StolenSpace, Osborn St, London
The Residency, Whitby St, London
October 5th – October 31st
Update: The Residency portion of the show has closed but a section of the art has been consolidated at StolenSpace and remains on show until the end of November.
Shepard Fairey has visited London and a confetti of stickers, some major murals and a two site exhibition all testify to the presence once again of the World’s second best known street artist. In the exhibition Shephard Fairey treats us to a monumental “Greatest Hits” show, a reworking of classic Shepard Fairey images, like a retrospective revisiting. It is fascinating to scrutinise the show as a reminiscence of the barrage of street art we have witnessed from Shepard Fairey in London over the years.
The Shepard Fairey story began with stickers, specifically his 1989 Andre The Giant Has A Posse sticker.
His stickers tend to shortlived, not through any defect in the materials but simply that people do seem to like peeling them off as souvenirs.
Until the done-to-death “stay calm and…” meme, Shepard Fairey’s HOPE poster for the Obama campaign had been perhaps one of the most reworked images ever. It has been amusing to find examples of opportunist spoof Andre The Giant stickers, though as FOSH’s 3 month campaign to batter London ended a few months ago the FOSH sticker may well predate Team Fairey’s visit.
The classic Andre The Giant image appears in two forms in the Facing The Giant Exhibition. At StolenSpace a series of crosswalk signs are the mount for distressed Andre The Giant stickers, an edition of 75. Close inspection suggests that apparent rust may be a painted effect. The code OG74520 at the bottom of the sign mimics something like a “NATO part number” or a catalog reference from a large government authority, it breaks down as Obey Giant, 7’4”, 520lbs.
The Andre The Giant image also appears in some very psychedelic looking prints based on early 90s images when Shepard Fairey was exploring other schemes for presenting his original Giant image.
The first new sticker Graffoto spotted this time round was the classic Obey Giant motif stuck on the ground, rather novel placement for a sticker. Stickers on a pavement with anything like a decent footfall are doomed, this one was still going strong on Commercial Street over 2 weeks later. No surprise maybe that a sticker first conceived 30 years ago should prove so durable.
Several stickers were placed right below metal bands securing signs to lampposts, giving Obey Giant a possibly misleading saintly appearance.
One of the first images to draw the eye in the Residency space was the Obey Star, the Obey command coupled with the strident logo highlights the unquestioning obedience required by politicians and brand marketers alike. It had its origins in an evolution of the Andre The Giant image after the estate of Andre The Giant sued Shepard Fairey to block the unlicensed use of the Andre The Giant image.
Shepard Fairey’s early and mid 2000s street art in London was either stickers or paste ups.
It was a pleasure to track down a couple of new Shepard Fairy paste ups, there may be more out there. This first one actually saw Shepard hitting a location he first hit in 2007 when he was over for his Nighteeneightyfouria show, when this spot was much more likely to attract serious heat.
Many of the classic Obey screenprints are presented in this exhibition as screenprints over collages of torn paper and newspaper adverts, simulating that patina of layers, rips and tears that accumulate on the streets. Unfortunately this Shepard Fairey – D*Face collaboration had suffered a little by the time we tracked it down.
In his epic book “The Art Of One Man And His Dog” D*Face recalls reading in Thrasher magazine in the late 90s about “a strange ominous-looking sticker featuring a wrestler’s face and the words “Andre The Giant Has A Posse.” He was amazed to find that the artist had a website at a time when many corporations did not so emailing him a fanboy message complete with bait rider at the end “Hi Shepard, I am a London based skater and graphic artist and I really like your work. If you send me some stickers and posters I will put them up on my travels. P.S Is Shepard Fairey your real name?” D*Face was surprised to receive stickers, screen prints and a teeshirt. They met at a Shephard Fairey show at the Horse Hospital (yet another venue we are in danger of losing) and have been friends and collaborators ever since.
Shepard Fairey and D*Face have one collaborative piece in this exhibition that you could easily miss as it is so small, on one of the metal crosswalk signs D*Face has added a signature wings and tongue motif.
Shepard has painted three epic new murals on this visit, two in Shoreditch and one in Hackney. On what used to be known as The Dirty House, the award winning former home and studio of contemporary artists Sue Webster and Tim Noble, Shepard Fairey and team painted “Raise The Level”. The subject on the main façade is Shepard Fairey’s wife Amanda in what Shepard Fairey describes as a model of an environmental activist, both sides contain references to music, harking back to Shepard Fairey’s passion for music and his 2012 Sound and Vision show and both sides have random wandering fractures which scream “Torn and ripped”.
This second Shoreditch mural is Shepard Fairey’s first experimentation with half tone shading, hence its title “Shadowplay”, itself a nod to Joy Division. The top part of the face is unmistakably Obey Giant, not sure who the bottom half is nor if the combined image actually looks right.
The third mural is a stunning Rose Shackle out on Mare St captioned “We Shape The Future”. It is Shepard Fairey’s contribution to a multi artist international PAINT (RED) SAVE LIVES campaign to raise funds for Aids awareness . The image was first developed in 2006 and is a metaphor for strength in the face of adversity, it also appears in the concurrent indoor exhibition.
One of London’s longest lived Shepard Fairey illegal rooftop paste ups was this Chairman Mao at Kings Cross. Shepard Fairey has always made a point of mimicking, subverting or undermining the activity of advertisers, revealing their practices as sinister manipulation and exploitation, whilst simultaneously producing excellent exposure for Shepard Fairey Inc. This particular particular spot gave high visibility to traffic coming down the hill at Pentonville Road and also into town along Caledonia Road but the real genius of its placement was Chairman Mao was looking directly at a massive billboard on the diagonally opposite corner on this flat roof location.
That Kings Cross Chairman Mao was up until the development of that building commenced in 2012, long outlasting the billboard which fell into disuse. In the exhibition Fairey has three “Money” prints depicting leaders who can be regarded as untrustworthy or totalitarian, perhaps even operating a brutally enforced cult of personality. “In Lesser Gods We Trust” pops up frequently in Shepard Fairey imagery, the text on the US dollar bill subverted to highlight the apparent deification of the leaders printing their faces onto currency.
Another early paste up was the girl with grenade rose image, seen here over fragments of an older D*Face paste-up on a wall which is now home to Conor Harrington’s soldier, one of Shoreditch’s most iconic spraypainted murals. This looked like a metaphor for the apparatus of war pervading society and corrupting innocents but the updated version in the exhibition doesn’t have the hatching in the shade details, which lends itself better to Shephard Fairey’s concern that war has now become so commonplace and banal we no longer pay attention, which Fairey describes as “fitting in a painting-by-numbers style image.” Hence the title of the 2019 version, “War By Numbers”
War is a theme Shephard Fairy’s political art often returns to. Flowers as a device to disarm weaponry is a powerful and frequent anti war protest metaphor, one we have seen from Shepard Fairey in London a few times including now in Facing The Giant.
In 2012, when Shepard Fairey was in London for his Sound and Vision show he pasted this art on a rooftop at The Birdcage Pub, I was fortunate to get up there to photograph it, one of my personal favourite street art photos. The image is the same as was seen on Bethnal Green Road in 2007 shown above.
That image was a famous Shepard Fairey image celebrating spirited, independent and powerful women who are confident in their femininity. The image rejoices in the name Mujer Fatale, appearing on the right below. The other portrait in the show photo below originated in 2007 and is Shepard Fairey’s wife Amanda with spraycan, ready to go out and get up.
Cargo Nightclub was the beneficiary of Shepard Fairey art on a couple of occasions.
This first photo of the collage of images outside Cargo nightclub is cripplingly embarrassing to the photographer but hey, you get the idea.
Both show versions of the Proud Parents image are in the Wilkes St part of the exhibition (different rooms), the version screened onto a stencil has a much more layered and textured appearance, not really apparent in the comparison of those 2 photos.
It is a pleasure to see in the flesh for the first time a version of one of Shepard Fairey’s three “We The People” portraits. These were produced in response to the ban on political banners during Donald Trump’s inauguration, the strategy being to highlight how even minorities are still citizens under the constitution but were clear targets for Trump but even Trump couldn’t object to banners based on the first three words of the US Constitution. The images were distributed as posters given away on inauguration day and intended to be the subject of mass display in the International Women’s March, they succeeded in elevating the visibility of America’s “shared humanity”.
In 2015 the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 was held in Paris. Shephard Fairey created the artwork for a huge sphere that hung pendulum like from the Eifel Tower. The resulting Paris Agreement set down policies that 196 Nations signed up to, aiming to limit rises in average temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre industrial levels. One of earliest and highest profile actions of climate denier Donald Trump was to announce that USA would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Shephard Fairey’s Eiffel Tower sphere featured in Al Gore’s second environmental opus An Inconvenient Sequel: Speak Truth To Power and a domestic home or garden size version was spotted at Moniker Art Fair in London in 2017.
Earth Crisis Sphere, Paris 2015 (photo courtesy TourEiffel.Paris)
London has seen spectacular Shepard Fairey exhibitions in the past and to be honest we were actually due another blockbuster. In addition to inspiring D*Face to start his own career as a sticker artist, their early connection led to D*Face’s StolenSpace gallery coordinating Shepard Fairey’s Nineteeneightyfouria exhibition in 2007, that remains the largest solo exhibition by an urban artist that I can recall.
In 2012 Shepard Fairey’s Sound and Vision exhibition was also split across two sites though they were barely 30 yards apart. The main picture display was in the old Truman Brewery basement whilst in StolenSpace Shep Fairey set up a record store showing his private collection of hand modified record sleeves, not for sale.
There are 5 distinct categories of artwork in 2019 “Facing The Giant” exhibition.
There are works on metal; in StolenSpace there are the metal crosswalk signs and a mixture of Shepard Fairey images engraved onto aluminum plate, some portraying abuse of power, some anti war, some pro women.
There is a selection of images on wood, many of them portraits from the world of music. As Shepard Fairey became more politicised he realised that a lot of his musical heroes were actually people who used the power of music to communicate political messages.
Love the HPMs in the StolenSpace back room
Works where stencils have been laid onto collaged paper merit a very close stare to take in the effect of the stencil and the layers
For Tunnel Vision and Big Brother we are into Big Gasp price tag territory
Shepard Fairey is the sentry calling out authoritarian oppression, abuse, manipulation and propaganda. He has developed into a committed supporter of human rights, equal rights, climate awareness causes, health issues. We have known since forever he has a particular gift for capturing these themes in dramatic imagery which turns the Wacom tablet of the powerful back on themselves. Sudden departures in new directions are not expected and it is actually a relief to find the Fairey staples re-presented, re-visited and re-worked in stunning style in this exhibition.
There is a reason why Shepard Fairey is one of the top contemporary design artists working today and its great to be reminded by such a powerful show what we have known this for a long time can easily forget to appreciate. Facing the Giant steps up to the formidable task of matching Shepard Fairey’s previous London exhibitions and proves itself a weighty successor.
All photos except where credited: Dave Stuart