As the leading American street artist and one of the country’s most recognizable graphic designers, Shepard Fairey himself needs no introduction. But these are strange times for Fairey, and a refresher might be in order. His latest exhibition, On Our Hands at New York City’s Jacob Lewis Gallery, is set to open on Thursday evening. The show tackles the influence of money on politics, the way that legalized bribery has corrupted our democratic system. His new book, Covert to Overt, is due out later this month. The book tackles the influence of money on Fairey’s art, the way he’s fed his ever-growing fame and commercial success back into the work he’s always been doing. He’s on top of the world, or at least the art world. Except that Fairey also standing trial in Detroit for some wheatpastes that the city calls “malicious destruction of a building,” and he could wind up going to prison. So the next few months could really go either way.
Fairey has left an indelible mark on American politics and culture. No matter what happens next, I suspect he’ll continue on that path in one way or another. As he prepares for the opening of On Our Hands, we had the opportunity to ask Fairey a few questions about his career, his place in the art world, and his politics.
RJ Rushmore: As your own fame has grown, as you’ve gone from covert to overt, how have you learned to strike a balance between using your fame for positive change and simply enjoying it?
Shepard Fairey: There are pros and cons to being known whether you call it famous or infamous, but I definitely try to leverage my higher profile to push socially conscious and sometimes provocative ideas. I have a large audience now, which I view as a tremendous resource but also a group to be considerate of and responsible toward. It may sound trite but I take my situation seriously as, for lack of a better word, a role model. I try to provide strong justification for my actions and my viewpoints and I think one of the reasons many of the doors have opened for me that have, is because I’m community and socially minded, not only with my work but with the organizations I support and the activism I engage in.