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.
We spent last weekend on a surf trip in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties north of Los Angeles. On the way back to LA, as we drove sun-kissed and exhausted along Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a., PCH) and we neared scenic Santa Monica, we spotted the mysterious, blank gaze of Andre the Giant on a busted-up retaining wall built into the side of the cliffs.
Artist Shepard Fairey and/or his minions/interns/assistants had struck this beautiful stretch of beachside paradise with his classic and iconic street artwork, a poster often called “Obey” or “Obey the Giant,” but originally called “Giant Has a Posse.”
This is the meme-marketing experiment-as-design-turned-art that launched the career of Shepard Fairey back in the early 1990s. For a few years, the extreme close-up face of late professional wrestler Andre the Giant, as he was known, was everywhere in the form of this artwork put up on walls as wheat-pasted posters and stickers. That visage of Andre has found it’s way woven into many other pieces of artwork by Fairey since then.
But since the mid-2000s, it seem Andre’s face has been seen less and less, as the subject matter and focus of Fairey’s work has gradually shifted toward more politically-tinged realistic representations of people in his own distinct and adorned graphical style.
So this poster on PCH was a bit of a surprise for its being the original, classic “Obey” design and its scale, as well as its unusual location. Santa Monica doesn’t have a lot of illicit street art, and along this part of PCH there are few potential blank canvases for such artwork to be put.
The retaining wall is perfect, but it’s hard to reach given its situation on the side of a cliff on a side of PCH that has no easy pedestrian access. Plus there’s the neverending stream of speeding highway traffic to contend with. There was a chainlink fence blocking access to the spot too, but the fence has been mangled down freeing up a path. Putting up such a large piece of artwork here isn’t easy.
The context of Fairey’s artwork is unusual too. It’s not the usual cityscape setting. Aside from the dilapidated wall, the artwork is on the outward appearance, set in an un-urbanized environment — tucked into a beautiful coastal bluff flanked by palm trees, plants, dried brush and multi-million-dollar beachfront mansions. On viewing, there’s a brief moment of cognitive dissonance.
Soooooooo … full marks to Mr. Fairey!
We spotted some new street art from artist Shepard Fairey in an unusual spot last week. Along Pacific Coast Highway, under the towering bluffs of north Santa Monica, there’s an abandoned, partially destroyed retaining wall where two new black-and-white graphic posters had been wheat-pasted. One poster is of draped triangle of the American flag. The other is a classic “Andre” Obey poster.
Our contributing editor Ryan Baum came across this super awesome mural by the ever-prolific Shepard Fairey at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. Fairey’s artwork here is site specific, drawing from local architectural imagery and referencing the city’s important industrial history. Great stuff.
Ryan Baum images. All rights reserved.