RISD Pride: Shepard Fairey's Show Opens in Boston

ICA Obey PosterRISD alum Shepard Fairey's first solo show is opening this weekend at Boston's ICA and, as a RISD student, I can hardly wait to go. And not to simply see the Obama poster. (Although it would be fun to calculate just how many millions of times even the average American has seen that image.)

I've seen Fairey's pieces stuck individually to lampposts and street signs, but never together, all at once, in a gallery. I'm hoping that a 20-year retrospective of his career, which began with the famous Obey Giant campaign, will help explain his current work, both subject matter and stylistically, and help reveal what led him to create one of the most memorable and meaningful images in living memory .

But there's more than that. One of the most interesting things about Fairey is not just his image-making, but everything that he has chosen to surround his images with, and the context in which he makes them. He has really made an effort to join different communities around their shared goal of advancing the power of the arts as a force for social impact and justice. His blending the role of an artist with that of a leader and of a humanitarian and an activist is incredibly exciting (and goes way beyond the success of the Obama poster).

The exhibit opens this Friday, February 6th and in addition to a simple gallery show, Shepard has already been busy making his mark on Boston. The weekend is full of festivities and artist talks including a joint lecture series by ICA/AIGA on the subject of design as an agent for social change. Speakers will include Steve Heller, Elliot Earls, Nicholas Blechman, Luba Lukova, Cliff Stolze, Caleb Neelon, PIXNIT, and Mirko Ilic.

As is the case with any RISD Alum who gains a fair amount of fame (your Kara Walkers, Dale Chihulys) there's some resentment from the current student body (except for David Byrne though, whom everyone seems to love). But this won't stop most from attending Shepard Fairey: Supply & Demand which will surely see a massive attendance of young and old alike.

Shepard Fairey Barack Obama poster

Aaron Perry-Zucker (http://www.aaronperryzucker.com) is a senior studying graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design.

His website, http://www.designforobama.org helped to bring Obama's brand of grass-roots organizing to the art and design community and the poster collection it aggregated is in the process of being published by Taschen books with the help of Spike Lee.

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5 Comments

  • Lynne d Johnson

    I am a designer, visual artist and a photographer, and had a very similar situation happen a few years ago. I took a photograph of the musician Gil Scott Heron while in a relationship with him, and noticed it had been used by a record label for cd cover art. It had been reproduced to look exactly like my photograph, just with colors filling in areas, almost like a color by numbers painting, (a la Shepard Fairey) http://cover6.cduniverse.com/M...
    long story short - i contacted the record label, they told me it was an artists 'rendition', and they did not infringe any copyright laws. My attorney wrote a letter to them, explaining they used my photograph without permission. Record label settled with me out of court for an undisclosed sum. Shepard Fairey in my opinion has totally plagiarized this photographers image.

  • monique delatour

    I am a designer, visual artist and a photographer, and had a very similar situation happen a few years ago. I took a photograph of the musician Gil Scott Heron while in a relationship with him, and noticed it had been used by a record label for cd cover art. It had been reproduced to look exactly like my photograph, just with colors filling in areas, almost like a color by numbers painting, (a la Shepard Fairey) http://cover6.cduniverse.com/M...
    long story short - i contacted the record label, they told me it was an artists 'rendition', and they did not infringe any copyright laws. My attorney wrote a letter to them, explaining they used my photograph without permission. Record label settled with me out of court for an undisclosed sum. Shepard Fairey in my opinion has totally plagiarized this photographers image.

  • Jaimey Smith

    Another artist, Mark Vallen, took a look at other images allegedly plagiarized by Shepard Fairey: http://www.art-for-a-change.co...
    We are in a creative soup, it's impossible not to be influenced by what we see. At a minimum Fairey should have given credit to those artists he drew from; in the case of the Obama poster should have gotten the rights to the photo first. In the case of steet art, where there is no financial gain, that's one issue. But when you make a ton of money from using someone else's work, you have to obey copyright law.

    Fairey street art map:
    http://bostonist.com/2009/02/0...

  • diane mead

    beeeeerp.....buzzer sound----wrong--
    RISD needs to have you guys study up on some intellectual property law. Seems to this old geezer, Shepard Fairey has been fine tooth combing it. The guy is in the right. He will win without too much trouble, except that the case is so high profile. The law is on his side.

  • tim kenney

    Why are you promoting a known plagiarist and calling it Art?

    Fairey is well known for copying the images of others, attributing it to himself and profiting from it.

    His claim that his use of the Associated Press photo taken by Manny Garcia is "fair use" is phony the moment he makes a dime from it.

    He is commercial hack, with no sense of respect for the creative efforts of others who just happened to hit the lottery.

    As a student of RISD, a GREAT school, he should know better. And in his flagrant copyright violations tarnishes your reputation.

    Tim Kenney