'Hope' artist sprinkles murals around Harvard Square
In a trip back to Boston, Shepard Fairey could still find the stickers he made as a college student pasted onto abandoned buildings and street signs.
Nowadays, his artwork is a little easier to find.
Earlier this month, Fairey – a 38-year-old Los Angeles-based contemporary artist and illustrator who’s behind the widespread “Hope” poster of Barack Obama – brought his guerilla-style murals to Harvard Square. Fairey said Boston was one of the first cities he displayed his posters, both legally and illegally.
“The Rose Girl” — representing a symbol of peace in red, black, and white screen-printed art — covers a permanent space on a Brattle Street building catching the eyes of passing pedestrians. On the same block, located on a long stretch of plywood at the old Greenhouse coffee shop, is what Fairey calls his more political images of Operation Oil Freedom, Soviet propaganda, a boot kicking the behind of President Bush, and roses plunged down the barrels of guns.
Fairey also made his mark posters in Central Square near the Middle East, along with locations in Somerville, the South End, a bike store in Allston, an abandoned gas station by the Boston Garden and billboards around the city.
“It never hurts to put materials out there that get people thinking,” Fairey said. “There are a lot of younger people around Harvard, people motivated to be involved politically, become activists.”
Fairey became his own activist at a young age through his “Obey Giant” project, which evolved from an “André the Giant Has a Posse” stenciled-sticker campaign in 1989, while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. Fairey saw more good than harm in his art, despite critics who labeled his work as vandalism.
A clothing line, documentary film, magazine, design studio and two daughters later, Fairey is now preparing for a 20-year retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston this Feburary.
“I’m amazed and very happy,” he said. “I’ve always made art that was designed to not pander to galleries and museums, but the validation of them is important for one’s legacy and art history.”
Pedro Alonzo, guest curator of Fairey’s ICA exhibition known as “Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand” said his body of work makes him “one of the most important artistic forces shaping our culture today.”
“Fairey is committed to creating work that has meaning for his audience – by using familiar cultural iconography that people can relate to and by constantly bringing his work into the public sphere,” Alonzo said in an email. “The content of Fairey’s work is especially relevant today because it speaks about hierarchies and abuses of power, politics and the commodification of culture.”
The exhibition will trace Fairey’s career from his first stencils in 1989 to more recent mixed-media works and a new mural commissioned for the ICA, Alonzo said.
Rory Keohane, co-founder of the graphic design studio Lumen Eclipse, said Fairey’s designs are a great fit for Cambridge. Keohane was able to find space through the Harvard Square Business Association for Fairey to put his permanent art.
“His work is strongly opinionated and bold, really insightful and intelligent,” Keohane said. “It’s a versatility that suited Cambridge.”
Cydney Gray, a Harvard senior doing her thesis on the growth of street artists who filmed Fairey for her documentary, said Fairey’s “different…. More of a guerilla artist.”
Fairey says he still acts like a teenager, and wants to maintain his rebelliousness in his work.
“Art captures people’s imagination,” he said. “My hope is that people get excited about it.”