Obey Shepard Fairey

January 20th, 2009

manifesthope.jpgI violated the cardinal rule of journalism on Sunday. I began an interview by squealing like a schoolgirl, “I’m a huge fan!”

Oh well; I am.

I’ve been huge fan of Shepard Fairey for years. I noticed his Obey Giant stencils and posters almost immediately upon moving to New York City in 1995. And I dug ’em. Clean lines. Bold contrast. Bright colors. Like Russian propaganda but with a punk-rock, counter-consumer attitude.

Cooler still, his art was the original viral mash-up. He encouraged participation. I ran my first batch of “Benjamin Wagner Has A Posse” stickers in the late Nineties. You could probably find one in the bathroom of The Mercury Lounge or CBGBs (were it not a John Varvatos store).

I’ve come to own four signed, matted and framed posters over the years. My favorites — Obey Air and Obey Industries — hang in my office. The other two wait for the eventual and inevitable construction of my new recording studio.

Anyway, Shepard’s blown up in the last year. His grassroots Hope Campaign on behalf of Barack Obama’s candidacy caught lightning in a bottle. His high-contrast, red, white and blue portrait became the

As I asked in my MTV News article, “What happens when a punk rock, culture-crashing artist with an anti-establishment streak and a healthy arrest record gets invited to the party?”

I went to find out Sunday morning, just a few hours after his portrait of the president-elect (t-minus eight hours!) was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The answer is, well, not much.

The Manifest Hope: DC Gallery in Georgetown (just a few blocks from where my mom lived in the ’80s) was throbbing with hip-hop beats and progressive, enthused artist types when we walked in. I was still sweating from my ten-mile run around DC. That or the nerves.

Shepard was working on a new Obama canvas while talking on his cell phone as we approached. I was anxious to speak with him. We’re nearly the same age, and seem to share some politics — though he’s been far more aggressive in his assertion.

And though I was fawning, it was a solid conversation. We discussed DC’s monuments, many of which he’s skewered in his art. We talked about the power of iconic imagery, and the danger of cult of personality. And he told me about meeting Obama.

He was sweet. Shy. A tiny bit skeptical, maybe. But bright, and articulate, and quick with a healthy laugh. Left to our own devices, I imagine we could have an interesting conversation. But, alas, time was short. ABC World News Tonight was next in line. And we had Opening Ceremonies to cover.

He handed me a fistful of stickers. I handed him my card, told him that “Hope is the best message there is, man.” And that was that. We walked out onto M Street, hailed a cab, and drove back into the machine.

One Response to “Obey Shepard Fairey”

  1. Elizabeth ( Blisland, UK )  Says:

    I absolutely love how honest you are in what you write.

    Marc Cohn told me once when I fawned a bit over him ( something I try never to do) and his wife, Elizabeth Vargas that sometimes it’s nice to hear people say how much they enjoy the work they do.

    Nice post!

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