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Henry Rollins In Conversation With Shepard Fairey, Sunday May 6th 2018

Henry Rollins and Shepard Fairey


I once heard Moby raving about Los Angeles during an interview, he was saying how much he loved the city, while enumerating the good things about the city of angels, ‘And we have Shepard Fairey!’ he said. Ironically, the façade of Moby’s vegan restaurant in Silverlake has currently a ‘DISOBEY’ mural by street artist Plastic Jesus, which looks like a pastiche of Fairey’s famous logo ‘OBEY’. Shepard Fairey’s art is so iconic that it has been copied many many times, but this doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

Los Angeles has indeed Shepard, Mr. Obey Giant, and I feel lucky to be living in a neighborhood where he has painted two murals and owns a studio (Subliminal Studios), where I have seen and met many interesting artists. I even bumped into Neil Young one night because his daughter had an exhibit there, so what else could I hope for?

Los Angeles is lucky to have Shepard and his connections with the music world, while his friendship with legendary musicians have brought plenty of surprises. Where else could I have seen a concert with Moby, Bad Brains’ Daryl Jennifer and Dave Grohl?  Another one gathered Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, Blondie’s Clem Burke and Billy Idol. It always looks like an intimate upscale backyard party, and I am always in.

Shepard Fairey and Henry Rollins are good friends and they truly enjoy each other’s company, you could tell during their conversation on Sunday night at the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater in Santa Monica. This episode of the series Live Talks didn’t seem staged or artificial at all, it sounded like a casual conversation between two very interesting friends.

Shepard Fairey was there to discuss his new book, ‘OBEY: Supply and Demand, The Art of Shepard Fairey’, a huge retrospective of his career, since he received a bachelor of fine arts in illustration from Rhode Island School of Design in 1992. If everyone knows him for his Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster and stickers, which he created in support of the 2008 presidential campaign, he is a very prolific artist with an impressive resume, and his work has been included in the collections of several museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Shepard has always thought large and bold, with the idea that a billboard gets more attention than a small sticker’. He put his famous Andre the Giant everywhere, starting in NYC, as the sticker had already become ubiquitous in Rhode island.

The OBEY Giant image, which evolved considerably over the years, was a sort of crystallization of several things he had been looking for: a way to question America’s appetite for consumption mixed with ‘a big brother is watching you’ sinister look, inspired by Russian propaganda, ‘the type of thing Americans have been conditioned to fear’, as he said later on. However, his real source of inspiration for OBEY actually came from John Carpenter’s science fiction movie, ‘They Live’, which was criticizing the power of commercialism and the way people are manipulated by advertising. An OBEY Billboard actually makes an apparition in the movie.

But OBEY, has become Shepard’s own, his worldwide recognizable brand logo, how many artists can say the same thing? It may even be more famous than Pettibon’s four black bars for Black Flag. With a very recognizable face (a TV wrestler) and two syllables, O-BEY, Fairey managed to transform a graffiti into a image/logo, ‘A symbol of me,… an existential impulse’.

Over the years, Shepard got arrested numerous times for vandalism (something like 18 times), but he was willing to take risks and was not decided to submit to authority, something that still amazes self-described tattooed-scary-face Rollins. Both men agreed that commercial billboards have heavily messed up their environment, while graffiti can be perceived as rebellion. ‘I am offended by billboards,’ said Rollins.

Of course, such success doesn’t come without criticism and Fairey has been heavily criticized for making money off his brand, since he even has a clothing line: OBEY clothing. Often considered as too far to the left in his own country (he has supported Ralph Nader and Bernie Sanders’ campaign), he is regarded as a capitalist in socialist countries: ‘I have made prints about people’s obsession with capitalism and I sell them,’ he said, ‘I understand the irony of it… But money is a tool which gave me the freedom to do what I couldn’t do when I was broke’. His involvement in politics and his humanitarian actions are countless, and one of his proudest piece of works is a pro-immigrant mural visible, from the freeway, in very conservative Orange County

Beside his new book ‘OBEY Supply & Demand’, his studio Subliminal Projects will host ‘DIY: The History of Creative Culture in Skateboarding’ on May 19th, featuring skateboards, clothing, zines, various ephemera and artifacts integral to the legacy of DIY culture in skateboarding, and he is also part of a giant exhibit which has just opened in Los Angeles, Beyond The Streets , celebrating numerous street artists.

OBEY is ubiquitous in Los Angeles, and we are very lucky.

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