Radical chic

By GREG COOK  |  October 31, 2008

Fairey has sweet-talked a lady from the HSBA, telling her that where he puts a piece often dictates “how antagonistic I’m going to be,” and that the one outside the Gap will be a not very antagonistic pro-peace image. It depicts an Asian woman wreathed in roses. A star featuring the looming features of André the Giant covers a peace symbol on her chest. Referring to the iconic “flower power” photo from the 1967 March on the Pentagon, he says, “I always look at . . . the flowers at the end of the guns, to me flowers are always about peace.”

The crew wallpapers the bricks to the left of the rose-lady poster with posters featuring an Islamic interlace pattern based around an André-star motif and posters featuring a moon crescent holding a lotus blossom plus André and “Obey” logos. (His work is rife with self-promotional logos.) Fairey is careful about details — he and the crew use paint to touch up bits that don’t line up and spray-paint missed edges.

His bold, simple graphics ape styles and colors (red, black, white) of Soviet and Maoist propaganda, pop Che Guevara graphics, rock-concert posters (’60s psychedelia, the Misfits skull), and American money. It seems that last year decorative Islamic-style patterns crept into his designs. But his root formula is the classic pulp combo of bad-ass guys and sexy gals. The posters offer cool catchy looks and fiery political slogans, but they leave an odd aftertaste, something like when hip songs are used to advertise compact cars.

The crew moves up the street to 3 Brattle, the former Greenhouse restaurant, which is boarded up while being converted into a bistro. They flank the door in the middle of the façade with a pair of perhaps seven-foot-tall posters. The one on the right features a soldier standing atop a grenade surrounded by slogans: “World Police/More Military/Less Skools/State Champs.” The one on the left shows a hand holding up a gas nozzle in front of an eagle and the slogan “Operation/Oil Freedom.”

They surround these images with ranks of smaller posters, many rife with ’60s nostalgia. Two designs feature appropriated photos of Vietnam soldiers sporting peace symbols on necklaces or their rifles. Another poster shows an Afro’d Angela Davis wearing peace-symbol and André-star earrings surrounded by the slogans “Power to the People” and “Power & Equality.” One poster shows three hands holding up rifles with roses in the end. Another depicts a giant boot (the image borrowed from an advertisement) with lightning-bolt treads stomping on silhouetted rifles with bayonets, and at the bottom a Frederick Douglass quote: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those they oppress.”

“The beauty of art is that it can be both pleasing and provocative simultaneously,” Fairey tells me. “So I always try to find a balance there, because I think people are more receptive to ideas if they on a gut level are moved by them. And you can move people with things that are very, very powerful and provocative, and you can move people with things that are beautiful, that soothe them in a way but then have something embedded in them that are maybe a message.”

It’s just after 4:30 as the crew pack up. Someone is telling the owner of the Greenhouse building that he should be sure to take down the boards carefully to preserve Fairey’s valuable posters. One of the crew affixes some stickers to a lamp post. And then Fairey and the guys are gone.

You can read Greg Cook’s blog at gregcookland.com/journal.

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