Support for Shepard

Support by James White

The topic of Shepard Fairey has been a hot and cold subject with artists and designers over the past few years, and the arguement has recently been thrust into the spotlight with the lawsuit over his photo referencing for the now famous Obama poster. There are those who disagree with Fairey and his work calling him a plagiarist (see Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey), while others are coming to his defence as an artist (see The Medium is the Message).

Given the nature of Fairey’s art and his methods of appropriating found imagery, the argument is quite understandable and I’ve read countless valid points on both ends of the spectrum. Obey Giant blurs a lot of lines. I have been following Fairey’s work since 1998, discovering his website shortly before I graduated from college and entered my career as a designer. I watched him grow from an obscure street artist with a modest selection of posters for sale to the almost household name he is today. His work and ambition has been a constant inspiration for me as an artist, and I’m sure many others.

The reasons for my supporting Shepard Fairey are mostly personal as I believe in him and the work he is doing. He’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, which is obvious given the political and social subject matter he deals with in his art. In his book Supply and Demand he cites many of his inspirations, sources and reference material outlining how he goes about making his art and the ideas they hold.

Creating the poster above is my own small way of showing support to one of my favorite artists, and I completely understand and respect that some do not agree. This is a touchy subject, so please feel welcome to voice your thoughts on the matter. A healthy dialogue on such topics are always good.

As far as this poster goes, I will be printing a very small run of 40 to be given away to those interested in showing their support for Shepard. I will write a post soon on how I will make these available.

And for the record, I used the press photo of Fairey from this article to construct my design :)

28 Comments

  1. Devin

    Nicely put.

    But I have to ask, because I’ve been DYING to know:

    What technique is used to vector-ize an image like that? Because I know of AI’s “Live Trace” but it isn’t THAT exacted.

  2. Chris

    I’m not sure how to feel about SF after I first read the plagiarist article last year. What angered me at first was his anti-captalism ideas, but he admitted that he was a capitalist. I think you are a true artist and designer James. As for Shepard? I am starting to see him as nothing more than a real good production artist. Just my opinion. I do appreciate this post though and your poster is pretty freckin cool!

  3. Great concept and even better execution with this poster – I can’t wait to find out how to win one!

    On the issue at hand, Fairey walks a thin line legally (obviously given the legal uproar over this) by using “found” items that may or may not have existing copyrights. I think the point of his work though is to blur the lines between commercial and fine art in order to espouse a given message. I’m sure I could go on at much further rambling length, but for now great cause and great design!

  4. Zachary makes good points. This whole thing wouldn’t be such a big deal if the Hope poster weren’t successful. If one of my photos were used by Fairey, I’d take it as a complement (unless, of course, it were used for something I don’t agree with). On the other hand, if I made a vector illustration of a photo, and Fairey just went ahead and used that, I’d think a lot differently. But that’s not what happened. Fairey never tried to say that his works were created without using reference material.

    The fact is, if you look at the AP photo and the Hope poster as art pieces, there’s a huge difference. Each, while sharing the same subject matter, has their own concept and idea, you’d see how vastly different they are. You’d see that you’d paste one to the wall, and juxtapose another with a newspaper article. Obviously, you can use use both as graffiti, and both to complement newspaper article (thus, the gray area Zachary mentioned), but to ignore the conceptually differences between the two is being just plain stubborn.

    On a less valid point, Fairey is a graffiti artist. This is what he does.The very fact that this is an issue is proof enough that he is successful. Writing your name on a train has come a long way in terms of notoriety.

    I really like the poster too, but honestly, I think I’d be kind of creeped out with having Shepard Fairey on my wall. Especially if it were hanging next to my Hope poster.

    ps – keep up the good work, James… have been following your work for a while.

  5. Great way to show your support man. Respect.
    My two cents: I think this poster could be a little bit more “signalnoiz-ed” :P great mix of styles already but I think lacks a LITTLE bit of …well.. James White to fully nail it both visually and conceptually.

    great one again sir. keep ‘em coming.

    in response to @ Devin:
    there is no secret man … Pen tool + Time :P

  6. Beautiful work. May I ask what font “Support” is set in?

  7. I think Julius was onto the core of the issue in his response. If you’re talking about Shepard the graffiti/street artist, his career as such is a study in the practice of straddling the law and perceived propriety in order to convey a particular message. 14 arrests (or whatever the current number is) and now this lawsuit make it pretty clear that a kind of lawful ambiguity might be a huge part of the engine that makes his work go.

  8. Rats! Forgot to mention: this poster came out great, James. I think it’s a great way to show your support for Shepard.

  9. James, that is a very nice poster.

    I myself enjoy Shepard Fairey’s work, although it is hard to agree with his ethics all of the time.

    He freely admits that he “appropriates” cultural images from other artists, puts his spin on them and releases them as part of his own artwork. For every amazing poster, like the HOPE poster or the Duality of Humanity series, there are several less technically and visually appealing releases that make you wonder what Fairey’s grades at RISD were. I think his reasons for using appropriated images puts him just barely on the side of “acceptable” in terms of art, but unfortunately the legal system seems to see things in much more stern and less open minded terms.

    As far as the AP Image case goes, I think Fairey was fully in his right to use that photo as a reference when creating his poster. First, he is not trying to sell a copyrighted image. He did not claim the photo as his own work and he is not trying to sell the photo. Second the HOPE poster is very different from the photo it references. The composition, colors, medium and feeling of the two are very different. Unless the courts decide the AP can copyright Obama’s face, hopefully this case will be dismissed without any damaging (for other artists/designers) ammendments to US Copyright law.

  10. your bro

    i saw this the other day and thought it was pretty humorous…
    http://www.minesf.com/xerox/

  11. As far as I am concerned, if you consider yourself an artist and a member of the artistic community, no matter what medium you use, you should support art when it comes under attack like this. We should all be banding together to defend our freedom to expression.

  12. james (Author)

    Great to see so many constructive ideas and thoughts about the topic at hand. What is happening with Shepard is quite important, and whatever outcome transpires will no doubt have effects on the art world, either creatively or legally. Thanks for contributing to the dialogue.

    Devin, Nick hit the nail on the head. To create the image in Illustrator, I first treat the photo in Photoshop to make it super high contrast. Then I map out the shapes in Illustrator by hand using the photo as reference. It takes some time, but it beats the roughness generally created by automatic trace tools.

    b_magallanes, the font is Bookman Regular mixed with Bookman Swash.

  13. For some reason the poster reminds me of Stalin or something russian.

    I’d love to get one of these when they’re made!

    I think what Fairey did was ok because he changed the image quite a bit but i do think that maybe he should have credited the photograph.

  14. What font is it that you’ve been using on a lot of your posters lately? I absolutely love it!

  15. It looks like Shep, but it also looks like Corey Feldman. Nice job. I also think that Shep’s in the clear.

  16. Joe

    While I love your poster (and 99% of your other work) I disagree with the cause. Shepard is a hack job.

  17. Ryan

    Some of his images are borderline, some of them are pure and simple plagiarism and others are not. Some of his images are inspired by others. Some are just a bad case of “copy and paste” and “Lets just change the colors.”

    Like the image he stole from the “Big Brother is Watching You” poster. He stole the face plain and simple and any reasonable person could conclude that Shepard stole the image and is in violation of copyright laws. It is not just referenced but copied. I mean, sure he adjusted the contrast a little and added a distressed look to it. But if that’s all I have to do to steal somebody’s artwork and make a profit off of it, true artist lose and the “Big Brother” reproduction industry, that Shepard seems to hate so much, wins.

    He should be held liable for his actions. If not, people will just start stealing artwork from whoever they want and claiming it as their own.

  18. corin

    I Dont disagree with remixing samples from other artists, that is the foundation not only of graphical art but of film and even plain spoken language, but to then stamp copywrite all over it is a unbelievable case of hypocracy. if you take something from a commons, you have to give something back otherwise everyone else in that community that relies on the pool of samples suffers. this guy is no different than the Russian that copyrighted the :)

  19. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out and what impact it has. But at the end of the day, man what an “awesome font!”

  20. Florenz

    Like pienose i am also interested in the font. What the name? At first i thought it was the Bookman Swash, but seems like not.
    Please tell me!

  21. james (Author)

    Pienose and Florenz, I used a combination of Bookman Regular and Bookman Swash. Sometimes too many of the swash characters in the same phrase is too much, so I mix it up to keep the big swoops to a minimum :)

  22. Shepard may not be the most original artist, or law abiding citizen for that matter. But the guy gets up. Everywhere! He’s a man of action.

    Shepard pushes his work harder than any other artist I can think of and that’s what it really comes down to.

    You could be kicking ass way harder and using all original material, but if you don’t get seen the way he does, how would anyone know?

    The art for Obama was a tool to get the man elected, and it worked.

  23. Mike

    James:
    are you sure you want to support Shepard on this one? I mean, I love his work as much as the next guy, and like you I always supported his work, but his recent lawsuit (not the Obama one, but the Steeler’s baby one) http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A59932

    Yes!
    It’s true, its like he decided to ignore his own past, and took the roll of the big corporation that he one day fought against. I still can’t believe it.

    It makes me question everything he’s done, and after a long though I think that if he is going to sue ANYONE for plagiarism then Erik Brunetti, should come to light and put him in his place.

    Images speak louder than words, but If you never heard of Fuct™, it’s time for you to take a look and re-organize your thoughts.

    http://www.brghtnghts.com/blog/?page_id=46

  24. ArcDuke

    Nice poster, but putting your name / website copy on the bottom is a bit ironic in relation to the Fairey issue.

  25. james (Author)

    Mike, this is the first time I’ve heard about the Steelers incident, thanks for giving me the heads up. Doesn’t really fall into right category given the Hope poster ordeal, huh? I’ll be watching how that plays out as it seems very strange and contradictory. Appreciate the links, man.

    ArcDuke, not really sure what you mean. I put my name/website on everything I create. Can you clarify why you think it’s ironic?

  26. ArcDuke

    Apologies if I sounded glib – I enjoy your work and wouldn’t have seen this conversation if I didn’t already subscribe to your RSS.

    My comment was aimed more at the discussion around Fairey, fair use, and attribution to “found” images. Only Fairey knows what his true intentions were with disseminating the image, but I do know that in all its incarnations I’ve never seen it with an Obey logo at the bottom. From my perspective, Fairey’s symbology and work speak for themselves, as do, I think, yours, since I can spot a “signalnoise” image used around the web pretty quickly. I think that if I had the chops and mettle to produce such public work and let it into the wild that my support for Fairey would observe the same detachment from origin and explicit authorship that his used in this case.

    Where “ownership” takes hold (or when an “owner” opts to take hold of it) when you’re talking about interpretation influencing further interpretation is something that designers and artists have been grappling with for a while and it’s not gonna get any easier! I think I just had a sudden feeling of irony when I saw the pairing of “Support” with authorship and at the same time a message (with regards to Fairey) of non-authorship.

  27. FuckObey

    In the case of the Obama poster, I don’t have a problem with it because it was a photograph. But when he ‘appropriates’ other DESIGNS…that’s another story. There isn’t an original bone in his body.

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