Few figures in contemporary art inspire as much conflicting opinions—praise and disdain, respect and resentment, vandal or activist—than underground street artist-turned-gallery-attraction Shepard Fairey. He is the founder of the OBEY brand of clothing, collectibles, books, prints, posters, pins and accessories, but he may be most known for creating the red and blue Barack Obama HOPE poster, a defining image of the 2008 presidential campaign.
But before the fashion line and the presidential portraits, the L.A.-based guerilla artist started making his mark as most do in the world of street art: by placing his creations—usually stickers and stencils featuring the black-and-white face of wrestler Andre the Giant—on both public and private property from Boston to Berlin.
Much has changed since Fairey’s days of plastering posters in the streets and dodging police (although he’s stated he continues to produce art on both sides of the law). Fairey’s works can now be seen in museums sharing the same wall space with more establishment artists.
Now through the end of December, the Museum of Monterey joins the legion of venues showing Fairey’s engaging art; bold drawings in the Soviet propaganda poster aesthetic, portraits of cultural icons like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Chuck D and the image that started it all—Andre the Giant—as well as large original prints of Martin Luther King Jr.
The exhibition will feature 30 prints and two originals, along with a few eclectic objects such as OBEY branded cans of spray paint, a framed faux OBEY dollar bill, and a 2011 Weekly issue featuring a Fairey illustration on the cover (and an interview with him inside); all coming from the collection of local painter, gallery owner and youth mentor Andrew Jackson.
Jackson, along with his wife, Sunshine Jackson, founded Outer Edge Studio an art print shop through which he's published Fairey stickers he will give to attendees to donate at least $1 to the museum. He says the exhibit at MoM will consist of pieces from an early collection of prints and stickers he and his wife have accumulated in the past decade. The OBEY exhibit features some truly stunning pieces, all for sale, that depict the progression of Fairey’s work.
Jackson's fixation with collecting Fairey’s work began when he first met the man in Los Angeles in 2003. Jackson was at release event for the magazine Art Prostitute, which ran a few of what he calls his “blurry bar scene paintings.” He had heard Fairey was also at the event and introduced himself to the rising street artist.
They hit it off instantly. Fairey said he was in the process of producing some collages of spray-paint stencils. Jackson told him he was very interested in his style and asked if he could purchase the first one. “I sent him cash via FedEx the next morning.” Jackson says over email, and from that point on he kept collecting.
Today Fairey is being commissioned for community projects like painting murals in Detroit and Jersey City, and Jackson continues to support him as much as ever. “I still love the art. I still collect most everything I can,” he says.
One major change since the day the two met is that Jackson has reconnected with his own creative efforts after taking a decade break from seriously painting. One day one of the artists he mentored at the Youth Arts Collective (YAC) asked him, “Do you even paint?” Jackson, at one point the youngest gallery owner in Carmel, was shocked to realize that for so long he had been teaching the techniques, but not producing any work himself.
Jackson woke up the next morning with a mission to produce a painting. He decided to do a 30 paintings in 30 days exercise his YACsters had been doing, and found motivation by telling himself, “It does not have to be great, it just has to be done!”
Last Saturday, some of those paintings were featured alongside the clay sculptures of Yves Goyatton and paintings by Hanif Panni at a well-attended opening at Goyatton’s studio in Monterey. The turnout proved a bit too hearty for the relatively small gallery tucked beside a Chinese restaurant and behind Mundos sandwich shop, and the event soon spilled out of the studio and into the back parking lot.
At that opening, I asked Jackson if organizing multiple events so close together was difficult. “I can’t help but use most of my energy," he responded. "I love deadlines.”
Jackson grew up in Anaheim before moving to the Monterey Peninsula. He says that his passions have taken him to some high places, a few lows in the middle, and that now he’s in the midst of a triumphant chapter—collecting and creating art he loves. He continues to mentor future artists, has been asked to be the next featured artist at Del Monte Center's LaLa Grill, and soon he will open an exhibit featuring the works of a fellow artists he respects.
At Goyatton’s studio gallery, an elderly couple approached Jackson. I saw him with the two later that night, the older man carrying a painting by Jackson—his first sale of the night. Perhaps they, like Jackson a decade ago, have plans of building up a collection of works by one special artist with a bright future ahead of him.
Andrew Jackson's Shepard Fairey Collection opens 6-9pm this Saturday at Museum of Monterey, 5 Custom House Plaza, Monterey. Free. 372-2608, 601-7846, http://museumofmonterey.org.