As most of you probably know, last weekend some taggers went over the new Obey Giant mural in Fishtown. On Monday, I posted my thoughts on the defacing. And on Tuesday, LOLadelphia, a local blog I genuinely enjoy, posted a rather detailed critique on the matter aimed “squarely” at me. That critique begins as follows:
“A couple weeks ago, to much fanfare, famed artist Shepard Fairey installed a mural on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown. You might remember Fairey as the guy who did those “OBEY” posters/clothing line, and also the Barack Obama “Hope” poster in 2008. It was a really strange time in Philadelphia. I happened to coincidentally be walking by on my way back from a friend’s house and seeing the way people reacted towards Fairey was a little perplexing, but I didn’t think too much of it because if it makes other people happy, why would I give a shit? I also talked with Fairey briefly, and he seemed like a nice enough guy.
All that said, I believe in separating art from the person and the person from the art. Fairey’s art is very formulaic and a lot of it looks the same to me in my own opinion. Similar to Banksy in England, Fairey is not very well-liked by the graffiti crowd, and predictably, his brand new mural was hit with tags. People immediately lost their fucking minds, particularly people who I consider to be shallow fans of street art. I call these people shallow because they like looking at it, maybe even identifying the artists, but they don’t take the time to understand how/why something exists in the street art world, and certainly not how street art and graffiti are connected, but share similar rules of “getting up” in the name of vandalism. Streets Dept posted his own opinion about Fairey’s work being defaced. Needless to say, I disagree with most of what he wrote. Here are my thoughts on the matter, which I have directed squarely towards Streets Dept… [READ THE FULL POST/CRITIQUE HERE.]“
Today, I’d like to offer a response to LOLadelphia:
Let me start off by saying that I think we’re saying many of the same things. I agree, an artist’s rep, or reputation, is built on doing good work. “Good” of course is subjective, but it sounds like we both agree that with both graffiti and street artists it often times involves, as you put it, “getting hard to reach spots, [and] doing something dope with those spots.” And this is exactly what Gane and Texas, GZ1, and NTEL did in the links I provided in my post about all this (as you point out.)
Do I think the new Shepard Fairey mural is a “hard to reach spot?” Perhaps… Do I think these guys “did something dope with the spot?” Not even a little.
You seem to imply that I showed the Obey Giant mural some favoritism, so it’s worth noting that I did also freak out when the particularly huge Gane and Texas piece got buffed. And I wrote a post about how pissed I was when the GZ1 piece got buffed, twice, recently as well. I am a fan of good work (tags, graffiti, murals, installations, whatever) in good spots. Of course, good (again) is very subjective, but that’s what art is: subjective.
You end your critique with “people need to stop being picky about what they like and not like,” and I have to completely disagree with that. I can love a thoughtfully crafted Gane and Texas piece on the top of an abandoned warehouse, and hate some sloppy tags on an Obey Giant piece. That’s my duty as the viewer, otherwise we might as well be looking at math equations on a wall.
Let me adress a few of your issues more directly:
-Do I think the Mural Arts Program could invest in more projects with local artists? This is not what my post was about at all, but of course I would absolutely agree with that. But I also know that they have worked with countless local artists over the years, including NoseGo, ESPO, Joe Boruchow, and Wolfbat, just to name a few… Nevertheless, I would always support using more local artists. That said, I don’t think we need to be so insular. I do think there’s plenty of space/walls (literally) to share with some national/international artists. I think Philadelphia is well on its way to becoming a destination for street art/graffiti lovers the world over to come and explore. And I think any national or international spotlights that get thrown on Philly ultimately help put more attention on all our amazing local artists. This isn’t an either/or decision in my book. I think we can play in the sandbox with out-of-town artists and hold our own all while creating a truly unique landscape of all sorts of public art, street art, murals, and graffiti around Philly.
[UPDATE: Soon after publishing this post I heard from Mural Arts, and they're reporting that 90% of the lead artists they've contracted in the last 6 months have been Philly-based.]
-As far as “a fiscally bankrupt city” paying for the Mural Arts Program, it deserves to be noted that less than 1/6th of Mural Arts operating budget comes from the city (around $940,800). To put that in perspective, the School District of Philadelphia’s operating budget last year was $3.1 billion. Completely defunding the Mural Arts Program wouldn’t even begin to put a dent the school district’s financial woes. Moreover, many reports have actually found that these murals help to attract tourists and ultimately increase retail sales (aka sales taxes.) So, defunding the Mural Arts Program would be a lot like cutting off your foot to feed yourself. It just doesn’t really help you very much.
-Is Shepard Fairey a “sell out?” This, the core of your argument about why some people will go over him and not other out-of-town artists who put up work in Philly. Well, while I can’t say that I agree with his tactics wholeheartedly, I can also say that I have never been in the position to turn my life’s passion into a career. Isn’t it every (or damn near every) artist’s dream to be able to support themselves with their art? A number of Philly street artists sell T-shirts, or iPhone games, or get commissioned to paint murals (and yes, even sometimes over existing tags/graffiti,) or have some way to make their art profitable. Are they sell outs? To that you might argue: well, none of them started out as anti-establishment street artists. To which I would reply: can’t you argue that through his success, Shepard Fairey has created his own establishment? He hires people now. He supports people’s livelihoods. He has the money and name now to play the game however he wants. And he’s playing it by creating an industry/establishment of his own… Look, my point is simple: if you really hate the way Shepard Fairey has progressed his career, do it better than him. Make a name for yourself, pull yourself up, and do it in a way that you feel is better.
At the end of the day, building a rep is all a bit of a game, isn’t it? So how are you going to play: with sloppy tags on easy targets, or with good work on unexpected/thoughtful spots? Lucky for Philly, many, many artists/writers are playing it the latter way.
These two are in Northern Liberties and Fishtown respectively… LOVE me some Get Up!
Little more than a week old, the new Shepard Fairey (aka Obey Giant) mural in Fishtown has been defaced.
I suppose this should have been expected, as the Shepard Fairey piece outside of The Rocket Cat (also in Fishtown) was defaced a while ago, and writers went over every illegal paste Shepard (and his team) put up while in town. When you’re as big as Shepard Fairey, you’re bound to draw some criticisms, and many of these writers are going over his stuff to draw attention to their disapproval of him. While other writers are just looking to draw attention to themselves. And I’m sure a fair amount are doing it for both reasons.
Why do some of these writers dislike Obey? Well, to be quite honest, I can’t get a clear sense of that. While most of the 100+ commenters to my Instagram photo about this defacing seemed to be angered by it – some of those commenters even noting how weak these particular tags are – there were a handful (mostly other taggers) who seemed to support the defacing claiming that “it’s all just part of the game.” Which, to some extent, I can understand. But not in this case.
At the end of the day, Shepard Fairey has his pay check. Defacing his mural does nothing to him. He will likely never see, or care about your tags on his mural. What it does is piss off people in the neighborhood who like the mural, cost the Mural Arts Program money to restore it (money which they could be investing in other artists,) and cause building owners to question whether or not they want to take the risk of supporting public art on their buildings (another potential loss to artists.)
Want to show Shepard Fairey up? Do better than him. Find spaces that could actually use a little love. Get your name out there by doing good work, not because you took a piss on the guy that’s already pulled himself up.
And please feel free to leave a comment, if you feel I’m wrong, or that I’m missing something.