Shepard Fairey Murals the Great Bowery Water Tower
Artist Shepard Fairey has created street art over the past three decades that resist cultural norms and expectations. Perhaps his most notable works are the We The People and Obama Hope campaign posters, which were shared across the country millions of times in a variety of ways, making Shepard Fairey a household name throughout the US. It’s his belief that art is a social act that connects people not only with each other but also with ourselves. Shepard believes that art is activism, that serves as a catalyst for action. Shepard was and is still today inspired by the 1980s and 1990s street culture of the Lower East Side, what he refers to as the “unholy trinity of cultures:” graffiti, hip-hop and punk rock, and skateboarding.
In a collaboration with several iconic NYC organizations, artist Shepard Fairey created a mural on the water tower that sits on top of the famous Germania Bank Building, currently the home of Great Bowery’s New York Headquarters. This famous graffiti-covered building has seen decades the Lower East Side’s history and culture, making it the perfect canvas for Shepard Fairey’s work. The mural features local activist and actress Rosario Dawson, a Lower East Side native. The painting illuminates Dawson in an empowering light, showcasing her as the inspiring NYC advocate she is. The mural serves as a symbol of power and equality that highlights both NYC’s creative culture as well as Great Bowery’s work with The Lower East Side Girls Club and their Alphabet City Art School.
A key factor in the success of this project was the incredible fundraising and spotlight put on the LES Girls Club by depicting LES New Yorker and board member Rosario Dawson. This altruism and support of the local community is one detail that convinced the Landmark Preservation Commission to approve the project after they initially rejected the idea. Rosario Dawson was raised on the Lower East Side with her family. She lived in a family of squatters and was sitting on a stoop one day when she was approached by a local talent agent to cast her in the movie, “Kids,” kickstarting her acting career. She’s currently a board member of the Lower East Side Girls Club, serving as an important social justice figure and activist, fighting to improve the lives of the young girls of this club.
On July 17, once the mural was unveiled, Great Bowery hosted “A Conversation with Shepard Fairey,” with the artist and David Hershkovits, founder of Paper Magazine. The two engaged in a discussion about art, activism, NYC’s creative culture, and how it all came together in Shepard Fairey’s illustration of Dawson on Great Bowery’s water tower.
“Art connects people with the better side of nature and makes them hopefully see something in themselves that then they can also see in other people. So it's at least subconsciously a bit of a bridge to all of humanity and I think people are better people when they're capable of making art, being creative, taking chances, expressing themselves, sharing with others. Because why would we do it if we didn't have some impulse to create meaning with other people? Otherwise, people would just do stuff in isolation. I think it's a social act,” explained Shepard. “Rosario Dawson is a recognizable person that it would make a viewer curious. A lot of the work I've been doing focuses on an appealing archetype that maybe is just representing an idea or a subject that is actually literally in there life embodying an idea. It's really important to draw people into a conversation about the subject matter. Using Rosario for that piece was great because we’ve both been outside this building, in this neighborhood, for years. I put illegal street art on the outside of this building. We’re part of the history.”
After thirty years of creating street art, Shepard Fairey remains extremely passionate about his craft. He seeks to look at what’s going on in our society to create what isn’t being said and what needs to be done, with the hope of inspiring action and change.