FIRST LOOK | SHEPARD FAIREY’S “THE INSISTENT IMAGE” WITH JASPER JOHNS AT THE HALSEY INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART
South Carolina native Shepard Fairey proved once and for all to his hometown that crime pays when he commandeered Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art last week for the opening of his academically titled exhibition, The Insistent Image: Recurrent Motifs in the Art of Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns. Of course, the most eye-catching detail in that title is the name of art legend “Jasper Johns,” alongside whom Fairey is showing, but not as a collaboration. Explains show curator Mark Sloan, “I’m not making any attempt to compare their works at all. I’m just using the same curatorial premise for two different artists.”
That said, it should also be noted that Fairey’s personal body of work on display in the exhibition—which includes paintings & sculptures—is actually titled Power & Glory, chosen to reflect the deeply political tone of the work which addresses the rise of American government, Big Brother, and the decay of the increasingly-elusive American Dream. Explains Fairey, “capitalism needs a referee and that referee needs to be the government. And if the government is a partner, not a referee, that’s bad for the average person. I want democracy to work right. There are a lot of incredibly great things about America, but rather than being a nationalist and just assuming that everything that’s happening in the country is great because I’m a loyal American, I actually think patriotism is about critiquing things when they deviate from the original conceptions of justice and pursuit of happiness and personal liberty.”
Jasper Johns is represented in the show by a series of sixteen prints made in collaboration with master printmaker Bill Goldston at Universal Limited Art Editions in New York. This selection emphasizes many of Johns’ recurrent motifs and themes over the past 30 years including flags, the face/vase optical illusion, targets, galaxies, gestures from American Sign Language, and fragments of works by famous artists such as Picasso, Holbein, da Vinci, and George Ohr, and others. It’s all interesting stuff for sure, but Johns’ participation feels a bit like a side note to Fairey’s overwhelming presence, though Shepard does stitch things together by incorporating some Johns visual themes in his own work as an obvious homage to the American art hero.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Shepard Fairey event without some public artwork and Shep & Co took to the streets in force to plaster downtown Charleston with murals and illegal street pieces, ensuring his fame won’t be forgotten in the homeland anytime soon.
Take that, former high school bullies…
Shepard Fairey: Hometown Hero
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