Shepard Fairey plays himself, sort of, on ‘The Simpsons’

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On Sunday, ‘The Simpsons’ took a trip into the world of street art with the help of vocal cameos by some of the field’s most recognizable names -- Shepard Fairey, Robbie Conal, Kenny Scharf and Ron English. The episode was titled ‘Exit Through the Kwik-E Mart,’ referencing the Oscar-nominated street-art documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop.’

Fairey’s participation went beyond the usual ‘Simpsons’ cameo call-of-duty, presenting a plot twist that was both comedic and revealing of Fairey’s complicated public persona.

When Bart decides to seek revenge on Homer, he creates a street-art poster featuring his father’s drunken likeness over the word ‘Dope.’ (The poster is a nod to Fairey’s ‘Obey’ posters of Andre the Giant.) Bart teams up with Milhouse to paint the town with Homer-themed graffiti.

The duo are confronted in a dark alley by Fairey and his cohorts. They like Bart’s work so much that they decide to give him his own gallery show. But -- spoiler alert -- the Springfield police arrest Bart at the ‘El Barto’ art opening. It turns out that Fairey is actually a police informant and that the gallery show was just a means of apprehending him.


Fairey’s decision to play himself as a secret police informant can be read on the simplest level as a comic riff on his rebellious persona and fashionable outlaw status. But the plot twist also touches (perhaps unintentionally) on a common accusation leveled at Fairey -- that he is a sell-out.

Critics of the artist often say or imply that he has become too commercial and mainstream -- as well as too close to the establishment. It is the ultimate insult in the street-art universe, a culture that naturally values street cred, or at least the outward appearance of it. The episode suggests that Fairey is more than just a sell-out -- he’s also a fraud and a phony. Should we read his participation in Sunday’s episode as a confession, an acknowledgment that all of the above are true? Or is it an ironic gesture? Rife with teasing ambiguities, Fairey’s cameo could be the best, or at least most intriguing work of art of his career.

In the episode, Fairey also acknowledges that he is the creator of the ‘Hope’ poster of Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, the episode doesn’t get into the artist’s legal woes concerning the poster. Last month, Fairey entered a guilty plea in federal court in his criminal case involving the Associated Press.

The artist has admitted to destroying documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct in the case.


Using Shepard Fairey to trash President Obama

Shepard Fairey enters guilty plea in criminal case with AP

Shepard Fairey to settle ‘Hope’ poster case with Associated Press

-- David Ng