Shepard Fairey, Freedom of the Press
Title: Freedom of the Press
Size: 9" x 12"
Original Pricing: $25
Markings: Signed & Numbered
Printing has changed the world. With the invention of the movable type printing press around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg created arguably the most important instrument for the global democratization of knowledge. Not only did the printing press facilitate the spread of text-based information, it also spread images. Prior to the invention of the printing press, artwork had to be viewed in person, limiting the influence of styles and specific images to local audiences or those wealthy enough to travel great distances. The printing press may have begun the democratization of art, but another printer evolved it both conceptually and practically. Andy Warhol made art based on accessible products and personalities from pop culture. In addition to his attempts to democratize art through his subject matter, Warhol used screen-printing to produce multiple versions of his images. Where elitism, preciousness, and scarcity had been the ruling principles in the art world, Warhol embraced commercial reproduction techniques and mass culture. Further down the line, two of my biggest street art influences — Barbara Kruger and Robbie Conal — used printed posters to spread their artwork and messages in public spaces. I’m a product of the era of mass production and the mass culture it has created. I can’t imagine my art practice without the influence of, and the use of, printing. Some of my biggest art influences were not paintings, but printed things like album covers, skateboard graphics, punk flyers, and t-shirt designs. When I discovered stencil making and screen-printing in high school, I used them to make t-shirts and stickers, but by college I began to use screen-printing to make art. I enjoyed illustration, photography, collage, and graphic design separately, but with screen-printing I could synthesize those techniques into an integrated final product. Screen-printing also provided latitude for experimentation and the ability to make multiples, and my style began to evolve as I explored the graphic nature of the medium. I tried to make images that would translate well to screen-print production. A harmony of beauty, power, and utility was my goal. I always believed in art as a part of public dialogue, and my Obey Giant street art campaign aspired to arrest visually and provoke intellectually. With the need for me to compete with well funded advertising, screen-printing posters myself was the only way I could afford to create large quantities of materials to share on the streets. My theory was that I could print an image on thin paper for the streets and on thicker paper to sell. I was broke, so I needed a process that was affordable and efficient. I printed my posters in a consistent size and color palette so I could build modular grids of images and constantly expand my image library for large outdoor installations. Repetition, consistency, and persistence over the years yielded a growing audience for both my outdoor art and gallery art. As people started to request more “fine art” of my images, I began to embellish upon my utilitarian printing techniques by printing on wood, metal, and canvas, as well as incorporating stenciling back into the work. Some of these pieces began to function as one-of-a-kind mixed media paintings. To keep my work affordable and accessible, I also made screen-print-on-paper editions of my fine-art pieces. The Printed Matters show incorporates every variety of my printed works, including prints on wood, metal, album covers, and fine-art collage papers. Some people say print is on its way out, that it will be wiped out by digital media, but I say you can never replace the provocative, tactile experience of an art print on the street or in a gallery. Printing still matters. -Shepard