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Street artist Shepard Fairey announces landmark Dubai show

Words by Rob Chilton

From sticker art on the streets of New York to iconic pieces of political activism, Fairey’s creative journey has been long and varied

Shepard Fairey is the guy who made the ‘Hope’ portrait of Barack Obama in 2008 that became one of the most recognisable images of the last decade. More recently, he opposed Donald Trump with his series of posters entitled We The People.

“I designed my art to make people question things,” he says. “As I learned more about what art and ideas effectively connect with people, I developed a more sophisticated understanding of social and political issues. By doing so, I became more topical with my art and more directly connected to activism.”

Fairey, 50, started out as a street artist in the late 1980s making what he calls “fun and mischievous” sticker art on buildings in New York City in the middle of the night featuring French wrestler Andre the Giant, a design motif that later became the Obey Giant brand.

Iconic 2008 poster of Barack Obama

“I think I started to realise that my own art could make an impact when my early sticker campaign started getting attention from both the underground and some more mainstream media in the 1990s,” he says.

Fairey works in several mediums – canvas, wood, paper and metal – and gets his ideas from numerous sources, most of which are found in the city. “I’m inspired by album packaging, skateboard graphics, poster design and all the graphics you find in the cityscape, including street art and graffiti,” he explains. “I am inspired by music and its lyrics, articles, and books. The urban landscape has so many different stimulating things, from architecture to hand-painted signs to advertising and commercial signage. I always get ideas cruising around big cities.”

Fairey at work

A fan of Middle Eastern fabric and tile designs, Fairey is excited to show his work in Dubai. “One of the beautiful things about art is the latitude for interpretation that allows people to discover something new while also feeling a connection to something familiar,” he says. “I am hoping that the work that I bring to Dubai will draw the viewers into my work in a more profound way. Art can help people see things as both unique and universal.”

In the works for more than a year, the exhibition will inhabit the opera Gallery in DIFC. Fairey says the pieces on display “stand for the same values as Dubai: justice, peace and human rights,” adding, “I hope that people will get an understanding of my belief that we are world citizens and that we all have a lot in common.” Art fans in Dubai should keep their eyes peeled this month because Fairey will create a mural somewhere in the city, details of which he refuses to reveal.

Lotus Angel on canvas

Fairey’s Obey Giant image

Gilles Dyan, founder and chairman of Opera Gallery Group says Fairey’s influence is huge. “Very few street artists have managed to make a trans-generational and cultural impact the way Shepard has,” he says. “What makes Shepard’s body of work so unique is the seemingly simple message that the canvases convey, carrying so much more than what meets the eyes. Pieces need to be analysed, contextualised, and all of the sudden they become more than the sum of their parts.”

For Fairey, he continues to see things that he wishes to respond to with his art. “I think like an upstart and an outsider and I hope that the things I do with my art and how I do them encourage people to use their voices and their creativity even though they may not have the same connections or resources that I do,” he explains.

“I am always excited about learning and experiencing new things that I can build into my art practice and philosophy. Only boring people get bored.”

Future Mosaic opens March 15 and can be viewed by appointment only

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