussing Duchamp. They’re just not the same thing.

          11. I’m late in seeing this comment, and am somewhat inclined to agree to disagree, or even agree – you’re right that it’s not necessarily important to discuss social marginalization of nonwhite persons when talking about Fairey — but that being true, it’s also not necessarily true that you you should avoid talking about those issues when talking about Fairey. They’re obviously very important (and relevant) to some people. You can have a conversation about larger issues when discussing an individual element, or you don’t have to, especially in a forum like this. Basically, I’m saying you can have it either way, so I find your antipathy to discussing it in that way a little overly strong. 

          12. Mannie Garcia was the AP photographer in the lawsuit–not Rupert Garcia the graphic artist. I just think the fact that Fairey’s still called a “street artist” is absurd; he’s a commercial artist and there’s no shame in that. Everyone has to eat, and art is a profession like any other. The only thing more absurd is artists who live on grants and say they’re “keeping it real.”

      2. I, for one, didn’t know he was a douche. 

        I think it is hilarious that he is even on TmZ.

  2. His wife just confirmed what we already knew about this “street artist”. He’s just riding the trend… why else would he have done that Obama propaganda poster? To get in with all the suckers.

  3. Ugh, I didn’t realize how much of a dick Fairey was until I watched that 🙁 I’d heard murmurs, but I hadn’t seen it in action. That “OBEY” stuff and even the Obama poster is far less cool now. I have problems with creative people who suck as human beings. That taints everything they touch, in my opinion.

    1. Well, it was pretty easy to figure out from his co-opting of revolutionary and often communist or socialist figures and punks… followed by the Obeyma and its attendant lawsuits.

  4. You don’t know what Art is…

    You don’t know what a real homey is
    Hangin out with Shepard Phoneyism is…
    At MOCA Eating white Bread and Bolognism is

    You don’t know what Art is…
    You don’t know what The Real Deal is
    even after u bought da fucking Happy Meal is..

    You don’t know what Art is…
    You try to sell me Art 4 cash is

    Now you dragging me out with Ms
    Cash for Trash is…
    By making me buy your $mart MOCA trash is
    when YOU nothing but a bad Mattress Actress is…

    Trying to sell me a piece of ass is You don’t know what Art is…


    Phantom Street  Artist recent work questions cultural institutions and various self-proclaimed graffiti
    artists like Shepard Fairey’s who ignorantly refuses to reference, source or properly
    credit  authors, expressive  art forms and movements through usurping
    appropriated images of revolution, political struggles and other historical motifs  of 
    art as radical chic for selfish gratuitous gain.”

    Phantom Street Artist  2011

  5. You don’t know what Art is…

    You don’t know what a real homey is
    Hangin out with Shepard Phoneyism is…
    At MOCA Eating white Bread and Bolognism is

  6. He’s a dick, but so are and have been a slew of artists throughout history. Murderers, thieves, racists, etc. I try not to conflate the art and the personality.

  7. Will, how is Shepard’s art not about race? He has dealt with racial and ethnic struggles in his art all while exploiting the visual cultural of those struggles. It would not be so bad if he would work along those artists and their estate. But instead he waits until being exposed before reaching out a hand. Is he a street artist in the common view of what a street artist is? I don’t think so. His father was a doctor and his mother a realtor. He has never had to take a risk because he was born into money. Does that matter? Maybe not. But it does when he tries to promote himself as a ‘rebel’ from the underground. This is an example of a rich white kid playing a role because 1.) it is ‘cool’ and 2.) it makes hella money. Still playing the role of ‘kid’ even though he is what, 41 now? Gotta sell those shirts. Shepard has been asked about the racial stuff before and the only answer he came up with for Wired was that he donates money to minority charities so no one has the right to call him racist. Those donations are strategic to his business just like most of what he does. If he is such a ‘rebel’ why the hell was he chilling with Josi Sergant who eventually ended up being the blogger for the White House once Obama was elected. That is not underground. Now that Obama’s numbers drop he starts to distance himself from the President. Making statement about how he is kind of irked that he raised so much for him. He is far left, but I think it is because he knows that is an easy market for him and he will play into it as long as it brings in money. I don’t blame him for that. But an opportunist is an opportunist. Shepard has been an opportunist since the first time his doctor father bailed him out of jail.

  8. P.S. Mannie Garcia didn’t give a crap; it was work for hire. It was the AP who sued. I jumped off the Fairey train when he lied in court instead of making a perfectly legitimate Fair Use claim in this situation. The heart of intellectual property law is “confusion in the public’s mind” and I don’t think that anyone out there confuses the HOPE silkscreen poster and Garcia’s newspaper photo. Like it or not, use of source material such as photos and illustrations is a long-standing commercial art tradition and I don’t really believe it’s got anything to do with race, just expedience.

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