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‘Covert To Overt: Photography of Obey Giant’ by Jon Furlong, At Subliminal Projects, Saturday October 10th 2015

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Shepard Fairey is probably starting to think I am stalking him because it was my second time seeing him this week. What can I say he is always involved in interesting projects and knows about everybody in the music business! After his Q&A with Henry Rollins at the American Cinematheque for the premiere of the movie ‘He Never Died’ on Wednesday, he was celebrating the release of a new book, ‘COVERT TO OVERT: Photography of OBEY GIANT by Jon Furlong, documenting his work for a decade.

Furlong, the head photographer at OBEY Clothing since 2005, has been following Fairey and the Obey crew for almost ten years, from gallery exhibitions, to street art installations and murals, all over the world. Just like his friend the mysterious and elusive Banksy, Fairey is a street artist who has left an impact in major cities all over the world from Paris, to Amsterdam, London, Copenhagen, Malaga, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Charleston where Fairey grew up.

Furlong, who sees photography as the art of preserving moments for eternity, has said to constantly ‘seeking ways to capture authentic beauty and chaos through the lens of photography’. His complete immersion in the process made him the perfect candidate for the project, capturing unique moments showing Fairey making his giant murals, climbing in impossible places to put one of his famous stickers.

I looked at the photos exposed at Subliminal Projects and I could also browse through the 256-pages book, filled with many more pictures documenting about everything Shepard Fairey has ever done.

‘I find myself in a fascinating and, in some ways, challenging position at this point in my development as an artist’, wrote Shepard in the preface of the book. ‘I’ve become visible and commercially successful in ways I never expected. I’m no longer seen as an underdog, but I’ve passionately maintained my belief in independent thinking and resourceful self-empowerment. There’s no doubt I’ve evolved as an artist in many ways, but in many others I’ve remained consistent in my philosophy and practice.’

Shepard continues his work although he is well aware of his so-called ambiguous position, he started as an outlaw and has been accused of selling out because of his Obey clothing line and corporate sponsored work. ‘I still put stickers and posters in the streets without permission,‘ he continues, ‘but I also paint ten-story-tall sanctioned murals and collaborate with high-profile musicians. I have worked with city governments and been arrested by them.’ And this double hat which gets him in trouble with purists, but Shepard has no problem with that, he embraces both aspects as he means in the title of his book: Covert (unsanctioned street art) to Overt (murals and gallery exhibitions), from unknown to established artist. He sees this tactic as a force: ‘I’ve long embraced what I call the ‘inside/outside strategy’ of doing things on my own terms outside of the system when necessary, while also seizing opportunities to infiltrate the system and use its machinery to spread my art and ideas, hoping to change the system for the better in the process’.

And Shepard is not faking anything, he has been in trouble with the law many times for his street art, the last in date has to be this incident in Detroit last summer. But at the end what he pays for felony charges are a better investment that any publicity campaign because the act itself looks so punk.

‘I saw myself as an outsider, living the art version of the punk mantra: ‘Do it yourself’’, wrote Shepard to explain his struggling beginnings, He takes the money when he can and re-invests every dollar to expand the scale and reach of his art. His friend and curator Pedro Alonzo once said that he is ‘too street for the corporate world and too corporate for the street world’, but Shepard couldn’t care less, since the beginning of his burgeoning career he hasn’t followed any rules but his.

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