Having first risen to prominence with his “Andre The Giant Has A Posse” sticker campaign in the late ’80s, renowned graphic design artist and South Carolina native Shepard Fairey has become a household name in recent years with the likes of his iconic “HOPE” poster from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, TIME cover, the growth of OBEY, and countless exhibitions at galleries across the globe. Recently commissioned by The Rolling Stones to design the imagery for the band’s 50th anniversary tour, Fairey spoke with GQ as he prepped his latest exhibition – the music-centric “Sound & Vision” display at London’s StolenSpace Gallery. While providing a tour of the new collection of works, Fairey discussed how his “HOPE” poster would appear in 2012, his thoughts on losing his legal battle with the Associated Press, working with the Stones, music’s affect on his work, and more. “Sound & Vision” will remain open through this Sunday, November 4, while Fairey’s backdrop for The Rolling Stones made its debut when the band played a surprise gig in Paris – its first live performance in five years – on October 25.
If you had to remake that poster in 2012, what word would you use instead of “Hope”?
If I were to make the same poster again it would imply that I had not experienced that past four years. That poster was based on an optimism that Obama could be a transformative figure and also that the people in both parties would be constructive enough to try and facilitate that transformation. So that I am unhappy with the way things are right now is not just a reflection on Obama – in fact it’s much more of a reflection on the dysfunction of the system and the apathy of the American populace. But I guess it would probably be something about tenacity: “Follow Through”, or “Patience”. Because the problem is with American politics right now, people are really impatient. It took thirty years of f***ing it up to get to 2008 – since Reagan. Gradually seeing regulation decreased in financial areas, the abuses that were happening there and the amount of money that was sucked out of the economy by very few people. Rather than people blaming the Citizens United supreme court decision and deregulation and Republican obstructionism, they just go “Obama hasn’t fixed it yet.”
Has the court verdict on the Hope poster changed your perspective on copyright?
My perspective on “fair use” is still the same, but my understanding of how painful it can be to get embroiled in a law suit is going to make me consider how I work to protect myself from that. But regardless, I’m still going to champion the concept of fair use. It’s not that all intellectual property should be free for the taking, it’s that new creations that are unique and valuable – even if you can see the evolution from something pre-existing – need to be allowed. That’s the nature of language and communication and is how culture evolves. Holding that back means that only the people that control things and have a lot of money can say things exactly the way they want to say them. I license images, I work with photographers and compensate photographers, so to see me portrayed as someone who doesn’t respect intellectual property – it’s not true and it’s not fair.
The interview in its entirety can be read here.