Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Intentions of Shepard Fairey Should be Examined

HOPE by Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the iconic HOPE image of Barack Obama, has been openly upset concerning individuals profiting off of the iconic posters on Ebay. Many of the Obama HOPE posters were distributed for free after Fairey donated them to the Barack Obama campaign. There have also been some reports about the artist being upset that other artists have violated his copyright by creating similar pieces for sell. For example, Fairey informed a U.S. News reporter that once the election is over he plans to go after "bootleggers" who have "hijacked his style" in order to create "copycat images" of Obama and McCain. The article goes on to say that Fairey hopes to make the "bootleggers" donate some of their profits to the ACLU. That said, I find it interesting that an artist like Shepard Fairey would become upset when others trespass on his intentions or emulate his methods. After all, Shepard Fairey is the same artist who has been exposed several times for infringing on the copyright of other visual artists. The irony surrounding Fairey’s anger over this issue is amusing at best.

Apparently there is a new twist to this issue in that Obama supporters who have obtained the free poster have started to crease the posters in order to detract people from listing them on Ebay. The action is in response to the good intentions that Shepard Fairey had behind the creation of the poster and his donation. They are aware of Shepard Fairey’s intentions, but they are obviously not aware of Fairey's sorted past concerning the intentions of other visual artists. The artists he has stolen from had specific intentions for their work. If Shepard Fairey is unable to acknowledge those intentions why should anyone care about his? Fairey certainly did not care about the intentions of the late Rene Mederos. In my opinion, people should consider this before running to Fairey’s defense.

In 2007 a shirt with an image, titled Cuban Rider, by Shepard Fairey was listed on the Bombing Science website. Lincoln Cushing, author of RevoluciĆ³n: Cuban Poster Art, recognized the image. He recognized it as an altered image from a poster by Cuban revolutionary artist Rene Mederos. Having worked closely with the family Cushing also knew that the Mederos estate was not aware of Fairey’s use of the image. The Mederos poster had been reproduced in Cushing‘s book with full permission from the Mederos estate, as well as David Kunzle’s book, Che Guevara: Icon, Myth and Message. So Cushing assumed that Shepard Fairey had discovered the image within the pages of one of those two books. Needless to say, Cushing contacted the Mederos Estate. After being exposed the shirt was discontinued and the Mederos estate was paid a small royalty fee-- some have suggested that it was a mere $1,000.

Shepard Fairey recalled the incident during an interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones. In the interview Fairey stated, “There's a piece by Rene Mederos that I used, thinking, "Well, how would I ever pay this guy anyway because he's in Cuba?" All I really changed about that graphic was I put flowers into the gun and put a peace logo in it. With Castro and Che on horses I was definitely manipulating the original intention, but at the same time, it was a really beautifully done poster and tweaking it for my anti-war agenda was a way to pass that graphic along. So when the Mederos estate contacted me, I immediately paid him the exact same royalty rate that any artist would be paid.” Thus, Shepard Fairey knowingly infringed upon the copyright of another artist and acknowledged that he did not care about the intention that the late Rene Mederos had for the poster. Rene Mederos died in 1996-- apparently Shepard Fairey was not aware of that fact.

In the same interview Fairey also stated, “A lot of the stuff that I do is designed to try to circulate things that I think are awesome back into a new crowd. Even if I'm like a hip-hop artist recontextualizing a piece like a sample, I'm not going to say I own it, because I don't feel that way. When I'm using someone else's work as a reference point, I'm just trying to give them props.”. As I’ve mentioned before, if Shepard Fairey truly wanted to acknowledge the artists that he has ‘referenced’ he would be wise to acknowledge them on his website or in some other manner instead of hiding behind the ‘hope’ that no one will find out.

I think Shepard Fairey’s intentions are clear: He can ‘reference’ you, but you had better not ‘reference’ him. He can infringe on your copyright protected works, but you had better not infringe upon his copyright protected works. He can distort the intentions of a fellow artist, but a fellow artist had better not distort his intentions. Thus, I can’t respect the man or his art not matter how good his intentions are. I think individuals who support the rights and protections of artists and their work should examine the career of Shepard Fairey in great detail before defending his rights as an artist. People should examine his intentions before complaining about how others are violating his.
In closing, Shepard Fairey should take a long hard look in the mirror before being angry at Ebay sellers or people who have infringed upon his protected works. As the saying goes, you reap what you sow.
Untitled Silk-screen poster - Rene Mederos, Cuba, 1972. This double portrait by one of Cuba’s most famous poster artists depicts the revolutionaries Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos as seen on the Art for a Change article. A must read!

From Art for a Change-- Screenshot taken from the "Bombing Science" website 7/18/2007, where the Fairey rip-off of Mederos’ poster was being sold as a T-shirt. Fairey copied the graphic without permission from the Mederos estate. Fairey did not publicly acknowledge his use of the Mederos image until after being exposed. One could ask how many other works Shepard Fairey has infringed upon. If Fairey is paying homage to artists like Mederos and the causes they fought for it would be nice if he would do it the right way by acknowledging their legacy as well as the copyright of their work. The intention behind these works should be known.

Links of Interest:

Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey
With Barack Obama Posters Comes Fame
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


dognamedblue said...

interesting article

it is a case of, again, if you put your work on the internet you are going to lose all control over it
as a court case all the 1st to be prosecuted has to say is "if you don't work (copy) from the artists before you, then how can you improve as an artist, and advance art itself?"
every artist classed as a master was taught by coping others works, the students of michaelangelo did most of his layout out work for him, allowing him to concentrate on the finish

it is a bit hypocritical that he has used someone elses work, saying, as you put it, that as he's in cube, feck him!
not the ideal defence when you're going after people that use you work

but in saying that who wouldn't be pissed if you woke up one morning to find that someone else is making money from your work or style?
wouldn't he be better trying to get a payment or royalty from these "offenders"?
maybe even set an internet ruling where obvious lifts somehow found a payment working its way to the original artist?

Balhatain said...

Dognamedblue, one thing that you have to remember is that international copyright laws did not exist when the old masters were alive. Artists back then did not make the type of money that artists make today. Today those laws exist to protect artists-- and with good reason. Where profit is concerned there must be protections. It is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of people today do not understand copyright law or choose to be ignorant of it. It is very amusing that Shepard Fairey will deny other artists their rights, but will uphold those same rights when his work is preyed upon.

Parody is thrown around often. However, to be a parody of something the viewing public must be aware of the work that the parody is based on. You can't make a visual comment about something if there is no open discussion about it, so to speak.

Shepard's HOPE is now iconic, the viewing public is very aware of it. Thus, it would be easy for people to make a perfectly legal parody of it. For example, an image of McCain with "NOPE", an image of Obama with "DOPE", or even an image of Fairey with "SOLD" would all be good examples of parody involving Fairey's "HOPE". However, the parody defense would not apply to Fairey's lesser known works.

As for copyright law,current law dictates that works are protected from the moment of creation and remain protected-- unless the artist sells the rights or declares that the works are in public domain-- for so many decades after the death of an artist. If the artist sold the rights it is up to the individual, institution, or company who purchased the rights to protect those rights if needed. Sometimes they don't bother with it.

Also, ever artwork that is at least 70 years old or so is fair game. So you could legally reproduce the work of the old masters just as long as you don't try to claim they are authentic old master works. Same goes for Van Gogh and many other artists. The laws are meant to protect living artists and their families.

Balhatain said...

I'll stress this-- an artist can make a parody of a protected work of art as long as that specific artwork is deeply meshed into popular culture. The image by Rene Mederos is not a widely known work of art. Most people would not say to themselves, "That is a Mederos!" upon viewing his work. Thus, parody does not hold up in that case. Which is why Fairey pulled the shirt involving the Mederos image from production after being exposed.

This leaves a lot of questions open. How many works by Shepard Fairey are legitimate? Is the viewing public being duped? I suppose some people don't care. However, law is law. We can't pick and choose who must follow it and who is allowed to ignore it.

On the streets copyright laws may not matter. However, it does matter once those works end up in a gallery and profit is involved.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being one of the only people with enough guts to expose this rat for what he is. He and Obama have a lot in commen. They both say what people want to hear in interviews. They both pitch ideas that are smacked with contradictions later. I've read the interviews he has had in 2008 and all of them have contradictions. In one he says he does not support any political party and in the next he says he does. In one he allows the interviewer to call him the official Obama campaign artist and in the next he states that he was not. In the end I don't know anymore about Shepard Fairey from the mouth of Shepard Fairey than I do of Obama from the mouth of Obama.

Anonymous said...

Shepard is cheap if a thousand bucks per image is the exact fee he pays artists working for him. Come on! The guy earns thousands whenever he exhibits. Half his work at SCOPE Miami sold. I've read that he earn $50,000 on average each time he exhibits. So $1,000 is an insult to the legacy of Mederos!!! If he was able to make $700,000 or whatever for Obama you know damn well that he probably makes just as much selling other merchandise. He needs to stop with the story of being of a poor street artist. Street artist is right. Any street in any place in the world because this bloke can afford it.

Anonymous said...

Some of the views of the Splasher. This group views artists like Shepard Fairey as tools for changing poor neighborhoods into places for the wealthy.

"Gentrification: Let's Give the Artist a Hand." It accuses the artist-class of being a tool of property establishment-- a tool used to redevelop a neighborhood before it's given part and parcel to the rich, at the expense of the poor residents who lived there in the first place: "An art school degree is a choice; eviction usually isn't." Streetartists, according to the Splasher, play a signaling role in gentrification: "by creating a public display of their work on the walls of impoverished areas... (they) advertise to real estate agents that an area is ripe for the picking." They cite other examples in the East Village in the 1980s and LES in the 1990s, and say that Banksy's mural in Williamsburg "might have shifted the (neighborhood's) gentrification into overdrive... We certainly relished destroying it."

Dollar Sign Che said...

So-called street artists like Shepard Fairey are tools of the power mongers in the US. His media driven art is nothing more than a bourgeoisie-sponsored rebellion. Honest rebellion does not involve lining pockets with wealth. Shepard Fairey is the lap dog of a President to be who is already proving himself to be a liar like Bush. He is smart though because he is already speaking out against Obama while his pockets get fatter. Young fools will continue to see him as a rebel. There is no revolution today there is only corporate sponsored ideas of revolution that come with a price tag.

Anonymous said...

Actually Shepard Fairey is a Capitalist opportunist catering to elitists. Big money from the investments of a publisher and PR team have fostered media attention for his art.

He is no rag to riches story. His career has been carefully crafted by the industry he serves for year. An industry that battle cries rebellion, but is just as corporate as any other industry in the US. Rebellion today involves a price tag, designer jeans, and an expensive skateboard. Why the hell is a rebel featured in a video game? And why is he going to be featured in an upcoming movie? Money. Not change. Money.

They now credit him as being the first artist to make street art and counter culture art mainstream. All I can say to that is SAMO.

Weeder said...

I don't think you are being fair to Shepard. The guy worked hard to get where he is and everyone makes mistakes. Everyone does something wrong with their job and being an artist is no different. Who cares if he stepped on some people that is just how the world works and he probably did more for those artists than they were able to do back in their day.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think that Obama is the savior of the arts? I get so tired of people calling him the "champion of arts and culture".If Obama cared about our rights he would not give so much support to copyright infringers.

I think Obama cares about art but he does not care if your art is protected. If he did he would have answered the artists who have demanded to know his stance on orphan works legislation since 2007. I know because I supported him and begged for an answer. Instead of was hit with replies asking for me to donate $5 for one Obama cause or the other.

I don't think Obama will save the arts. I think he is all talk. I think those in the arts community who gave him total support will probably close their gallery doors by mid 2009. I think we are all being fooled and I fear that we will loose what little rights we have as creative professionals.

Look up info on the orphan works legislation and you will discover that several companies supporting the policy were huge backers of Obama's campaign. We are in for some rough times.

McCain was a spaz but at least he had a history of fighting for copyright and patent protections. Obama not only wants to spread the wealth he wants to spread the art. Spread it to the point that you will only get pennies on the dollar if someone prints images of your work without permission. Just wait and see.

Anonymous said...

Has he passed any money along to the family of Andre Rene Roussimoff? Giant did not own his WWF character and was broke by the time he died. If he can give money to a communist front group I think he could show some respect for the family of the man who made him famous.