Shepard Fairey – NineteenEightyFouria exhibition

The Old Truman Brewery
2-25th November Bricklane, London

09.11.07 – Words and photos by Phil Procter

The UK media has had many darlings, 60 years ago it was social commentary of Orwell and the predications that led him to write 1984, this last couple of years its favoured a more blunt and urban approach with Banksy’s social one liners.

Combine these two, and their influences and we have today’s fresh meat, Shepard Fairey.

As a Gorilla artist working Americas east and west coasts he has now reached the inevitable plateau of gallery spaces. Skaters will be more familiar with the name than most as he has worked with the likes of Element co-founder Andy Howell and more recently, Plan B for a range of pro decks which rapidly turned in collectors items. This is on top of cover art for DJ Shadow and The Smashing Pumpkins latest album to name a couple.

Ninteeneightyfouria is an extensive collection of the newer work from Shepard Fairey, gone are the giant OBEY slogans and blunt, intimidating images of Andre the Giants’ face, his trademarks have now found a subtler home in the makeup of his art. As with the Orwell classic 1984, these posters are all aimed at the Big Brother element of society.

Fairey’s influences stand out clearly, not just from his Orwellian outlook, but looking in to the constructivism style he vents through, encompassing the poster campaigns of communist propaganda both from the Eastern Block, and Asia are prominent. Also from the old eastern bloc, the vast attention to detail that Alphonse Mucha displayed in his own poster art in the last century can be seen to great affect in Fairey’s latest multi-layered works.

The examples on show in this huge 20,000square feet of warehouse space take in many genres, from a collection of stunning mock album covers to posters of musical icons, notably Joe Strummer and Bob Marley. While these figureheads from the last century are acknowledged alongside socialist icons he stabs pointedly at capitalism.

The artist still maintains he personally has no problem admitting he is a part of capitalism, in the Guardian this week he was quoted “I’m not against capitalism. If I was, I wouldn’t live in the US. If you work you’re participating”. And work he does, some of these pieces in the gallery are yours to take home for a mere £30,000, that is assuming you have a ceiling high enough to take some of these billboard size works home with you!

So from the humble beginnings of an 18 year old making “Andre the giant has a Posse” stickers in a skateshop in Providence to a 37 year old hitting major gallery space in capitol cities the world over the art has kept the same vibes, and attracted critics praising in all corners of art.

The UK’s own Banksy has got involved and they have exchanged techniques and gone out and put up pieces together and sited each other as major influences. Even famous Banksy pieces in London now have some Obey posters strewn up around them after a tour of the city earlier this week. With global momentum firmly behind the Obey bandwagon, BigBrother can expect to see Shepard Fairey on more and more of his cameras in the future and you can bet there will be an Obey sticker on to the side of it!

Showing daily at The Old Truman Gallery on Bricklane, running now until the 25th November, its open daily 11-7pm – free entrance

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