Given the democratic values of Shepard Fairey and his work, I had the appropriate opportunity to cover his monumental solo show, ‘Damaged,’ not from the exclusive Press preview the evening before- but from the crowd of People on the opening night. These reflections come to you straight from the belly of fans, that if an outsider witnessed, would swear wasn’t there for an art reception but a Rock ‘N Roll show. Well, in both literal and figurative ways, it was! If there’s anyone alive who’s achieved the status of rock star as visual artist, it’s Shepard. Fortunately for us all, it’s in no small part because his message is so vital and empowering to those who hear it.
Facilitated by Library Street Collective, ‘Damaged’ is the largest showcase of Shepard Fairey’s work to date, and the largest exhibit in his hometown of Los Angeles in about 10 years. It’s more than two solid years in the making, and includes roughly 200 pieces.
It goes without saying that Shepard Fairey and his work have forged a category all their own. As massive as his success as an artist/designer, he may now be more recognized as a spokesperson of and agitator for the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants.
Shepard’s work has long expressed concern for social, political and environmental issues that many of us either remain unaware of, or have become desensitized to. It implies the need for reform in both our educational and media systems. Respectively, they all too often leave us in the dark or numbed. In a culture where we’re either under or over exposed, how will we find the ‘happy’ medium?
‘Damaged,’ is Shepard’s answer to this question. Indeed, as happens in truly inspired art, the messages that come to us through his work are as if channeled from a higher place of guidance.
In this masterful culmination of his abilities and thought, he amplifies his already far-reaching call to the world, to join in taking back its power. He encourages his audience to gather their own knowledge, find their own voice and take their own action. Before any of this can happen, it’s imperative that people recognize that they have something valuable to say. However insignificant it may seem, it makes a difference!
A quote by Margaret Meade comes to mind, that Shepard’s work seeks to imbue in peoples’ hearts: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The mark of a great creative mind, Shepard and his projects continue to blossom outward like the unfolding petals of the lotus flower often seen in his imagery. Sculpture, installation and performance are new branches growing off his body of creation.
‘OBEY GIANT,’ the documentary on Shepard’s life/work produced in collaboration with Hulu, The Art of Elysium, Elysium Bandini and directed by James Moll, was released on 11/11- the same day as the opening of his massive solo show. It’s clear there will be no limit to the media Shepard utilizes to spread his message, or the spheres into which he ventures.
Perhaps the most significant elements of the show, as they perfectly embody Shepard’s humanitarian, DIY-loving AND educator natures, are those he prepared to give away to his admirers. Shepard produced his own newspaper, ‘The Damaged Times,’ for visitors to have in hand and peruse in depth at a later time. It includes perhaps more writing of his ideas than anything he has included in a prior show. I can see Shepard transitioning even further into being a writer- with all that he has to say taking on more extensive verbal forms in conjunction with his visuals.
Above and beyond this, he not only gifted free prints that can become stencils, he posted a video on Instagram instructing people on how simple it is to make and use their own!
With the high level of promotion of this milestone event, the turnout for the opening revealed a Posse the size of which even Shepard and his team did not anticipate. Lines stretched as far as the eye could see, winding their way around the museum-like Chinatown warehouse that serves as the show’s temporary gallery. While not everyone was able to make it into the event, even these people were able to enjoy the live music that is also a hallmark of many of Shepard’s shows.
I imagine that in the future there will be productions even more tailored to this scale of response. The masses who showed up and cared enough to wait on the chance they’d find entry, is a testament- not only to how far-reaching, but to how deeply Shepard’s work hits so many. The art, but even moreso Shepard’s sincerely humble, caring and impassioned demeanor, speaks to people on not only a global but a personal level. It’s not only aesthetically potent, it translates for people into practical, doable changes they can enact in their everyday lives. And there is nothing more inspiring, than a sense of agency to make a difference.
Shepard manages to walk the challenging tight rope of being widely known and impactful, while still making himself and his work as accessible as possible to the greatest number of folks. It’s an example for us all that we can rise, unlimited, into the most accomplished versions of ourselves- and this doesn’t take away from anyone else. On the contrary, the larger we allow ourselves to grow, the more we have to give to others, and the wider of an influence we can have on our reality.
Shepard’s work implores us: now is the time for us to stop being small- precisely by knowing that the small actions are anything but. We must- to a twist another quote by Margaret Mead-
“Always remember that, just like everyone else, we are absolutely unique.”
Our individual perspectives, insights and expressions are absolutely needed.
So, in Shepard’s words and by his example, let’s all, “Get out there. Do Something!”
“Damaged” by Shepard Fairey
November 11- December 17, 2017
The gallery will reopen on Wednesday, November 15th
Gallery hours are Wed – Sunday (11am – 6pm)
1650 Naud Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
Photo Credit: Lauren Over and MX Farina. Top Photo is of (L-R) Amanda Fairey, Flavor Flav, Shepard Fairey