Shepard Fairey mocked his unique status as a popular street artist turned cultural phenom and marketer with a guest spot on “The Simpsons” last night.
Playing himself, Fairey encourages Bart’s emerging interest in graffiti art, which reignited as a means of revenge against Homer with stencils that looked like a cross between Fairey’s “Obey” Andre the Giant image and iconic “Hope” posters of President Obama.
The title of the episode, “Exit Through the Kwik-E-Mart,” is a play on famed street artist Banksy’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and a spoof on the often contradictory status of the world of street art.
The cartoon went viral in 2010 after Banksy created a special opening sequence. (Read more from Michael Cavna’s interview with the show’s executive producer, Al Jean.)
At Fairey’s behest, Bart’s creations (which are mostly plays on Banksy originals) wind up in a gallery show, recreating the “Art in the Streets” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art last summer. The show poked fun at the exhibit, which drew mixed reviews and critiques on the irony of displaying graffiti on the white walls of a museum.
“I like what used to make a neighborhood look dangerous now makes it look sophisticated,” observed character Carl Carlson.
In the end, Fairey reveals he’s actually an undercover cop and turns Bart in for his late-night vandalism. As everyone gasps in shock at Fairey’s true identity, he says, “I’m not in the business of helping out posers anymore; now I just sell stuff to them.”
The self-deprecating line is interesting coming from the artist, who has been straddling the line between commercial success and the underground scene that propelled him to fame. He has continued putting up the wheat stamps that made him a star for guerilla art, while at the same time designing logos for celebrities and selling clothing and jewelry.
“Part of being on ‘The Simpsons,’ is you’re being honored as a reference point in culture,” Fairey said on his Web site, ObeyGiant.com. “But you also can’t be too sensitive about that part of culture being made fun of. … There’s irony that comes with something outsider becoming insider. And they do a great job of examining that.”
Fairey has had his own run-in with the law outside the fictionalized world of Springfield. On Friday, he pleaded guilty to criminal contempt resulting from misconduct in his suit against the Associated Press, the New York Times reports. Fairey originally stated he hadn’t used a photograph owned by the AP while creating the “Hope” campaign poster of Obama and sued the wire service for their claim that he had infringed on their copyrighted material.
Fairey later admitted, however that he was wrong and tried to cover up the mistake.
“I was ashamed that I had done these things, and I knew I should have corrected my actions,” he said while in court.
Fairey could face up to six months in jail for the offense, the latest line in a criminal record that includes an arrest in Boston in 2009 for tagging property and about 14 other arrests. The 2009 incident reminded many that Fairey was still willing to go to jail for his clandestine work and “hasn’t gone entirely mainstream,” the Los Angeles Times said.