Monday, February 02, 2009

Jamie O'Shea Obeys Shepard Fairey by Taking Jabs at Mark Vallen

A commenter tipped me off about an article concerning Shepard Fairey, copyright infringement, appropriation and Mark Vallen’s 2007 critique of Fairey’s art. The article, titled 'The Medium is the Message: Shepard Fairey and the Art of Appropriation', was posted on Supertouch by J O’Shea-- Jamie O'Shea for those who don't know. The article by O'Shea is critical of Vallen's criticism concerning Shepard Fairey.

Before I go any further I want to make it clear that I do not agree with every view that Mark Vallen has concerning Shepard Fairey-- or art for that matter. However, it makes since that Jamie O’Shea, the editor of Super Touch, would support Shepard Fairey considering that Shepard Fairey is listed as an author on SuperTouch. It should also be noted that Jamie O’Shea has followed Fairey’s career extensively-- and has also curated and co-curated art exhibits involving the artist.

One could say that Jamie O'Shea and Shepard Fairey are business associates. In other words, Jamie O’Shea has a vested interest in making sure that Shepard Fairey is seen in a positive light. Articles by J O’Shea concerning positive aspects of Fairey’s career can be found on several websites if you do a search of ‘O’Shea Fairey’ on Google. Apparently Jamie O’Shea, who served ten years as the editor-in-chief of Juxtapoz, is now a creative director serving as a corporate liaison in order to connect artists with corporate culture-- and collections. There is nothing wrong with that-- but again, I’m certain that Mr. O’Shea has a vested interest in Mr. Fairey.

Jamie O'Shea's critical view of Mark Vallen’s critique is not exactly balanced nor is it a surprise. In fact, his support for Fairey is similar to the support Yosi Sergant-- of Evolutionary Media Group-- has shown to the artist. It should be noted that Yosi Sergant also has a vested interest in the success of Shepard Fairey. Thus, it makes since that both O'Shea and Sergant have spoke out against criticism of Shepard Fairey.

Allow me to break down what was said in the blunt of Jamie O‘Shea‘s article titled 'The Medium is the Message: Shepard Fairey and the Art of Appropriation':

Jamie O’Shea started his criticism of Mark Vallen’s article-- titled Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey: A critique by artist Mark Vallen-- by stating, “As underground art phenomenon SHEPARD FAIREY’s first major museum retrospective prepares to open at the INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART/BOSTON on February 6th, we feel the need to address some of the vicious and unfounded rumors surrounding the originality of Shepard’s artwork that have been floated online in recent years.”.

O’Shea goes on to say, “Though written by a variety of different detractors for a questionable array of reasons, the common thread binding them all—aside from a thinly masked veneer of obvious envy in most cases—is a nearly ubiquitous lack of understanding of the artist’s use of appropriated imagery in his work and the longstanding historical precedent for this mode of creative expression.”. Based on O'Shea's usage of words one can only assume that he is hoping to strengthen the idea that only "jealous" individiuals criticize Shepard Fairey or any successful artist for that matter-- words and phrases that Fairey himself has used in describing individuals who are critical of his art and practice.

In essence O'Shea's article is an attempt at damage control-- he is aware that people are starting to do research about the copyright allegations surrounding Shepard Fairey's career. It is obvious that O'Shea is nervous about what people may find online during their research. Needless to say, the article by Jamie O’Shea comes off as nothing more than damage control given the fact that so many individuals have been researching allegations of copyright infringement against Shepard Fairey due to his use of Mannie Garcia’s photograph of Obama. Fairey failed to acknowledge or compensate the photographer-- which has stirred a controversy surrounding the ethics of Shepard Fairey's artistic practice.

In the article O’Shea claims that a “widespread and baseless internet campaign to smear Shepard Fairey has been going on for some time now“. In other words, O’Shea suggests that mass criticism of Shepard Fairey is nothing more than a smear campaign against the artist. O’Shea suggests that the alleged smear campaign against Shepard Fairey is based on Mark Vallen’s article as a primary source-- as if there were no detractors of Shepard Fairey’s art and questions of copyright infringement surrounding his career before Vallen’s article was published online.

That suggestion is obviously not grounded in facts considering that art historian Lincoln Cushing had exposed Shepard Fairey for copyright infringement before Vallen‘s article was published-- it was not the first time that Fairey had been exposed for questionable or unethical practices concerning his art. Thus, in my opinion O’Shea’s words are spurred by his own paranoia-- O'Shea can see the castle that he, Fairey, and others have built crumbling if public opinion starts to question the ethics and allegations concerning Fairey’s art. Thus, the article-- based on the implications for O’Shea writing it in the first place (read his introduction)-- is a ploy designed to gain support for Shepard Fairey during a crucial time in his career.

Of Mark Vallen’s article Jamie O’Shea stated, “If this writing were simply a balanced, albeit negative critique, or even an educated “gotcha” piece no one would care, but the article in question is an unabashed and well-disseminated character-assassination attempt, one we thought was finally worthy of our attention here on the pages of Supertouch given Shepard’s recent, and metorical rise to public prominence.”. In my opinion the Vallen article is a “gotcha” piece. Vallen may be harsh in his criticism of Fairey-- I personally don't agree with everything Vallen said--, but who ever said that criticism need be polite? Surely Shepard Fairey can agree with that.

It is not like Mark Vallen was the only person critical of Shepard Fairey in the first place. After all, Mark Vallen worked closely on the article with Lincoln Cushing -- the art historian who discovered Shepard Fairey’s infringement of a Rene Mederos poster in 2007. The infringing image by Shepard Fairey, titled ‘Cuban Rider’, was sold as a shirt in Fairey’s OBEY clothing line. A representative of Shepard Fairey acknowledged the copyright infringement and the shirt involving the image was soon after pulled from production.

One could say that the issue over Rene Mederos is what spurred Mark Vallen to write his critique of Shepard Fairey in the first place. With that in mind, does it seem that the criticism of Shepard Fairey is "baseless"? “Gotcha”, indeed. Oddly enough, Lincoln Cushing's discovery is not mentioned in the O'Shea article nor does the article mention that 'Cuban Rider' was pulled from production for copyright infringement. O'Shea mentions Lincoln Cushing, but does not state why he was involved with the Vallen article to begin with. Why leave out that critical information? I suppose O'Shea will have to answer to that.

Jamie O’Shea continues his criticism of Mark Vallen critique by stating, “The way Vallen tells it, Shepard has based his 20-year art career solely around cashing in on the work of other people. Yet the images that Vallen uses to support this claim are almost all examples of Shepard’s street art from the formative stages of his career (1990s and early 2000s),” What Jamie O’Shea fails to note is that Mark Vallen pointed out that some of the images that Fairey has used do fall under fair use due to the date of the original images.

Vallen makes it clear that some of the images that have served as the origin of Shepard Fairey's art are no longer protected by copyright while others never were in the first place-- anyone can use them. Thus, anyone can make derivative works based on them-- not just Shepard Fairey. In those examples Vallen suggests that it is not ethical for Shepard Fairey (or anyone else for that matter) to claim those specific images as his (their) own. In defense of Vallen I must say that a lot of people agree with his position. However, works that are no longer protected by copyright are indeed fair game, so to speak.

Vallen’s main complaint is that Fairey conceals the history of these images while claiming them as his own (more on that later). However, Vallen also targets images that Fairey created in 2005, 2006, and 2007 that have origins in works that are still protected by copyright. Images that do not exactly fall under fair use as far as parody or social comment is concerned because they are not widely known in the first place. You don’t have to take my word for it-- out of ten art law professionals I’ve spoken with about specific copyright allegations involving Shepard Fairey seven have agreed that Fairey went beyond the line of fair use with some aspects of his appropriation. (A few of those professionals are currently writing about this issue and will allow me to publish their research on the Myartspace Blog. Both sides of the debate will be acknowledged.)

Jamie O’Shea then states that the art from the “formative stages“ of Shepard Fairey‘s career were, “sold only in editions of 100 or 200 at $20 or $25 a pop at the time. Considering that hundreds, maybe thousands of those same posters were pasted up on the street at Fairey’s personal expense, it’s certain the artist never saw a dime of profit from all that printing and in most cases probably failed to even recoup costs.” All I can say to that is that profit is profit no matter how you try to slice the pie. Surely someone who claims to know so much about copyright as Mr. O’Shea would understand that it does not matter how the profit is used as far as copyright infringement is concerned. Profit is profit.

It does not matter if Fairey put all of the profit into printing more images nor does it matter, in recent times, if he donated the profit to political or social causes. Profit is profit where copyright infringement is concerned. In court the emotive reasoning for the decision to infringe is cast aside. In other words, in court you can't always get away with murder even if the person was killed for the greater good nor can you always get away with infringement even if it happened for the greater good. Vallen's concern is that Shepard Fairey is placing a price tag on history and that he is 'murdering' the intentions that people involved with the original art had.

I want to be clear about something. I'm not trying to take away from the good that Shepard Fairey has done. He has done great things for some wonderful causes. However, in my opinion the good that Fairey has done-- the causes, people, and animals that he has helped-- should not be used as a shied to ward off allegations of copyright infringement. Unfortunately, Fairey (in his interview with Mother Jones)-- and now O'Shea-- have done just that. In other words, they have tried to create a distraction concerning questions about copyright infringement by implying that critics are somehow against the causes that Fairey has supported. That is simply not the case-- it is petty for them to try and make monsters out of individuals who are critical of Shepard Fairey's practice. After all, just because someone is critical of Fairey's art does not mean that he or she is critical of the causes that Fairey has stood for. If Shepard Fairey feels that criticism of his art implies criticism of causes he has stood for he must truly be arrogant.

Jamie O’Shea then states, “Furthermore, none of Vallen’s reference points come from the art that Shepard has sold in recent years for substantial profit. It can’t be said whether Vallen tried but couldn’t find any clearly plagiarized imagery in that work, or simply didn’t bother to look, but his claims about cash cows simply do not add up, especially since Shepard didn’t have a single solo gallery show for the first 10 years of his career”. To that I say-- it seems to me that the Hope poster-- which has earned between $400,000 and $800,000 from what I’ve read-- was a “cash cow” even if the profit was donated or used to print more posters-- again, profit is profit no matter how you try to slice the pie.

On a side note: I find it odd that O’Shea forgot to mention the allegations of copyright infringement involving the Hope poster and a photograph taken by photographer Mannie Garcia. After all, O'Shea posted his article today and people have been discussing the Garcia image for over a week. If anything, the alleged infringement of the Mannie Garcia photograph supports Vallen’s claims of Shepard Fairey's ongoing practice of copyright infringement-- which I assume is why O’Shea left that information out of his article.

Jamie O’Shea then attacks the heart of Vallen’s criticism by stating, “In his piece, Vallen defines plagiarism as “the deliberate passing off of someone else’s work as your own,” and claims that the difference between Fairey and Lichtenstein is that the latter never laid claim to Mickey Mouse, while Shepard tries to deceitfully sneak his appropriations past viewers in broad daylight. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth (the Shepard part, that is). If Vallen had bothered to open “Supply and Demand,” Shepard’s career retrospective book released more than a year and a half before Vallen published his article on his site, he would have seen many of Fairey’s images reproduced side-by-side with the originals that were appropriated or referenced.”. O'Shea does not understand that just because the images are in a book that has been distributed all over the world does not mean that the 'referenced' images are known the world over.

O’Shea then states, “Clearly there’s no basis to Vallen’s claim that Shepard “filches artworks and hopes no one notices,” when the artist himself is publishing evidence of his appropriation—with accompanying text explaining his process and rationale—and distributing it openly around the world.” There is only one problem with O‘Shea‘s viewpoint-- how many people are going to pay $59.95 to find out who Fairey appropriated from?

Under fair use the general public should know this information off hand from their collective knowledge of contemporary society. In other words, they should know without having to buy a book in order to know. The public should be able to look at ‘Cuban Rider’ and say, “Fairey is commenting on the Rene Mederos poster!”. Unfortunately, Shepard Fairey has failed on that crucial aspect of fair use-- which is why it seems that he attempts to pass works by others off as his own. In that sense, Supply and Demand and the current limited edition of the book is nothing more than a way for Shepard Fairey to defend his work by saying, “See, I made everything clear in this book!” while slapping a price tag upon said knowledge. That is exactly what Mark Vallen's critique of Shepard Fairey is about.

Concerning fair use Vallen’s point is that the character Mickey Mouse is in itself iconic. Mickey Mouse is a household name-- everyone knows Mickey. Thus, one can easily make a parody or social comment about the beloved mouse knowing that people will know exactly what is being parodied or commented on under fair use. The same goes for much of Warhol’s work because he used images that the general public was aware of. You could say that Mickey Mouse and specific brands of soup are in our collective conscious-- we don't have to buy a $59.95 book in order to make the connection when those images are used in art.

That said, using aspects of a photograph or artwork that is not well-known does not exactly fall under fair use as far as parody or social comment is concerned because people will not know-- unless they research the image (in this case buy the book)-- what is being parodied or commented on. Again, when people look at the Hope poster they did not say, “Shepard Fairey has made a comment about Mannie Garcia’s photograph of Obama.”-- even Fairey claimed that he did not know who the photographer was. Oddly enough, a gallery representing Fairey acknowledged to Garcia that indeed the image Fairey had used for Hope was his photograph.

Jamie O’Shea goes on about the issue-- stating, “Overall, the concept of using reference images in the context of modern art seems to have eluded Vallen completely in regards to Fairey’s art. When he claims that Shepard strips away historical meaning and context in his artworks, he’s missing the entire point of referencing: By taking precisely the elements of an image that speak of its historical meaning and original context and incorporating them into a new image, an artist creates a visual comparison, juxtaposing new and old.” It seems to me that Jamie O’Shea is missing the heart of Mark Vallen’s criticism. Viewers are obviously not making a connection between the ‘old’ image and Shepard Fairey’s ‘new’ image-- the dialogue is missing because no dialogue has been established unless-- by O’Shea’s suggestion -- you pay $59.95 to be introduced to what is being commented on. That is not how fair use works.

To put it bluntly, when it comes to supporting fair use within the context of art you can’t simply create a dialogue by publishing a book about the dialogue in order for viewers to understand what is being parodied or commented on within the context of the art. The viewers should know upon viewing the work-- period. The connection should click in their mind-- period. If it does not click-- if a connection is not made-- then one can debate that fair use under parody or social comment has not taken place and that instead the ‘new’ art has infringed on the ‘old’ art-- period. In other words, O'Shea should stop trying to pitch Fairey's book Supply and Demand and instead discuss why people are not making the connection on their own!

O’Shea continues, “Such a contrasting is inherent in the act of referencing, and the intended result is for viewers to consider the relationship of the two images and hopefully spark a dialogue: Are they really distinct, or just symbols of the same phenomenon? Is the artist saying the two images are similarly or differently relevant? Is the older image outdated and in need of an update, or is it a commentary on society’s perverse obsession with overhauling classic works? Does this new recontextualized image make me feel any differently than the old one did?” followed by “These are questions most people consider, usually subconsciously, when looking at images that employ references as visual cues.” Is O'Shea clueless? There are a number of people who did not make the connections until they read Mark Vallen's article. Honestly, I wonder how many people knew about Rene Mederos before reading Vallen's critique?

Again, it seems to me that Jamie O’Shea is missing the heart of Mark Vallen’s criticism. Viewers are obviously not making a connection between the ‘old’ image and Shepard Fairey’s ‘new’ image-- the dialogue is missing because no dialogue has been established unless you pay $59.95 to be introduced to what is being commented on or parodied. In order for fair use to apply-- based on the conversations I’ve had with art law professionals and members of the arts community-- the connection must be obvious from the start or it simply is not fair use. If anything a case could be made against Fairey’s defense of his images as fair use due to the lack of dialogue-- the lack of a connection that should be made by the typical viewer upon viewing Shepard Fairey’s art.

Needless to say, I’m surprised that Jamie O’Shea used Supply and Demand to defend Shepard Fairey’s understanding of fair use. By implication O’Shea is suggesting that the connection and dialogue expected of fair use is being made by the book itself rather than specific images by Shepard Fairey. Again, the typical viewer should not have to pay $59.95 in order to realize these connections. If fair use was used in the way it is designed the viewer would be able to make those connections on their own. In other words, viewers would be aware of the dialogue going on between the ‘old’ image and the ‘new’ image by Fairey without having to read a brief history lesson about the connection.

Thus, Supply and Demand is not exactly the best source of defense for Shepard Fairey concerning alleged infringement. In fact, O’Shea’s viewpoint reveals that their needs to be more dialogue about Fairey’s alleged infringement so that the typical viewer understands the lack of dialogue and connection that is being made when Fairey utilizes fair use so that they can then question if it is fair use at all. I believe that was another point of Mark Vallen's critique as I understand it.

Jamie O’Shea goes on to defend Shepard Fairey by comparing Fairey’s appropriation to the use of appropriation in artworks created by artists in the recent past. O’Shea states, “Vallen must believe the Sex Pistols used the official portrait of the Queen of England and put a safety pin through her lip because they couldn’t do any better on their own and needed an image that would sell.”. Having read the Vallen article I don’t think he is suggesting that at all. In fact, Vallen makes it clear that some forms of appropriation are legitimate. The official portrait of the Queen of England is fair game as far as fair use is concerned due to parody or social comment. That specific image of the Queen, even back then, was known the world over. Thus, comparing the album art to Fairey’s art is not exactly a true comparison as far as fair use is concerned. It should be noted that O’Shea did not bother to mention the name of the artist who created the iconic image for The Sex Pistols-- Jamie Reid.

Jamie O’Shea then attempts to make the issue a conservative versus liberal scenario by stating, “Vallen goes on to question whether Shepard truly supports the left-wing causes he depicts in his work, claiming that it’s “not impossible to view Fairey’s work as right-wing in essence, since it largely ransacks leftist history and imagery while the artist laughs all the way to the bank.”. O’Shea then goes into a rant about how Shepard Fairey would not risk his life spreading a “left-wing” message if in reality he supported “right-wing” views. He then states, “Furthermore, would a true right-wing ideologue have any interest in spreading left-wing imagery, even if he did make a few dollars in the process? Could Vallen really believe an artist who donated all of the proceeds from sales of Obama posters to his presidential campaign (according to public campaign finance information available online, Shepard and his wife, Amanda, donated $300,000 to $400,00 to Obama, the Democratic National Committee Democratic committees in various swing states, and other Democratic “victory funds”) did so only to go home and secretly pray to an altar of George Bush or even worse, Dick Cheney?”. Unfortunately, I think that Jamie O’Shea is taking Mark Vallen’s words way out of context.

Vallen was not commenting on ‘left’ and ‘right’ as in Democrat or Republican or liberal or conservative. Instead he was using left wing and right wing beyond just the American interpretation of catch words involved in discussions of two rival political parties in the United States. Vallen was thinking globally by stressing that he feels that Shepard Fairey has exploited artworks from movements that are considered leftist on the global political spectrum, so to speak.

In other words, Vallen feels that Fairey has shown those movements and the artists behind those movement great disrespect by using art works associated with the causes they fought for in a way that the average viewer will most likely not make a connection with. Thus, the history of their struggle is lost in Shepard Fairey’s art-- unless, based on the implications of O’Shea’s words, you buy Supply and Demand for $59.95.

Here is what Mark Vallen said, “Some have, for whatever reason, imagined Fairey to be a progressive political figure, a perception certainly cultivated by the artist; but it’s also not impossible to view Fairey’s work as right-wing in essence, since it largely ransacks leftist history and imagery while the artist laughs all the way to the bank.” Vallen goes on to say, “For me, the question is not what Fairey’s political allegiances may or may not be, but rather, how his work sets a standard that is ultimately damaging to art and leads to its further dissolution. When a will to plagiarize and a love for self-promotion are the only requirements necessary for becoming an artist, then clearly the arts are in deep trouble.”.

My interpretation is that Vallen was simply pointing out that specific images by Shepard Fairey have not made a true connection with the images they are based upon. In that sense, yes-- they take away from the history of the original intent of the source images and the movements they were associated with. Vallen did not mention Bush or Cheney in connection to Shepard Fairey-- he did not even mention conservatism or liberalism or Republican and Democrat. It would appear that O'Shea's view of left and right politics is rather limited.

O’Shea continues, “If Vallen is to be believed, the same must be true in the case of Fairey’s countless donations of artworks and money to causes like the Chiapas Relief Fund, Hope for Darfur, the ACLU, MoveOn, the movement to overturn Prop 8, 11th Hour Action, Hurricane Katrina relief, Southern California fire relief, LA teenage shelters, children’s charities in Iraq and the U.S., Free the West Memphis 3, and Rush Arts for inner-city schools (to name just a few). Fittingly, the most ridiculous aspect of this “stealing from the left to give to the right” argument is that Vallen himself makes—and sells—art depicting left-wing figures and social issues, just like Shepard does. It’s not impossible to view him as a hypocrite.” It looks like once again the shield of charity has been raised!

Again, Jamie O’Shea fails to grasp the global implications of Mark Vallen’s use of ‘left’ and ‘right‘. Vallen did not say anything about Shepard Fairey ‘stealing art from the left to give to the right’ as O’Shea suggests. However, if O’Shea wishes to think on those terms I will point out where Vallen offered an example that could be called taking from the right to give to the left-- with a whole lot of ignorance in between. Vallen goes into great detail about an issue involving Shepard Fairey and the Nazi Death’s Head logo of the Gestapo.

Vallen explains, "In 2006 Fairey printed a near exact copy of an already existing skull and crossbones artwork he found, altering the original design only by adding the words "OBEY: Defiant Since '89" along with a small star bearing the face of Andre the Giant. The image was reproduced as a T-shirt and added to Fairey’s OBEY fashion line.

As luck would have it, Wal-Mart plagiarized the master plagiarist, copying and printing Fairey’s rip-off and adding it to the superstore’s own fashion line. A shopper at Wal-Mart recognized the skull motif’s origin and angrily protested - as it was an exact duplication of the infamous logo belonging to the Gestapo, the Nazi "secret state police" that served as personal bodyguards to Adolf Hitler and administered the concentration camps where the genocide of the Jewish people was put into practice.

Unsurprisingly Wal-Mart’s T-shirts became a nationwide controversy, with legions of infuriated citizens insisting the superstore apologize and pull the offensive items from their shelves - a demand that was ultimately met. Eventually it came to light that Shepard Fairey was first responsible for manufacturing and selling the T-shirt, and when confronted by the website,, Fairey offered the following excuse: "When I made that graphic I was referencing a biker logo and it was only brought up to me later that it was the SS skull." First, Fairey openly admits to directly copying an image created by someone else (he calls this "referencing"), and then feigns innocence when faced with the odious background of the original Nazi designers. In the same set of remarks made to, Fairey insists that he is "anti-fascist and pro-peace", but what kind of anti-fascist does not recognize the symbols used by the Nazi regime? Fairey’s only defense here is full-blown ignorance - hardly an attribute expected in artists supposedly dedicated to social commentary.”

I wonder what Jamie O’Shea has to say about that? It seems he forgot to mention that aspect of Mark Vallen’s criticism of Shepard Fairey. Did he leave it out because Vallen was dead on in his criticism of Shepard Fairey?

I could examine the two articles further, but I think it is best to stop for now (I may tackle the second half this week). This is how I see it--- Shepard Fairey has stated the following about his art, "The real message behind most of my work is ‘question everything.". Thus, I would think that Fairey would understand that people are going to question his work-- question everything about it. Is that not what he wanted? Or is the message itself a contradiction?

Shepard Fairey, who embraces the idea of ‘questioning everything’, should not state that people who criticize him are “jealous”, “lazy”, or “full of apathy”-- or any number of attacks that Fairey and his supporters have made against those who question his art, methods, and ethics. In fact, I would say that said choice of words reveals the truth of Mark Vallen’s article. After all, people generally respond with harsh words when there is reason for criticism.

My guess is that from this point on Shepard Fairey will be very careful not to infringe on copyright protected artworks or photographs. After all, his cleanup crew-- people like Jamie O’Shea -- can only do damage control so many times before people start to demand answers in mass. Don’t forget to wring out the mop O’Shea.

Links of Interest:

Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey A critique by artist Mark Vallen


Lawyers and Law Professionals Weigh-In on Shepard Fairey Copyright Infringement Allegation

Shepard Fairey: Obey Copyright

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange


Anonymous said...

You are brutal man! I don't think Shep could last five minutes debating you. Dan Wasserman from the Boston Globe has defended Vallen also. Looky,looky, Vallen got a cookie!!!

FightForArtRights said...

Shep just posted a link to the Supertouch article on his site. That can only mean that he is worried about people exposing him for the rat he is! Supertouch and Obey have media and alternative media connections so I bet you that article will be plastered all over the internet within a day. They want to stamp out the truth by making anyone who is critical of Shep look like a moron. To those of us who know the score YES WE CAN!

Anonymous said...

You ARE jealous. FOOL.

Anonymous said...

You don't understand what Fairey is about. He is giving new life to art that is covered in dust. If those artists did not know how to market their art why should he do it for them? Look at what he has done and tell me it is not great. He is the greatest artist of our time and that is the only reason you are being so hard on him.

Marc said...

I initially sent an email with the following text, quoted below, after comments in parenthesis.

(One thing about which I was incorrect is that comments are possible, however difficult they are to reach from the originally posted article at

The response to the email was simply to change the subject line to read: "No Retraction, No Apology".

The text of the email, which would have been a comment on this blog had commenting been more intuitive from the original post, is below.)


Mr. Vallen,

It would seem that you owe Shepherd Fairy an apology or at the very least a retraction for your poorly researched article here: I read it in its entirety, and it made a convincing argument for someone unfamiliar with Shep's work, but you made little effort to familiarize yourself, it would seem.

Have a look here:

Interestingly, J O'Shea and SuperTouch allow users to comment on their posted items, while you do not. You seem a little less then democratic, Sir.

Balhatain said...

Marc, I went ahead and and posted your comment-- though it seems you meant for it to go to Mark Vallen. I don't know if Mark Vallen will see it or not on this blog. Did you try emailing him? His email is listed on his blog.

Marc said in his response to Vallen, "Interestingly, J O'Shea and SuperTouch allow users to comment on their posted items, while you do not. You seem a little less then democratic, Sir."

Actually SuperTouch moderates comments just like I do. So technically they could weed out negative comments and you would be none the wiser. I'm sure more than a few people will test them on that in the coming days.

You should also note that the ObeyGiant site does not allow comments on entries posted by Mr. Fairey on the front page of the site. Based on your charges against Vallen one could say that Fairey is avoiding criticism directly on his own site. However, it boils down to a personal choice. Some people simply do not want to have to deal with comments.

As for me, I've made it clear that comments will be posted unless they attack someone in an overly personal manner-- for example, no violent threats are allowed. I often will not post a comment if the blunt of the comment is nothing but F this, F that, and F you. Comments like that don't add to the debate.

If you want to discuss the integrity of Mark Vallen perhaps we should also discuss the integrity of Shepard Fairey. After all, he mentioned the SuperTouch article on ObeyGiant, but has yet to own up to using Mannie Garcia's photograph nor has he apologized to the family of Rene Mederos-- at least not on his site. Maybe he did when he settled out of court with the estate?

Sally said...

I don't really think that Shepard Fairey has done anything wrong. The laws just need to catch up with the times we live in. How can we understand the past if the past if off limits because of restrictive copyright laws?

Anonymous said...

I did not know who Rene Mederos was. I can't look at art by Shepard Fairey now without thinking who he exploited.

Anonymous said...

if you think the laws should change, maybe you would be interested in this little nugget

it's not good for artists.

Vee said...

I have to agree about the book. Why should someone have to pay for a book to make connections they should be able to make on their own. Not fair use at all.

Anonymous said...

After what Shepard did for Obama he deserves some slack. Give him a break.

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that Fairey is scared. There have been two articles in the Boston Globe this week blasting him for theft and poor ethics. I also know that he will not allow his assistants to talk about where he finds references or how he uses stencils over scanned copies of paintings or photographs. The only reason Fairey and his minions are challenging Vallen now is because the truth is so close to coming out. Fairey of all people should know that the truth can't be hidden under rhetoric or media tactics. The only people defending him are skater punks who can't make the connection that their hero creates brand images for Pepsi, Google, Saks and other corporate entities. The guy has no values!

jesseedwards said...


posterboy said...

Apropos this ever-growing stink, especially the "open venue" statement about the SuperTouch blog, here is an e-mail sent to Jamie O'Shea:

Hello (Mr. O'Shea?)-

In the spirit of dialogue, I submitted this comment on your new blog polemic supporting Shepard Fairey. It never appeared. So, either you have chosen to not carry it (the automatic reply said submissions would be moderated) or your blog application is flakey. Perhaps both are true, I don't know.

I'm sending this again, in this format, to give you another chance.

It's unclear who the author of the piece is - it's signed "ST," which I presume is SuperTouchart? Might be nice to write it out - honesty in authorship and all that.

Letter submitted by webform 2/2/09:

As a named co-conspirator, I guess I have to say something. My suggested guidelines - mine alone, not Mr. Vallen’s - are an effort to offer constructive techniques for graphic artists who wish to use preexisting work in an ethical fashion. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that it’s respectful to try and get permission before using someone else’s work. I think that under many circumstances, with certain media - such as posters - it’s quite easy to lay down some fine print that educates the viewer about obscure references. Political artists such as the Cuban René Mederos don’t exactly have the same recognition here as, say, Andy Warhol does. My work is trying to change that, and I look dimly on essays arguing the presumed sanctity of “art” that impede that effort.

A link was included to my essay ("Suggested best practices in using the graphic artwork of others") which can't be posted here but it's easily found.

Thank you.

Lincoln Cushing
Docs Populi - Documents for the Public

Anonymous said...

anytime shep wants a boxing match im up for it - but i'll be sending a lawyer instead.

Anonymous said...

I think almost everyone is missing the true point. As a BIOLOGIST who has become interested in poster and print art solely because of Shepard Fairey and his Obama artwork (I was introduced to it while working for the campaign), I have to say that were it not for him, there are many thousands of people (including my wife, sister, best friend, etc.), who simply never would have been exposed to, or even cared about this medium (or art in general for that matter), were it not for Fairey's work. At the end of the day all the ridiculous artists (and at the end of the day art is ridiculous -- it doesn't cure disease or help reduce carbon emissions or educate young people or build bridges, etc., etc., etc.) need to realize the overarching benefit Fairey has brought to the art world. A lot of us "non-art-types" have been brought into the fold by Fairey, and some of us (like me), have become truly interested in it all, not just the work of one guy...

For that alone you should be thankful...

Freakin' artists -- you're just like academics and politicians -- you all need to get over yourselves...


Anonymous said...

hmmm, when Charlie Rose asked Shep how he created the HOPE image in his recent interview, Shep purposefully avoids mentioning the photograph and responds that he "created the image." This tells me they are already lawyered up.

Anonymous said...

"At the end of the day all the ridiculous artists (and at the end of the day art is ridiculous -- it doesn't cure disease or help reduce carbon emissions or educate young people or build bridges, etc., etc., etc.)..."

wow, you certainly know a lot about art. I hope you start your own blog so we can learn more from you about the subject.

a scientific illustrator

Anonymous said...

LOL, this guy is brutal? i got linked here from another article discussing this controversy, and this is by far the dumbest editorial i have read yet. my friend, you would not know logic if it hit you in the face. i could grow old counting the fallacies in this infantile editorial.

Balhatain said...

Anon, count away. I stand by my opinion-- Shepard Fairey is a coward who can’t own up to criticism. Eventually everyone reaps what they sow. A pr push can’t hide every fact. The SuperTouch article was published shortly after an article was posted on the Boston Globe about Vallen's critique. Fairey posted about the SuperTouch article within minutes of it being published. He is obviously worried that people are noticing.

Balhatain said...

Fairey had a chance to be a stand-up guy and tackle the copyright infringement allegations during a Q&A session at the ICA. From what I've read the audience was not allowed to ask questions and the curator asking the questions did not ask tough questions. He could have addressed the issues head on.

Anonymous said...

IMHO if Shepard Fairy make entirely clear in books etc exactly WHERE his reappropriated images came from, then that would be OK. It could then be seen as semi-educational and showing the wider audience a bit of visual history. His conceit, however, in attempting to pass "his art" (I am not impressed) off as his fabulous-own-original-inventions merely reeks of slime and rip-off.

Balhatain said...

Anon, you can buy a book for $59.95 that will show some of the connections. However, that is not how fair use works. The majority of people viewing his work should be able to make the connection with the base work without having to buy a book to make the connection.

It seems Shepard Fairey and Jamie O'Shea feel you need to by a reference book to understand what he references. If that is how fair use worked you could infringe on anyway and then make it OK by publishing a book.

Shepard had the perfect chance to to address issues of infringement during his Q&A before the opening of his exhibit in Boston. Unfortunately the audience was not allowed to ask questions. Strange that the artist who says to "question everything" allowed people not to be heard.

Stadno said...

This is by far THE BEST blog I have read on this topic. Well done, it's very clear and professional!! Thank you, you have my appreciation and full respect as a Graphic Designer for this.

I'm reading a fair bit of comments against this.. how odd, anyone with a clear moral mind and understanding of art would know the basics of what's right and wrong in these fields. Especially if you know the copyright laws.

Starting to think that O'Shea got his people to flood the blogs with negative comments.. comments that surprisingly have the exact points of arguments as O'Shea's site pushes (which by the way, have all been covered here).

It doesn't matter what he did it for or who he helped, or how many poor grandmas he helped cross the road!

He broke the infringement laws by a big leap and has misled people to give him false credit for other people's work (unless you bought and read his book for $59.95 right? haha BS).

If everyone starts doing what Shepard did.. it would severely damage EVERY SINGLE artist's and designer's career due to the fact that everyone would think that it is "OK" to take someone else's hard work and claim it as yours while making profit of it.

Everyone will know the truth sooner or later!! and it will only lead to strengthening the copyright laws.

Thanks again for this post

Stadno said...

Anonymous said... "He is giving new life to art that is covered in dust. If those artists did not know how to market their art why should he do it for them?"

no he didn't, the majority of people don't look at his work and INSTANTLY link it to the original piece/artist and nor does Shepard give a clear credit when showcasing his work, unless you pay $59.95 for his damn book and lets face it, not everyone has read the book now have they?

Also just because it was "covered in dust", doesn't give anyone legal permission to mislead it as their own work.

What he has done is wrong and unfair to other artists/designers

Sally said... "I don't really think that Shepard Fairey has done anything wrong. The laws just need to catch up with the times we live in. How can we understand the past if the past if off limits because of restrictive copyright laws?"

The laws are fine, you people need to catch up on what's fair and what isn't to other artists/designers. I'm %100 sure you can understand the past without people plagiarising to the extent of Fairly Shepard while making a good profit out of it. But I do agree that the laws should change, they should be tougher on plagiarising and art theft.

Anonymous said... "After what Shepard did for Obama he deserves some slack. Give him a break."

Putting up another Charity wall? If Shepard is so much of a "nice guy" and seeks to help people, he should pay for his deeds. He must be an example for anyone else who wants to make a career out of art theft. Did you think about how many lives of other artist's and designer's he damaged doing what he did? What if more and more people will follow in his footsteps? it would be a severe damage to every design industry and every single artist in the world.

Stadno said...

Anonymous said... "I think almost everyone is missing the true point... At the end of the day all the ridiculous artists (and at the end of the day art is ridiculous -- it doesn't cure disease or help reduce carbon emissions or educate young people or build bridges, etc., etc., etc.) need to realize the overarching benefit Fairey has brought to the art world. A lot of us "non-art-types" have been brought into the fold by Fairey, and some of us (like me), have become truly interested in it all, not just the work of one guy...

Mr BIOLOGIST, how would you like it if you worked hard and discovered something great in science but then someone else misled people to take YOUR credit for it and even make a healthy profit from it??

There are now many people in this world that have art based careers, that live off on what they create. That's why there are laws to protect other people from "borrowing" their work without proper permission AND credit. Art may not cure cancer but it delivers a lot more than what you think, especially in the design world of advertising.

Anonymous said...

Another sensible voice has surfaced, that of Milton Glaser.
He understands what real creative art is about, and it's not about taking something that doesn't belong to you.

Anonymous said...

I keep reading these liberal art critics comparing Shepard Fairey to Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Richard Prince. Reading their words you know that they don't even know who Shepard Fairey is and that they are commenting in support of him because it is popular to do that. Heaven forbid one of them muster enough courage to go against the Obama wackos in Chelsea or Boston. I think it is stupid to compare Shepard Fairey to these notable artists because he has not proven himself yet. Lets see if people still report on him after Obama drops in the polls. If his only claim to fame is Obama I'm afraid his career will ride on if Obama is successful or not. Warhol did not have to cling to a politician for stardom and a quick buck. Some of us knew Andy. Fairey IS NOT Andy. He never will be. SHEPARD FAIREY IS NOT ANDY WARHOL!Calling him the Thomas Kinkade of angsty youth rebellion is more like it.

Fred said...

Kevin Cullen, of the Boston Globe, wrote about Fairey dismissively as well. I wonder if Cullen, who is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, winner of a Pulitzer in 2003, and one of the greatest investigative reporters of his generation, a man who almost single-handedly ran one of America's most dangerous criminals out of Boston, is "jealous". People aren't stupid, Fairey; we see you for what you are.

A thief, a common thief. Period.

Anonymous said...

Bravo. Btw, Jamie O'Tightpants likes to rip off people's content too. And no, he does NOT post any comments, as many have tried to voice their disapproval at his own plagiarism.

He and Fairey are both non-creative people who are tricking those who are looking for something wonder they're in cahoots.

One example:

Anonymous said...


Balhatain said...

Don't mix freedom of expression with freedom to profit. Remember that works like this do not become an issue of copyright infringement until a price tag is attached to the work or mass copies are produced. Fairey's opinion is based on profit-- his profit-- not creative freedom. Understand what this is really about.

Jeffry said...

I just borrowed Supply & Demand from Baltimore's Enoch Pratt FREE Library. Your repetitive $59.95 trope is a straw man. Furthermore, what counts as "known the world 'round?" In educated art circles--the cult of the MFA--people know that whole revolutionary style, so Fariey's work should be considered fair use in those circles. But in the greater American public consciousness, its theft. Its a shifting landscape, why should Fairey bear the burden of informing people? Earlier someone said Fairey is clearing the dust off of old artwork, and I think they were right. I am personally opposed to a lot of intellectual property law, specifically because an artist can drop the ball on keeping his work economically viable, but then open his mouth when someone like Fairey comes along and does what he either couldn't do or at the very least never intended to. Fariey has kept the market for that style open, even widened it, so those artists should be thankful cuz otherwise they would have to change with the times and learn how to Pixar with the best of them.

Balhatain said...

Jeffry said, “I just borrowed Supply & Demand from Baltimore's Enoch Pratt FREE Library. Your repetitive $59.95 trope is a straw man.”

Great. Did Shepard Fairey’s website point you in that direction? Did O’Shea mention that? I’ll put it this way-- people should not have to buy a book or visit a library online/offline in order to connect the dots.

Under "fair use" the general public should be able to make the connection between the base work and 'new' image without needing a guidebook. The base image should be so embedded in culture that the public instantly makes the connection.

When the "fair use" defense works There should be no confusion as to who created what or what came first. You could say that Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. made that clear for music.

Jeffry said, “Furthermore, what counts as "known the world 'round?" In educated art circles--the cult of the MFA--people know that whole revolutionary style, so Fariey's work should be considered fair use in those circles. But in the greater American public consciousness, its theft. Its a shifting landscape, why should Fairey bear the burden of informing people?”

Are you suggesting that academic art circles should have say over the public at large when it comes to copyright or other issues involving art in general? If that is how you feel 'street art' in general would have had a hell of a time being accepted in the first place.

When you think of it MFA students and academic art circles in general make up a very small portion of the public at large. Thus, we should all strive to inform rather than claim past works as our own.

There is a difference between influence and inspiration when compared to simply finding a "cool" image-- as Fairey has described his process in the past-- in order to create an image with the intention of making profit from it. You can't tell me that Fairey is not thinking about shirt designs and posters when he finds a random image to use.

Keep in mind that Fairey-- in a sense-- has claimed images from the public domain as his own. Furthermore, it should not be a burden for him to be open about the artists he pays “homage” to-- which is how he describes his use when exposed for infringement. Take Rene Mederos for example. He never mentioned Mederos until a handful of individuals exposed him for using a Mederos image as part of a shirt design.

Jeffry said, “Earlier someone said Fairey is clearing the dust off of old artwork, and I think they were right.”

An artist like Shepard Fairey can “clear the dust” without concealing history or placing a price tag upon it. An artist like Fairey can tap into minority struggles without making a mockery of their intentions. I realize that is an ethical stance.

Jeffry said, “I am personally opposed to a lot of intellectual property law, specifically because an artist can drop the ball on keeping his work economically viable, but then open his mouth when someone like Fairey comes along and does what he either couldn't do or at the very least never intended to”

If that is how you feel than you must know that Shepard Fairey does not agree with you. After all, Obey Giant Art Inc. is quick to send cease-and-desist letters when artists do interesting parodies / social comments on his widely known works (Obey Giant, the Obama posters)-- which is acceptable under “fair use“.

The idea that “Fairey does it better so it is ok” often pops up-- However, I’m certain that if someone better-- and there must be a few who are better I will assume-- did to him what he has done to others they would end up in court within a month. What if Richard Prince decided to use Fairey's images under "fair use" with no form of compensation or credit-- do you think Fairey would be 'cool' with that?

Intentions? Interesting. So it is OK to go against an artists intentions? You do realize that Fairey has stated that he does not like it when individuals 'sample' or 'reference' his work if it is against his intentions. For example, he was very upset when he discovered McCain and Palin posters online that were done in his “style” because those images went against his intentions for the Obama poster. Do you not see the contradictions?

Jeffry said, “Fariey has kept the market for that style open, even widened it, so those artists should be thankful cuz otherwise they would have to change with the times and learn how to Pixar with the best of them.”

Do remember that artists have exclusive rights to their images. Artists also have a say in derivatives that other artists create-- unless the artist is working under “fair use”. Fairey knows this-- that is why he paid off the Mederos Estate and tried his best to keep the story hushed. His excuse for the infringment was that he did not know how to reach Mederos because Mederos lived in Cuba-- apparently he did not know that Mederos died in 1996.

Keep in mind that you can’t copyright an artistic “style”. Also, do remember that Fairey did not create this ‘style’ nor did he perfect it. The history goes decades back. He is not the first nor will he be the last to work in the manner he is currently successful with.

Fairey is a talented artist-- he is good at what he does. He has done great things. However, there are ethical as well as legal aspects to consider when viewing his work and career. It does not help that he contradicts himself so often-- or that he has been hypocritical when dealing with fellow artists.

Anonymous said...

Thought everyone should know that Yosi Sergant has been appointed to the Office of Public Engagement at the White House. I guess it pays off to create a mock grassroots movement. This corporate PR firm pig has stolen history!

Mr.Cade said...

As I review both sides of the "argument" at hand, i'm finding myself laughing out loud. I immediately have to laugh at Shepard Fairey's apparent assumption that the public goes through some sort of subconscious art historian dialogue, wherein we internally compare the pros and cons of the original artwork, while acknowledging context of the images, when Shepard Fairey HIMSELF seldom if ever knows whom the original artists were, much less the original political intentions of the pieces he scraps.

More over, I marvel at the claims of other commentators here who seem to feel he has done a great deal of good for artists and the art world. We artists do not owe him even the smallest moniker of gratitude for his ability to sequester the attention of "non-art types". The ignorant and inarticulate "non-art" masses have little to offer in the way of artistic criticism and dialogue. Point in fact, all they really have to offer the "art world" is their blind appreciation and vast caches of money; which, when you think about it, is more than likely the reason for Fairey's interest in them to begin with. I believe he has more in common with THEM than most art AND non art types seem to realize.