Legendary graffiti artist Shepard Fairey is currently wanted by Detroit police for work he recently did in the beleaguered city’s downtown core. Fairey, probably most famous for his OBEY and Andre the Giant graffiti in the eighties and of course the iconic HOPE poster from President Obama’s 2008 campaign, was in town to paint the largest legal mural he had ever undertaken. Apparently the Detroit Police Department, famously underworked in the currently booming metropolis of financially stable Detroit, is coming after Fairey for his “extra-curricular” activity.
Detroit police are currently investigating Fairey’s alleged crimes, including two counts of malicious destruction of property, for graffiti that has appeared in downtown Detroit since Fairey arrived in the city. The crimes aren’t too severe, but can lead to jail time and hefty fines, so Fairey is going to have to lawyer up to defend the charges.
Of course, for an artist as famous as Fairey, he could make a couple of unique arguments about his various alleged graffiti activity around town, including the fact a bonafide Fairey original on any piece of property is actually a way to increase a property’s value, not devalue it, as the law requires, and that could lead to some problems on the Detroit police’s side of the case. But either way, Fairey’s original mural is now proudly being displayed in downtown Detroit, and that has many different people taking note, and either complaining or complimenting the artist’s contribution to the city skyline.
Fairey was in Detroit doing the largest legal mural he has ever undertaken in an effort to add some colour to Detroit’s beleaguered downtown core. The city, most famous recently for having to file for bankruptcy, has looked to private companies for ways to rebuild and attract new people to the area. Of course, the various projects, including Fairey’s own mural, has been met with a chorus of both approval and disdain. For Fairey’s work, some praise the initiative as a way of using art to attract young people, while others argue it’s a way to cover up the creeping gentrification of some neighbourhoods. Fairey himself is frustrated by the divisive opinions, telling Animal via email, “I’m either accused of being a vandal or a gentrifier depending on who you ask. Realty has more nuance. I think art is a good thing in public spaces…for the most part.”
Many legal experts have weighed in on Fairey’s current prediciment and, besides having to assess the devaluing of properties to make the case, the Detroit police will also need to prove it was Fairey, and not someone else, who did indeed do the graffiti they’re mentioning. And in a city with a myriad of closures and resource scarcity, and many other things they could be focusing on, retroactively proving a specific person did certain graffiti will be almost impossible. Fairey may never even have to take the stand.