Take That, Splasher!

From left, Shepard Fairey's No Thanks (2007); Fairey's strong>You were recently quoted in New York's piece about “The Splasher.Peace Goddess.
Image courtesy of the artist and Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York.

Back in town for his first local solo show in seven years, RISD-trained street-art wunderkind, and habitual “splasher” victim Shepard Fairey takes it inside for two concurrent shows, the first of which opens tonight at 81 Front Street. In a slight departure from his stickers, brick-wall interventions, and lucrative commercial work, Fairey is showing five large-scale, poster-based installations in a rented space in Dumbo in addition to a full poster expo at Jonathan LeVine’s Chelsea gallery. Fairey talked to Vulture about street art, splashers, and the capitalist conundrum.

So how did this Dumbo show come about?
As you move up in the art world and get close to the top of that pyramid, it’s a narrower and narrower audience. That’s not what I’m interested in at all. The Dumbo show is in this street-level, 6600-square-foot space. It’s been hot as fuck, so we’ve had the doors open while we’re installing. People have just been wandering in — everyone from video producers to homeless people — and that really excites me. It’s unintimidating, and that’s what’s important.

You were recently quoted in New York's piece about “The Splasher.” I take it you’re familiar with his work?
He’s splashed almost every one of my pieces, but sometimes it takes him four months to get to them. Some people are all, ‘What statement are they making?’ Any arguments in favor of this kind of thing are incredibly flimsy, but at least it gets people talking and any dialogue about street art is always good to have.

So, does it bother you?
Sure, I’m irritated, but every piece I’ve ever done on the street gets undone eventually. I think people who don’t do street art are more bummed out by this than the artists. They look at it as sacred, but the street artists have this understanding that everything they do will ultimately be destroyed.

Do you have any suspects?
The magazine article was the most illuminating thing I’ve read on it. I guess the guy who worked with Swoon is the most logical explanation. I don’t get why no one’s just had him followed. Maybe I’m at a different place with my obsession, but I think he needs to be caught. I’m totally about peace, but I’m totally about justice too. I wouldn’t kill him. I’d just beat him up.

You’ve recently made a name for yourself with movie posters and some major ad campaigns. Do you take a lot of heat for your commercial endeavors?
Every college student whose parents still pay their rent has got some stupid opinion about it that’s totally naïve. Posters, stickers, getting arrested, paying fines, travel — it all costs money and I couldn’t have done that stuff otherwise. It’s a matter of people being realistic. You’re a writer — let’s say you’re criticized for having work printed in a magazine. And people are saying, “You need to write all your shit in chalk on the sidewalk, you fucking piece of shit sell out.” What would you do?

Touché.—Rachel Wolff

Related: The Vandalism Vandal [NYM]