c2007 by Shepard Fairey
Deitch Projects, NY until 30 May, until 22 August at Centre for Contemporary Art, Cincinnati
Bob Dylan is from Fairey’s May Day show, an exhibition designed to alarm and make statements. This is May Day as in America’s Labour Day, with its tradition of political demonstrations, and ‘mayday’ as in warning, potential emergency. The emergency, according to Fairey, is the state of the world; despite its past figureheads, symbols and struggles, it is still not the harmonious place any of those people dreamed of. May Day is made up of canvases of symbols, the American flag, dollar bills, and portraits of iconic figures. Bob Dylan is perhaps one of the most striking of this visual army; covering his face with his hand, there is a feeling of despair, hopelessness, or at least a desire to shut out the world, if just for a moment. His hand, with expressive fingers, becomes as telling as the hidden eyes, reminding us of human flesh and touch, giving the portrait a poignant intimacy. This is only enhanced with the layers of paper memories that Dylan is printed onto; contemporary newspaper articles, pictures, symbols and pattern make up the background of the canvas. Hints of text and letters emerge boldly, or are barely visible, through the coloured mass of his face. Leaking through, these are the historical reminders of life led; translucent, they are like literary ghosts telling stories, lost in the ink of the figure we often remember without them. Fairey’s canvases work in two ways; from a distance they are stylised portraits, faces blocked out for impact, yet up close they are a delicate building of history, meaningful collages of things left forgotten or unsaid.