Those who rebuff Fairey’s work are angry that he misappropriates (read: steals) famous art and design works; they argue that Warhol changed paradigms while Fairey makes knockoffs. I did an interview with Fairey for his recent book, “Obey: Supply & Demand,” and I admit that on occasion he has come close to crossing the line from acceptable borrowing into murky infringement territory. But after seeing the satiric art barbs that he aimed at politics, cultural icons and bêtes noires in his exhibition at the I.C.A. (where I participated in a panel discussion on appropriation), I can say this: Shepard Fairey is not a crook.
[…] The critics argue that literal replication of the originals — and this is true of Moser and Muller-Brockmann’s imagery, among others — is ethically wrong, but that charge fails to take into account Fairey’s fundamental ethos. His is a wink and a nod toward visual culture and media monopoly. No designer with Fairey’s experience and historical knowledge could be so stupid as to pinch such visible historical artifacts and call them his own. On the contrary, Fairey sees popular visual culture in terms of what Tom Wolfe has called a “big closet” of shared objects. For him, the ubiquity of the graphic design and advertising art that he relies on for source material makes it a kind of commercial folk art. Although some of what he borrows is not as anonymously vernacular as one might like, Fairey believes that the fact that it is designed for public consumption makes it free for the taking.