After ‘Hope,’ and Lawsuit, Shepard Fairey Tries Damage Control


Shepard Fairey in his Los Angeles studio holding a stencil that is one of his tools for artmaking. The telephone booth is part of a mock newsstand installation in his upcoming gallery show. Credit Jake Michaels for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — By just about any measure, it’s been a long time since the street artist Shepard Fairey managed to capture the optimism of Barack Obama’s candidacy in his “Hope” poster, the stylized portrait in red, white and blue tones that easily ranks as the most famous, also ubiquitous, artwork of 2008.

Mr. Fairey’s oldest daughter, then 2 years old, is now almost a teenager. The “Hope” image became the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit by The Associated Press that was both expensive and embarrassing for the artist. Mr. Fairey, who is 47, has since gone on to create art for activist movements like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March.

And now “Damaged” — his biggest gallery show yet, with about 200 new paintings, prints and illustrations made since 2015 — is set to open on Nov. 11 in a Chinatown warehouse, the same day a documentary on the artist has its premiere on Hulu. The mood of the exhibition: what happens when hope gets trampled but not killed.

“Our approach to the environment is damaged, our political system is damaged and our communication with each other — especially through social media — is deteriorating,” Mr. Fairey said, ticking off themes in his new work. “But this show is not all about me being angry and apocalyptic; I’m trying to diagnose problems and move forward.”

The painting “Golden Future,” 2017, from Mr. Fairey’s new exhibition, “Damaged.” It highlights U.S. efforts to restrict the flow of immigrants from certain countries.Credit Jake Michaels for The New York Times

You could call it an attempt at damage control, something Mr. Fairey knows about firsthand. As the Hulu documentary by James Moll shows, Mr. Fairey has gone from great heights to dramatic lows in the last decade. He’s risen from cult figure to cultural reference point on “The Simpsons” to committing what he now calls his biggest blunder during the course of the A.P. lawsuit when he lied to his lawyers about exactly which A.P. photograph he used as the source of the “Hope” image and deleted files from his computer to cover up the truth.

So on top of settling the A.P. lawsuit in 2011 for an undisclosed amount, he ended up paying $25,000 in fines and serving a two-year probation for federal charges of tampering with evidence. Now, in the film, he is issuing his most public mea culpa, calling his lapse of judgment “the first time I felt so overwhelmed that I did something cowardly.”


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