3 Highlights From Our New Favorite Sidewalk
A Street Art Walk of Shepard Fairey’s Lower East Side
Few other artists of the last decade have left their mark on national politics, American culture, and the country’s zeitgeist as much as Shepard Fairey. While he may not be a household name, Fairey’s works are beyond-iconic. Fairey’s two-tone portrait of Andre the Giant pops up around the world as part of a DIY art movement, stickered to street lamps, sign posts and walls. Fairey’s “street merchandise” company, OBEY, is one of the most popular clothing brands in the US.
But above all else, Fairey is best known for his 2008 portrait of President Barack Obama, titled Hope. It was deemed by Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic for The New Yorker as, “the most efficacious American political illustration since 'Uncle Sam Wants You.”
Fairey's works are easy to recognize. He specializes in large-scale intricate stencil art, screen printing and collages, flushed in black, white and red. Often, the subject matter is a faux propaganda poster or a politically-charged portrait. The works command attention.
Fairey’s aesthetic one that meshes two worlds, which perhaps explains the popularity. His style was honed as much from the skateboarding and graffiti culture of his childhood, as the studios and peer critiques of his undergraduate life at the Rhode Island School of Design. As such, Fairey’s canvases belong as much on the streets as on the walls of a museum, though this is not an easy balancing act; Fairey has admitted that he still struggles to balance the tension of being "too corporate” and “too gritty.”
Fairey was asked in an interview why he still paints street art when he could instead focus exclusively on money-making works. His response: My reason for loving street art was always just putting art where people live instead of making them have to go to a gallery or a museum.
Shepard Fairey just launched a new solo exhibition in Los Angeles. Check out “Damaged” at the Library Street Collective on 1650 Naud Street to see a collection of 200 politically charged works. The show runs through through December 17, 2017. No tickets required.
In honor of Fairey’s exhibition, we present a contrasting “street edition” of Shepard Fairey’s works. With permission from Alexis, the guide who authored, “Shepard Fairey's Lower East Side: Stencils, Murals & Street Art,” here are highlights from three stops on her walk.
To explore the other four stops of the LES street art Sidewalk, check out Alexis’ Sidewalk’s preview, download the Sidewalk app and see it with your own eyes.
Guide Point 1 - "We Own The Future" Mural - 161 Bowery
At 37 feet x 27 ft, the We Own The Future mural commands your attention. The 2014 mural above 161 Bowery features an amalgamation of a dove and a phoenix: symbols of peace and resurrection.
The full message is a little difficult to see from street level, but it says, "We own the future. Transform our world with creative response."
In an interview Shepard Fairey took while painting the mural, he admitted: [The mural] really about the idea of art and creativity in general being a good way to communicate and [being] a positive way to communicate.
Be sure to walk uptown a little past the mural and take a u-turn to see behind it. You'll find block art of Michelangelo (ninja turtle, not Renaissance painter), a Buddha face and some tags.
Guidepoint 3 - 4 Rivington St.
Our second Shepard Fairey mural can be found on the southern side of Rivington. Painted in 2011, the giant work includes a lotus flower, crescent moon, OBEY logo and the Andre the Giant motif in the star.
This is a fully stenciled mural. Fairey created a multi-sheet stencil, rode up to the second floor in a industrial cherry picker, taped the stencil to the building and spray painted. See the pic above for how it was done.
Just a couple of paces down Rivington are two personal favorite spots to check out.
- Morgenstern's Finest Ice Cream - there is always a line, but if it isn't too long, it is worth popping in for a scoop of Salted Pretzel Caramel, Burnt Honey, Banana Curry or some other hipster flavor.
- Giant-eyed faces painted by Brazilian street artist Nina Pandolfo - Each whimsical portrait is framed by stencil motifs of critters, clouds and flowers.
Guide Point 7: CBGB Mural at Saxon + Parole
This is the newest Shepard Fairey addition to the neighborhood, painted in August 2017. It features late 70s punk star Debbie Harry of Blondie.
The mural is reserved for celebrating CBGB, the legendary punk music club that was located at the T at 315 Bowery, where the John Varvatos store is today. The previous mural featured Joey Ramone.
Enjoy Fairey's mural while you can. Due to its fame and low height, the mural is inevitably going to be tagged over or defaced in some way.
For a broader view, stand on the sidewalk near the Think Coffee across the street. While you are there, there is usually some fun street art hanging from the exterior brick facade.