Shepard Fairey attacks Providence


YouTube video of the installation/painting process
Google Street view of new mural location

our two cents

I like to think that Mr. Fairey and I crossed paths at some point in the nineties, but who am I kidding... I was a poseur from North Smithfield at the time, I barely went to Providence to hang on Thayer, and when I did, I was too intimidated by “real” skateboarders to have ever hung out at the Watershed (where Shepard apparently worked for a time). I might have seen his stickers start to pop up by then, but really, his work only came into my consciousness in 1995 while I was at college, and kicking myself for not being cooler when I was in Providence. Years later, he commands national attention – and at times, a lot of it.

One of his brilliant stunts is the first (and earliest) photo in this series, taken by Al from Nice Slice (we think). While Cianci was running for re-election in the early nineties, he was, of course, a notorious figure. Had he known the young whippersnapper that defaced his campaign billboard (seen here on the outside of Steeple Street) was going to become a hugely collected and well-known artist that would later design a poster for the soon-to-be first black president, he may not have been as pissed off as I am sure he was.

The other move he made with his art early on was to make it available to anyone. That’s partly why it seems you can find his stickers all over the world, as anyone can send away for stickers to post themselves, or download a template to create their own stencils of the famous Obey face. That’s probably how photo 2 and 3 got there.

Anyone who has ever been inside Max’s Formal Wear on North Main Street might have noticed a few drawings behind the counter that looked like the work of Shepard. The owner claims to have known him when he was still a student at RISD. People have told me they have been hearing the same story for years, “Someday, he’s going to make me a new sign”. Well, in 2008, the first smaller signs appeared. Then, one morning in late June 2011, I noticed the large billboard had been replaced with a glorious red, tan and black design. Seems like his story was true.

Then in 2009, as the Boston ICA hung a big retrospective of his work, Shepard was back in town, and new murals of his began to pop up. Some were with permission, and some were not. Photo 6 and 10 were typical graffiti paste ups, while 7 through 9 were with permission, and therefore, bigger and involved more layering of his own work on top of itself, making a final one-of-a-kind composition.

His latest Providence mural might also be his largest, and not just in Providence (photos 11-14). A huge painting was undertaken at the back of AS220 and the neighboring Pell-Chafee Performance Center overlooking Aborn Street in 2010. Well-known local muralist Johann Bjurman – best known for his mural of the peeling building facade above The Red Fez – blocked out and painted Shepard’s site-specific design. For the August 14th Foo Fest, Mr. Fairey will be in town to receive the first national “Free Culture Award” from AS220. A limited number of 18 x 24" prints of this mural were available for purchase.


With plans for a downtown mural, Shepard Fairey returns to Providence

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG | Providence Phoenix, June 16, 2010

It is a rather unremarkable collection of bricks at the moment: an exterior wall at the back of Trinity Repertory Company’s Pell Chafee Performance Center in downtown Providence. But in the coming months, if all goes according to plan, that wall will host a mural designed by the world’s most famous street artist, Shepard Fairey.

Fairey, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, first won attention as a student with his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign, a cryptic and alluring bit of viral art that later evolved into an “Obey Giant” crusade.

Two years ago, he vaulted to national prominence when his stenciled image of Barack Obama – often appearing above the word “Hope” – achieved iconic status.

The artist’s return to Providence was born of a conversation between David Ortiz, development director for the arts group AS220, and communications consultant Andy Cutler on Cutler’s porch on a warm day last fall. Ortiz was searching for new ways to engage with supporters and raise money. And Cutler suggested reconnecting with the underground rock and art movement that animated Providence in the late 80s and 90s and was so central to AS220’s early work. The talk turned, inevitably, to Fairey. And soon, AS220 artistic director Umberto Crenca was chatting with the artist about limited-edition prints that could be sold to raise money for the organization and an even bigger prize: the mural. [...] the project promises to be of significance: Crenca says the artist told him it will be his largest mural to date.

Fairey will not paint it himself. He is, instead, designing the work for a relatively modest fee of $5000. Johann Bjurman, a Rhode Island muralist and fine artist, will execute.

Crenca says he hopes the mural will pull suburbanites off the well-worn path to the Providence Performing Arts Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center; will disabuse them of the notion that downtown is still the seedy center of so many decades ago. “It’s a visual draw into the interior of the city,” he says.

But whatever its power, the mural will inevitably be tied up with Fairey’s provocative brand [...]

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