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Arrest shows Shepard Fairey hasn't gone entirely mainstream

He told the Times in 2007: 'I don't have this obsessive need to do street art all the time because it's already opened doors for me. I'm now able to do things that won't . . . get me arrested.'

February 08, 2009|Martha Groves

The red, white and blue "Hope" posters bearing the image of presidential candidate Barack Obama brought worldwide fame to the Los Angeles street artist who created them and arguably helped their subject win the White House.

But Shepard Fairey, a guerrilla artist willing to go to jail for his distinctive graffiti, hasn't gone entirely mainstream.

Fairey was arrested Friday night in Boston on his way to the Institute of Contemporary Art to DJ at a sold-out party kicking off his first solo exhibition, "Supply and Demand." Two arrest warrants had been issued Jan. 24 after police determined that he had tagged property in two locations with his street art campaign featuring Andre the Giant and the word "obey," said Boston police officer James Kenneally.

Fairey, a commercial artist and graphic designer, is to be arraigned Monday, said Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney.

The art institute told the Associated Press that Fairey was released a few hours after his arrest.

The AP also received an e-mail from Fairey's attorney Jeffrey Wiesner. "Shepard Fairey was completely unaware that there were any warrants for his arrest. Had he known, he would have resolved all such issues before the opening of his art exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston," Wiesner said.

Fairey's Obama image has been sold on hundreds of thousands of stickers and posters and was unveiled last month at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington before Obama's inauguration. But the artist is embroiled in a dispute with the Associated Press over whether he illegally used a copyrighted AP photo to produce his Obama poster.

Fairey had spent the last two weeks in Boston installing his solo exhibition at the institute, giving sold-out public talks, being honored by the Rhode Island School of Design (his alma mater), and creating and unveiling outdoor artworks. Those included a 20-by-50-foot banner called "Peace Goddess" on the north side of City Hall and two murals on the Tufts University campus.

The Boston Globe reported that Fairey previously told the paper he had been arrested at least 14 times. On Friday, more than 750 people were awaiting his appearance at the art institute when he was apprehended.

"The street thing is an outlet for me," Fairey told the Los Angeles Times in 2007. "It's the freedom of it that's really exciting."

Yet he added, "I don't have this obsessive need to do street art all the time because it's already opened doors for me. I'm now able to do things that won't be cleaned in a day, that won't get me arrested."

The Institute of Contemporary Art said in a statement Saturday that "we believe Shepard Fairey has made an important contribution in the history of art and to popular thinking about art and its role in society."

Its show, which opened Saturday, is a 20-year survey of his art. His influences include such artists as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.

Institute spokeswoman Donna Desrochers said attendance was high on opening day, "but we expected enthusiasm for the exhibition before the police arrested the artist, so we can't say what impact it has had."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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