The famed artist provocateur returns to his native Charleston, South Carolina, showing with Jasper Johns and creating a series of public murals
This week, Shepard Fairey will convert the derelict Sottile Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina, into a theater of his own, filling the space with piles of bricks, broken light fixtures, dilapidated filing cabinets, and other “detritus leftover from the American dream,” as Mark Sloan, director of the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, calls it.
Adorned with propaganda-inspired posters and illuminated by the flickering glow of a 7-foot-long neon sign (also crafted by the artist), the site will resemble a post-apocalyptic military conscription office.
The artist’s new establishment is an extension of his multi-site exhibition at the Halsey Institute, opening Thursday. Titled “The Insistent Image: Recurrent Motifs in the Art of Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns,” the show will present recent works by Fairey together with a survey of prints by Jasper Johns, who also grew up in South Carolina. Additionally, four murals by the street artist will be on view throughout Charleston.
For the exhibition, Fairey created a new series of works on paper called “Power & Glory,” which will be presented with prints made by Jasper Johns between 1982 and 2012 at Universal Limited Art Editions. The two artists’ works will be mounted in separate gallery spaces within the Halsey, but will both demonstrate how the meaning and function of quotidian objects—flags, stars, chevrons, sunbeams—can be inverted through manipulation and repetition. The Johns portion of the show, for example, features the 1986 lithograph Ventriloquist. Johns inserted a green, black, and yellow interpretation of the American flag into the center of this cryptic jumble of forms and patterns, stripping the icon of its patriotic function.
The Fairey section will present commercial ad slogans and pop images remixed into ominous warnings about oil, industry, and politics. Executed in his signature “OBEY” style, the “Power & Glory” series cautions viewer about the consequences of excess. His silkscreen and mixed-media collage This New Wave is a Little Slick for My Taste, for example, features a black, Hokusai-esque tidal wave rising off the coast of a smoggy landmass. Standing in the distance is an oil distillation tower, warning that natural destruction is the real price of oil. And in Empire State of Mind, an image of a tower resembling the Empire State Building is rendered in the graphic style of a Russian Constructivist poster. Instead of a tall spire, the landmark is topped with an oilrig and a burning flame—a satirical ode to overconsumption.
Fairey has also taken his “Power & Glory” messages to the streets of Charleston, in the form of four murals that are being installed near the Halsey Institute. These site-specific works include a massive advertisement for green energy on the side of the college’s College Lodge dormitory; a collage of “OBEY” insignia on the façade of a downtown distillery called the High Wire Distilling Co.; and a Johns-inspired rendition of the American flag mounted on the wall of a local deli.
The final mural is the most potent—an image of Fairey’s indelible “Big Brother” character plastered on the roof of the Francis Marion Hotel.
Presiding over the city like a flag planted in a conquered land, Fairey’s icon cements his artistic takeover of downtown Charleston.