RISD 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.
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.