Shepard Fairey makes his mark on Detroit

A business, man

Recently, news broke that art giant Shepard Fairey — you might recall his work from the popular "HOPE" posters from Barack Obama's 2008 presidential run — would be in Detroit to bring his Printed Matters show to the Library Street Collective gallery. Soon after, we also learned Fairey would paint what will be his largest mural to date, a 184-foot-wide by 60-foot-tall design on Dan Gilbert's probably-soon-to-be-renamed Compuware Building, in addition to exhibiting in Public Matter, the Library Street Collective's outdoor gallery. (See in-progress photos of Fairey's mural here.)

Fairey is more than one of the biggest names in street art — he's a brand in his own right, having spun his street art into his Obey clothing line. Since the Los Angeles-based artist is such a hot commodity, we couldn't get an interview, but LSC founding partner Anthony Curis kindly answered our questions via email.

Metro Times: How does the Library Street Collective differ from the other art galleries in town?

Anthony Curis: Our gallery's mission is a bit different in that we've taken an active role in working beyond our gallery walls. Don't get me wrong, we are entirely committed to our exhibition programming, but the concept is natural for us in that many of our artists have developed their careers working in public spaces.

MT: When did you first encounter Shepard Fairey's art?

Curis: Many years ago while wandering around Los Angeles.

MT: What can art fans expect at Printed Matters? Will Fairey be at the opening?

Curis: The idea behind Printed Matters is to show the importance of printed materials in Shepard's art. The exhibition will consist of a variety of Shepard's printed works, including serigraphs on paper, editions on wood, editions on metal, and fine art collage. Shepard will definitely be at the opening.

MT: It gets a little confusing (and amusing) that Fairey will exhibit in the LSC's outdoor gallery, Public Matter, and his show is called Printed Matters. But alas, those names were chosen before this corporate merger. Was there any hesitation to stick with that branding in this instance?

Curis: It's really not that confusing, more a coincidence. But it's important each of these titles were maintained as they'll both continue beyond next weekend. Printed Matters is a series of exhibitions so it was imperative for Shepard to continue the name. Similarly, Public Matter is the title of the outdoor exhibition platform in "the Belt" (the newly redeveloped alley located behind the gallery, featuring permanent murals by local, national, and international artists).

MT: Fairey's creating his largest mural ever here in Detroit on Dan Gilbert's Compuware Building. How did that project come together?

Curis: We've been interested in getting Shepard back to Detroit for quite a while. He exhibited with our gallery last December at Art Basel and it was a great experience working together. The actual selection of the mural location came long after we finalized the exhibition details. Our gallery stares at the backside of the (former) Compuware Building and we've always thought it would be an interesting space for public art. We shared the idea with (Gilbert's real estate company) Bedrock and they agreed to help out.

MT: Does Fairey work alone, or does he have a crew executing his ideas? From the scope of the proposed mural, it sounds like a daunting task for one man.

Curis: It's no secret that Shepard is one of the hardest-working artists in the industry. It would be impossible for anyone to execute at that level without the help of a solid team.

MT: On the one hand, Fairey's mural is awesome news for Detroit boosters, as it increases Detroit's street art profile. On the other hand, it's sort of odd for an artist who made a name for himself as a graffiti artist and culture-jammer to align himself commercially with a billionaire like Gilbert. Is a mural commission of this magnitude somewhat unprecedented in the street art world? What do you say to critics who say this means Fairey has "sold out"?

Curis: Shepard isn't aligning himself commercially with anyone. He's painting a public mural in the city of Detroit. Dan's group has stepped up time and time again to help support these endeavors.

MT: When is Fairey expected to wrap up the Compuware mural?

Curis: The mural will (hopefully) be completed prior to opening night of the exhibition on Friday, May 22.

MT: Bedrock has worked with LSC a lot in securing national and international artists to create new work in Detroit (the Z parking garage, the upcoming How & Nosm mural). Can you shed any light on Bedrock's philosophy in funding projects like these?

Curis: It's hard to speak for someone's philosophy, but I give them a lot of credit and appreciate the support they give us. These projects don't necessarily need to happen. I hope they're seeing the benefit in return for the role they've played.

Printed Matters opening reception is from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, May 22. The Library Street Collective is located at 1260 Library St., Detroit; 313-600-7443; Runs until Aug. 15.

Staff writer Lee DeVito opines weekly on arts and culture for the Detroit Metro Times.

About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in Hour Detroit, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged...
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