Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Phantom Street Artist speaks out against Shepard Fairey in Citizen LA

The Citizen LA cover is a collaboration between Rick Mendoza and Joey Krebs aka The Phantom Street Artist.

As mentioned on the Myartspace Blog the Phantom Street Artist is actively challenging the ‘street cred’ of artist Shepard Fairey. In my article, titled ‘Shepard Fairey Dodges Criticism at ICA: Street Artists and Copyright Advocates Demand Answers‘ , I mentioned that some street artists are furious concerning the commercialization of street art by Shepard Fairey and his business associates. Unfortunately, their voice has not been heard widely-- even on the majority of websites and e-zines dedicated to street art.

For that article I asked Joey Krebs aka Joel Jaramillo, aka Caine 2, aka the LA Street Phantom, aka The Phantom Street Artist about some of the statements Shepard Fairey has made about his work for Pepsi, Saks, and other companies. The Phantom Street Artist told me that he and others close to him feel that Shepard Fairey is “buying status and staking claim in a world that refuses to recognize him.” Krebs then told me, "The media does not represent the voice of the street. It represents the money of those who want to be recognized on the street.". He went on to say that Fairey is, “privileged, self entitled and self consumed.”. Needless to say, The Phantom has been very critical of Shepard Fairey‘s art, practice, and ethics.

For my article The Phantom Street Artist mentioned that he would like to “challenge” Shepard Fairey-- stating, “I want to challenge his point of view, his beliefs and his values in a dual of sorts. I want to challenge him physically, mentally, and perceptually.“ Krebs then told me, “This is the chance for him to win the character approved award by his colleagues-- true street artists. The challenge match is a physical as well as a conceptual performance.”.
I then asked the Phantom Street Artist if he felt that Shepard Fairey would meet his challenge concerning credibility on the streets. The Phantom responded, “There is no risk if you do not risk yourself. This is not a game of perception being managed and defined by publicist and public relations officers. These money fed publicists failed to realize that media is nothing other then the perception of opinion formed in management.”. In a sense, the Phantom Street artists feels that Shepard Fairey, with the help of a media relations machine, has bastardized the street art movement.
The Phantom Street Artist’s “character approved” statement was a jab at the USA Networks “ Character Approved Award ”, an award given by the USA Network to the most “remarkable, imaginative and innovative characters”-- Shepard Fairey won the top slot for the 2009 art category. Needless to say, the Phantom Street Artist does not feel that Shepard Fairey’s art is remarkable, imaginative, or innovative as far as street art is concerned. In fact, he feels that the award given by the USA Network to Shepard Fairey is a prime example of how corporations are claiming street art for profit and marketability with Shepard Fairey serving-- or should I say obeying -- as a corporate spearhead.
The Phantom Street Artist at work.
The words of the Phantom Street Artist have not went unheard. Citizen LA , a monthly arts & lifestyle publication that strives to support and sustain cultural diversity in Los Angeles, has acknowledge the Phantom Street Artist’s criticism of Shepard Fairey and his call for a "cage match" between the two with "street cred" in the balance-- a performance of sorts that would also serve the purpose of raising money for charity. Both artists have experience with fundraising. The Phantom helps to operate Art Saves Lives,, a non-profit dedicated to helping the homeless through art. Will Shepard Fairey meet the Phantom's challenge?
The Citizen LA article/interview touched on several other issues concerning the Phantom's criticism of Shepard Fairey. Heidi Hutchinson, reporting for Citizen LA, recently conducted an interview with the Phantom Street Artist titled, RAGE AGAINST THE SHEPHERD FAIREY PROPOGANDA MACHINE. In the interview the Phantom Street Artist explains to Hutchinson that Shepard Fairey does not represent the voice of the “populace” and is instead the “voice of the Elitist Media disguised”.

In his interview for Citizen LA the Street Phantom goes on to suggest that Shepard Fairey is nothing other then a “consumer being consumed” by buying media time, buying publicity, and buying legal representation. The Phantom states that Fairey has done this to “justify his infringed violations” in order to “present himself as a legit street artist.” The Phantom went on to say that Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant Art, Inc. are “exploitive media whores jacking references from historic cultures for their own selfish interests.”
According to the Citizen LA interview The Phantom is also critical of the ICA retrospective of Shepard Fairey's career. The Phantom feels that the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston “conjured” a 20 year retrospective with total disregard for Shepard Fairy’s “unapologetic infringed actions”. The Phantom views this as “a sign of the degeneration of our society and culture which is being conformed by mediocrity by the likes of Shephard Fairey and OBEY as well as his publication SWINDLE as the true life metaphor to inveigle beliefs systems and values all in the interest of mammon.”.
The Phantom’s message is clear-- he feels that Shepherd Fairey is no different than the entities he has spoke out against visually. In the Citizen LA interview he describes Shepard Fairey as the “poster boy for Big Brother”-- stating, “The media is run by elitists to manipulate public opinion. They’ve also overtaken the independent media, including Satellite Radio.”.
The Phantom then mentions that the real meaning of Fairey’s art is the power of propaganda as far as branding and commerce is concerned. He explained to Hutchinson, “OBEY has no responsible message other then to brand self promotion in the self interest of commerce.”-- an opinion that is shared by many street artists who are wary that the history of their ’culture’ as well as the power of the messages they leave are threatened by commercialization.

In the Citizen LA interview The Phantom states that Shepard Fairey’s actions is the “epitome of rape,” based on his ravaging of “important historical and revolutionary cultures, ideas, concepts and visions” for profit. According to Citizen LA The Phantom-- born to first generation immigrants from Ecuador-- feels that Shepard Fairey is "demeaning" the integrity of the “referenced” works as well as the voice of disenfranchised cultures from which they emerged by altering images without credit. The Phantom finds it offensive that Fairey has “referenced” works from Latino cultural history for profit-- stating in the Citizen LA interview, “He’s making a novelty out of degrading our historical cultural imagery.”.
Concerning Shepard Fairey’s case against the Associated Press the Phantom stated, “If visual artist or merchandisers like Shepard Fairey can cite “fair use” only in the interest of protecting their corporate interest of profit, we have lost the value of “fair use”. Phantom explained to Citizen LA that people should not sit back while Shepard Fairey exploits “fair use” for profit-- stating, “Fair Use protects language and true social commentary without suffocating independent voices.”. The Phantom went on to suggest that if Shepard Fairey wins his case against the Associated Press it will kick open the door for the exploitation of “fair use” by the rich and powerful.
Needless to say, the Citizen LA interview with the Phantom Street Artist is a must read for anyone who has been following the chaos involving Shepard Fairey. The article gives some great details about the Phantom's upbringing, street roots, and other insightful information about the artist. The Citizen LA website,, contains several other stories and interviews of interest. Do check them out.
For those who don’t know, The Phantom Street Artist is a Los Angeles based street artist who is widely known for creating art that was used on the cover of the Rage Against the Machine album titled The Battle of Los Angeles. The Phantom directed two videos for Rage Against the Machine, 'Bulls on Parade', and 'Renegades of Funk,'. Both videos were awarded by MTV. The Rage Against the Machine album and videos feature the Street Phantom’s signature artwork-- a lone silhouette, which the Phantom explains represents the “Public Everyman“.
The Phantom's criticism of Shepard Fairey offers the hope that maybe the voice of the 'everyman' can be powerful enough to go against the grain of media sensationalism and the cult of personality. Personally, I do hope that the Phantom and Shepard Fairey have an 'art bout' for charity. It would be interesting to observe the two match wits and talent for a good cause.
Update: This write-up is a review of the article/interview that the Phantom had sent to me. According to the Phantom, Citizen LA decided to edit most of the content due to "fear of legal retribution". The Phantom suggests that Citizen LA took creative liberties with the presentation as a whole. Perhaps the Fairey Machine runs deeper than first expected-- or maybe there was just a lack of communication between the Phantom and Heidi Hutchinson? As the saying goes, "There are two sides to every story". It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds.
George Stiehl, the publisher of Citizen LA, has contacted me over the issue. He has stated that there was only one version of the piece. Stiehl suggests that the situation may be due to a misunderstanding or lack of communication. He made it clear that Citizen LA does not intentionally misrepresent their interviewed artists-- and that he hopes to solve the issue in an amicable manner.
That said, the version that was published was enough to spur a reaction. According to my sources an outspoken critic of Shepard Fairey was threatened after mentioning the Citizen LA Phantom piece on Facebook-- she has since pulled her criticism from Facebook out of fear of being physically harmed.

Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange


Anonymous said...

What a wrench to throw in the machine! Wonder how Shep will slime his way out of this one.

Kathy said...

Thanks for continuing to follow this. I was most pleased to see recognized the following,

"The Phantom finds it offensive that Fairey has “referenced” works from Latino cultural history for profit-- stating in the Citizen LA interview, “He’s making a novelty out of degrading our historical cultural imagery.”.

From your blog posts, I've noticed Fairey's sources have both been Latino artists...artists he neglected to attribute.

So his "making novelty out of degrading our historical cultural imagery" refers to the individual artist, the revolutionary muralist style (Mexico), and the poster art tradition (Cuba).

Randy Capp said...

I checked out the interview and I gotta say that I’m disappointed with Citizen LA. Heidi says that Krebs is either deep in his ‘creative process or undiagnosed‘. What does she mean by “undiagnosed”? It does not help that she made a point of talking about his sisters going on how they are emotionally disabled. It comes off like she thinks that Krebs is doing this because of a mental disorder. A sense of humor does not qualify that. People critical of this jerk are always called jealous or lazy and now I guess they are crazy to boot. I read other interviews on their site and this is like the only one with a negative spin against the person being interviewed. What a bias filled load of bullocks.

Anonymous said...

Don't be too hard on the C. They have done sooooooooo much for LA artists.

amomymis said...

Fact is Joey contacted me unexpectedly on deadline and put me on a long distance conference call with himself and some family friends he introduced as being close to his sisters. He expressed that I was including his sisters and takes on his childhood in the story though he had not previously opened up or offered much on the subject. The conversation lessened any doubts I had about Joey's authenticity or sincerity. I included the information for that reason certainly not to portray Joey as having a "mental disorder."

The "undiagnosed" crack, an attempt at levity over real events, was noted down days before I knew about Joey's sisters and I did not, nor do I draw any opinion, connection or conclusion about Joey's emotional or mental stability therein. Perhaps "being a character," or "eccentric" would have been better choices on the whole. Or I might have used a term Joey has used to describe himself in published interviews as a "sociopath."

In hindsight, everyone looks like asses. (Hmm. Not bad, maybe I'll trademark that one.) BTW, does anyone know where I can get some quick, cheap mixed martial arts lessons in?

Heidi Hutchinson on her "Citizen LA" interview with Joey Krebs. "Rage Against the Shepherd."

amomymis said...

I'd also like to thank Brian Sherwin for opening this important discussion on Fair Use here on his blog He's referenced in the Citizen LA article. :)

Anonymous said...

its funny because when I met Joey Krebs I was wearing an obey sweater. He then looked at my sweater and nodded. Then he told me about him wanting to "meet him in the cage". Funny stuff.

Anonymous said...

Joey Krebs keepin it real in a country music video. STREET PHANTOM my arse!

Anonymous said...

I've followed the phantom for over 10 years now and I know he is a sincere dedicated artist who operates at street level. I'm not sure what his beef is with the fairey but whatever it is - I hope the fairey makes the peace. cos the phantom sure is pissed off!!

make love not war

dj cliche / sharonsdisco London

Anonymous said...

I have followed the work of the Phantom for over two decades now and I know he is a sincere and dedicated street artist. However I don't really know his beef with this fairey dude - whatever it is I hope he makes the peace 'cos the phantom is really pissed!!

make love not war on the streets of LA

sharonsdisco london

Kent said...

I've been doing art in the streets of LA since the 60s. I became aware of The Phantom during the 80s and consider him to be one of the truly authentic street artists. I've met him and talked with him several times about many subjects. I don't know anyone who knows more about contemporary art. I see his challenge to a duel as an historical allusion...a mix of Chris Burden and the Romantics in an effort to restore clarity and honor. In a way, it's a brilliant art piece.

Anonymous said...

I think Fairey deserves to be harshly criticized, but part of this smells of Joey pulling his own publicity stunt to cash in on Fairey's success.

Joey brags about how he's buddies with Johnny Depp, carries around an album with polariods of him posing with Alyssa Milano and other Hollywood types, and my impression is that he'd jump at the opportunities Fairey has if it was made available to him.

He's mad because he's jealous.

Anonymous said...

i dont think he is the guy who was doing shadows around l.a. in the 80s, they look different and the slogans in the 80s were diverse and more interesting. The letters are a little bit different too.