Real Detroit Weekly: Culture Assault


Shepard Fairey and David Williams May 3, 2001
By: Natalie Haddad

It took a great amount of thought to make it through the 20th Century. Hypotheses to declarations to propaganda to tropes that eventually became the facade of a reality that was no longer real. All wrapped up on December 31 with an apocalypse that wasn’t.

Call it sociology, folks, call it anthropology, but as culture comes prepared with an artificially constructed prologue and an epilogue it leaves a middle ground ripe for the proliferation of predesignated information. From a surplus of information, (subversive) appropriation naturally follows. And art, as the most visible forum for appropriation, gains a cultural relevance far beyond its decorative past.

In the same theoretical strain as appropriation is the abandonment of meaning. Both notions are compelling without explanation, a phenomenon that leads positively to novelty and negatively to anger. And both are employed by San Diego artist Shepard Fairey.

Best known for his ubiquitous “Obey Giant” and “obey giant Has A Posse” stickers featuring simplified images of the late wrestler, Fairey is the contemporary art world’s version of Eugene Ionesco and is currently about as big as a rhinoceros in a living room.

Initially an inside joke between the artist and his skater buddies while he was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, the stickers were intended, primarily, as a sarcastic comment on “skater posses” and the companies that encourage the idea. “I do pay attention to the way people react to things,” Fairey explained. “Once I got to the Rhode Island School of Design, I started questioning what was really art and what the purpose of art was.” With curiosity as his main agenda, quantity was the subtle tactic that brought forth the Giant’s attack – one that began as local, went national and eventually international.

Now the head of Black Market designs, a firm with enough high profile accounts to put Fairey’s “street credibility” at stake, he finds himself secure enough to laugh off the sell-out implications that occasionally surface. “What I try to do is just find a balance between the style of art I want to make and the effect I want to have.”

Similar to Fairey, but with collaged rather than dismissed meaning, is the work of Florida based David Williams. A painter by trade, Williams incorporates familiar signs into a pastiche of symbolism. The result is a pop culture assault so characterized by ambiguity that it leaves the audience more uncomfortable than any clear statement. “Fun and Games” features a cartoon monkey face above small suitcases within a red and yellow split canvas, backed by text. Vivid colors and a utopia/dystopia juxtaposition between each painting’s chosen symbols skip over commentary and straight into psychology, as reactionary tools for the viewer. As a trained illustrator, Williams is well aware of that audience reaction. And if they all come out disturbed, at least its been an interesting ride.

The works of Shepard Fairey and David Williams will be at CPop from May 5-28, with an opening reception from 6-10 p.m., Saturday May 5.