Shepard Fairey Beat Up in Copenhagen, Called 'Yankee Hipster' and 'Obama Illuminati'

Fairey's claim to fame -- and possible downfall.
Fairey's claim to fame -- and possible downfall.
Shepard Fairey

Don't worry: L.A. artist Shepard Fairey, 41, only has a "black eye and a bruised rib" after a pummeling he received in Copenhagen, Denmark last weekend.

But the implications for Fairey's international street cred as a graffiti and mural artist -- a traditionally anti-establishment trade -- run deeper.

The Guardian reports that he was beaten up outside a nightclub called Kodboderne 18 as he emerged in the Saturday-morning wee hours, by "left-wing anarchists" who don't like his new mural at the politically charged site of an old torn-down youth house. They're reportedly mad because of his Obama HOPE poster...

... which, at the time he printed it, was more a symbol of rebellion (and, well, hope) after eight years of the suffocatingly conservative Bush regime.

Now that Obama is sitting pretty in the White House, though -- running the still-very-despised U.S. of A. -- Fairey's work is hard to see as anything but patriotic.

(Unless you're Associated Press photographer Mannie Garcia; in which case you mostly just see it as plagiarism.)

Via the Guardian:

The LA-based artist believes the attack was sparked by a misunderstanding over his mural commemorating the demolition of the legendary "Ungdomshuset" (youth house) at Jagtvej 69. The building, a long-term base for Copenhagen's leftwing community, was controversially demolished in 2007. In the intervening years it has become a potent symbol of the standoff between the establishment in Copenhagen and its radical fringe.

Fairey's installation, painted on a building adjacent to the vacant site, depicted a dove in flight above the word "peace" and the figure "69". But the mural appeared to reopen old wounds, with critics accusing Fairey of peddling government-funded propaganda.

The Echo Park hero's overseas mural has since been vandalized with "NO PEACE!" and "GO HOME YANKEE HIPSTER." Fairey told the paper that his attackers called him "Obama illuminati" and ordered him to "go back to America."

Update: This isn't the first time Fairey's been accused of being a bourgeoisie sympathizer. In the very defensive, very anti-corporate world of street art, he's gotten some major shit for reaching a mainstream audience. (Much in the same spirit that MOCA has gotten shit for museum-izing the rogue, open-air sport.) The Obama image, for one, is everywhere -- T-shirts, campaign flyers, keychains.

In a profession that must monetize counterculture, there is still a very sensitive line between making ends meet and selling out; Fairey has dared to cross it.

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey

Case in point: The gorgeous new elephant he painted on the side of West Hollywood's extravagant $64 million library. TMZ also recorded Fairey's wife at LAX a few months ago, admitting her husband doesn't do much of the dirty work himself anymore. Yikes.

Anyway, looks like that kind of media baggage doesn't fly in Copenhagen.

"The city council is using the painting - directly or indirectly - to decorate the crater-like lot at Jagtvej 69," local activist Eskil Andreas Halberg said in a letter to Modkraft. "The art is being used politically to end the conflict in a certain way: 'we're all friends now, right?'"

Fairey denies this interpretation to the Guardian: "The media reported that it was commissioned by the city, which wasn't true," he said. He then added a wise word on his own reputation:

"I think there are a lot of people who think that if you've done well, you've done a deal with the devil."

Another view of the project. Its background is tiled in the "Obey" logo. (Click to enlarge.)
Another view of the project. Its background is tiled in the "Obey" logo. (Click to enlarge.)

Update: In "Obey Coppenhagen Post 1 (Good)," Fairey's own blog post on his time in Denmark, he implies an explanation of Saturday's beatdown is forthcoming:

"Copenhagen was a very, intense trip. I made 110 pieces of art for the show at V1, so I had already been working long hours before I left for Copenhagen. Once we arrived, we hung the show and then the crew and I dove into long days of murals, two of them being three stories high. The Peace Dove mural was all painted, and the AK-47/M-16 mural was painted and pasted. We also did a lot of smaller(comparably), but still large murals all over town. We rode bikes all over town and got a lot of sun and exercise. The opening at V1 and after party were amazing. The V1 crew did an excellent job. My one regret, is that I did not have more time to enjoy the city other than through street art. Copenhagen is a progressive, culturally rich place with great design, art, architecture, and environmental consciousness. The people(for the most part) are incredibly friendly and thoughtful. Not everyone in Copenhagen was hospitable, but that deserves a longer and more thorough explanation and analysis that I will get to in the next couple days with Obey Copenhagen post 2 (Bad)."


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