A steady drumbeat characterizes the work of Shepard Fairey on the street and in the gallery, using art and design and his insight into the corrosive power of propaganda to pound out damning critiques and ironic appeals that address political, social, environmental issues of our day. If the new mural and the paintings, layered collages and metal sculptures comprising "On Our Hands" are an indication of our current state, it is a time of neglect and peril like no other -- yet exactly like every other.
With an ever-sharpened sense of design that is ever-so-slightly more minimal and strident, strikingly represented with richly complex densities of hue and plays on depth, Fairey is quietly becoming a master before our eyes, but we may have missed that fact because he's yelling so loudly.
With "On Our Hands," Fairey is yelling about blood and oil and money, as anyone who is paying attention should be. He addresses an insidious corruption of banks, oil companies, the war industry and the disinformation industry, and he points to the winnings and to the costs.
As the title suggests, Fairey is a little less likely to exempt you from the equation this time, and in general he is being a trifle less sanguine or ironic than he was a decade ago. Once you have fielded the open-handed smack that some of these front loaded and frank diatribes deliver, you may realize that these are tougher slogans for nearly incorrigible times with more at stake, more to lose.
As ever the question remains, who will heed it? Fairey's attractive style derived from his study of and affinity for the Russian Constructivists, Chinese Communist propaganda and Western advertising/propaganda may sometimes shield you from the harsh. His own sophisticated re-working of these tropes has placed Fairey in a pantheon of style that is also mimicked and paid tribute to.
While his is a voice that can and does reach many, it is also a challenge to find new ways to manipulate rhetorical devices, motifs and visual clichés in a way that can actually disrupt psychological and behavioral patterns today -- i.e. to snap folks out of their stupor.
Fairey declines to enter into the fray of the current political race for American president, yet people continue to seek his impressions and opinions due to the global exposure of his 2008 iconic image of the man who is now completing his second term.
Obama has not been the activist that many on the political Left may have wished for yet his wisdom and appreciation for the long-term effects of his work gives those critics pause. Likely also will the work of Fairey, who has created (and widened) the focus and altered the discussions that are happening on the street, influencing other artists and observers along the way.
Mr. Obama likes to refer to a quote from Martin Luther King Jr when speaking of this long-term view -- a view that King likely took from a 1853 sermon by Theodore Parker, the abolitionist minister.
"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."
As with the work of Obama, in which Fairey found much hope, and the work of Fairey, where the artist continues to focus his clarion calls on the street and in the gallery, both may have already caused a bending of that arc in their respective realms of influence. On Our Hands is one more indicator that Fairey is in it for the long haul.
On Our Hands at Jacob Lewis Gallery
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