Earlier this week, the OBEY Giant himself, Shepard Fairey, rolled into town to complete his largest mural to date in Philadelphia. Dubbed simply "Lotus Diamond," it now stands completed at 1228 Frankford Avenue, emboldening Fishtown's already strong collection of public art.
A 25-year veteran of the street art scene, Fairey came to Philadelphia as part of an eight-city mural tour that slotted us third after Miami and Chicago. He's out of the city now, off to the next stop on his tour, but no worries—we'll see him again this year for a couple more projects that the Mural Arts Program has planned.
Luckily, though, we got to catch up with Fairey during this mural's dedication ceremony on Friday to get his thoughts on Philly's street art, the challenges this "Lotus Diamond" piece presented, and why exactly graffiti is still alive and well.
Check out the interview below:
Philly.com: This is the largest mural you've done here in Philly at around 29-feet square. What are the technical challenges that arise when attempting a mural on this scale?
Shepard Fairey: The surface of the wall makes a difference for how much detail you can get, but I had photos of this wall so I knew not to get too fussy with it because it's rough. A lot of times I like the textures—I think they add character and it feels more organic and integrated into the surface that way.
The other difficulties are weather variables like rain or wind—it's hard to work in the wind, and we did get rained out for a couple of hours. For the most part, though, this was pretty chill. When I'm in a place for only a few days, you kind of get what you get with the weather.
P: It took quite a bit of work to find a location for this mural, with several spots having fallen through during the search. How do you like the Fishtown location?
SF: I love this location. I think that this building has got so much character, and this is a cool neighborhood. There's all these great bars and restaurants around here—I'm super happy about getting into this spot.
P: What was the inspiration behind the "Lotus Diamond" design, and what made you want to use it here? Typically, your work seems to be more politically oriented.
SF: This is an older image of mine that I just call the "Lotus Diamond," and a lot of these pieces that are more decorative like this one represent the other side of my work. One side is provocative and agitational with a lot of political stuff. But also, I really think that art can be beautiful and implicitly promoting peace and all these values that I think are positive.
P: So do you think you've struck a balance here in Philly?
SF: I try to have a rhythm between the stuff that's more aggressive and what's not. Also, when I'm doing public art, a lot of times it's difficult to get approval for anything that has even a shred of controversy in it. I would never submit anything that I felt was a compromise of what I do creatively. But this one went over with the folks, and I'm happy with it
P: Shortly before you and your team completed the mural, local street artist Curly set up a small installation on Frankford near your piece that reads "It's the end of graffiti as we know it…" What is your impression of that view of your work?
SF: First of all, graffiti and street art without permission, people always say "Oh, aren't you worried that the movement is going to be tamed?" That's sort of absurd, because if you're out on the street doing stuff—even legally—it's an alternative creative expression to advertising or government signage.
That, in so many ways, I think, is disrupting the dominant paradigm. There are a lot of people who are in a small scene with tunnel vision for that scene. I've just outgrown that mentality. I'm 25 years deep in this, and I still go out and put stuff up without permission. But I also love to have the opportunity to have something to do like this.