PSFK Conference: Art & Beautiful Mistakes
Posted September 21, 2007on:
Artist Shepard Fairey spoke about his journey from t-shirt and sticker-making to creating art for consumers/clients. This was one of my top favorite speakers by far. Here’re my notes and thoughts, along with a picture. (We were prohibited from taking our own, so I’m borrowing from PSFK.)
I’d never heard of Shepard before, so I was really jazzed to hear him speak about his cool art and his thoughts on ‘selling out’ (my words, not his) as he began producing art for brands and the consumerist world. Some background on Shepard: Rhode Island School of Design grad, inspired by propaganda, born to parents who were the high school footballer and cheerleader.
He started off by showing us slides of his work, I noticed hints of Barbara Kruger (whom I admire), and lo behold, he included an image of one of her pieces. Shepard started making t-shirts for friends and one day saw an ad with Andre the Giant (wrestler and actor in “The Princess Bride” no less). He made this into a sticker, which he then began slapping around town (I believe he’s from North Carolina). This got Shepard thinking about “the power of communication through art and in the public space.”
He believes in “awakening wonderment” (in reference to the philosopher Heidegger). This resonated with me. Awakening wonderment should be something all artists and creative people strive to do. Or, maybe it’s something everyone should be thinking about. If thought is dull and immobile, the potential for growth and discovery is low.
On his art:
Eventually, it started to attract teens and the skateboard crowd, but then also companies began calling. They wanted to connect with the followers/fans of Fairey’s work, and believed he could help them achieve this. His artistic journey and way of thinking came across as very authentic and grassroots. He was very honest about his upbringing, inspirations, and motivations. He said art + commerce need eachother (despite what naysayers may say), and also believes in entertainment mixing with the two. For instance, he enjoys music, so he djs. He likes to go out and be politically critical. (He’s been arrested 13 times.) He also believes in empowerment, something that has been a strong base for his messages (see bold propaganda influenced work). His take is that art can be and is everywhere.
On making art for commerce:
His motivation to try commercial was because he wanted to resonate with his audience. Art needs to to “accrue cultural currency” in order to gain commercial success. Someone in the audience asked if he’s felt a backlash after he went commercial, and Fairey said despite this, he’s still driven to do what he does. It’s not as if he doesn’t make art for his own ‘selfish’ reasons (the root of all art?), he just does what drives him.
On living the ‘artist’ life:
I found it amusing that he used to scam Kinkos when he made art in the beginning. He had figured out a way to rig the machines so he wouldn’t get charged (artists need to be strategic thinkers) and would restrict his color printing to red and black.
So art needn’t be draining on your budget. I also like the fact that his work is accessible. I looked at his site Obey Giant, and was pleased to find posters that don’t set you back $1,000. In fact, he encourages people to download his designs for free stuff like stickers, posters, stencils and desktop wallpaper. Art for all.
I didn’t know this…:
Hawaii has no outdoor advertising. Fairey mentioned that you’ll see no big logo on the pop machines, or ads on telephone boxes. Instead you’ll see flowers (promote tourism through beauty and images of Hawaii).