Shepard Fairey and the Art of the Record Cover

Shepard Fairey at Subliminal Projects

This week I had the privilege of doing a review of Shepard Fairey’s latest exhibition at his Echo Park gallery, Subliminal Projects. The essay, SHEPARD FAIREY: 50 Shades of Black, will be published on line and in print by Artscene in May. This is a socially activist street artist I greatly admire: I admire his dedication to social causes, which he combines with his open-minded art. A postmodern artist of bricoulage, Fairey mashes-up his immersion in popular culture and recycles the old into something new. For an art historian, it is fun to track his sources and to follow his artistic traces back to some possible sources, which in recent years have been Soviet agit-prop.876612075_12d1e81eab_o

The “shades of black” in this exhibition refers, I think, to the topic of nostalgic celebration, the now-antique vinyl record, which is black. Fairey has a huge collection of records dating back to the seventies, his childhood days in South Carolina. The opening this Wednesday will share this collection with the public who can spin and listen to his historical and valuable collection. The 52, I think, refers to the number of new album covers Fairey designed for the exhibition. In doing research for this review, I learned a lot (that I had forgotten) about album covers, one of the great forms of contemporary art.

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Fairey’s covers are true post-modern borrowings and quotations of aesthetics of the early days of the “phonograph” and his album cover designs echo Art Deco via Hollywood in brown (an homage to the brown paper sleeves for the first vinyls) and black. I can’t go to the—I teach too late—but I can imagine which records I would put on the turntables, ease the needle down into the groove and, as I ease the headphones over my ears, I will remember all those hours I spent listening to music, doing my homework, and singing along to Jackson Brownes’ “Running on Empty.”

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

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