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Let’s Talk About the LOLadelphia Critique About Me

August 21, 2014


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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Vince permalink
    August 21, 2014 11:46 am

    LOL indeed. That guy is a complete asshole in every use of the word. Ever read the stuff he posts? None of it ever makes sense, and I’ll bet he fakes a lot of his interviews too…

    • August 21, 2014 12:19 pm

      Vince I don’t care if you think I’m an asshole, you’re certainly not the first nor will you be the last person to think that.

      I am going to defend one thing, my credibility. Nothing I do is fake, and for you to make that claim for no reason is weak.

  2. August 21, 2014 12:01 pm

    “Art Art”

  3. August 21, 2014 12:14 pm

    Well said! I have not read the preceding blog, so I will have to catch up!

  4. August 21, 2014 3:28 pm

    It’s difficult to like vandalism, unless it’s really good vandalism. And if it’s really good vandalism, we may even consider it to be art. And when we call something art, whether it’s graffiti art or street art, we kinda place it on a pedestal and it becomes part of something larger than what it was originally intended. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, to keep the term “art” evolving as the times change…as we change.

    I am not opposed to transforming someone else’s art; however, vandalism is just plain bad form. That’s my general problem with what happened to the Fairey mural. It was done by a bunch of cry babies. That’s all you can possibly get out of it.

    You want to hate Fairy for being a sell-out, for being a fake, for being successful in his entrepreneurship of his work, for profiting from the streets as an academically trained artist, by seeming to be anti-establishment…for being a working artist with mouths to feed…you could make a better statement than some sloppy tags on his mural.

  5. August 22, 2014 2:44 am

    I read both articles and there’s just logic here that can’t be ignored. First since we’re talking about graf it’s a clear violation to tag over any piece. Ever. Shepard’s Fairey technically has the right to punch these dudes in the face according to graf rules. 2nd a huge reason of making anti establishment art is to take the anti establishment message main stream. These messages need to be seen by the masses. That’s the whole point. That’s why artists like banksy and shepards fairey should be considered legends not sell outs. It just sounds like a bunch of hipster pessimism if you hate on these dudes and it’s a clear violation to tag over anybody’s piece whether it’s a small throw up or a giant shepards fairey mural. With that being said the idea of x’ing someone’s name out is a part of graf culture but in my opinion ehhh. It’s pretty wack. There’s other ways to be all city then starting beef. Great reads though. Peace yall.

  6. wjacobr permalink
    August 23, 2014 9:48 pm

    Aspires to Gatekeepr status from the bottom up. Fuck the gatekeepers. All of em!

  7. the_yeti permalink
    September 19, 2014 12:21 am

    first of all no one is talking about the image of the mural itself: it’s a lotus. a symbol of peace and enlightenment. something that you’d hope everyone could appreciate, at least on some level. x’ing over something like that could be likened to pissing on a white dove w/ an olive branch in it’s mouth. (of course that’s not to say there isn’t another side to the issue; read on>>>)

    secondly, my opinion might have been different if the scratch was at least something interesting instead of the complete and absolute garbage that it was. whoever did the bombing has absolutely no artistic skills whatsoever! u only get one chance to make a statement like that and whoever it was totally blew it…


  1. Streets Dept’s Top Posts of 2014 | Streets Dept

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