This was supposed to be another great moment for Shepard Fairey, the LA-based artist who has been on top of the world these days. His portrait of Obama made the cover of Time as well as the Smithsonian, becoming a global symbol of change. For the past two weeks, Fairey has been preparing for his first solo museum exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
In the end, this week just sucked.
First, the Associated Press accused him of stealing photographer Manny Garcia’s 2006 image of Obama (above left), which Fairey admits to using. AP claims they own the image copyright and are suing him for credit and compensation. You’d think those portraits meant big bucks for the artist, but Fairey claims he never made a cent from it, and all proceeds somehow or another funneled back to the campaign. He claims that he has altered the image into a work of art using the defense of “fair use.” That’s a legal concept that allows exceptions to copyright law based on how much of the original image is used and what the new work is used for. He has since counter-sued, saying he has transformed the photo into a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that creates a powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message.”
Heavy, right? But that wasn’t enough. Then, dude was arrested.
Fairey was arrested on two warrants of vandalism by the Boston Police. What would normally merit a $100 fine became a huge ordeal, with several police officers staking out the ICA, waiting for the artist to show up for his opening night reception. As he pulled into the museum’s parking lot, cops surrounded the taxi and pulled Fairey from the car forcefully, ordering his wife and two friends to sit on the curb.
Anyway, the man keeps getting press and I keep writing about him, so cool or not, he’s doing something right.
Just an add-on: Obama wrote dude a letter after the election which I placed below. I love the line: “Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign.” (Love Obama!)