Brooklyn Street Art

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OBEY MARTHA: Shepard Fairey Pays a Large Tribute to Martha Cooper and “Defiant Youth” in New York

Sidewalk Philosopher Fairey Talks about New York, LA, Hype, May Day and this country of immigrants while pasting a building-sized ovation to a photographer and her work.

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey and Team begin placement of large new piece in Soho.

Street artist Shepard Fairey was out on the streets of New York again yesterday in advance of his Saturday opening at Deitch Projects. This time it was to put up a large portrait based on a black and white photograph by Martha Cooper called “Defiant Youth”.

“Defiant Youth”, by Martha Cooper (©)
“Defiant Youth”, by Martha Cooper (©)

While the original photo presented a group of young boys aligned in a semi-militaristic configuration, the Fairey version slightly altered the number and postures to achieve his graphic sense of balance. Cooper’s images have served as inspiration for many artists over the years and also have been re-interpreted. Read our interview with her about the subject HERE.

Ms. Cooper, an ethnographer, was also on hand to capture the moment yesterday, snapping many photos and happily reflecting on what it was like to be a female on the scene running around with graffiti writers in the 70′s. While she could see how some female photographers might have run into sexism in a predominantly male enterprise, Martha said that most of the writers thought little of her gender. They were taking photos of their work anyway and were happy to have a photographer around capturing their stuff before it disappeared.

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey holding one of the roses soon to be stuffed in the end of a gun (photo ©Jaime Rojo)

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey (photo ©Jaime Rojo)

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

During a break from the job, Mr. Fairey talked to BSA for a couple of minutes:

Brooklyn Street Art: What’s the difference between putting work up in LA and putting up in New York

Shepard Fairey: Well, in LA you have to do everything big because everybody’s in a car. In New York there is a lot of foot traffic so even the smallest sticker is going to get seen by people walking around. I think also in New York you want to integrate your stuff into the landscape in a way that makes sense with all the other art and architecture. LA is more sort of a wasteland – you know it’s built on top of a desert and there are a lot of flat spaces and a lot more open spaces.

I think New York has got more character and you can really put your work up in a way that makes sense with the other structures and the other art. LA is more of a free-for-all; You’ve got billboards and walls and fences and boarded up things that are always changing. Other than that it’s just the scale. For years I didn’t put anything up in New York. I just put up stickers and stencils on the lamp bases, which were a perfect canvas. And then later on I started to go a little big bigger with posters and then even bigger so I could do roof tops because getting yourself higher up where it’s harder to get to makes it run longer. I just enjoy walking in New York – and you’ve gotta do everything driving in LA.

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: How about the reception from the public? Do you think there’s more hype in LA? Are people warmer in the way they relate to your work – or do you see any difference?

Shepard Fairey: I think people are more aggressive and caustic in New York in general. It’s more dense. There’s more of an old-school sort of proprietary nature to all of culture and sub-culture in New York: whether it’s an old landlord or an old graffiti writer, people are sort of full of piss and vinegar in New York. But I think the challenge of doing things in New York against all these elements is one of the great things about it. It’s a little more laid-back in LA.

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As far as hype – there is hype everywhere. In LA I think, recently street art became more of a popular thing so all sorts of young actors and people like that who don’t know that much about the culture latch onto it so it trends in a way that’s a little bit different but…. You know, there is hype everywhere.

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey at work against a clear NYC sky. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Shepard with his assistants
Shepard with his team at the end of the job (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: As May Day approaches, people have been talking about the current anti-immigration laws in this country, specifically in Arizona, which are very draconian and harsh. Are you going to do a campaign in response to it, or how do you feel about the topic?

Shepard Fairey: You haven’t been looking at my website. My immigration reform posters that I actually created last year for May 1st are back up. I’ve printed up a new batch and collaborated with my friend Ernesto, who I worked on stuff last year with also. I’m working with some different organizations.

From the Obeygiant.com website, “The continual persecution and exploitation of immigrants continues to grow in the United States of America. Anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB1070 and national initiatives like Secure Communities and the 287(g) program have set this country back 60 years to a civil rights crisis. Hate crimes and racial hate groups are on the rise targeting latinos and immigrants, blaming these communities for the ales of society. On May 1st 2010 the voices of this community will be heard once again throughout this country denouncing the anti-immigrant sentiments. The purpose of these images and prints are to gain awareness and action to help change and improve immigration policy and perceptions. All the proceeds from these prints will go towards community based projects. ”
From the Obeygiant.com website, “The continual persecution and exploitation of immigrants continues to grow in the United States of America. Anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB1070 and national initiatives like Secure Communities and the 287(g) program have set this country back 60 years to a civil rights crisis. Hate crimes and racial hate groups are on the rise targeting latinos and immigrants, blaming these communities for the ails of society. On May 1st 2010 the voices of this community will be heard once again throughout this country denouncing the anti-immigrant sentiments. The purpose of these images and prints are to gain awareness and action to help change and improve immigration policy and perceptions. All the proceeds from these prints will go towards community based projects. ”

Yeah, I’m an immigrant. My family is originally from Europe. Everybody in this country other than the Native Americans are immigrants so to me it’s really ridiculous to not treat people like human beings just because they are not citizens. It’s a country that’s really founded on the idea of pursuing a better life and so it seems very ridiculous to not respect that ambition today but respect it from a hundred or two hundred years ago. It’s a complex issue because populations are growing and we are running out of space and resources but I think the way it’s being handled – it’s not aligned with the ideas about human rights that I think this country was founded on so I’d like to see it done a little differently.

Martha Cooper (foreground) Shepard and Tanley from Arrested Motion (background)
Martha Cooper (foreground) with Shepard and Tanley Wong from Arrested Motion (background) (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Obey!
Obey! (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper’s Influence: Inspiration, Imitation, and Flattery
Martha Cooper on 12 oz. Prophet
Obey Giant Website
New York May 1 Coalition
May Day Shepard Fairey Exhibition
Arrested Motion Website