( 4UMF NEWS ) Shepard Fairey Faces Felony Charges:
Famed street artist Shepard Fairey, who visited Detroit last month to create the largest mural of his career, faces felony charges of tagging other properties across the city on his own time. A warrant for his arrest was filed in 36th District Court on Friday. He faces two counts of malicious destruction of property, which carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail, plus fines that could exceed $10,000.
Police, who accuse the artist of causing about $9,000 in damage, said that the next time he comes to Detroit, they will arrest him if he doesn’t turn himself in first.
“Just because he is a well-known artist does not take away the fact that he is also a vandal,” said Detroit Police Sgt. Rebecca McKay, who oversees the city’s graffiti task force. “And that’s what we consider was done, in these instances, was vandalism.”
Fairey told the Free Press he intended to leave illegal marks in the city. He arrived in May to paint the 18-story mural on One Campus Martius for Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services and others, but before the work began, he said he would be doing more.
“I still do stuff on the street without permission. I’ll be doing stuff on the street when I’m in Detroit,” Fairey said last month. His signature black-and-white Andre the Giant face has since appeared on several buildings downtown, in Eastern Market and along Jefferson Avenue.
Fairey’s legal troubles in Detroit open a window into the evolution of street art, from its illegal origins into its more professionalized genre recognized in museums and galleries. Fairey has always liked to play both sides of the street, accepting major commissions like the One Campus Martius but also retaining his street credibility by continuing to work in the shadows, tagging private property without authorization.
An exhibition of Fairey’s prints is also on view at the Library Street Collective in downtown Detroit.
“This is a whole genre that’s become institutionalized, and you’ll always have some outliers go back to where they started and where they get their inspiration,” said Elysia Borowy-Reeder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
On another front, the crackdown on illegal graffiti suggests that the reputation Detroit has had for years among artists elsewhere as a kind of Wild Wild West of opportunity needs amending. While inexpensive studio space, a supportive artists’ community and the chance to help shape the future of the city remain powerful incentives to live and work in Detroit, the notion that anything goes, including illegal activities, is no longer true.
“That reputation lingers but change happens slowly and it’s catching up,” said Borowy-Reeder. “The city is becoming more mature.”
A spokeswoman with Bedrock Real Estate Services, Robin Schwartz, declined to comment on the arrest warrant Wednesday. Bedrock Executive Vice President Dan Mullen has previously told the Free Press, “I definitely do not promote any unsanctioned work.” Representatives of the Library Street Collective did not return a call seeking comment.
Police say the between May 16 and 22, Fairey pasted nine posters with his own iconic symbols like Andre the Giant and other images. The various posters are roughly square in size, and measured four or so feet in height and width.
The total amount of damages that police say he has caused: $9,105.54.
Police also suspect that Fairey tagged several more properties — up to 14 in total — but only nine of the locations had owners who were reachable and interested in pressing charges, McKay said.
Fairey is still best-known for creating the now-iconic “Hope” poster of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
He is no stranger to legal troubles — he has been arrested more than 15 times for defacing public property, and was also sentenced in federal court to two years of probation and fined $25,000 in 2012 for tampering with evidence in a case growing out of a copyright battle with The Associated Press over the Obama “Hope” image.
He is based in Los Angeles, and last came to Detroit in the early 2000s, when he tagged public and private spaces without permission. He has said it was considered a coup to get to make work that at times might be at odds with other aspects of a company’s profile.
A spokesperson for Fairey said by email that the artist is “currently traveling out of the country,” and that a representative would get in touch later.