Shepard's legal public artwork



Street Art Icon Shepard Fairey Going to Trial for Graffiti

Street art has become one of the more peculiar modes of creativity in the visual arts, a legitimate form of expression that is heightened by its severe, and often irregular, forms of punishment. Massively successful street artist and designer Shepard Fairey has unfortunately fallen on the former side of this punishment, as his pending case with the city of Detroit has officially turned sour. Fairey, a man who’s made his living putting his art onto the streets, will be having his day in court for the very same reason.

The history of street art forever turned a corner when Shepard Fairey threw his first tag on a wall. Even if you don’t know his name, you know his work. Fairey is the creator of some of the most iconic designs of the new millennium, perhaps being recognized most for the ‘HOPE’ posters that became the definitive image for Obama’s 2008 presidential run, but may perhaps be even better known for the OBEY Giant, the illustrated visage of wrestler Andre the Giant that launched a thousand skater boy’s wardrobes and board decals.

Obey Giant
Look familiar, yeah?

Yet for all of the acclaim and notoriety that Fairey’s OBEY Giant has brought him, it’s also what’s gotten him into extremely hot water with the city of Detroit. He was commissioned earlier this year by the Michigan metropolis to create a series of positive, public works that would provide some cultural color in the otherwise drab motor town. These works were not only requested by the city but approved of by local authorities, making his efforts a legitimate construction by a world-renowned artist.

But, staying true to his roots of DIY street culture, Fairey didn’t limit himself to his three commissioned works. He ended up throwing his trademark OBEY signs all over the city on an array of public property, which has inevitably gotten him into all this legal trouble. Even worse, the prosecution is trying to use him as an example to fend off future vandals. “One of the things we’re trying to do is communicate to all potential taggers…that we do take this seriously,” he said in a statement after Fairey’s initial hearing.

Shepard Fairey Trouble
Because clearly this is worth prison time

Things aren’t looking too bright for the artist. He’s been hit with felony charges, as opposed to the standard civil offence for graffiti, as well as fees of up to $25,000 for the damage caused to the buildings of Detroit. His defense attorneys will have a hell of a job defending Fairey’s own statements, as he was quoted on record in the Detroit Free Press of his intentions to work well outside his contract. “I still do stuff on the street without permission, I’ll be doing some stuff on the street when I’m in Detroit.”

Fairey goes to trial on Tuesday, the 15th, and until that day comes the world of public artists will be held with bated breath. This has the potential to be a landmark case in the future of street art, one that would shine a little more light on the often confusing and contradictory rhetoric on the art form’s legality. Though unfortunately, this could also signal the beginning of the end of one of the more powerful art forms in existence. Godspeed Shepard!

Images courtesy of the artist

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