Graphic designers everywhere can jump for joy at, not one, but two CBS Sunday Morning stories about a couple of their own leaping the great divide into the world of fine art. Shepard Fairey who famously drew the now ubiquitous Obama “HOPE” portrait is showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Another guy with a funny name, KAWS, is in museums in New York and Miami.
As always, the question of whether graphic design is fine art continues. A video on YouTube shows folks proclaiming that graphic designers are casual but wear nice shoes, while artists are lazy, wear flannel and dress in all black. Another clip has John Stossel of ABC’s 20/20 proclaiming he had never done a graphic design story, so he does a 40 second piece with three points, two of which have to do with, famed designer Paul Rand – of IBM logo notoriety.
A rebellious streak runs through both Fairey and KAWS, tracing their early works to skateboards and graffiti among other things. And while Fairey got his name without his own intervention, KAWS is another story altogether.
Brian Donnelly who grew up in Jersey City, NJ, took the name KAWS because as a graffiti artist he admired the way the letters fit together. It also sheltered him as an anonymous yet illegal tagger. Illegal no more, he’s managed to gain acceptance for his unusual, fresh take on cartoon characters and similar subjects. Does his success in the mainstream mean he’s trading in his rebel cred? Folks are debating.
A copyright lawsuit is at least one sign of arrival, or, at the very least, departure from the world of the starving artist/graphic designer, as the case may be. Fairey is being sued by none other than the Associated Press who claims ownership of the photograph used for the Obama portrait. With rebel cred intact, Fairey, designer of the Mozilla red dragon, was arrested on his way to the premiere of show in Boston. But debating continues. Is this just art of the moment?