Saturday, June 14, 2008
Sherwin Williams Paint vs. The Obey Giant
This is how Shepard Fairey was brought to my attention: a guy noticed the Andre the Giant Obey shirt I had on. The guy said: "I haven't seen those out here much. They are all over the east. The Andre the Giant posters started popping up in South Carolina." I asked: "Who is the artist?" The guy thought it was a homeless man who died and never got credit. I googled Obey later that day. Fairey.
The pictures were an excuse to delve into the problem with Fairey. The "cover the earth" knock off has not been reported anywhere even with the recent scrutiny surrounding the AP suing Fairey over his Obama Poster. The Obama Poster was as commercial as it gets, it was the freaking official symbol of the candidate who became president. How much more corporate, how much more established can it get? He has been a corporate for so long now and what does that mean maybe corporate means successful. I had a feeling about the Obama Poster, it reminded me of an Warhol-like iconic image, and coincidentally -- an AP writer called the print Warhol-ish. Andy Warhol said, "art is whatever you can get away with." I wondered is Fairey got away with stealing the Obey logo from the homeless man.
I don't quite know what Fairey does, or what I think of it. There is this sense that he doesn't know what he is trying to say. I would dare to say that most of us -- truthfully -- don't really know what we are trying to say and by the time we have said "it" -- our minds have changed anyways and so we must work on communicating the current thought. But that may not be the main issue. Ken Johnson did a great piece in the NYT about Fairey's work and what it meant.
In the interest of full exposure -- I like the Andre the Giant Obey insignia. It has a mysterious haunting feeling -- that may have more to do with Andre the Giant -- the man than the image. The Obama Poster is the same way -- we have latched onto it because of what we see in Obama himself. We took part ownership. Back when people wanted Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" lyrics translated -- Eddie Vedder did not explain what they meant. He said fans interpreted the lyrics for themselves -- lending more meaning than he could have given. He said they were part owners of the song. Part ownership makes something become iconic. Gives the creator the ability to go further and see the next step or level of the work: how it was received and in turn grows larger and larger with each re-interpretation or re-telling of the the work.
I am not really in the mood to trash a whole body of work. I think its important to point out that the Obama Poster has become -- something more, than Fairey could have planned for and a lot of that had to do with the mood of the country the rise of Obama, that he has come to stand for many different things to many different people. The AP picture and the way Fairey manipulated it into a sort of patriotic portrait. All these ingredients made way for part ownership by the masses to be the inevitable outcome. What do you feel when you look at it? It represents the colors in our country. The poster has been in many of the houses I have painted for. The so called street artist entered into the suburban stay at home white women's living room. For whatever reason -- the print conjures up the mix of hope, pride and belief we have in Obama. That is a lot. Think of all the art and pictures and comics the President has been the subject of, but for some reason this "one" print represents that feeling we have been walking around with for the last two years. Just because you draw a pic of Obama does not mean whey we look at it a hopeful full feeling will come over us.
Fairey has a history of no transparency. Fairey slaps his Obey Giant logo on the watcher from Citizen Kane or the MC5's logo and calls it a new print. Unless you happen to know the original -- you think its an original by Fairey.
Wow, I had no idea I was writing this, I went into it, thinking Fairey was wrong to steal, but now -- I just think he is tacky and not creative. I don't get the feeling that he is wrestling with how to say something in order to adequately make a piece that challenges common perceptions. He never gave credit to the original piece. Put a a foot note at the bottom of each print. Something like: the original logo is Sherwin Williams paint supply. I tweaked it by inserting the Obey logo where a map of the world originally was. It wouldn't take much, like when a writer quotes someone else's words, but credits the author.
He fell into the same lazy old guy looking back and believing the legend drinking the cool aid of his brilliant First Work. Hunter S.Thompson did that too. How many times can one use Fear and Loathing for a title, how many times can a guy stamp Andre the Giant on a print and feel edgy and cool? You jumped the shark once you had a logo you couldn't let go of and you became a product a brand -- for some reason in our culture the brand has become the most important thing -- Once Hunter said it sucks when the author becomes bigger than the writing.