Shepard Fairey Speaks About Peace, Impermanence, and Haters.
Photo by Jay Barker
When Shepard Fairey speaks his eyes go someplace else. They squint and look beyond you, alternating left and then right, scanning the entirety of his surroundings. It isn't posturing and he isn't searching for a more interesting person to flag down. The fact of the matter is that Fairey has the eyes of a scavenger.
An aggressive life of street art is the culprit; it will lead a man to watch for trouble, to constantly be on alert for the canary in the coal mine. Contrary to the optical shift Fairey never teeters in composure, and when asked questions he answers them meditatively and in layers, like he's peeling away stencil after stencil of thought. Today, this mural he and his crew are creating is in a safe place, and soon they'll all eat hamburgers in perfect weather. People will take pictures of his face. He will paint on legal walls. Nobody will be arrested.
Fairey's eyes won't register those things. They can't. After Sunday it's back to business as usual, and his business is to spread his art as quickly and targeted as he possibly can while holding true to his very strict, and self-scribed philosophies.
I caught up with Fairey outside of the Dallas Contemporary where he and his crew were putting up one of five massive works around town.
Mixmaster: Could you walk me through the mural you're putting up here and the step-by-step it takes to make it happen?
Digital image for Shepard's mural in front of Dallas Contemporary
Sure, this mural is a pro-peace mural. There's a little bit of humor involved in it, in that this design is based on when you have a really small stain on a piece of drycleaning that the drycleaner cannot get out, they put a little sticker with an arrow that says "This has been called to your attention so that you'll know it has not been overlooked."
It's like them saying: "This was here already and it's something that cannot be removed." Here, on this scale to have a giant arrow aiming towards a peace sign saying "We have called this to your attention so that it cannot be overlooked" is funny, but also serious in that advocating for peace should be a high priority at all times for everybody but it seems like people love to quarrel, so it's not emphasized.
The way it's done is a culmination of using paper with the image printed on it and using spray adhesive to hang it up, and then cutting it directly on the wall into stencils, then peeling those away and spraying the negative space and then touching it up with a brush. The straight lines are done with masking tape and spraying it with spray paint and then big negative spaces are rolled in with rollers.
Walls like this seem really time-consuming because of the amount of detail, the size, the scale. When you're doing something on your own, that's maybe in a less -- nurturing -- environment, how do you get it up quicker?
Photo by Jay Barker
It's paper that's already painted with the image, and it just goes up with wallpaper paste and a brush. So it's like putting up wallpaper really fast.
But doing murals that are going to last longer is great, so it's worth taking the time. All of the different techniques that I use evolved out of what the necessities of the different situations where. When you're worried about the cops showing up, you've got to work really quickly. And it can look really good for what it is, but it's going to weather or people are going to rip at it, but a lot of times street art is temporary anyway, so that's less of a concern than getting up as much stuff as quickly as possible.
Is that part of the appeal for you? That it is so transitional and fleeting, or would you rather have permanence?
Photo by Jay Barker
No, I think all artists like to think that if they make something, it might endure. Or that people will think it's important enough to reference. I'm not precious about my work because I know that would be soul-crushing as a street artist. But I do put a lot of time and energy -- and a lot of money into doing it, from a standpoint of resources, physical and mental energy; you hope that your effort will yield as much impact as possible.
When I put a lot of energy into something that was really hard to get to, like I climbed up really high on a building or a billboard or something and I come back months or even years later and it's still running? That makes me feel like I climbed to the top of Mt. Everest and nobody else has been able to do it. That's how it feels.
And are you strictly legit now? Do you only do commissioned projects?
No no no, but it's kind of rude to come to a space like this where a museum has put its rep on the line and then go out and do illegal stuff that's then going to be a grenade in the lap of the museum.
I still really enjoy going out and doing work on the street. But for me it was always about integrating it in a way that was visible to people but wasn't destructive. When I'm given walls I know that people are going to see them; I know that they'll be able to consider the art without considering whether I got permission or not. Of course there are people in the street art community who say that it's only cool if it's illegal, but that was never my philosophy. My philosophy was: "It's cool if you don't have to pay to see it."
So 20 years of doing illegal art opened the doors to me doing legal walls. I always abide by what I call the Inside/Outside Strategy: If the system shuts you out, you do your own thing outside of the system, then if you have the ability to work with the system, infiltrate the system, improve the system, you should take those opportunities.
In projects like this, you're working with people who see and translate the importance of art [gesturing towards the Dallas Contemporary's doors] to the community.