By Maddie Orton
The artist behind the Obama ‘Hope’ poster draws a crowd as he shares his latest piece with the public: The Jersey City Wave. The nearly 100-foot by 50-foot mural stretches over Grove Street PATH Station as a tribute to what Shepard Fairey calls the city’s “creative resurgence.”
“Really this was meant to be a celebration of where Jersey City is now, while still recognizing that you’re facing the back of the Statue of Liberty. You’re underdogs, you do it on your own terms and you rock it anyway,” he said to the crowd.
Fairey was brought to the city by Mayor Steve Fulop and art company Mana Contemporary. The project was primarily funded by a local development company. That kind of support is still somewhat of a change for the artist, who came up through the skateboard and street art scenes.
“I have spent so many years worrying about getting in trouble for doing my art in public spaces,” said Fairey, “that it’s so nice to have the support of people who believe that art enriches public spaces.”
He and his team spent five days working on the mural and finished just an hour-and-a-half before the press conference.
Fairey prints out the entire mural on pieces of paper and spray-glues them to the wall. He then cuts out elements, removes those pieces of paper, and paints with the help of three assistants.
“Art is something that people benefit from. It starts conversations,” Fairey said. “It gets molecules colliding. It gets brains moving.”
The power an image can have is something Fairey knows well.
“When I made the ‘Hope’ poster, I did it as a grassroots endeavor,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’m a street artist who’s been very critical frequently of government policy. There’s no way that Obama’s campaign will think that I’m anything but toxic.'”
To his surprise, the Obama camp’s reaction was quite the opposite. They asked Fairey to create more illustrations.
Fairey’s work has become iconic. So much so, that there are multiple apps and websites for fans to create their own posters in the same style.
“I’m really happy that the ‘Hope’ poster has become a reference point,” Fairey said. “and I have very complex feelings about Obama as president, about how my art is sometimes reinterpreted.”
He said the image is sometimes re imagined in ways that are critical of the president, and of Fairey himself.
“But it’s a net-positive because I think what I did, coming from very few resources and from an outsider perspective, demonstrates that grassroots art can make a difference,” he said.
As the event comes to a close, Fairey is crowded by autograph seekers and artists. He says he hopes his work empowers them to push themselves creatively, and that it opens doors for their work to make a difference.