(Photo credit: The Worlds Best Ever)
As allegations recently surfaced that Shepard Fairey has his hands deep in plagiarism, I began retorting various comments and pointing to facts in his defense. I jotted down arguments such as Shepard’s sampled images come from communist countries that have no copyright laws, or that certain key features have been manipulated and thus the act curtails plagiarism. This entire argument wound up in a lengthy essay that I intended to be published here months ago. I was somewhat uncomfortable with the essay, so I decided to sleep on it. Various websites, and newspapers however went forward with their own editorials and beat me to the punch.
However, there is one key fact that these newspapers have missed. That fact is that Shepard Fairey has his hands far deeper into the world of the Occult than he does plagiarism.
Let us talk about “phenomenology”. Many articles recently resurfaced the original artist statements by Shepard describing his Andre the Giant campaign. All of the reports I read though did not directly address the idea of “phenomenology.” It was this theory that actually introduced me to Fairey’s work over ten years ago. Though an artist myself, I did not discover Obey Giant through the art world.
Shepard’s early public campaign was based on “phenomenology.” An early artist statement claims the artist’s intent to “stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the campaign and their relationship with their surroundings – because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the motive is not obvious.” The artwork of Shepard Fairey deals with the collective consciousness of society. In order for his experiment in “phenomenology” to work, the artist must use images that have already entered the collective consciousness of society. For this is the true reason behind Shepard “plagiarizing” images.
Now, what about the occult? The occult deals with the study of hidden wisdom. Occultists believe that there is a hidden truth beneath the surface of many different aspects of life. The artist David Foox first mentioned to me the similarities between Shepard’s work and the occult.
David Foox tells me he first noticed a blatant use of Occult symbology when Shepard unveiled his E. Pluribus Venom show at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in the summer of 2007.” When I asked for an example, Foox brought to my attention the piece titled “Peace Goddess.”
Though the image is titled “Peace Goddess” David tells me that in fact, the woman here is intended to be the enlarged spirit of the Pagan god “Moloch.” The owl often represents the Moloch it is argued by Pagans. He goes on to say that many people believe that the “all seeing eye” comes from the owl, and not from Ra. Being a cynic, I immediately fire back at Foox with “What if this is a coincidence? What if Shepard just intends for the owl to represent peace?”
Being a non-believer in the power of occult symbols, I do feel there is a rather poignant statement to be made about the occult, plagiarism, and phenomenology.
Shepard Fairey, as an internationally recognized artist, is literally inventing his own occult symbols and exercising this practice in his now massive experiment of phenomenology. It is much harder for phenomenology to exist without the sampling of other images that have already entered the stream of information that is the collective consciousness. To make it simple, one can call this plagiarism. In the great scheme of things, this concept is so much larger. The artist Kevin Bourgeois summed this up best recently while we were speaking about Shepard Fairey. Obey Giant is “familiar to you in an unfamiliar way. It is universal. Obey Giant has gathered up information and threaded it together in a language that everyone speaks. It tells a story and defines a moment. The problem is, most people don’t catch it…” This is phenomenology, and Obey Giant is a phenomenon.