I met Craig from THE RISE AND THE FALL at an Ian MacKaye spoken word gig. Craig used to work in the art department for SST Records, and now does the awesome zine THE RISE AND THE FALL(of the harbor area). I grew up in the 80’s with skate and punk zines that were xeroxed and stapled and it is great to see that culture and spirit carried on. Craig asked me if I’d do an interview and cover for THE RISE AND THE FALL and I was really happy to be able to be part of a zine that embodies the DIY energy that inspired me. Read the interview here, but support DIY culture and buy the zine, it is only 3 bucks.
ISSUE THIRTEEN / May – August 2009 – featuring Shepard Fairey
MORE INFO AT
Triskaidekaphobia? We here in San Pedro, CA embrace the number 13 for many reasons, but we won’t get into that. Issue 13 features an up to date interview with “outlaw artist,” Shepard Fairey on various topics that should quiet all the skeptics. Shepard also did the cover art for this issue. We talk with former pro skateboarder, rocker and record label owner, Todd Congelliere about his San Pedro based Recess Records, and what it takes to keep it going for over 20 years. Halbadal talks shit with up and coming L.A. rippers, Stab City on various hilarious subjects. Great skate-photo spread mostly of the local San Pedro, DIY, Channel Street skatepark and a couple other spots supplied by El Beardo. Former SST Records co-owner and writer, Joe Carducci gives us his take on political cycles and music undergrounds. A fair, but true restaurant review of Niko’s Pizzeria, brought to you by the Smut Peddlers own John Ransom. Our regular “Hanks Ghetto” page featuring Charles Bukowski poetry with Linda Bukowski’s permission of course. Another cool Scott Aicher comic, plus tons of reviews and much more. The reviews say that this is a San Pedro regional scene zine, but it is much more than that, trust me.
-Rise And The Fall Fanzine
SHEPARD FAIREY INTERVIEW
Interview by Christian Moreno & Craig Ibarra
“These ideas were not invented by some aesthetic clique. They are an expression of a violent desire, which burns in the veins of every creative artist today.” These timeless words uttered by the Italian Futurist writer Filippo Marinetti ring true with a clarion prescience through artists like Shepard Fairey, who’s work, despite world wild acclaim, continues to be a fascinating collision of quotidian iconography and subversive, mischievous muckraking. His delicate balancing act of commercialism and “culture jamming” keep Shepard’s work fresh, relevant and often times humorous. So, how does one begin a career as an “outlaw artist” and then, suddenly one day find himself sanctioned by the political machine, propelling the future/present President of the United States? Well, we were lucky enough to ask the man himself, as busy as he is between lawsuits, jail time, gallery openings and countless other interviews. –Christian, April 2009
In the past, it seemed as though your work was more visible than you as a person, but recently that’s changed. I mean let’s face it, ever since the Obama posters you’ve become down right famous. How has this changed you in your everyday life? Or has it?
I really enjoyed the freedom of anonymity I had for years, because I felt people interpreted my art without the added complication of throwing what I look like or other aspects of my personality into the equation. In many ways my art is the best reflection of my personality, because I try to incorporate everything I care about in both the content of my work and my means of production and dissemination. On the other hand, a lot of people have misunderstood aspects of my art and philosophy. In recent years I have had the opportunity to communicate directly about concepts ranging from the validity of street art, to grass roots activism and politics, to the need for art and commerce to function symbiotically, to the need for underground, progressive culture to insidiously infiltrate the mainstream rather than remain self-isolated preaching to the converted. I did all the interviews around the Obama campaign because I felt that it was important to encourage people to engage in democracy, no matter how imperfect the political system is. The only way to change the system is to infiltrate it ourselves or vote people into office who represent our ideas. To me, Obama was a step in the right direction, not the magic solution. I actually hated doing all those interviews. It might sound corny, but I did the Obama poster and all the time consuming promotion behind it because I could not stand the thought of my two young daughters having to endure Republican administrations. The Bush years were a major setback to this country. Now that I’m more “famous” I have become more of a target in general. I guess people think you become egotistical with fame and they need to knock you down a notch. I can’t even read the Internet comments; people are brutal when they can bash you anonymously. I actually find it all very humbling. I’m just a guy who saw, through punk and skateboarding, the potential to make art that engages people despite my lack of technical virtuosity.
If the 16-year-old Shepard Fairey could meet the 39-year-old Shepard Fairey, what would he think? Would he be proud, surprised?
The 16-year-old Shepard would be wigging out, mostly because not only have I met a lot of my idols, but also in many cases I have become friends with and collaborated with them. I got a call yesterday from Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys asking me if he could help with my arrest and legal case in Boston! The Dead Kennedy’s had legal difficulties in the ‘80s. Jello’s lyrics were some of my strongest inspiration to question authority and specifically U.S. foreign policy. I have also worked with Henry Rollins, Bob Mould, Bauhaus, Ian MacKaye, Steve Jones, Tony Alva, Bad Brains, Glen E. Friedman, Led Zeppelin, Public Enemy, Jane’s Addiction, etc. I have been very fortunate that many people I admire also like my work. I think maybe my 16-year-old self would be even more amazed at how far a little tenacity, punk attitude, and a simple concept like a sticker campaign could go. I started making xeroxed stickers in 1989 while making $4.25 at a skate shop, and this past year I made a poster that some people feel impacted a presidential election and is now in the Smithsonian. It was a very gradual and linear evolution, yet I never would have thought it possible at 16. The thing that excites me is that it demonstrates to current and future 16-year-olds that anything is possible.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don’t know. Henry Rollins and people like him show you can keep the hardcore spirit forever. I have kids now and I’m facing 87 years worth of felony charges in Boston. I’ve been arrested 15 times for street art, so there is no lack of commitment, but I need to be around for my family. I can always do legal walls and keep the connection to the DIY ethos of street art. As far as the content of my art goes, I take it one day at a time. I react to current events and social attitudes. Right now I’m concerned about global warming, the environment, and the need for green energy and technology. I will be making art that supports green initiatives. I’m doing some stuff for the ACLU and some other charities and social causes. I will continue to try to make art that is visually arresting and can do good. I’ll probably never lose interest in music related art either.
Why do you eschew your first name Frank?
Quite frankly, my parents always called me Shepard. Shepard was unique enough for me not to need a wacky nom de guerre, so if I’d gone by Frank I might have taken on a dumb name like “Kid Sabotage.” Of course I was assigned DJ Diabetic by my officemates, which embarrassingly stuck.
Is there a particular time of day or activity where you find yourself particularly inspired in coming up with new ideas?
Often when I have a clear head when I’m driving, or right before I go to bed. I frequently leave myself voice mails or get out of bed and send myself emails so I don’t forget ideas. Before I used the computer I did my graphic art and illustration late night at Kinko’s, because I had the place to myself. Now I work late at home after my wife and daughters have gone to sleep. I get some work done at my studio, but there are a lot of meetings, oversight, and other distractions that break my concentration. I have a huge art and design book collection that is a constant source of inspiration, but I’m equally inspired by things I see in the news, new and old magazines, and album covers. I love to look at everything, and part of my attraction to street art was that in looking for places to put my art, I was forced to carefully observe and soak up the cityscape.
Who or what inspired you to create art in the first place?
I grew up in South Carolina, so my early influences were traditional art, like landscapes and portraiture. I initially liked art for the technical exercise of illustrating something 2-d and making it look real. When I got into skateboarding and punk in 1984, I fell in love with the skateboard graphics and album covers. I loved Jim Philips art for Santa Cruz skateboards and Independent, Vernon “Court” Johnson’s stuff for Powell, and Wes Humpston’s stuff for Dogtown. I was really into Jamie Reid’s graphics for the Sex Pistols, Winston Smith’s art for the Dead Kennedys, and Raymond Pettibon’s stuff for Black Flag. The Black Flag bars, the DK cross, and the Misfits Fiend Skull were iconic logos that influenced me. I wanted to make stencils of all those graphics, and that evolved into me making my own graphics in that vein. I also kept doing more traditional illustration, but developed an appreciation for collage and appropriation art, especially Barbara Kruger. I liked propaganda art a lot in terms of its graphic power and simplicity that lent itself to my favorite medium, screen printing. Eventually all my influences converged as the best way for me to communicate my ideas through aesthetics I found compelling.
Do you believe in heroes? If so, who are some of yours?
Many of my heroes are mentioned above and yes, I absolutely believe in heroes, and in celebrating them. I’m a gushing fan and it pisses me off when people lose the ability to acknowledge or celebrate the people who inspired and influenced them. Learning is based on direct and indirect apprenticeship, but people like to act like they formed their ideas and themselves in the wilderness. Some people have called me a plagiarist for directly referencing some of my artistic heroes in my work. To me these are very obvious tribute pieces, homage to the people who have influenced me. It seems like there is a different standard in music, I never hear bands being accused of plagiarism for doing a cover song.
Some of my heroes in the art world are Rodchenko, the Sternberg brothers, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robbie Conal, Barry McGee, John Van Hamersveld, Banksy, and Ed Ruscha. I have political heroes too like MLK, Noam Chomsky, Orwell, Joe Strummer, Bob Marley, and John Lennon
We know you attended the Rhode Island School of Design. Every once in a while you hear artists “poopooing” art school, saying it’s a huge waste of time and money, etc. Would you agree or disagree?
RISD cost a lot of money, but fortunately my parents paid for most of it. I worked at the skate shop and as a print studio monitor as well as doing odd print jobs for people. I think RISD was very valuable, but not for all the obvious reasons. Some of my teachers were great; some were pretentious and full of shit. The main things I got out of art school were a work ethic and the experience of being surrounded by a diverse group of talented people with many different ideas and approaches to art. I also had access to printing facilities that helped me learn a craft that I use in my art to this day.
To be sure, your artwork is thought provoking, but it often times adopts the aesthetics of a propaganda poster. Do you feel you use your art as a tool of persuasion?
Of course my art is a tool of provocation, if not direct persuasion in every case. Most things are propaganda even if they don’t have a “propaganda” look. On the one hand I use a propaganda aesthetic because it is effective at attention grabbing, but on the other I use it because people are suspicious of that style. I want people to be suspicious of the visuals they are inundated with and scrutinize things. I also think that there is positive propaganda that is not about sinister indoctrination, but about making people aware of issues and making social commentary. A lot of people asked me if my Obama posters were propaganda. Yes they were, but for someone I thought had merit. Hopefully propaganda is not the basis of people’s opinions, but a starting point that stimulates them to do their own research on a subject.
What are your motivations for creating art?
It is the only thing that balances intellectual communication and more viscerally cathartic, sublime creativity. Visual problem solving and illustration are very good therapy for me. I get to incorporate my ideas, my sense of humor, my pop culture nostalgia, my antagonism, and my conception of beautiful and powerful aesthetics into my art.
In that same vein, can you talk a little bit about the phrase you’ve coined, “absurdist propaganda” and more specifically the origins and tenets of phenomenology?
I initially called my work “absurdist propaganda,” because the central character in my work was an abstracted Andre the Giant portrait designed to provoke a reaction without one correct interpretation, like a Rorschach test. The propaganda took on a more topical approach during the Bush administration. I always liked the concept of absurdist pranks and the spectacle as embodied by the Situationists, who were a big influence on Malcolm McLaren and Jamie Reid, who worked with the Sex Pistols. The Situationists believed that people needed to experience shocking, unexpected things to reinvigorate their observation and perception. Life’s routine can dull one’s senses and leave everything taken for granted in soft focus. I was attracted to (Martin) Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology, my interpretation at least, because it seemed to be about reawakening a sense of wonder about one’s environment. I thought my Obey Giant sticker experiment was provoking some interesting reactions and contextual analysis that functioned as a form of phenomenology. I wrote a paper on phenomenology and my stickers for college, but I lost the long version and only have the shorter synopsis, which I tongue-in-cheek named my “Manifesto.”
In light of your current legal situation with the Associated Press and the image you appropriated from photographer Mannie Garcia for the iconic Obama/Hope poster, would you mind commenting on the cease-and-desist letter and threat to sue issued to artist Baxter Orr by your legal representation regarding the poster he created appropriating your Andre the Giant/Obey image? And would you agree or disagree, again in light of your current legal situation, that his appropriation of said image falls within the legal guidelines of “fair use”?
I sent Baxter Orr a cease and desist because he is an asshole. The cease and desist was the wrong move, because it makes me look like a hypocrite. I should have just used my website to call him out on his bullshit, which was actually unrelated to his parody of my Obey Icon which I do consider “fair use.” I was actually trying to punish Baxter for several other things that are too complicated to go into, but involve things he did to friends of mine in Texas, and that he made an image disparaging Obama. Though really unrelated, I thought the only recourse I had against Baxter was to send him a cease and desist. I actually never followed through on it and let him sell the posters, but he, being the scumbag he is, tried to turn it into publicity for himself as if he were a victim. Ask anyone who knows the guy about his character. I let literally hundreds of similar graphics that incorporate or reference my work peacefully exist as part of the pop culture dialog. Baxter was singled out for very specific reasons, but I regret taking that route.
My legal situation with the AP has raised a lot of interesting issues. The AP have photographed several artist’s works, including mine, and licensed them to people without compensating the artists. I would probably not care, except it is hypocritical for them to be suing me. I believe in fair use and I always err in favor of freedom of expression with the sole exception of exact, duplicate bootlegs.