We were in Silver Lake, in Los Angeles, stopping by a popular espresso bar for a quick coffee, driving around and around looking for a spot to park when there it was staring at us: A poster by artist Shepard Fairey. A little later, on a recent visit to the Arts District in L.A. to grab a quick lunch, again while driving around the block over and over again seeking an open parking space, there we found another Fairey artwork, its gaze bearing down on us. This past weekend, we drove into the Sawtelle area (a.k.a., “Little Osaka”) of Los Angeles on a mission to pick up some boba teas, and there, yet again, was another of Shepard’s iconic red-black-and-white portraits, a wheat-paste poster on a utility box, staring at us. Shepard Fairey, you’re everywhere. Why can’t we quit you, godammit!
Like a vintage wine, some street art ages remarkably well. Others not so well.
But it’s showing its age. It’s worn, fading, and a little tattered from the elements. Although the physical integrity of artwork has degraded, it’s actually made the poster more interesting in a way that’s similar to the way patination on a bronze statue gives it more character or the way a pair of Japanese RPM selvedge denim jeans develop a distinct shape, fade and crease when worn everyday and left unwashed for a year.
Part of street art’s magic is that it’s ephemeral. It comes and goes. It disappears. And part of that ephemerality is seeing it age, bearing witness to its slow destruction.
As Fairey’s Venice Beach poster continues to come apart and fade, it’s takes on a new aesthetic. It becomes more beautiful as it degrades and loses the perfection of it’s original state. The artwork is humbled by the elements and by time. Yet it remains a remarkable image and retains the unconventional nature inherent in art that’s “in the streets.”
Looking at it this way is like the Japanese concept of wabi sabi. And yet the core image persists on the landscape, provoking thought , remaining a subject of appreciation.