New Jan. 18, 2009 L A Times Video with Fairey on Obama Posters
Visual Art is a language that is passed on to successive generations.
Everything visual is borrowed from nature and of course human enterprise. Much like any written language, English, German, Russian or Chinese new words are invented as change happens. Each generation teaches the next. Artists are the same. In every language new words, new technologies are developed as society and civilizations change. Words like Website, Internet, Pixel are new. In Visual Art the same is true, Three Point Perspective, Photomontage, Xerography become part of the new vocabulary part of the new craft that is passed on to the next generation. Images throughout the visual history of art are learned and recycled into new often more dynamic and innovated images. Artists embrace new technology and advance their skills and ideas to reflect their time to reflect change in their place in history.
The Year was 1917
The light bulb, electricity, the internal combustion engine was just emerging to the global masses.
Russia was becoming a new society shaped by new technology and ideas of social justice for the worker. The October Revolution changed their history and the people began to build a new future. The Bolsheviks over threw the Democratic Provisional Government that had arisen after the fall of the tsar. Change was eminent.
Aleksander Rodchenko (1891-1956) declared an end to painting in 1921 as he experimented with alternative mediums in the field of design, photography and photocollage, and matured with the new society to became one of the most influential artists of the new Russian Cultural Bureaucracy. Along with his lifelong companion Varvara Stepanova he founded the Constructivist movement.
Rodchenko believed that the avant-garde goal of art was to associate artistic progress with the political goal of social progress.
The Constructivist regarded their systematic investigations of material and formal logic of art as an essential part of creating a Communist society.
1918 the Berlin Dada scene introduced another young artist John Heartfield.
By 1938 John Heartfield was a leading anti-Nazi propagandist who used art as a weapon to defeat Adolf Hitler.
He took photography, photocollege, photomontage to a new and innovative level using the technology of the day to advocate for change. Heartfield created front covers and posters for AIZ (Arbeiter- Illustrierte Zeitung) a magazine that published anti-Nazi propaganda to combat the terror the Third Reich had unleashed upon the world.
John Heartfield born Helmut Herzfeld 1891-1968. He changed his name in protest to Heartfield in 1916, he was critical of the nationalism that over took Germany and the anti-British sentiment prevalent during World War I. Soon these new social ideas would develop into the Nazi Party into fascism. Heartfield was a witness of change that had ushered in the industrial revolution and the ideas communism, fascism and imperialism. All a reflection of how the world changed.
Heartfield like Rodchenko had strong beliefs in the power of images, images that could shape a society.
Images that could influence the masses. Propaganda designed to change their world.
Changed happened in 2008. Suddenly the system began to fail, the light bulb had reached it’s pinnacle and had become a destructive force along with the internal combustion engine, progress seems to have stalled, shifted.
Frank Shepard Fairey (1970- Present) was born in Charleston South Carolina.
Sometime between 1989 and 1992 Fairy created the Obey Giant phenomena by accident while messing around with a copier.
He lifted the OBEY slogan from the movie “They Live”. From there he created a new innovation in the vocabulary of visual art and propaganda for change.
Fairey has gained recent attention from his Obama campaign poster designs. Fairey is a student of all that is around him, his visual vocabulary is broad and he has learned the lessons of history and past masters well.
The voices of Rodchenko and Heartfield scream loud in Fairey’s work. Fairey through his experience as a skateboarder and art student was able to recognize his chance discovery, his new innovation in the vocabulary of visual art and create compelling and targeted art of change. Cutting, pasting, copying he creates social messages for the masses.
As Rodchenko and Heartfield made images of their time Fairy follows their lead with recycled graphic design for todays audience.
His work is a reflection of our world as it is today. A world where we are running out of resources a world where great social change is emerging.
It is the young in all of these examples that first embraced the new ideas of change.
Perhaps the older among us were or are to established in the old systems and feared the inevitable change that had to occur as one system ended and a new on began as did the Romans.
What pushes change and what shape change takes depends on the circumstances and the society in which change happens.
Perhaps if we look at the images of each of these artists we can see the visual change that reflect their time, their art.
Propaganda is most simply advertising. It is a medium designed to sell products and or ideas.
The content of the images and text are intended to convince you the viewer to buy Brand X or to believe in Brand X.
Words and images coexist in a juxtaposition to enhance each other respectively to make the sale.
Now whether that sale is dish soap or a new political doctrine depends on the propaganda on the intent of the words and images. Images become familiar and are exchanged freely between multiple purposes, some good some bad. We as the recipient are bombarded with these well thought out intellectual designs aimed at our understanding of the visual vocabulary. YES we all understand the visual vocabulary of our time. Shock images make us look up and pause, if just for a moment to absorb the message intended for us.
When artists Like Rodchenko, Heartfield and Fairey use their skills we stop and look.
We absorb the message through all of its elements of design and intent. All of these artists are people of idealistic hope. Hope for a better future. Whether it is to design a future of equality, or to stop oppression or even to save the planet all were and are hopeful for a better outcome than they themselves had experienced.
Look at these images and see for yourself the continuation of the visual vocabulary from one time to another.
Ask yourself as an artist or viewer what change do you see. What do you believe what will you do to make that change a reality. Will you set aside your present lifestyle your present ideological beliefs and embrace the NEW.
As history has unfolded the first two of these three artists witnessed great destruction as change occurred.
What will be the history of the last artist, Shepard Fairey when it is written in 100 years. What will he have been a part of today. It is easy to look back at Rodchenko and Heartfield, their time became part of our history. Shepard Fairey is still our present and hope is on the horizon. It is up to us, the artists the people to make our history of tomorrow what we want it to be.
Make Your Voice Heard Never Be Silent.
To learn more about these artists follow the links
Hope Shows Up at the National Portrait Gallery
New Jan. 18, 2009 L A Times Video with Fairey on Obama Posters
Shepard Fairey Admits he lied about Obama Poster
Fairey’s battle with the Associated Press took an unfortunate turn.