Shepard Fairey’s May Day

@ Deitch Projects
May 1 – 29, 2010
18 Wooster Street, between Grand & Canal

Being the native Los Angelino that I am, it’s difficult to remember a time when you didn’t see the now iconic image of Andre the GIANT’s face or the all-caps prompt to OBEY, on some street corner in the city. Since the beginning, this form of delightful, modern propaganda has resonated with me and I’ve always kept an eye out for those quintessential Shepard Fairey urban marks: a sticker slapped high on a lamp post, a stencil sprayed on the sidewalk, and of course, the wheatpaste posters that pop up in a host of eye-catching locations, seemingly overnight. It was always exciting to drive around and see the latest incarnation of Fairey’s guerrilla art sweep the streets with a new message for the masses. Somewhere along the lines, I began collecting the stuff, snapping photos of stickers in their often ironic locations, and squirreling away abandoned Fairey art that had been left on the walls of the buildings I photographed for my architectural clients.

Well, Shepard Fairey’s come along way since his early beginnings in LA circa 1989, crossing over from humble yet visionary street art and clothing lines, to some now big time, mainstream art venues. ICA Boston hosted a full-scale solo retrospective last year entitled, Supply & Demand, which then traveled to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and has now landed at CCA in Cincinnati for the majority of Summer 2010.

Luckily for New Yorkers, he also scored the final exhibition at Deitch Projects, which will run for the entire month of May until Jeffrey Deitch officially pulls up his New York stakes and heads to Los Angeles, for good. God only knows why Deitch would leave this incredible space, an enormously beautiful gallery, straddling the borders of Chinatown and SoHo, with 20 foot tall x 60 feet long gleeming white walls, and 5 skylights overhead that create an abundance of natural light. A long wood bench bisects the main space and serves as a fantastic spot to sit and linger, take notes and discuss, marvel in all the little details and eavesdrop on highly interesting conversations about the art world. But, if Deitch is going to leave gritty New York for sunny Los Angeles, he’s certainly opted to go out with a timely and current bang, featuring the brand spankin’ newest works of Shepard Fairey, and I can’t think of a more perfect artist to select as segway between these two worlds.

In this incredible collection, entitled May Day, Fairey explores the multiple meanings of the term, coined as a reference to International Workers or Labor Day; signaling an SOS or distress call; and serving as a revolutionary call to action. The work clearly illuminates themes of today’s consumer obsessed America, our culture of corporate and political greed, and is craftily intermingled with imagery of Eastern European facism, socialism, and worldwide tactics of propaganda. Images of raised fists, megaphones, tabloid newspapers, national flags, and subversive symbolism are artfully integrated with printing presses, roses in guns, wind turbines, doves of peace, and somehow made rather sexy by all the dark, sultry feminine eyes and pouty red, kitten lips he employs.

I absolutely love getting right up on these canvases and examining Fairey’s process of layering. He’s applied mid-century era, yellowing newspaper ads, maps and comics, next to beautiful Asian and Indian-inspired floral wallpapers, and kaleidoscopic mandalas of sorts. Some of the papering appears to be stuff he’s found from old newspapers and magazines, other pieces seem to have been designed and printed by the artist himself, and made to look like classic advertisements. These papered layers are then layered with more layers of spray paint, stenciling, and brush strokes. The attention to detail is simply mindboggling!

Despite the somewhat intense, activist subject matter, the work surprisingly leaves you feeling awed and perhaps even optimistic about our future. As much as this exhibition addresses the dangers of propaganda and advocates for the “quality manufacturing of dissent”, it equally espouses the ideals of freedom of speech and the press, green energy, peace, love and hope.

To Fairey’s credit, this exhibition is also a celebration of revolutionaries who affected mainsteam change, including portraits of musicians and artists such as: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Woody Guthrie, Nico, Patti Smith, and Debbie Harry. There’s also beautiful portraits of political activists, including the Dalai Lama, and the faces of those fighting for justice in Burma, Cambodia, and Uganda. These portraits are individual works on large canvases, but are again integrated into wall clusters of smaller framed works that mix brilliantly with punk, rock, skate, and street culture imagery. Interestingly, Fairey sticks primarily to utilizing one specific color palette for all of the pieces in the collection – strictly black, cream, and reddish burgundy. Only the artists’ portraits integrate a bit of yellow. The handmade LP record covers, hanging behind the reception desk, are also not to be missed.

Unfortunately, there’s only a few days left to catch this show and I highly recommend the trip over there, whether you are familiar with Fairey’s work or not. You’ll surely be a fan when you leave and no doubt, you’ll be spotting Obey Giant stars all over town and sending away for your own personal “urban renewal kit” in no time.

For a full-fledged day of street art appreciation, I’d start out at Deitch Projects on Wooster, then head Northeast to check out Fairey’s May Day mural on the corner of Houston and Bowery. (Sidenote: I just passed by it again the other day and to my horror, found that it’d been largely taken over with this horribly ugly graffiti tag. I had to pause and wonder whether Fairey would be angry or might approve, as such is the nature of street art after all?!) Continue east on Houston to Landmark Sunshine Cinemas for a showing of Exit Through the Giftshop, a documentary and self-proclaimed “street art disaster movie” by and about the equally legendary street artist, Banksy.

To view more of my street art photography, please visit my website, www.eyeforstyle.net.

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1 Comment

Filed under Art, Hollywood, Music, New York City, Photography

One response to “Shepard Fairey’s May Day

  1. Update:

    Jeffrey Deitch is closing his fabulous NYC gallery to become the new director at MOCA in Los Angeles. Read all about it here:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/01/moca-says-jeffrey-deitch-is-its-new-director.html

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