Supertouch has a little response to the infamous article questioning the validity of the work of now unquestionably famous artist Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant). The original article, written by artist Mark Vallen makes accusations of plagiarism and states several examples. Supertouch claims the appropriation of other imagery has been an artform/movement in and of itself for a long time now.

Read up at Supertouch and see how you feel about the issue. With the internet making so much imagery so readily available now this is not something that is going to go away anytime soon and will most definitely continue to be a hot topic within our profession. I myself appropriate imagery into a lot of my work.

So leave a comment and spark up some debate. Let me and the other readers out there know what you think about this. I think it really gets some people ruffled and I also think there may be a generational divide shaping up here because I definitely see a lot of younger designers and artists appropriating imagery more and more.

written by Christopher | tags: , , ,

19 Responses to “The Art of Appropriation”

  1. Weston Deboer Says:


    Figure it out for yourself.

  2. Big Lightning Says:

    Fairey takes graphic icons from the past and re-presents them in a manner which illustrates the message inherent in his work. It’s is his message however, that’s the deciding factor for me.

    Anyone familiar with his work can recognize one of his pieces immediately, regardless of the references it contains. His a signature style and the originality of the ideas he has presented us with make it difficult for me to accuse him of ‘biting’ despite the fact that his vocabulary is largely borrowed.

    I guess it’s because I grew up on Hip Hop. Sample, scratch, remix – find the baddest dusty old bit of wax in the bottom of a bin (internet, library, book.. whatever) and drop it at the perfect moment.. if you make 2 + 2 = 5 it’s yours.

    It’s his.

    His next challenge might be to invent a few new icons for our grandkids to unearth.

  3. Christopher Says:

    I was actually trying to promote a little healthy discourse, not just randomly typing something into the Google. Plus, I think that kind of misses the point. You can appropriate existing imagery and still produce something new and original. At least I think so.

  4. will Says:

    is his message his own? have you seen John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE?

    damn, i ring flashes really make portraits pop. i wish i had one.

  5. allenboe Says:

    I think this horse has been beat to death. I do think his main stream fame due to the Obama work will be much more of a curse to him in the long run because it’s going to bring his work under even broader scrutiny. And I don’t now how many people “out there” are going to be as forgiving of his “appropriation” as the trendy art kids who think its all good. I want to compare him to Banksy sometimes but I think Banksy is much more of a artist, and has a lot more meaningful things to say through his work. I honestly think Shep is out to turn a profit and maintain street cred at the same time, eventually the profit will become more important to him. And that’s fine, regardless of what we all think of his work. He wins.

    I’m waiting for the media to start digging around into his older work and start trying to build controversy since his Hope poster was such an icon of the Obama election. I could see a lot of raised eyebrows if they put his Castro collage right next to an Obama poster.

    Here is a quote from Frank Kozik today on gigposters. He pretty much sums up the way I feel about it:
    “I am also going to say that a good 99% of the people that buy his stuff are not able to place the imagery in its ‘proper’ socio-semiotic-historical context. They merely see:

    1: clean design
    2: a connection to some weird ‘youth culture’

    Shep wins because he never makes you think about the imagery, its purely decorative, and therefore non threatening. There is no real message. It’s perfect filler. He is also very good at selecting existing iconic imagery and cleaning it up with great presentation. His activity as a ‘guerrilla wheatpaster/skater and good looks seals the deal.

    He is like a great pop music performer.

    I’m proud of him he is the logical end result of False Consumer Rebellion.”

  6. Christopher Cox Says:

    Damn Allen. Laying the knowledge smackdown. Thanks for the great comment. I honestly agree with pretty much everything you are saying. I also think his work for Obama may eventually become a curse. Its hard to turn back after that kind of sweeping exposure. I also sometimes think about the comparison between Shep and Banksy but I think Banksy is trying to do and achieve something much more subversive and counter to what Fairey is ultimately gaining from his work. I think Banksy really is anti-consumerism and sees the irony in communicating through such simple imagery and symbols as they are so easily absorbed through popular culture. Banksy’s work appears commercial while simultaneously giving commercialism the finger. I see Fairey as a street artist who wanted to achieve commercial recognition and fame, and now he has.

    I asked a really well-known and relatively famous artist (whose name I will leave out for protection) to breakdown what percentage Fairey was between artist and business man. He answered, 80% business man and 20% artist. Regardless, Fairey is achieving the kind of fame and recognition that very few artists garner. So something he is doing is resonating with the broader public outside of our art subculture. Anytime that happens there is going to be a wave of hate, ironically and almost always it comes from other artists. I don’t see any exception here.

    The last few generations have all been exposed to massive amounts of marketing and advertising and I think no matter how much we would like to pretend that it hasn’t infiltrated our psyche at a pretty deep level, the truth is that it most definitely has. We’ve been singled out as a ‘target audience’ for something or other since the day we were born and I think its impossible to deny that influence on popular art and art culture. You can see it everywhere and I definitely think Fairey is a direct result of that influence.

    If you were doing something truly disruptive or espousing real anarchy through your work, I think you would be thrown in jail these days. People have been afraid to really go out on a limb for a while now. The Bush administration did a hell of a job embedding that subconscious fear. Instead of turning to rebellion we have turned back to the 80s and to ‘pop art’.

    I wrote Fairey a letter when I was maybe 23 or 24 (about 8-9 years ago) telling him I was certain he would become our generations’ Andy Warhol. So far it appears that is what he is slowly becoming (only a much shinier, polished and more commercial version). And you can own a piece of him for a lot less than what it would have cost to get something from Warhol.

  7. Paulson Says:

    Is that him? He looks like a fucking bellend

  8. Big Lightning Says:

    Good points!

    Warhol is an excellent comparison.

    Banksy does have a hell of a lot more to say & a more original way of doing so.

    Haven’t seen ‘They Live’.. I don’t like The Carpenters. Doesn’t every generation need to be educated to question the messages they are being presented with?

    I don’t think you judge an artist by the people that buy their work.

    I believed what I read regarding Fairey’s ‘Phenomenology’ rationale for the work, but after looking at the following on wikipedia I wonder if it was just a fluke that he post-rationalized to the art community.


    I enjoy clever appropriation in all mediums of art.. we’ve got access to this awesome cultural resource and the ability to cut chop and paste it at will. Protect dat! He does seem to be doing more than simply repackaging the work of others.

    Maybe now 2+2 = 4.25.. but when I started seeing those giants in London, Sydney, Melbourne.. it equaled 10. That man made a stink!

    “If you were doing something truly disruptive or espousing real anarchy through your work, I think you would be thrown in jail these days.”

    True Bro. What do Nelson Mandela and Luke Skywalker have in common?
    They were both terrorists.

  9. Dr. Tickles Says:

    Fairey is talented, no doubt, but I always thought that he credited his sources. Kinda disappoints me that he wouldn’t even credit some of these original artist. He’s a big boy now and should give credit where credit is due. It doesn’t make me think less or him as an artist, just as a person. I hope he keeps producing great imagery.

  10. adevar Says:

    everybody can say anything but he is famous with his strategy, yes he win. i know he ripped off the art and like everybody else. what i see that fairey is representative our art generation where art is easy as ripped off. if not, why fairey so famous? he famous because us. we critic him, we discuss him, we adore him, we hate him and the bottom line we make him today.
    so, the fucking right artist, so know how art world and art nerd who think art is religion. if you wanna be famous GET THE LINE!.

  11. allen boe Says:

    “so, the fucking right artist, so know how art world and art nerd who think art is religion. if you wanna be famous GET THE LINE!.” — I think quote that would be fantastic on a T-Shirt.

  12. will Says:

    big lightning: john carpenter is not one of… well… i’ll assume you’re kidding. anyway, watch this clip from They Live, i’m fairly certain fairey got some of his message from it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lwlx3GnLGs

  13. Big Lightning Says:

    Right down to the font! Thanks Will.

  14. Chris Says:

    I think he has spoken pretty openly about seeing ‘They Live’ and getting that idea. The font is Futura and that is the font he has almost always used for Obey.

  15. Sweatballs Says:

    Banksy is a great artist, Shep is a great designer… and I’m sure he’s happy to be just that… whatever people think of him or his work he’s making a good living off what he loves doing. Personally I think it’s boring like most popart… make something that people instantly recognize and don’t have to think about and they will buy it, not because it’s good but because they are idiots.

  16. allen boe Says:

    And so the scrutiny by the main stream begins.

  17. Matthew Says:

    As a designer myself I “appropriate” some as well, but I try to keep it to a minimum, and when I do I try to give it as much new life as possible, try to show it in a new way. If its a photo I may crop the hell out of it, blow it up to almost unrecognizable, flip it, desaturate and color, etc. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel its as if Fairey is only doing a bunch of redesigns, like the new Pepsi look. I really think he needs to start shooting is own source photos and reworking those. Granted, the average person on the street doesn’t flip through old poster books, but Shep should know there are plenty of us who do.

  18. Rasta Says:

    The article was on the headlines at ObeyGiant but is now gone. Why would Fairey take it down?

  19. Big Lightning Says:

    Sweatballs – you need to learn how to better distinguish art from design.

    Fairey arrested in Boston:

    {Fairey.. fairy.. giant.. obey.. you don’t need to be Freud to figure this one out)

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