arts

'Hope' artist Shepard Fairey on the 2020 presidential election and disrupting the status quo

Published 21st June 2019
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 19:  Artist Shepard Fairey attends as Roger Gastman and LL COOL J host BEYOND THE STREETS opening night at 25 Kent on June 19, 2019 in New York City.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for BEYOND THE STREETS)
Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images North America/Getty Images for BEYOND THE STRE
'Hope' artist Shepard Fairey on the 2020 presidential election and disrupting the status quo
Written by Chloe Melas, CNN
You may not immediately recognize Shepard Fairey's name, but you almost certainly know his work. Most likely, you'll have seen his Barack Obama "Hope" poster, created in the lead-up the 2008 presidential election.
Since he was propelled into the international spotlight by that widely shared design, the American artist's work has been featured at galleries around the world, from the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Now, some of his lesser-known creations are on show at the graffiti and street art exhibition "Beyond The Streets" in New York, alongside work by over 150 other artists, including Takashi Murakami, Beastie Boys, Futura, Paul Insect and the Guerrilla Girls.
'Hope' street artist creates anti-Trump signs
As followers of Fairey's work have come to expect, his collection of around 30 eye-catching graphics and prints -- dubbed "Facing The Giant: 3 Decades of Dissent" -- is characteristically political.
"I've presented a counterargument to what I consider some of the monolithic forces of oppression that most people feel powerless to do anything about," Fairey said. "Cumulatively, we all have power, we all have a little bit of power ourselves so that's where the title of the show comes from."
Fairey, 49, said his show is a retrospective marking his 30 years as an artist. It takes visitors back to his beginnings in the late 1980s, while also presenting new works that deal with "climate change and the disproportionate influence of the fossil fuel industry on government and the need for campaign finance reform."
One work that Fairey has a particular connection to is called "Fan the Flames."
"It's a woman wearing a sort of military-style cap, holding a fan that has flames on it," he explained. "(She) is looking directly at the viewer, looking somewhat intense and focused, and maybe a little irritated at the lack of movement towards ecological responsibility.
"In the background are things like a ripped dollar bill, a flower being eclipsed by dark lines (and) text about the oil and gas companies' donations to members of Congress. It's both seductive and provocative."
"Fan the Fame" by Shepard Fairey
"Fan the Fame" by Shepard Fairey Credit: Shepard Fairey
The message he hopes people take away with them? Strength in numbers.
"Each one individual who might be frustrated with how things are going has very little power by themselves, but we all have power through democracy in numbers," he said. "So participation in elections and using every tool we have engage civically is the only way to overcome traits of power."
Fairey hopes the artwork could influence votes in the 2020 presidential election.
"The goal is to invite people into a conversation that appeals to the best side of their nature as human beings," he said. "A lot of the communications going on politically now are appealing to the worst side of people's human nature, and of course I hope (my work) will be influential (in the election). I think the 'Hope' poster did appeal in that way."
What frustrates Fairey the most about the current political climate in the US is what he called "a lack of respect for truth."
"When I say 'truth' I mean science and fact and knowledge. There's an anti-intellectuality in our politics that is insanely disturbing, and then just the lack of respect for human dignity and a lack of compassion."
"Defend Dignity" by Shepard Fairey
"Defend Dignity" by Shepard Fairey Credit: Shepard Fairey
Specifically, he references the immigration policy of Trump's administration. Just this week, the President tweeted his plans to deport "millions of undocumented immigrants next week. In May, nearly 133,000 migrants were arrested for illegally crossing the border, more than 11,000 of whom were unaccompanied children, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
Although Fairey hasn't decided who he's backing for the presidency, he does see a number of qualified candidates, naming Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg.
"Any of those people, including Joe Biden, would be dramatically superior to Donald Trump because they actually care about more than their own egos. They care about doing service for citizens," Fairey said.
"We've sunk lower than I thought we could, in terms of our civic standards. I come from punk rock -- I'm all about disrupting the status quo, but I'm about disrupting the status quo for the better."
"Beyond The Streets" is on in Brooklyn, New York, through August.