An exhibit of works on metal by Shepard Fairey
Saturday, March 4th – Friday, April 7th 2023
Black Book Gallery is pleased to announce Heavy Metal, a solo exhibition by Shepard Fairey featuring works on metal culled from the past twenty years of the artist’s prolific and prescient career. The exhibition will include rare pieces for sale, such as retired letterpress plates and mono engraving plates, neither of which have ever been made available to collectors before.
Heavy Metal will open on Saturday, March 4th with a reception from 6-10pm and remain on view until Friday, April 7th. There will be a closing reception on April 7th from 6-9pm. Both receptions are free and open to the public.
Black Book Gallery and Shepard Fairey first worked together in 2008 on an art exhibition entitled Manifest Hope, in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention. That same year, Shepard created the now iconic Obama Hope image, which has since become one of the most recognizable artworks in US history.
Building on the success of his Hope poster, Shepard’s work over the past fifteen years has brought critical awareness to many socio-political and environmental issues that the artist addresses through his use of symbolic graphics, typography, and stylized portraiture. For Shepard, however, the process is just as important as aesthetics, especially when it comes to the printing press itself, a deceptively humble tool with revolutionary origins as a DIY modus for political dissent and resistance.
In the artist’s words:
“I’ve always been fascinated by mechanical and industrial printing and more primitive methods of image reproduction like screen printing and stenciling. Printing is a very effective and powerful way to disseminate and democratize art.
I love not just when form and function merge harmoniously, but the idea of highlighting that symbiotic relationship.
“While in art school at RISD, I took etching and lithography classes and noticed how beautiful the metal plates could be, especially the thicker etching plates with acid-etched relief. In 1999 l went to see Barbara Kruger’s retrospective at LA MOCA. The show featured beautiful metal relief plates usually used for letterpress or other relief printing. I was mesmerized by the weight and beauty of the metal and its implications as a means of mass production. Kruger’s metal pieces inspired me, but because I could not afford to have relief plates made of my images, I set out to find a more affordable way to replicate the aesthetics and textures of a printing plate.
My experiments eventually led me to print with translucent acrylic ink on industrial aluminum plates that were sanded and dipped in a chemical that accelerated aging and yielded a charming patina. The results allowed the texture of the metal to remain visible through the inks. The effect looked very similar to an etching plate. I have continued to refine this technique over 23 years. I also make many letterpress prints requiring a metal relief plate, and I’ve transformed some of those relief plates into art pieces included in the show. The processes I use for my work logically flow from my philosophy of disseminating my art broadly. The works in Heavy Metal embody this principle by calling attention to the tools of printing itself.”
Heavy Metal will include Shepard’s works on metal dating back to the year 2000 and feature the artist’s signature motifs, from agitprop-style portraits to hijacked advertising imagery and deadpan OBEY messaging. While Shepard’s works often incorporate an allegorical color palette of proletariat reds and vintage blues, his more recent prints on metal employ a monochromatic silver tone that complements the metal substrate while amplifying the mechanical process of printmaking. The retired letterpress plates featured in Heavy Metal essentially act as wall-mounted sculptural reliefs—a meta-homage to the medium itself.
Over the course of Shepard’s inimitable career—from his hand-pasted OBEY origins, which satirically critiqued “gen pop” society and Big Brother, to his murals championing social justice that occupy entire city blocks—his work has taken aim at the institutions of power that weaponize visual language as a means of propaganda and social control by repurposing that same visual language. To that end, Shepard has created hundreds of images across a variety of formats, including: limited edition screen prints on paper/wood/metal, stencil collages, letterpress prints, hand painted multiples (HPMs), rubyliths, and more. Heavy Metal thus offers a retrospective of the artist’s unparalleled creative output by utilizing the medium of metal as a curatorial lens.
Shepard Fairey was born in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina. While an art student at RISD in the early 1990s, his “Andre the Giant has a Posse” street-art campaign went viral, spreading across the urban landscape in the US and elsewhere in the form of stickers, fliers, and wheat-paste posters. Considered one of the pioneers of contemporary urban art, Shepard Fairey’s works have been exhibited at major museums and festivals worldwide and are in the permanent collections of notable institutions including The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among many others. The artist lives and works in Los Angeles, California