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On the cover: Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey's new exhibition 'On Our Hands', at New York's Jacob Lewis Gallery

The very first issue of Delayed Gratification back in 2010 featured the work of Shepard Fairey on the cover. Five years later, we are very excited to announce that our 20th issue of the magazine will do so once again. Ahead of the new issue we spoke with the LA-based artist and creator of the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster about art, politics and his first New York exhibition in half a decade.

It’s been five years since you helped Delayed Gratification launch by letting us use your piece ‘Freedom Of The Press’ on the cover. Are you surprised that we are still going and that Slow Journalism has a place in the modern world?
If I’m surprised I’m also very happy that you guys are still going because I think it’s a great publication and its survival reflects that people still crave good journalism and art and design objects.

It’s also five years since your last show in New York – why so long?
I’ve had a busy schedule of shows around the world and I was waiting for the right gallery to work with. Jacob Lewis Gallery is the right gallery.

How did you go about creating the work for the new show?
For ‘On Our Hands’ I used a mixture of screen-printing, collage, painting and stenciling. I love layering and the charm of organic deconstruction mixed with very graphic focal points. The layered surfaces of my works have a relationship to city walls caked with posters and paint. I like the implication that the layers in a piece reflect a history that led to that point. Of course I also take inspiration from many art forms, from propaganda posters to album packaging, pop art like Barbara Kruger and Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg for the surfaces they created.

Your work has changed from street art (which by necessity has to be created quickly in context) to more studio-based work which presumably you can take more time over – how has that shift changed your work?
I’ve drawn and painted my whole life so the idea of taking time on individual art pieces is not new to me, but having the luxury of spending the amount of time on the pieces I did for ‘On Our Hands’ is only possible because I’ve been lucky enough to cultivate an enthusiastic audience for my fine art. I’m a populist so I look at all of the manifestations of my work as important, whether it’s a t-shirt, a poster, street art or fine art but I do think being able to spend a lot of time on my fine art as the pinnacle of my craft, if only one facet of my practice, is an amazing thing to be able to do.


Left: Natural Springs, Right: Shepard Fairey

Your Obama ‘Hope’ poster was the defining image of the 2008 presidential campaign, but you’ve talked about not supporting a candidate in the next Presidential election due to the nature of campaign funding – can you expand on that?
It’s not that I’m not supporting a candidate, it’s more that I’m focusing on principles over personality. I’ve learned that if the dynamics of our current political system remain the same, even the candidate that I think has the best ideas for the greater good will still be hindered. That being said, I do like Bernie Sanders as a viable candidate but I also think that Lawrence Lessig’s campaign bid as a need to get attention to campaign finance reform is very important. Sanders has a great record of public service and courage but even if he were to be elected president, his policies would be mired by a Congress corrupted by the current campaign finance structure. Current campaign finance structure encourages favouritism toward powerful corporate and special interest donors that is nothing short of corruption. If there is a personality who embodies the principle of campaign finance reform that is essential to restoring democracy, it is Lawrence Lessig. Lessig is an anti-corruption reform activist, more than a politician, but he knows that we will never get a true democracy, or the best versions of the politicians we support, until the broken campaign finance system is fixed.

Your work has always been political, but it seems that it is becoming more polemic. What’s the major cause of your frustration?
I wouldn’t describe my work as more polemic because I think that has a negative connotation but I am being very direct with my critique of policies and institutions that I think perpetuate injustice. When I was younger I had ideas about abuse of authority but I’m more educated now about specifics of politics and policy as well as the dynamics of capitalism. I’m not afraid to stand behind specific opinions now because I think I can back them up. My approach when I was younger, to encourage people to be more analytical, is something I still utilise. But I also think that having the courage to be topical is important because not everyone looks at these important issues without prompting. I guess you could say pragmatism and experience have fuelled my evolution.

You’ve been called an activist – is that a fair label?
Yes, depending on how you define activist. I promote and make donations to a lot of causes as well as make art about causes, but I’m not at a different rally every week, though I’ve done a bit of that too. My activism is part of what I think my strongest talent is, which is making images coupled with a point of view.

Shepard Fairey’s ‘On Our Hands’ exhibition runs until October 24th at Jacob Lewis Gallery. The fifth anniversary issue of Delayed Gratification featuring Shepard Fairey’s art on the cover will be available in December: subscribe here to ensure you don’t miss your copy.

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