Police arrested 154 people in Denver last week, most of whom were involved in protests of one sort or another. Buried in this list is the name Frank S. Fairey, which contemporary art fans will recognize as the birth name of one of the most famous street artists in the world: Shepard Fairey. He was in town as part of the Manifest Hope gallery show featuring art inspired by Barack Obama, and Fairey's multi-toned poster of Obama's face, coupled with words like "HOPE" and "PROGRESS," have become ubiquitous icons of the campaign, appearing on billboards, T-shirts, hats and magazines.
On August 25, Fairey took a break from installing the gallery show to hang posters around downtown Denver, wheat-pasting them to the sides of buildings. Denver artist Scot Lefavor and a small crew of filmmakers making a documentary on Fairey went along. But when they got to an alleyway near 16th Avenue and Sherman Street around midnight, they saw a line of officers in full riot gear running toward them.
In a video interview with the website www.imeem.com, Fairey says that as the group tried to exit the other end of the alley, the police drew their guns. "Get on the fucking ground or we're going to kick you in the fucking head!" Fairey quotes them as saying. The artists were thrown down, handcuffed and arrested, charged with "interference and posting unauthorized posters."
Though it was the fourteenth such arrest for Fairey, who got his start in the early 1990s with the Andre the Giant Has a Posse sticker campaign, the experience ranks as one of the most unusual. Fairey and company spent seventeen hours in jail, first at the infamous "Gitmo on the Platte" warehouse the city set up for DNC protesters; also in the house were about 100 anarchists whom police had pepper-sprayed and arrested earlier that evening. "We had some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and played some paper football and hung out with anarchists all night," says Lefavor.
But Fairey isn't ready to quit postering. "It would take me having potential jail time to quit postering, and that's not likely to happen," he says. Unless, of course, he breaks his six months of unsupervised probation by getting caught in Denver again.
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And Fairey wasn't the only artist to get caught in the tentacles of DNC security. The week before the convention, Alan Jones, owner of high-end art-installation company Ship Art Denver, got an exciting rush job to deliver sculptor Robert Indiana's "HOPE" — a remake of his 1976 pop icon "LOVE" piece in Philadelphia's JFK plaza — to the sidewalk in front of the Pepsi Center. But when Jones went to the stadium to take photos of the site, he was quickly grabbed by security and questioned for nearly an hour.
Nevertheless, Jones isn't bitter, especially since the sculpture turned out to be a hit.
"I think the beauty of the piece is that Indiana tweaked 'LOVE' just enough to define this new generation," he says.
The message for the new era? It's possible to go from Love to Hope — but first you have to go through security.