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Shepard Fairey Pays The Price For His Vandalism, Or Does He?

 

'Getting up' is an old phrase in graffiti that describes the action of an artist making work. The more 'up' you get, inevitably the more people get to know your creations. For years I've seen criticism thrown the way of Shepard Fairey - the man that turned an image of old wrestler 'Andre the Giant' into a brand, a global phenomenon and 'got up' to a level that has eclipsed most street artists. 

It seems that once an artist reaches a level of success they can face some backlash, with great notoriety comes great criticism. The cool kids, who are the first to like something, feel bitter that their secret has been discovered and they turn on it. The artist's thoughts on this can be found on his Obeygiant website;  "That whole mainstream vs. underground thing is a load of crap. People who whine about a thing becoming successful are just jealous." 

 

"People who whine about a thing becoming successful are just jealous.."

 

In graff circles the mention of Obey is met with raised eyebrows and shrugs. He used "our" techniques to get famous, but "he's not a graffiti artist" is the most common complaint.

The subject of what a graffiti artist is, is a whole other blog post in itself, but if getting up is the goal, Shepard has outdone all but a tiny percentage. The dude had a cameo in The Simpsons, for the love of Banksy.

 


 

 My main sticking point is the issue of double standards. Why are some street paintings buffed instantly, whilst others are covered by Perspex sheets and hailed as tourist landmarks?

Yesterday we took a call in the gallery from the owners of these hoardings, asking if this, errr, ‘masterpiece’, was worth anything and if they should protect it. 

The thirst is real. 

 

 
Obey piece behind perspex.

 
I was surprised to see that on Monday Shepard Fairey was arrested in Detroit for 'vandalising' a bunch of buildings in the city. He was in town to create a commissioned mural when the alleged incidents took place. Lol. 

Matt Eaton (brother of street artist Tristan Eaton) from the Library Street Collective gallery, currently showing a Fairey exhibition expressed disappointment that Detroit police have targeted ol' Shep:

"I see it as a valuable tool for highlighting a bunch of inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the strategies that the city has taken," said Eaton, citing other street art that hasn't been pursued by law enforcement.

"All that says to me is that here's a world-famous artist, and Detroit needs some attention, so they're going to crack down and make an example of him."

 

 

I'll be interested to see where this goes and if he is, in fact, made an 'example' or if, in the end, this just serves to further promote the artist. Fairey spent Monday night in an LA jail, while officials checked to see whether Detroit’s prosecutor wanted him extradited. Police Sergeant Rebecca McKay issued an interesting statement: “Just because he’s a well-known artist does not take away from the fact that he is also a vandal.”

It doesn't. So what do I want? Shepard Fairey to be locked up? No actually. But how about some consistency? Members of the DPM crew in London served fat prison sentences, Vamp's case was high profile and countless others have done time. Fairey doesn't seem worried though. He's been arrested on 17 separate occasions and told the Independent; “Sometimes it’s a day or two in jail. Normally the charges get downgraded. Most of the arrests aren’t for serious stuff,” He's quoted as finding the situation "hilarious", and if his past adventures are anything to go by I'm not surprised by his confidence. 

 

 

 

“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 realised that some people in the police force, if they realise you’re a bigger fish, then they want a bigger notch on their belt,” he said. Wait, what? That's not legal, right?

After destroying evidence and creating fake documents in a lawsuit against the Associated Press in 2012, all he got was community service. He's almost smiling and waving at the authorities whilst pissing on their leg. 

 

  “Sometimes when I've been arrested I've pretended not to be me.."

 

It seems that once you reach a certain level, the level where you're accepted by the mainstream, (and rejected by other graffiti artists), is the point where you're above the law. This Street Art phenomenon has bought around some weird paradigms, it seems that if you have a million instagram followers and a coffee table book bearing your name then you likely have a (re-usable) get out of jail free card. I'll be watching this situation with interest.

  • July 10, 2015
  • PROOF London