(pics: obey giant)
Shepard Fairey is one of my heros. I was a skateboarder in the Northeast in the 90s, and his "Andre the Giant has a Posse" movement was ubiquitous on skateboards, skate ramps, lamp posts, walls, and sidewalks all over the place. It was viral before there were platforms DESIGNED to MAKE things viral. As readers of my previous blog know, the scene that gave us Fairey and Harmonie Korin and Ed Templeton was influential across underground scenes and genres. And Obey is a local boy done good, a RISD alum who repped RI since back in the day.
As he got bigger, there were grumblings from the tastemakers that he'd "sold out" or "gone corporate," which sort of misses his larger point (harnessing the tools and motifs used by the establishment to blur our vision and sell us useless widgets in order to open our eyes and get us to realize we're being manipulated), but hey, once your shit starts showing up on tshirts and backpacks, you're gonna get your share of heat from the haters. But the "Obey Movement" stepped into ageless territory with Shepard Fairey's "HOPE" poster for President Obama. I think it's almost beyond debate that Obey's was THE iconic image in an already iconic, historic election, and that sort of lightning does not get bottled very often for an artist. So I went to the ICA on Friday night rooting for the guy who started out making silly stickers for his skate punk buddies in Providence.
While effective and well designed in mass media format, Fairey's artwork is much better in person. Photos and tshirts do not do the many layers of texture, custom screenprinted patterns, stencils, and overall depth that his work contains. The Obama piece is a perfect example: when standing up close to the 7 foot tall version, you can see a level of detail and texture that is lost on the cover of Time or on mass reproduced stickers. There are layers of patterns upon layers of news print upon layers of the image itself, so that you can almost work backwards through the artist's thought process. And at it's core is an incredibly subversive message, like a Zach de la Rocha rant made visual. When trying to absorb a wall full of dozens of his "propaganda" pieces, I found myself amazed at the message discipline, both visual and philosophical. It was an assault of sharp, blisteringly pointed cultural commentary, delivered in the language of a Madison Avenue marketing wizard and therefore appreciated on a visceral, subconscious level that actually surprised me in its effectiveness (and I consider myself pretty open to most forms of subversion!). The exhibit is going to be there for a little while, I highly recommend checking it out.
To add an additional layer of authenticity to his big art museum debut, Shepard Fairey went and got arrested as he entered the event (HIS event). While disappointing, as he was scheduled to actually DJ his own event, I have to say, it added a level of authenticity and credibility to the whole vibe. Getting busted for vandalism on the way INTO the museum hosting your life's work is the definition of keeping it real. And it also helped that Z-Trip stepped in to dj for twice as long since Fairey was in disposed.
Z-Trip killed it musically AND technically (it was amazing to watch a great dj with a Serato setup and shiny new Rane TTM 57SL use a lot of the bells and whistles available through that sick setup). Classic Z-Trip, lots of classic rock mixed with familiar beats and lyrics, and a healthy dose of sick ass scratching. He dropped a version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" that I would purchase in a heartbeat. And when he peaked with "Testify" by Rage, and had the whole room chanting "F*ck you we won't do what you tell me!" to the Boston cops unfortunate enough to be working museum duty that particular night, it was total fire. All in all, two hipster-scarved, skinny jeaned thumbs up...