Artist Shepard Fairey used to be best known for his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” campaign, in which he used an image of the French wrestler in stickers, street art, and later a clothing line and all-around brand called Obey Giant. He later became better known for his 2008 “Hope” poster of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and its attendant copyright controversy. He mined the spirit of that image again in a series of 2017 posters that were for a moment as ubiquitous as the “pussy hats” everybody was wearing at protests back then. Point being, the guy is known.
Love it or hate it or just kind of “meh” about it, Fairey’s distinct style has been imitated, parodied, and replicated so often that it can sometimes be hard to tell whether the Shepard Fairey-looking work that just appeared on the wall in your city’s hippest neighborhood was actually done by Shepard Fairey. Complicating matters is the fact that Fairey does have large-scale murals in cities across the country. As for this Shepard Fairey-looking work that’s recently appeared on a water tower in Deep Ellum—yeah, that was Shepard Fairey.
I just returned from Dallas, TX where my crew and I painted a 30 foot high surface on a 150 foot high water tower called “Cultivate Harmony” in the #DeepEllum neighborhood.
— Shepard Fairey (@OBEYGIANT) May 19, 2021
The mural, “Cultivate Harmony,” covers the 150-foot-tall water tower near the Continental Gin Building, a 133-year-old landmark that was just renovated with an eye on hosting office space, retail, and restaurants. “I was excited to paint a mural in Deep Ellum because the creative energy in the neighborhood is amazing, with art popping up everywhere (including a great mural by my friend of many years Maya Hayuk), and it is the first area where I ever put up street art in Dallas 21 years ago,” Fairey writes on his website. He continues:
I’ve done plenty of water towers “hit and run” with paste-ups over the years, but this fully painted cylinder was possibly the most serious logistical challenge of my career.
My crew and I were working 150 feet up on 19” wide temporary scaffolding with ropes and harnesses for long hours over 3 days. Luckily we had great support from a safety crew who also helped hoist up supplies and pizzas. The imagery and text of the mural needed to be bold enough to read from a distance, so I stuck to evergreen themes that I hope people will take to heart: the idea that peace and harmony need to be cultivated with care and love, and that it is important for all of us to keep our eyes and minds open.
I threw in a nod to Black Flag, and some encouragement to take the high road, with the “Rise Above” text.
Thank you to my crew of Nic Bowers, Dan Flores, Rob Zagula, and Luka Densmore for the hard work at perilous heights. Thanks to Jon Furlong for the photos and Zane Meyer of Chop ‘Em Down Films for the videos. Thanks also to the Goldman Global Arts team and the Westdale team for inviting me and facilitating the project!
As Fairey writes, this isn’t his first appearance in Dallas. In 2012, when he sat down for an interview with D Magazine, the Dallas Contemporary commissioned him to paint a series of murals around town, including one (on a building that’s since been torn down) near the Contemporary itself, one (since removed) on the side of the building that used to be Off-Site Kitchen in Trinity Groves, and another one (vandalized in 2017) by the Belmont Hotel in West Dallas. I might be missing one or two.
I haven’t seen this latest mural in person yet, but based on the images Fairey’s shared online, my tentative opinion: I think it looks kind of cool.