Probably not enough room to go into detail here about how interesting this print is by Shepard Fairey: The appropriation of a pop art icon, the appropriation of said icon’s appropriation (the target); the juxtaposition of target and icon (icon and icon); the addition of the Andre the Giant star and face at the center of the target; the always beguiling look on Jasper Johns’ face. I can’t help but see it as homage and threat. Although maybe that is exactly what the phrase Obey is. Homage and threat. I go back again and again to Rauschenberg erasing the de Kooning. This to me is Fairey erasing a Jasper Johns. Beyond that the print itself is luscious with red and black. I am convinced in the past 6 months or so that surfaces and torquing them is the essence of visual art: Whether Monet’s lilies bending the surface of water and space, Renaissance orthogonals creating the illusion of depth or the shimmer of Jackson Pollock warping physical and emotional space on the surface of canvas, this bending of reality and challenge to the eye remains essential in an art. Fairey achieves this here dramatically with the flat 2-color printing shifting against the flatness of pop and the sectioning of the image into thirds: Hands, target, face. Obey, obey, obey.
I came across this image in some recent research on Kenneth Noland (also famous for the target) and only wished it had been part of the Boston show (but it was too new it seems). After seeing the Fairey exhibition at the ICA Boston I had some doubts, but this is at a different level than the work there. What worked against the retrospective was the concentration of it all (and it all concentrated in museum rather than city) while this print on its own is a show-stopper.As much of Fairey’s work is. But this is likely my favorite.
The only question in this relationship now is who to obey. Mr. Johns awaits an answer.