Shepard Fairey unveils ‘Ideal Power’ mural in Aspen, showcases new work at 212 Gallery show
“I think this is the largest crowd that’s ever gathered for me in the street without pitchforks and torches,” artist Shepard Fairey told an adoring all-ages throng that gathered under his new mural Thursday night in a downtown Aspen alley.
The Los Angeles-based artist, best known for his Obama “Hope” posters and his black-and-white Andre the Giant stickers, was in town to dedicate his freshly finished “Ideal Power” mural and to open an exhibition of his work at the 212 Gallery.
The gallery had been lobbying Fairey for several years to do an Aspen show. But, true to his street artist roots, Fairey wanted to do something for people who don’t go to galleries.
“If I came to Aspen, I didn’t just want to do a show in a gallery,” Fairey said. “I wanted to make sure that I could do something in a public space that anyone, just walking around in their daily lives, could experience without having to go to a gallery.”
Rising 22 feet tall and running some 55 feet down the alley from Hunter Street on the brick wall of the building that is home to the ski bum-friendly burrito shop Big Wrap, “Ideal Power” is rendered in the muted reds and blues and oranges that have become an aesthetic signature for Fairey. The piece — which a two-man team had been painting for four days — collages imagery like an oil derrick, a hand holding a flame, a winged horse, lotus flowers and a woman’s face. Situated steps away from Aspen Mountain, Fairey wanted the mural to speak directly to viewers about the threats posed against such gems of the natural world.
“Especially it ties in the natural beauty of Aspen and the need to preserve that for future generations,” he said.
The title alludes to sustainable energy, gender equality and, as the artist and activist put it, “the ideal power of the people rather than just the most powerful corporations.”
“There are a lot of different ways to interpret different things, but predominantly it’s about just respecting the environment and preserving it so that we have a place like this place for years to come,” Fairey said.
After the dedication, a group of young local skateboarders — decked out in Fairey’s “Obey” gear — led an informal parade from the mural to the 212 Gallery in its new location on Mill Street.
The exhibition includes more than 60 politically charged works by Fairey, much of it echoing the iconography in “Ideal Power.” The gallery show includes several new pieces, including “Welcome Visitor,” a silk screen and mixed media collage that responds to the immigration crisis on the Mexican border by mashing up headlines about America’s internment camps for Japanese citizens in the 1940s with a welcome sign, the Statue of Liberty and a smiling cartoon ICE agent saying “Papers” in a speech bubble.
“What my work is meant to do is to engage you with a picture that maybe is powerful or provocative, but also have a point of view — something to discuss,” Fairey said. “I want to create conversations that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
The 212 show also includes playful propaganda posters, portraits of the labor leader Cesar Chavez and the voting rights icon Fannie Lee Chaney, and more abstract pieces using lotuses, floral patterns, Fairey’s “Star Gear” logo and, of course, Andre the Giant. Prices range from $3,000 to $40,000.
A crowd of supporters packed the new gallery, spilled onto the sidewalk and eventually to an after party next door at the bar Mi Chola, where Fairey served as DJ.
Fairey was relieved that the pointed political messages in his mural and the gallery show were embraced here in the birthplace of Freak Power.
“Most people here are on the same page with me, but I feel like it’s something I shouldn’t get used to,” he said. “Because there is a tough, bad world out there.”
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