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Inside Shepard Fairey's Studio With Future Tongue

“Reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard.”

Los Angeles-based art collective Future Tongue recently paid a visit to Shepard Fairey’s studio and gallery in Echo Park. Situated in a nondescript location between two taco trucks, his workspace reflects his craft as it’s filled with artwork that he’s been collecting and trading over the years, along with his musical inspirations of metal, punk rock and hip-hop blasting throughout the office. Fairey has stayed quite busy as of late — from designing T-shirts to painting murals — so it’s befitting to see how he’s able to manage everything and stay true to himself. Read a few excerpts from the interview below and head over to Future Tongue for the full story.

The Beginning:

I started drawing when I was a little kid, probably 3 or 4 years old. My passion for it grew over time. I don’t think I took it that seriously yet, but I won the First Grade Art Contest with a drawing of an aircraft carrier.

Initial Inspiration:

Album covers, skateboard graphics, and t-shirt graphics. I did traditional drawing in high school, but I also fell in love with making stencils that were my interpretations of punk and skateboard iconography.

Process: Hand Painted Multiples

I studied illustration and photography in art school, but I never wanted to be an illustrator. I liked things that were graphic, which led me to fall in love with screen printing. I was also a huge fan of artists like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who use a lot of texture in their work. The paintings I do now frequently incorporate more than one, if not all of those techniques and aesthetics. I usually begin with an illustration then scan it into the computer to work out color, composition, typography, and other ornamental elements. Once I’m happy with my digital sketch, I make stencils and screens, which I apply over backgrounds I collage.

I also do some traditional painting and use pieces of cut paper built up in relief on the surface of the canvases. The nice thing about these techniques is that there’s a lot of latitude for experimentation. Any stenciling, printing, painting, or collage that I don’t like, I can cover with more of the same techniques. I like the tension between the graphic and the organic that happens in the paintings, which is very different from my screen prints.

The Road to Success:

The good thing about getting used to poverty, which I did for many years, is that a minor degree of success that pulls you out of that, seems like a miracle. I’ve always done what was important to me philosophically as an artist, and the commercial success has been a fortunate, but not calculated byproduct.

Favorite Lyric:

From Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype” – “Reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard” – because to me that’s a succinct and cool way of saying it’s important to reach high and low culture, to be street and elite, and that’s my philosophy.

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