Featured Artist: Shepard Fairey

faireyBest known as the designer of the Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster, created for the 2008 presidential campaign, American street artist and illustrator Shepard Fairey is one of the most influential artists of his generation. Fairey honed his skills in the skateboarding scene of the late 1980s before bringing his distinctive style to the walls of some of the world’s premier art museums.

Make Art Not War [Converted]Although he is considered one of the coolest and most current artists working today, Fairey’s illustrations also keep alive the aesthetics of the Cold War. In particular the artist fuses contemporary street style with the iconography of state propaganda posters, while also making strong reference to Russian constructivist design, art nouveau and pop art. His series of works on the themes of Obey (Propaganda) and Make Art Not War further subvert the discredited rhetoric of Soviet, American and Chinese propaganda from the Cold War era to support his own political activism.

While focusing on accusations of plagiarism in Fairey’s designs, an interesting article written in 2007 by Mark Vallen points out numerous examples where Fairey has appropriated Cold War imagery, recontextualising it for a post-Cold War audience.

Shepard Fairey Providence Mural

Images: Shepard Fairey, Make Art Not War, 2004. Shepard Fairey, design for mural in Providence, Rhode Island, 2010. Courtesy AS220

Exhibition of the Month: Statue of Limitation

A group art exhibition in Dubai is currently exploring how present-day global politics continues to be dominated by unresolved issues from the Cold War. Statue of Limitation plays on legal terminology relating to the time limit on seeking justice to offer ‘an anti-monument to human will, with all its limitations’. The exhibition focuses in particular on the geographic and strategic importance of the Middle East in the Cold War confrontation between East and West, which led to the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the establishment of the Eisenhower Doctrine the following year.

Statue of Limitation

Here 5 international artists work in a variety of media to explore themes of state control, propaganda, global power, Western entitlement and residual colonial anxieties. Central to the exhibition is Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck and Media Farzin’s video Chronoscope, 1951, 11 pm. The artists have weaved together reordered dialogue, taken from US television footage from the 1950s, to offer an unsettling insight into the ongoing preponderance of Cold War rhetoric in current discourse, particularly in relation to wars on terror and government surveillance programmes. In an interview with Time Out Dubai the artists have elaborated to explain their position: ‘Cold War rhetoric is still very present with us today – communism or terrorism, the ‘free world’ continues to use the media to sway public opinion in its favour, and resorts to violence where ‘hearts and minds’ aren’t quite won.’

Statue of Limitation remains open at the Green Art Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai until 4 January 2014. American audiences can also see an example of Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck’s work in Modern Entanglements at Henrique Faria Fine Art in New York for the next fortnight.

Image: Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck, Chronoscope, 1951, 11pm, 2009–2011. In collaboration with Media Farzin. (Installation view) Photo: silversalt. Courtesy of Artspace, Sydney

Erró: Iceland’s Cold War Artist

erro_portrett_2The artist formerly known as Guðmundur Guðmundsson, who goes by the more pronounceable alias Erró, has been inspired by the Cold War throughout a long and varied career. Erró’s riotous canvases reflect his eclectic personal history, from his birth in 1932 in Iceland, to his travels across Europe and his current residency in Paris, Thailand and on the island of Formentera.

50-Erro-Ice-Cream-for-MaoDeveloping his artistic practice in the heady atmosphere of 1960s’ Paris, Erró experimented with media including drawing, printmaking, sculpture, film and performance art. He found his niche in painting, and in particular using collage to create what has been described as ‘a kaleidoscope of cartoon characters, art historical icons, and government leaders to comment on urgent social and political issues’.

Erró’s output is distinctly and proudly political in content. His satirical mashups of Cold War iconography fuse imagery from western fine art, communist propaganda, stylised urban backgrounds and commercial advertising images to develop a distinctive anarchic form of pop art.

pop history

Images: Top – Erró, Ice Cream for Mao, 2004; Bottom – Erró, Pop’s History, 1967. Courtesy Reykjavik Art Museum

Recommended Read: Propaganda: Power and Persuasion

David Welch. Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. London: British Library Publishing, 2013.

mao anyuanAlthough the British Library’s fascinating exploration of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion closed last month in exhibition form, the eponymous catalogue is still available to introduce people to this elusive term which has dominated so much of human experience over the last century.

Authored by David Welch, Professor of Modern History at the University of Kent and Director of the Centre for the Study of War, Propaganda and Society, the book overviews instances of state propaganda from ancient Rome to the present day in a myriad of manifestations. The narrative shows how propaganda and the visual arts have been entwined since the outset, with statues and portraits of ancient rulers being sent out across their empires to strengthen their personality cults and mark their authority.

Examples of films, books, currency, music, newspapers, games and web pages put into context propagandistic images from the Cold War. One of the most striking is the infamous oil painting of Mao Zedong in his youth, supposedly leading revolutionary action at the Anyuan coal mine in 1921. The image is estimated to have been reproduced as more than nine hundred million posters which were distributed across China during the Cultural Revolution.

On sale from British Library Publishing.

Image: Liu Chunhua, Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan, 1967

Exhibition Roundup: July 2013

The ESPIONART Exhibition of the Month, Jane and Louise Wilson continues at the 303 Gallery in New York until 2 August 2013.

Anyone who missed the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at Tate Modern in London can take the Eurostar to Paris until 4 November 2013 to see him in all his dotty glory at the Centre Pompidou.

While in Paris, don’t miss Keith Haring: The Political Line at the Musée d’Art Moderne until 18 August 2013.

Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953–1966 remains at the de Young Museum in San Francisco until 29 September 2013.

Sounding the Body Electric: Experiments in Art and Music in Eastern Europe, 1957–1984 continues to 25 August 2013 at Calvert 22 in London.

Women in Soviet Art continues until 11 November 2013 at The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis.

Women in Soviet Art

Pompeii may be the hot ticket at London’s British Museum right now, but visitors shouldn’t miss the free exhibition The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda, now open until 1 September 2013.

Meanwhile, up the road at the British Library, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion gives a more international outlook on state propaganda during the last century, until 17 September 2013.

For the rest of this year, the Saint Louis Art Museum in Missouri is putting the spotlight on its impressive collection of German art produced during the Cold War in Postwar German Art in the Collection, on until 26 January 2014.

More German art, unsurprisingly, at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, as the return of its collection of Gerhard Richter paintings is celebrated with the exhibition Gerhard Richter. Elbe, November, and Other Works until 8 September 2013.

And, finally, last call for Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, but only until 28 July 2013.