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Shepard Fairey's Graphic Activities

Guerrilla graphic artist Shepard Fairey is fined but free.
Guerrilla graphic artist Shepard Fairey is fined but free.

“The people who designed the Campbell’s Soup can never went after Andy Warhol.”

Mike Halloran doesn’t buy into the legal reasons that almost landed his old friend, Shepard Fairey, in jail.

Fairey, made famous by his Obey/Andre the Giant graphics but best known for his Obama “Hope” poster, last month avoided a six-month prison sentence that was sought by prosecutors. Fairey was charged by the Associated Press for using an AP photo of Barack Obama in his “Hope” poster without AP’s permission. Things got worse when Fairey admitted that he destroyed documents and submitted false images in court. In September, a plea of guilty to one count of contempt landed him a fine of $25,000 and 300 hours of community service.

Halloran recalls when he first noticed Fairey’s potentially illegal graphic activities in San Diego. Halloran had just left 91X in 1997 after a ten-year stint and was working for Way Cool/MCA Records. “I kept seeing these ‘You can’t stop the Giant’ stickers everywhere,” says Halloran about the street art on traffic signs, billboards, and electrical boxes. “His stuff was brilliant. He galvanized street art. I was trying to find out who this guy was. I finally tracked him down.... I got him to do the cover of the Specials’ Guilty ’Til Proved Innocent! album.”

Fairey would later do cover art for Smashing Pumpkins, Anthrax, and a Led Zeppelin box set.

Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Fairey attended the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to San Diego, where he lived and worked from the late ’90s until about 2001, when he moved to L.A. “He was based in the East Village at this guerrilla marketing company called Black Market Design,” Halloran recalls.

Radio stations solicited Fairey designs for promo stickers.

Halloran later became program director at two now-defunct alternative stations (92/1 and 92/5), where he hired Fairey to integrate his imagery into radio-station bumper stickers. He later convinced 94/9 to do the same. “At 92/1, we were known as ‘Premium.’ He used a lot of the old ideas from gas-station graphics of the ’50s and ’60s. Once at 92/5, I had him make stickers with Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. We handed them out at the gay-pride parade.”

Although Fairey’s graphic “bombing” got him arrested in New York, Philadelphia, and Long Beach, Halloran doesn’t think San Diego cops ever busted him. “In fact, the city’s downtown graffiti crews would take his stickers and put them on their clean-up carts. Shepard basically had his own city-sponsored mobile kiosks downtown.... Now, he has a wife and two kids. Plus he is diabetic. I don’t think he takes risks like he used to.”

Dynamic graphics aren’t used as much to promote radio stations because, says one local DJ, “Radio stations just don’t make bumper stickers much anymore. People don’t put them on their cars because they don’t have the same allegiance or loyalty to stations like they used to. People don’t have the same passion for radio. But it’s the same for politics. You don’t see many presidential bumper stickers out there this year, do you?”

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Guerrilla graphic artist Shepard Fairey is fined but free.
Guerrilla graphic artist Shepard Fairey is fined but free.

“The people who designed the Campbell’s Soup can never went after Andy Warhol.”

Mike Halloran doesn’t buy into the legal reasons that almost landed his old friend, Shepard Fairey, in jail.

Fairey, made famous by his Obey/Andre the Giant graphics but best known for his Obama “Hope” poster, last month avoided a six-month prison sentence that was sought by prosecutors. Fairey was charged by the Associated Press for using an AP photo of Barack Obama in his “Hope” poster without AP’s permission. Things got worse when Fairey admitted that he destroyed documents and submitted false images in court. In September, a plea of guilty to one count of contempt landed him a fine of $25,000 and 300 hours of community service.

Halloran recalls when he first noticed Fairey’s potentially illegal graphic activities in San Diego. Halloran had just left 91X in 1997 after a ten-year stint and was working for Way Cool/MCA Records. “I kept seeing these ‘You can’t stop the Giant’ stickers everywhere,” says Halloran about the street art on traffic signs, billboards, and electrical boxes. “His stuff was brilliant. He galvanized street art. I was trying to find out who this guy was. I finally tracked him down.... I got him to do the cover of the Specials’ Guilty ’Til Proved Innocent! album.”

Fairey would later do cover art for Smashing Pumpkins, Anthrax, and a Led Zeppelin box set.

Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Fairey attended the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to San Diego, where he lived and worked from the late ’90s until about 2001, when he moved to L.A. “He was based in the East Village at this guerrilla marketing company called Black Market Design,” Halloran recalls.

Radio stations solicited Fairey designs for promo stickers.

Halloran later became program director at two now-defunct alternative stations (92/1 and 92/5), where he hired Fairey to integrate his imagery into radio-station bumper stickers. He later convinced 94/9 to do the same. “At 92/1, we were known as ‘Premium.’ He used a lot of the old ideas from gas-station graphics of the ’50s and ’60s. Once at 92/5, I had him make stickers with Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. We handed them out at the gay-pride parade.”

Although Fairey’s graphic “bombing” got him arrested in New York, Philadelphia, and Long Beach, Halloran doesn’t think San Diego cops ever busted him. “In fact, the city’s downtown graffiti crews would take his stickers and put them on their clean-up carts. Shepard basically had his own city-sponsored mobile kiosks downtown.... Now, he has a wife and two kids. Plus he is diabetic. I don’t think he takes risks like he used to.”

Dynamic graphics aren’t used as much to promote radio stations because, says one local DJ, “Radio stations just don’t make bumper stickers much anymore. People don’t put them on their cars because they don’t have the same allegiance or loyalty to stations like they used to. People don’t have the same passion for radio. But it’s the same for politics. You don’t see many presidential bumper stickers out there this year, do you?”

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Worth noting is that SD's Black Market art crew had already been around a long time before Fairey's brief association with them, dating way back to punk concert flyers of the '80s and the locally-published Black Market magazine. Local cartoon legend Marc Rude did a lot of work with Black Market before his untimely passing (http://www.blackmarketmagazine.com/Rude/Rude_About.htm). BM honcho Carl Schneider even worked for Rock 'N' Roll Comics, at its latterday Miramar office in the mid 1990s.

Tho Fairey's use of pre-existing images to build "new" graphics should usually be covered by "fair use" doctrines, due to the number of changes he applies to the source material to recast ala Warhol's infamous soup cans, it's a shame that truly innovative artists like Marc Rude are all-but overlooked and forgotten, while derivative so-sos like Fairey does guest spots on TV shows like the Simpsons.

Oct. 3, 2012

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