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Shepard Fairey Exhibit :: “Supply and Demand”

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)
100 Northern Avenue :: Boston, Massachusetts
February 6 – August 16, 2009 :: Tickets: $12

If you walk around New York, Boston, or just about any large city in the northeast, you have seen his work.  Andre the Giant’s face on a stop sign.  The Giant spray painted on a lamp post.  Repeating Giant poster faces glued to the side of a building.  The Giant sticker campaign, which often reads OBEY underneath Andre the Giant, is Shepard Fairey’s artwork that has developed over the past 20 years.

While in Boston, we visited the ICA to see “Supply and Demand” by Shepard Fairey. The exhibit encompasses  a wide range of pieces that are spray painted, collaged, and screen printed, utilizing repeating patterns overlaid with often political images.

“Shepard Fairey borrows images, media, and techniques originally designed for the widespread public consumption to deliver a new message in his own voice,” the exhibit narrative explains.  This is why I love this artwork.  As a graphic designer, I am constantly working with images and design techniques to create straightforward but memorable logos and marketing materials.  Fairey does not just paint a portrait or create a unique stencil design.  He takes a images and makes them iconic.

In fact, he is so successful at this technique that Barack Obama has written Fairey and commended him on his work.  Remember the red, white, and blue portrait of Obama that became one of the most popular images for his campaign?  This is Fairey’s artistic mark on the election.  “I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support,” wrote Obama to Fairey on February 22, 2008.

Phenomenology, Fairey explains in “Manifesto: A Social and Psychological Explanation”, is what Heidegger describes as “the process of letting things manifest themselves.”  Artwork that manifests itself, that is, through the recognition of that stop sign, lamp post, or building within one’s daily routine, proves itself to be truly powerful and provacative.

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