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Shepard Fairey has 'doubts' about intelligence of Obama Joker artist


Shepard Fairey is all for free speech and creating a political dialogue. But the man who created the instantly recognizable posters for Barack Obama's presidential campaign has some choice words for the anonymous artist who made the Obama Joker artwork.

"I have my doubts about the person's intelligence," Fairey said on the phone from Pittsburgh. "It's not grammatically correct. It would be 'socialist' ... Obama is not Marx. He didn't create socialism."

Semantics aside, "I don't agree with the political content of the poster," Fairey said. "They don't realize that Medicaid is a socialist program." The federal Medicaid program, of course, predates the current administration by several decades.

It won't shock anybody that Fairey, the guy who churned out the artwork that some call "left-wing propaganda," doesn't get behind the idea of Obama being a socialist. But he does think the Joker poster is well done.

"The artwork is great in that it gets a point across really quickly," Fairey said. "The Joker is a sinister, evil character that can't be trusted. And if they want to make that parallel with Obama -- bam."

"A lot of these things are fueled by frustration," Fairey said. "Maybe they're frustrated and don't understand the whole situation."

But who is Fairey to criticize the nefarious Obama poster when he himself is responsible for numerous artworks that ...

Shepard-fairey ... painted President Bush as the villain? "My frustration with Bush was fueled by a very clear understanding of what's going on," he asserted.

Regardless, Fairey is not proud of his popular piece that portrayed Bush as a vampire. "I think that it was a very one-dimensional presentation," he said.

Maybe one day the Joker artist will come to regret his notorious poster too. But we may never know. We're left with no leads as to who made the poster. Even Fairey's circle of well-connected street artists is still guessing. If it's an established artist, he did pretty well to cover his tracks.

"Most artists get to the point where they would like people to recognize their work by some sort of signature style," Fairey said. "Either, it's done by an artist who doesn't want people to know who they are, or it's not done by an artist."

Since it has no discernible style, it could just as easily be the work of a kid with a pirated copy of Photoshop or a middle-aged guy looking to spread a message. The latter would be especially interesting because the political nature of graffiti and guerrilla posters tend to skew to the left.

"It could be possible that a right-winger finally got hip to the idea that street art can get people's attention and be a valuable way to express a point of view," Fairey said.

- Shepard Fairey doesn't think Obama is a socialist
- Shepard Fairey coverage in our Arts blog, Culture Monster
- A small photo gallery featuring some of the better pieces created by Shepard Fairey
- Shepard Fairey pleads guilty to vandalism, gets two years probation
- An Indian Shepard Fairey for an iconic Barack Obama?

-- Mark Milian

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Photos: Top, the Obama Joker poster. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images. Shepard Fairey with his Obama poster. Credit: Associated Press.

Comments () | Archives (72)

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My favorite part is when Fairey criticizes the poster for saying Socialism rather than socialist because Obama didn't "create" socialism. I guess we're to conclude that Obama did create Hope as stated by Fairey's poster? Clearly he didn't think past his political bias before throwing around accusations towards an anonymous persons intelligence and instead revealed something about his own.

The elitist Shepard Fairey is such a fool - he'd be embarrassed by his ignorance if he were half educated. Why didn't the Times article mention that he just pleaded guilty to 3 charges of vandalism in Boston, and was sentenced to 2 years of probation for his crimes? Fairey would do himself a favor by educating himself about the carnage left behind by such socialists heros as Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro, etc., and then maybe he wouldn't be so adoring of socialism (0r who knows, maybe he would?).

Under Shepard Fairey's gramatical criticism, shouldn't the word on his own art piece be "Hoper"? Obama is not God. He did not create hope.

wow, the uneducated calling others uneducated. You could easily say, "this is the face of socialism" instead of "this is the face of a socialist". Especially when making a political statement, the word socialism would be the more correct term as it's a broader concept instead of an individual indicator. It's already common knowledge that Obama is a wannabe socialist, saying as much would be simply restating a fact and adding a defaced a picture of the president to emphasize the point.

What a jerk. "It's ok for me, because I'm smart! Since I don't like the message this poster gives, then obviously the guy who mde it is uneducated and dumb." And liberals in ivory towers wonder why so many people don't trust them.

We should ask a politician about their opinion of art, it would have about as much relevance as this guys opinion on politics.

Mr. Fairey grew up in Charleston, SC. My home town. He's regarded as a man-child with a desperate need for attention. His "art" littered the streets and buildings of our town for many years before he moved on to more liberal waters. His opinion is typically one sided and leans very very far left (think collectivist and communalist). Disregard him and don't give in to his cry's for attention. Grow up son.

Shep Fairey needs to get off of his high horse. He is a one-trick pony who has not switched his simple style since pasting Andre the Giant around town. In fact, his whole style has been reduced to a computer program! How weak is that? I'd say it's as weak as blasting someone's art as ignorant (Obama Joker) because you don't agree with its message, while touting your art as legitimate (Bush Vampire) because you have a self-described superior command of the facts. You're at 14:59 homeboy!

Fairey has arrogance going for him, although talent and making sense still seem to escape him.


Fairey isn't a street artist; he's a marketing consultant.

What about the "Hope" picture you did of Obama. Shouldn't it be Hoper or Hopeful? Could it not mean that he is the face or the representative of socialism, just as Obama was the face of representative of hope?

The Shepard Fairey one word IQ test. Brilliant.

"I don't agree with the political content of the poster," Fairey said. "They don't realize that Medicaid is a socialist program."
That's funny. He doesn't agree with calling Obama a socialist, because Medicaid is a sociaist program created by other democrat socialists and Obama is expanding those socialist programs into a new massive socialist program...and that negates the accusation that Obama is a socialist...HOW?
Also, I LOVE this: Fairey "painted President Bush as the villain? "My frustration with Bush was fueled by a very clear understanding of what's going on,"
OH, I see. Fairey is so smart, he had a "very clear understanding of what's going on", and anyone who calls the socialist Obama a socialist does NOT have an idea of what's going on, just because Fairey says so.

Can you say "NARCISIST", boys and girls?

Fairey, "hope" is just a painted over photograph. Warhol you are not. Re-examine your coposition and text and you can realize the weakness. Please don't comment on other artwork, you come across as condecending without heft.

Now that the creator of the Obama Joker image has been unmasked as a 20 year old college student playing with Photoshop and a "Jokerize" tutorial, I think the real loser is Shepard Fairey's pretensions of being a serious artist based on doing exactly the same thing.

I love the cutting comments.

Marx didn't create socialism either, silly fellow.

Is this guy serious? By his same argument, I guess he himself is a moron. Obama didn't create "hope" either. What should your poster say? Hoper? LOL

He is just mad that his hayday is over. Obama is going to end up to be one of the worst presidents in U.S history and this image will not echo through the ages.

I think what the writers of the obtuse comments below fail to take into consideration is that Fairey portrayed Bush as a vampire only after sent US soldiers into harms way in an EXTREMELY controversial war. (which my cousin died in) On the other hand, what nefarious thing has Obama done other than to try to give health care to Americans? Was this deserving of being portrayed as a sociopathic murderer? Probably not. Obama didn't deserve such harsh treatment.

Not that it matters, but Marx didn't invent socialism. Or communism, for that matter. It's always a little dangerous calling someone stupid using a metaphor that you yourself don't understand.

What an idiot....... he is just jealous this poster makes more sense than his did...
Obama is the FACE of Socialism and cannot be trusted just like the JOKER... His promises of change are a Joke at best and a hidden agenda for a large Socialist govt....

I have seen these posters popping up in Maryland too and I LOVE IT........
Screw the OBAMA-ZOMBIES....

Fairey's comment is invalid. He's right, Obama is not a "Socialism." But Obama is not a "Hope" either, as his poster seems to indicate. Just as Fairey was simply trying to link Obama with hope, the artist of this poster intends to link Obama with socialism. Political opinions aside, Fairey's the one who's displaying doubtful intelligence.

The funny thing about Shepard Fairey is that most people in the street art community don't accept him. It is not because he is famous or anything like that. He just never was that accepted mainly because his work has never conveyed the risk that this predominately minority/poverty form of art involves. His father was a doctor and he has always had bail money and good attorneys in his pocket. There is no risk with his art and the only risk he attempts to muster is that when he is caught he has medical conditions that make the few hours he spends in jail difficult. Try spending weeks or months in jail as most street artists do! He is just not the reality of the streets. In that sense, he is a fraud.

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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