The Who2 Blog

Shepard Fairey Draws a Crowd

Shepard Fairey has a new exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. Called “Supply and Demand,” it runs through August 22nd and shows about 250 of his works.

The CAC welcomed the “renowned street artist and political provocateur,” as they call Fairey, with a free opening on Friday night. We were there, along with what seemed like half of Cincinnati, many of the citizens dressed rather fashionably.

Shepard Fairey arrived in town a day early and kicked things off by pasting up a half-dozen street murals (approved by the city!) like this one near 6th and Walnut.

Having been introduced to Fairey through the classic Barack Obama “Hope” poster, we were a little surprised by Fairey’s muted palette (red and black, mostly) and his constant use of socialistic and pseudo-revolutionary imagery. Eventually we “got” it, but being Fairey novices it sure wasn’t what we were expecting going in.

Crowds jam the lobby of the Contemporary Arts Center on Friday night.  The CAC, by the way, is the same place where museum director Dennis Barrie was indicted for “pandering obscenity” in 1990, hours after the opening of a show of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe

“Seven feet four inches five hundred twenty pounds.”

That confounding and amusing phrase is repeated on dozens of Fairey’s early works, along with the face known as “the Obey Giant.”

Later in the exhibit we learned that the image is that of pro wrestler Andre the Giant (of The Princess Bride fame) and that Fairey had sprayed and pasted the image all over Providence, Rhode Island during his college days in the last 1980s.  Fairey has an obsession with the daily barrage of images from advertising and politics; the exhibit says his “manipulation of imagery invites the viewer to recognize how graphic elements can influence our interpretation of images.”
We were a little disappointed to discover that the face (and the phrase) referred to an actual celebrity. It was all a little more charming and mysterious when an unnamed seven foot four inch five hundred twenty pound giant was telling us to obey.

More blending of the Obey Giant with socialist iconography of those old reliables, Joseph Stalin and V.I. Lenin.

Finally, the star of the show.  

Up close you can see that Fairey paints many of his works over old newspapers, the print of which shows partly through.  It’s a cool effect that adds depth, even as it gives his work a scattered busyness that can be frustrating. The blue on this poster was a relief and really adds warmth.

It’s great seeing HOPE after going through room after room of OBEY. And ironical, yes: first poster after poster of Fairey warning of the power of imagery, than Fairey using that same power of imagery to help elect a president.  I can’t decide if it was a tremendous sell-out to the creepy forces he warns of, or his most effective piece of criticism yet.  Or is it more like the story that Erich Segal wrote the novel Love Story just to prove he could write a best-seller?

Oop! This must be that “political provocateur” side the Contemporary Arts Center warned us about.

Back down in the lobby, a mighty two-story mural of rocker Patti Smith.

Great show. Colorful, fun, and (eventually) thought-provoking. The place was getting crazier as we were leaving — Shepard Fairey himself was supposed to be spinning records for a late-night party in the lobby. As we went out the front entrance, the door lady counted heads and then let in two more people from the growing line outside.

More photos of Shepard Fairey »

Related Biographies

Share this: