Shepard Fairey, who gained worldwide recognition for his unique interpretation of Barack Obama’s face —a graphic, propagandist-looking portrait of the candidate with the word HOPE underneath – is now facing criminal charges in Detroit for his spree of street art while there working on an 18 story mural.
His HOPE poster achieved a place in American history, and the fact that he faces prosecution for his acts has irked many supporters of public art, who strongly disagree with its characterization as vandalism. Up until a couple of years ago, he was best known in the skateboarding and street-art worlds for his Obey Giant campaign, which he initiated while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1980s and early 1990. He painted and stenciled slogans such as THIS IS YOUR GOD and images of the late professional wrestler Andre the Giant in public spaces in major cities around the globe. Today, Fairey’s style combines graffiti, marxist political theory, pop art and even commercial art. Having reached 40, Fairey now remains ambivalent about both achieving art-world validation and retaining his street cred, aware that artists whose works hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.—as his own Obama portrait does—aren’t necessarily insiders, but they are no longer outsiders, either.