• 03.24.09

Shepard Fairey Strikes Back! The Artist Breaks His Silence on the AP, Obama, and Warhol

We don’t have to remind you of chapters 1 through 15 of the Saga of Shepard Fairey, in which the artist saw a photo, made a poster, got famous, got sued by the AP for seeing that photo, and subsequently suffered scathing criticism from creatives who claim his work is based on stolen imagery.


Shepard Fairey has broken his silence and gives an extended public response that specifically addresses the accusations of “stealing.” He gives the backstory of the making of the poster itself, why he’s fighting the fight for all artists, and even gives some examples of other artists who work the same way he does. Some highlights and new developments:


  • The actual photograph he used is not the one that’s been passed around on the blogs. He posts the photo, which shows George Clooney and Barack Obama attending a panel on genocide in Darfur. The only time Clooney will ever get cropped out of an image, we’re sure.
  • Fairey did not profit from the poster: “The revenue
    from poster sales was re-invested in more posters, flyers, stickers,
    etc., and donated to charity, including the Obama campaign.”
  • He offers some insight into why his artistic process changes the “use” of the image, a major tenet of the legal argument: “The illustration transforms it aesthetically in its stylization and
    idealization, and the poster has an altogether different purpose than
    the photograph does.”
  • A gallery in NYC is now selling prints of the Garcia photo for $1,200 each. Which one? Danziger Projects.
  • A bunch of famous painters always worked from photographs, and not always their own. Van Gogh, Degas, Cezanne, yup, they’re all there.
  • “Referencing” as a method of making art is explored. He even puts together a gallery of images from the Christies auction catalog that shows artists from Richard Prince to Andy Warhol (and a string of artists knocking off Warhol, even).
  • And then, as if to really prove his point, he’s collected a whole grid of artists knocking Fairey off, too.

What do you think? Do Fairey’s points change anything?

Related: Shepard Fairey coverage

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.