Shepard Fairey Talks Art, Music & Chicago

Courtesy TimeOut Chicago | Jon Furlong

You already know that this year we’re expanding Lolla’s artistic reach by partnering with Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant) to add a fresh artistic element to the Festival weekend with Art Alliance: The Provocateurs. But what you might not know are a few of the fun facts behind Shepard’s creative process, not to mention his hopes for this provocative gallery experience. We caught up with the talented artist to talk all things art, music and Chicago’s creative culture.

What inspired you to bring this group of artists together for Art Alliance: The Provocateurs?

These are all artists who make work that pushes beyond the narrow boundaries of the art world provocatively in one way or another. Some of the artists, like the street and graffiti artists, work in the streets, bypassing the gallery system to create a public dialogue. Other artists have challenging content or aesthetics, while others intertwine their art with music projects that have a built in democracy.

All of the artists are provocateurs even though they come from several genres. The show includes political artpop artsculpture, installation, photography, collage, mosaic, stenciling, graffiti, and music and art collaborations.

What impact do you hope the exhibit will have on people’s perceptions of street art?

Street artists are only one of several groups in the Provocateurs show, but a series of murals in the Chicago streets is a very important component of the show. The city of Chicago has enthusiastically  supported  outdoor murals for several of the artists in the show, so I think street art and graffiti are no longer being strictly decried as vandalism.

Good art resides in many places the art world may not champion or support.

What I’d like to see as a result of the Provocateurs show is a deeper understanding of the validity of all the included art forms. Good art resides in many places the art world may not champion or support.

You’ve said that art and music are increasingly about straddling worlds. In what ways do you think musicians and street artists are most similar?

I learned as much about street art from bands using stencils, stickers, and flyers to promote themselves as I did from graffiti. Punk and early hip-hop were both about hustle, creativity, resourcefulness, and fearlessness far more than virtuosity. Street art shares those traits.

How has the city of Chicago’s architecture, artistic culture and music scene inspired you?

I love the Art Deco architecture in Chicago. I’m a big fan of Deco design and ornamentation. I designed the Provocateurs poster inspired by, and subverting, the Grant Park fountain landmark! I’ve done a good bit of street art and a few art shows in Chicago and always found the locals to be supportive. The City of Chicago has also been enthusiastic about supporting outdoor murals for several of the artists in the show. As far as music goes, Lollapalooza alone is enough music firepower for anyone’s needs!

Tell us a little bit about your own creative process. What is the initial phase of a new work or project like? 

My creative process happens a few different ways. I’m a massive art, design, music, photography, and pop culture book collector, so I’m always inspired by great work from the past. I fuse a lot of styles together in my work, but my intention is to find the right approach stylistically and conceptually for each project. In my personal art and design I often have ideas responding to current events, and I look for references or take photographs that will be useful as I illustrate my idea.

Sometimes I see something that sparks an idea. When I’m presented with a design problem while working with a band or film director, I look at how their needs and my aesthetic preferences can work symbiotically. I create using many mediums. I make illustrations by hand, I design using a Mac, I collage, I screen-print, I make stencils, and I paint.

Do you have a go-to soundtrack or favorite band that helps fuel your art? 

I love a lot of music, but The Clash and Public Enemy always remind that I should aspire to blend great art with great messages in the way they do. When I do street art I like aggressive music like NWA, Ice Cube, Black Flag, Bad Brains, and the Sex Pistols

Art Alliance: The Provocateurs will feature a range of artists from around the world who will be showcasing their work together for the first time under one roof. Art Alliance: The Provocateurs runs from July 31 – August 4 at Chicago’s Block 37.