Street artist Shepard Fairey, whose "HOPE" poster became an icon of the Obama campaign, did an interview with Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air earlier this week. Now that the Smithsonian recently purchased the original stenciled poster for its National Portrait Gallery in Washington, Fairey has officially gone from outsider artist to mainstream -- but it hasn't exactly been a smooth ride.
In the interview, Fairey talks about the irony of getting arrested for hanging the poster during the Democratic National Convention by Denver cops, one of several stories first reported by Westword during the chaotic week. Fairey was in town curating "Manifest Hope," an exhibit of Obama-inspired art. Read what he said about his Denver experience below.
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Shepard Fairey: I was arrested in Denver during the Democratic convention while every vendor on every corner was selling my Obama image.
Terry Gross: Tell me the story.
SF: I was out putting up a mixture of Obama and Obey posters. And I was with a group of friends. We were in an alleyway putting posters on a concrete wall. And we thought we were far enough away from the very, you know, hot area of downtown Denver to avoid these black-suited riot cops that were everywhere. But somehow they saw us and we were surrounded by many cops, several with their guns pulled. And we were zip-tied and hauled off to what they called 'mini-Guantanamo,' which was a special facility they had in Denver just for the protesters. And the funny thing was -- you know, authority has no inherent wisdom. That's a Joe Strummer quote. The police zip-tied us and said we were Anarchists. Meanwhile, they were pulling Obama posters and stickers that we were carrying out. And I guess they didn't understand the definition of Anarchist. [Laughs.]
TG: Oh, right, you were believing in government. [Laughs.] You were supporting a candidate. So did you say to them, "I'm the guy that did these posters that you're seeing all over the place?"
SF: I did tell them that I was the guy, because I thought that that might...
TG: Save you?
SF: Save me, make it seem more legitimate. But, yeah, um, their only response to that was, "I bet you're getting rich off that." And actually I didn't keep any money from the Obama posters. I put it all back into making more posters and donating to the campaign. It's funny that that's the only way that they could think about it. I guess those guys don't get paid a lot.
TG: So how did you get out?
SF: They really were trying to get people who were perceived as troublemakers off the street. So they just kept us in there for fifteen hours. And we were zip-tied with those really intense plastic zip-ties to another person. Which is extremely uncomfortable, actually, because they did it right arm to right arm so you can't get comfortable.
But then they just put us in front of the judge and said if you plead guilty, you're out, time served. And there were actually a lot of people in there that had been rounded up for being troublemakers who weren't, who were peacefully organized. So they really had a legitimate gripe. But then they're put in a position where if they don't just plead guilty then they have to come back and go to court and spend money. But if they do plead guilty, then they have no recourse. I felt bad for those people. I just pled guilty and got out and was over with it.