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My Thoughts on the Defacing of the New Shepard Fairey Mural in Fishtown

August 18, 2014

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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.


22 Comments leave one →
  1. Phoenix Tears Healed permalink
    August 18, 2014 11:15 am

    I think it would help if they could get the scaffolding down as soon as a piece was finished; then no-one else could climb up; I do think it is an awful shame to spoil others work; and too that the people who do this can’t go themselves to the townspeople instead and ask for their own wall to do their own art on.

    • August 18, 2014 2:16 pm

      If I’m not mistaken the scaffolding is actually there for the construction taking place.

  2. August 18, 2014 11:27 am

    I absolutely agree with your assessment of it. It is hate for the sake of hate of sheer ignorance, both stifle the streetart movement as a whole. Many people don’t see the difference between tagging and streetart and it is artist such as Shepard Fairey and Nosego that really hammer home the difference. I hope this doesn’t halt further iconic murals in philly by prominent artists.

  3. MTM permalink
    August 18, 2014 12:02 pm

    I agree with you completely. When this picture came up on FB, someone commented saying they hated SF. When I asked why, they couldn’t tell me why. Dicking SF doesn’t hurt SF, but it does hurt chances of more property owners allowing murals on their buildings.

  4. August 18, 2014 12:11 pm


  5. August 18, 2014 12:56 pm

    I used to believe that graffiti was under the umbrella of street art, and it some case it is or can be, but also after speaking with many graffiti artists it is a subculture for other graffiti artists, a culture about the act of making culture, meaning there is no larger message outside of the process of tagging, its not art its graffiti, and it isnt done as an anti art….art thing, however thats not to say say there isn meaning beyond itself and its intention. For instance now we are all discussing the difference between graffiti and street art…………who knows maybe shepard fairey tagged his own piece, has duchamp taught us nothing, isnt the retinal work at best just a means to the larger conversation, in which all people are participants? Doesnt this act also bring up questions surrounding the loss of credit within ones own medium as ones fame and popularity grows. It also brings up questions of the artist as a celebrity, it brings up how we attach more emphasis to the person doing the work of art as opposed to the piece in which the meaning as we see in this happening can extend beyond the aim or scope of the sender of that work. And these are just a couple quick thoughts, that can lead into larger more worthwhile discourse. I understand the attack of this attack, people like shepard and the mural arts program do amazing work. But its not as if this city is perfect or pretty, why would we expect for it to reflect something it truly is not, its not as we are not in the midst of some of the most obvious and vicious acts of gentrification, displacement and commercialism the city has ever seen, we are literally trading in some of our most impassioned people for those who can afford higher taxes. We refuse to educate our middle to lower class in any real way. And we act as if the sparkle of pop up bars and the movement of drills and drywall to the beat of a crane brings anything but eye sores. At some point the truth of what’s actual going on in this city erupts in lighting strikes of angst and unrest, lets dissect those things as opposed to just lumping it in with jerky behavior. And dont you want the street art movement to a be movement? Not become a commodity like most other forms of once well intentioned movements in this country? Im not supporting this act , but I am willing to look at what its meaning is beyond the person who did it.

  6. August 18, 2014 1:18 pm

    I love how deep people are thinking about this. The day the mural was done conversations already started to be whispered about who would go over it Conrad I believe you were there for that conversation. As someone who tries to bridge some gap between graffiti and “street art” I first want to go in record that I agree that it is mainly people’s ignorance in thinking this effects SF directly and that it’s a misconstrued thought. I used the metaphor of keying a Lamborghini in your neighbors drive was because you hate the Lamborghini company. It makes no sense! Now I will expose why ppl wrote on his stuff if it’s good or bad doesn’t matter… They do it for posts like this one their name is now emblazoned on every social media outlet and they are basking in whatever “rep” that is bringing them. I hate people that say “get you own wall” or “do something better” the opportunities for any local artist to have a mural on any scale with full artistic freedom is very hard to find. It takes a lot of foot work and time to get there. we should turne off the opinions and not give shine to the ppl who don’t deserve it by posting about it.

  7. August 18, 2014 2:20 pm

    its not about them at the individual level, its about the act and why it occurs, its not about the crime , its about why people commit crime, its about what are we doing or not doing as collective people that result in these actions. Thats where the study should start, the person who did it, is just someone who did something, anything , whether knowingly or unknowingly, but it reflects something about the larger community. The dismissal of the act or the shewing it away from public attention doesnt make the act non existent, it still occurred and the act is still a product of our collective aesthetic. Saying people are stupid or mean or careless, doesnt make them any less of those things, it just cuts them off. The question has to be why? What do the people who act in this manner need that our society does not provide them, what switch is not turned on in them or for them. And honestly and I hate to say this over and over and over again, almost all solutions start with an emphasis on worthwhile education and more specifically on the reading of worthwhile texts. Its something that we as society do not emphasize and it will be our undoing. Its completely obvious. Reading is an act that brings one closer to the self and more able to construct, negotiate and respond to reality in way that one is aware of ones symbolic actions and the actions that shape our collective space.

  8. August 18, 2014 3:36 pm

    why don’t you guys worry about more important things like the thousands of junkies passed out everywhere. boo hoo your pretty little fishtown mural got graffiti’ed you live in fucking philadelphia ain’t NOTHING pretty here!

  9. August 18, 2014 3:37 pm


    • August 18, 2014 3:40 pm

      Not for nothing, but I’ve talked about the problems with Philly schools on here a lot… A lot.

  10. kindarch permalink
    August 18, 2014 5:38 pm

    There is a difference between graffiti, street art, murals and tags. They all have their place in the urban environment but tags are vandalism; particularly on occupied homes or buildings. I am tired of seeing the same tired tags with no artistic value all over South Philly.

  11. JLee permalink
    August 18, 2014 6:12 pm

    I think the scaffolding is an invitation, stair cases and all, left set up over many nights. Use a lift that can be lowered at the end of the day.

  12. August 18, 2014 6:28 pm

    I agree with your assessment… and yet I feel compelled to express how angered I am with what I feel is a blatant disregard for the rest of the community.

    I have a lot of respect for the Mural Arts Program – beautifying our neighborhoods helps to empower our communities. But actions such as these often make me feel like we’re fighting a losing battle.

    The defacer’s intent might have been to somehow one up Shepard Fairy, but what they really did is fuel the doubt as to the merits of public art. One of the more prevalent questions I’m asked when talking to building owners & neighborhood associations about donating space for public art is “Will this cause others to deface our property?” Self serving actions like this make it very hard to convince them otherwise.

  13. Cait permalink
    August 19, 2014 8:27 am

    I just think it was really dumb to leave up that scaffolding so long making it so easy to access

  14. jose permalink
    August 19, 2014 5:25 pm

    Boo hoo :'( I’m more offended by the mural than by the graffiti. Support local art.

  15. Helvetica Bold permalink
    August 19, 2014 9:53 pm

    Here’s the deal. Street artists are pissed about all these recent celebrity artists coming into the city and painting up our walls. Especially Katherina Grosse painting over the wall of fame on the expressway. Note that the local beloved muralists’ walls go untagged. No one is touching McShane, Guinn or Saligman. It’s these big ticket artists who charge crazy prices for their bland art, not specific to this city, who are getting defaced. Wall writers cannot stand the commercial nature of the Fairey output.

  16. Josh Agran permalink
    August 20, 2014 12:44 pm

    The one thing you’re missing here is the mentality of writers. To them Shepard Fairey and Obey is like the McDonalds of street art/graffiti. They are not thinking about the mural arts program whatsoever, it’s all about writing over whack writers.

  17. August 20, 2014 1:43 pm

    I agree with Helvetica Bold above and I empathize with the street artists on the SF issue.

    I look at the SF mural and wish that this sanctioned commercial branding were not in our city. The wheat pastes (unsanctioned) that came along with the commissioned work were obnoxious, aesthetically boring and meaningless at best. I would have tagged the wheat pastes myself, yet I understand that when you are relatively established it is dishonest to masquerade as someone who does not have a voice and needs to illegally post their art.

    I think we should not be talking about the graffiti over the mural (duh), but rather let’s talk about why our great art institutions are supporting this self promoting, mediocre work that has absolutely nothing to do with our city. A city, which, by the way has a VERY strong tradition of its uniquely own mural and street art.

    • Helvetica Bold permalink
      August 20, 2014 4:42 pm

      Meg Saligman, you are a genius!


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