Graffiti Artist Breaks Into The National Portrait Gallery

Say what you will about Shepard Fairey's Saks bags, some have called them shallow graphic design. Criticize the altered "Hope" image found on the Time cover, some have said its a step down from the original Hope poster. You might be annoyed at the length of Fairey's jacket sleeves, or the stress he's putting on his pocket lining with his iPhone and rental car keys. But today street art just won a place in The National Portrait Gallery. And that means something.

The desecration of Venus de Milo, to Robin Hood of Locksley and Maid Marriane's love scrawl in Nottingham, all of it has built up to this moment. When graff writers from brooklyn were being shot by New York city police did they imagine this? Could they have imagined a world in which their distinctive cultural humor and bravado would be linked with one of the most popular incoming presidents ever, and the first black president of the biggest world power?

My first encounter with Shepherd Fairey was probably somewhere slightly north of Gramercy Park in Manhattan. A simple stencil sprayed on a traffic light bore the face of Andre the Giant and beneath it the word "obey". I saw it stenciled all over the city. It was so prevalent that many including myself took to calling Shepard "Obey". By then it was already ubiquitous and therefore slightly on the boring side to street art enthusiasts, but the image spread to that stage of reception because of its distilled subversiveness. It makes its point. There's a big threat hanging over your head if you don't tow the line. A big muscleheaded guy with a deceptively infantile face.

With this being the central theme, and the mode being stylized propaganda its odd to have it again turned to sell Saks merch. It shows the creative directors at Saks have a good sense of humor. Maybe the event is more flattering for them than Shep? Yes the Time magazine was a bit muddy, and yes Sheps sleeves are too long, but how can you not be at least teetering on the edge of satisfaction seeing a street guy tag a national archive, as uncomfortable as realizing public acceptance for an underground art form might be.

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