Now, to start this off with the right tone – It’s not because I don’t think Fairey appropriates older artwork as a basis for his work: He does. Unabashedly.
Actually – as far as I’m aware, there is no such thing as a Fairey Original, aside from perhaps a notepad doodle here and there. The guys entire career is based upon putting four letters at the bottom of an old poster and hanging up enough of them to get noticed.
My point is, it appears that the greatest indictment of Fairey here is that he is successful. Had he continued to suffer in relative obscurity, he’d be held up as a folk art hero. After he died with a heroin needle in his liver or whatever, his shit would moulder and then be the subject of documentaries and many tear filled eulogy for his genius. But his success has tipped the scale from “art” to something more like “business” and that puts a sour taste in the mouth for some.
I’m guilty of this from time to time. I think that success ruined Liz Phair’s music. Her Girlysound era was magnificent, we repack them into Exile in Guyville and it’s chocolate covered gold. By the time we get to Whip Smart the wheels are already coming off, and pretty soon I’m listening to her sing some lukewarm pop through a Lindsay Lohan Mr. Microphone.
But what I don’t do is deny the genius of her earlier work. I’ll acknowledge that his more recent stuff is “meh” made real. I’ll stand up and say that using these source works and not citing them in some way UP FRONT and not only when confronted is annoying, petty, and smacks of intellectual theft. But Fairey’s original OBEY work and many, many others are fantastic. He’s a pop art visual remix genius who had the bad luck to get recognized in his own time, and for that everybody wants to punish him.