Born in North Carolina, Shepard Fairey gained international recognition by challenging the borders of fine art and pop art. His 1989 “Obey Giant” campaign put him in the spotlight. He describes this piece as an experiment in how a message deprived of clear motivations can spark meaning.
Ever since, Shepard has prompted his audience to question power dynamics, with a thoughtful choice of contrasting colors and iconic characters. In 2008, his President Obama “Hope” poster became the official campaign emblem, ensuring Fairey lasting posterity and a place among the cultural giants.
What were the earliest things you remember creating? When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
Shepard Fairey: Ironically, because I'm such a pacifist now, the first things that I loved to draw when I was around four-years-old were tanks, fighter jets, and battleships. I realized that I wanted to be an artist toward the end of high school when I realized that I probably wasn't going to make it as a professional skateboard.
What types or specific books, magazines, movies have influenced you?
I'm a passionate consumer of a lot of media, but some seminal books were dystopian staples like "Animal Farm," "1984", and "Fahrenheit 451." I also started thinking more deeply about social dynamics after reading books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Lord of the Flies." I've been a fan of Juxtapoz since it came out and I collect a huge number of art and design books.
What is your process for painting a mural? How much of it is conceived of beforehand vs. improvised on the spot?
I try to conceive it all beforehand based on being provided with photographs and measurements of the wall. However, I frequently arrive to find that the measurements are not accurate and I'm forced to improvise, which I'm comfortable with because improvisation was a huge part of my wheat pasted mural process before I began to be offered legal walls. My murals are designed ahead of time, frequently based on a re-working of images I'm making for my fine art and prints, but adapted to the proportions of the wall I'll be painting. I use a stencil process to paint the walls...the entire image is printed out in 3' x 4' sheets in grayscale, and they are lightly spray mounted a few at a time to the wall then the stencil is cut directly on the wall and sprayed. The process is very labor intensive, but I know that my proportions will be right and the graphic details will be clean using that method.
Collaboration is a big part of many mural projects. Do you prefer working solo or with others around? How important is it for you to have a good community of other creative people around?
I think creative people feed off of each other, at least I know that I do. I enjoy working with other artists when the collaboration is right. I work with a team of assistants so even my dynamic with my team is somewhat collaborative and I couldn't do as many murals as I do without them and the expertise they've developed working with me. I like the energy when artists are working side by side on separate projects or together but I also like to be able to focus so sometimes I'm not excited about the disruptions of the perpetual bro-down that can happen at art fairs and mural fairs. Don't get me wrong, but I'm frequently pressed for time with these projects, so getting the work done is the most important thing.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of what you do?
My favorite part is seeing the way the completed mural transforms the landscape in a way that inspires people and gets them talking. My least favorite part is inhaling spray paint, spray adhesive, and getting bruises and blisters on my fingers from having to push down hard on knives and cans.
Do you feel like you have to do something creative every day? What is the most rewarding aspect of creating art?
I'm restless when I'm not solving creative problems, so I do have to create every day. The most rewarding aspect is making an image that connects with people and gets them talking about or at least pondering the art, the art's ideas and aesthetics, and maybe even art's possibilities as a tool of empowerment and communication.
Which do you enjoy more, the process of painting a piece or seeing it finished?
I always enjoy the process because I know it leads to something that I'm proud of. The completion of a mural is always exciting, but like I said, I'm restless, so I can't enjoy it for that long before I need to tackle the next project.
Do you have any rituals or things you do if you are feeling unmotivated?
I'm not as consistent as I should, but I've found that meditation is very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety and opening the pathway to inspiring ideas.
Outside of your mural for this festival, what are you working on now? Tell us what you're up to!
Well I'll be in Denver obviously for CRUSH Festival but then a few days later, my team and I are traveling to Moscow, Russia to team up with Wunderkarmmern Gallery and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with Artmossphere for my upcoming exhibition" Force Majeure. I've never been to Moscow, but I'm excited to visit the place that birthed so much art that has inspired me.
After that, I'll be in Paris for a few days for the District 13 Art Fair. My gallery Subliminal Projects, which is based in Los Angeles, will be showing and I'll be there to check it out. After that, I'm launching the app version of my Damaged art show in October, which I'll be sharing more details on soon and then getting ready for some big news in 2019 to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the OBEY art project.
If money was no issue, what is your dream project?
Though I have always been resourceful and achieved a lot with limited resources when I was broke, I've always thought realistically about money, so I haven't pondered what I would do if I had unlimited money. That being said, I know I would want to create larger sculptures and maybe even some architectural projects as an evolution of what I do in the streets already. I've been fortunate to do some unexpected installations like the Earth Crisis globe at the Eiffel Tower in 2015, so I guess I would think about things like that if money were not an issue.
What is the best piece of advice you've received, or the best piece of advice you have for younger artists?
Be your own harshest critic and don't give up.
If you could hang out with one person, living or dead, who would that be?
What is one thing we should do/see while we are in Denver?
Other than the murals, of course, check out Black Book Gallery. They've been supporting the kind of culture that CRUSH stems form for many years.
As part of Crush Walls 2018, we will be bringing the Juxtapoz Clubhouse with a specially-curated group of artists during the week-long celebration!
Join us for the Crush Walls Opening Party on September 4th, from 7 PM to 10 PM at 2750 Blake Street in Denver, CO.