If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shepard Fairey: Remixing Icons for Peace

Shephard Fairey is most popularly known as the artist who produced the "Hope" poster for the Obama presidential campaign (above). He produced 500,000 Hope posters and 300,000 stickers. It was discovered that his image of Obama was a copy of a photo taken by Mannie Garcia while on assignment for Associated Press, who after its enoormous success wanted credit and compensation for the work. Aside from legal issues, Garcia appreciated what Fairey did with his photo. Fairey brought a counter lawsuit against AP claiming his use of the image was protected in the "fair use" doctrine and was not an infringement of copyright.

Fairey has come under criticism for appropriating the images of others without giving credit or compensation for their work and particularly social movements and artists of color (http://motherjones.com/politics/2008/03/interview-shepard-fairey and http://nyc.indymedia.org/or/2008/06/97988.html). Artist Mark Vallen has written a particularly scathing critique of Fairey's "plagarism" (http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm#m). Vallen's critique has been analysed and Fairey's appropriation of images defended at SuperTouch (http://supertouchart.com/2009/02/02/editorial-the-medium-is-the-message-shepard-fairey-and-the-art-of-appropriation/).

One might compare what Fairey does with appropriated images to what rap and hip-hop artists do with remixing or dubbing in Jamaica. They take a master recording of someone else's song and alter it's tempo, beat, dynamics, lyrics, or loop a riff and make it their own. The original song is recognizable, but becomes a new song in the remix. On a visual level artists, like Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, have been doing this type of "remixing" of icons for a long time. In a similar manner Fairey appropriates icons from social movements or photos and reworks them, artistically remixes them and makes them his own.

He has "remixed" some photos of soldiers by adding flowers, a symbolic act found in the iconic 1967 photo of a hippie placing flowers in the rifles of the National Guard troops. Or transforms old images by adding words against war or utilizes peace slogans from the 60s. Thus, Fairey remixes icons for peace.

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