Shepard Fairey Brings “Natural Springs” Mural to Jersey City

September 21, 2015 Stephanie Romano

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Take a drive down Monmouth Street towards the Holland Tunnel and you will come across a gigantic colorful addition to the Jersey City landscape; a recently painted mural from world-acclaimed artist Frank Shepard Fairey. Also known by the name OBEY and celebrated for his Andre the Giant and Barack Obama Hope imagery, Fairey recently completed a stunning mural on one side of the Mana Ice House located at 581 Monmouth Street. The mural, titled Natural Springs, which measures 147-feet long, took five days (Saturday, September 12 to Wednesday, September 16) to complete and is Fairey’s largest horizontal mural to date. His previous largest vertical mural, located in Detroit, Michigan, was completed earlier this year.

The mural project got off the ground with the help of Fairey’s long-time friend Jonathan LeVine, owner of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in Chelsea. While in the area to promote his recently opened solo exhibit at the Jacob Lewis Gallery, Fairey was looking for a large wall to create an outdoor public painting. LeVine reached out to Mana Contemporary, the arts organization in Jersey City he has worked with in the past, for a blank wall in the area. Fairey said that finding good walls to paint can be difficult, so he was happy to learn this particular one was available. His best friend growing up used to live on Coles Street in downtown Jersey City, so he was familiar with the area and had admired the building at 581 Monmouth Street for some time.

Stan Sudol, Director of Mana Urban Arts Projects, was able to put the project together quickly; contacting the city for appropriate permits, acquiring lifts for the artist, and having the wall prepped with a top coat of paint. Fairey, standing in front of his Jersey City mural, expressed his appreciation for Mana’s support and said, “I am super grateful to Mana for helping to facilitate so that I did not have to negotiate any of those challenges. I could just negotiate the challenge of the wall.”

When residents of Jersey City found out the Shepard Fairey was coming to town, many took to social media to share their excitement. Once the mural began on September 12 many admirers visited to watch and photograph the process, hoping to get a glimpse of the artist himself. Fairy expressed how great the people of Jersey City treated him and estimated that over the weekend crowds of about 30-50 people gathered to watch. Although the enthusiasm was high, some questioned if Fairey was doing the work himself. One JCI reader posed the question to us as well when we posted our initial photos of the mural on our Facebook page. JCI contributors (including myself) had seen the artist working on the days that we stopped by the mural. Sudol also confirmed that Fairey was in fact present every day from morning to night. Sudol even called him a “workhorse” and stated, “You can not say he is not a working artist. He does not phone IT in.”

Artist Shepard Fairey (right) on a lift working on his 147-foot mural "Natural Springs" located at 581 Monmouth Street

Artist Shepard Fairey (right) on a lift working on his 147-foot mural “Natural Springs” located at 581 Monmouth Street

One of Shepard Fairey's "Andre the Giant Has a Posse" stickers on a telephone post located at 13th Street and 581 Monmouth Street, Jersey City

One of Shepard Fairey’s “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” stickers on a telephone post located at 13th Street and 581 Monmouth Street, Jersey City

Every area of the mural "Natural Springs" was planned, mapped and tagged beforehand by Shepard Fairey. JCI contributor, Stephanie Romano points to a detail on the mural rendering

Every area of the mural “Natural Springs” was planned, mapped and tagged beforehand by Shepard Fairey. JCI contributor, Stephanie Romano points to a detail on the mural rendering

Fairey did not receive payment for the mural and purchased all of the spray paint cans and supplies himself. He brought with him a team of four men including Dan Flores, an artist who has worked with Fairey for over ten years. Although getting a slow start on Saturday due to the weather and having to stop for an hour on Sunday during heavy rain, the crew worked tirelessly for five days. During the few breaks taken in order to eat, Fairey made time to sign autographs and greet the crowd of people watching from across the street. Even fellow artists such as Andrew Witten (Zephyr), a graffiti artist known for creating the 1980s Wild Style logo, stopped by. Fairy acknowledged that many of  the artists involved in the New York graffiti scene are from the Jersey City area including Brian Donnelly (KAWS) whose tag is written high on the same wall above the Fairey mural (see in photos below.)

Every area of the mural was planned, mapped and tagged beforehand. A life-size template of the image was printed onto paper in eight-foot sections and labeled with a letter and a number. Starting from the top right side of the wall, a template was temporarily glued onto the wall using a spray adhesive. Fairey then used an X-Acto knife to hand cut an area out of the paper in order to expose the wall. Using spray paint, the exposed area was then colored in with the corresponding color. Once that area was finished, he cut out the next area and filled it in with the correct color. Stencils are usually pre-cut before the artist uses them but because the wall was so large and high, Fairey had to cut out the areas as he worked. He continued down the image vertically until he reached the bottom and then moved onto the next section horizontally, starting again at the top. Because the surface of the wall is rough bricks, cutting with the X-Acto knife was difficult and the sharp blades continually fell into the grooves of the bricks.

Boxes of spray paint cans and envelopes which contain all of the paper templates used by Shepard Fairey to paint the mural "Natural Springs"

Boxes of spray paint cans and envelopes which contain all of the paper templates used by Shepard Fairey to paint the mural “Natural Springs”

Shepard Fairey (center) attaching a paper template to the wall prior to applying spray paint

Shepard Fairey (center) attaching a paper template to the wall prior to applying spray paint

Every paper template used to create the mural "Natural Springs" was labeled with a letter and number for identification

Every paper template used to create the mural “Natural Springs” was labeled with a letter and number for identification

The mural took over 200 cans of spray paint to complete and was created in Fairey’s traditional colors of black, red, creme, and yellow. A combination of delicate designs contrasted next to hard geometric shapes give the painting variety and movement. At the beginning of the mural the phrases “Paint It Black,” “Decadent-Luxurious” and “The Richest Black”  stand out in large decorative letters above a droplet surrounding a silhouette of an oil well. A globe with the word “Power” and a flame with the word “Glory” hover on either side of the droplet. The middle, and perhaps the most striking section of the mural, is an image of a beautifully rendered young female looking out towards the viewer while holding a rose that drips black liquid oil. Fairey described her as “an archetype.” Although her facial expression is calm, Fairey explained that she represents a female activist frustrated by the oily flower and the idea that financial profit would come before the wellbeing of people and the planet. To the right of the woman Fairey painted a wallpaper-like flower design. One of the flower stems morphs into a “gasoline pump” while the image of Fairey’s infamous Andre the Giant peaks out from the center of a flower below. The final section includes a large black circular design surrounding another oil well with a dollar sign to one side and a skull and crossbones on the other.

Detail from the mural "Natural Springs" of a female looking out towards the viewer while holding a rose that drips black liquid oil

Detail from the mural “Natural Springs” of a female looking out towards the viewer while holding a rose that drips black liquid oil

"Natural Springs" mural by artist Shepard Fairey in progress

“Natural Springs” mural by artist Shepard Fairey in progress

Detail from the mural "Natural Springs" of a flower with the image of Andre the Giant inside the center

Detail from the mural “Natural Springs” of a flower with the image of Andre the Giant inside the center

Fairey was given complete artistic license by Mana’s Director and Co-Founder Eugene Lemay. The mural reflects current themes also found in his new paintings hanging at the Jacob Lewis Gallery in Chelsea, New York. The show Shepard Fairey: On Our Hands, his first solo exhibition of paintings in New York City in the last five years, addresses Fairey’s environmental concerns. He explained, “A lot of work in the show is about the lack of addressing climate change based on the amazing power and influence of the fossil fuel industries. I am more shocked and amazed that the profits of people who are not thinking about the future will come before the next generation of billions of people. I think as a species we are better than that. We adapt really well. The idea that you may need to adapt to driving a car that gets better gas mileage or consider the value of a government subsidy for new technology that is renewable are all things that we have the resources to adapt to financially but we are harming a lot of the resources that we can not replenish.”

Artist Shepard Fairey (right) on a lift working on his 147-foot mural "Natural Springs" located at 581 Monmouth Street

Artist Shepard Fairey (right) on a lift working on his 147-foot mural “Natural Springs” located at 581 Monmouth Street

The finished mural "Natural Springs" by Shepard Fairey on the Mana Ice House, located at 581 Monmouth Street

The finished mural “Natural Springs” by Shepard Fairey on the Mana Ice House, located at 581 Monmouth Street

In addition to the exhibition at the Jacob Lewis Gallery, a new edition of the artist’s prints on handmade paper are on display at Pace Prints, located in the same building as the gallery. Both shows opened to the public last Thursday. Limited advance copies of Fairey’s new book Covert to Overt were for sale at the opening. The hardcover monograph, written by the artist and set for release on September 29, documents all aspects of Fairey’s art, including works on paper, mixed-media installations, public projects, collaborations and his clothing brand OBEY.

Stenciling, wheat pasting, and spray painting are techniques Fairey has favorited for the last 25 years. When asked how his art has evolved during this time Fairey said, “It has evolved in that now I get offered things I can do without having to look over my shoulder for the police. Everything I have achieved in that capacity has been the result of my willingness to take risks.” He further explained how stenciling and screen printing processes work well with his aesthetic of black color and simple abstracted shapes. Fairey continued, “I have made my aesthetic move towards what I can do technically and what I am pleased with aesthetically.” Once the mural was finished, Fairey headed over to Mana Contemporary, located at 930 Newark Avenue, to install a wheat paste of his image of OBEY to a 60-foot-wide billboard, (overlooking the Pulaski Skyway) located in the Mana parking lot.

When asked what’s next, Fairey said he is excited about the upcoming prison reform mural he will paint in Philadelphia next month. In November he plans to suspend a 60-foot wide globe covered in his imagery between the first and second levels of the Eiffel Tower in Paris during the climate change summit.

Although the crowds of onlookers have dispersed and remnants of spray paint cans and X-Acto knives have been cleaned up, Natural Springs remains a beautiful additional to the expanding public art scene in Jersey City. Fairey expressed his joy with the location of the mural and said, “People are saying thank you for doing something in Jersey. I have had tons of friends from Hoboken and Jersey City since the early 90s. To have people say ‘thanks’ for doing it here and not in Manhattan makes me pleased. All of the areas around here from Queens to Jersey City are populated by people who I want to share my art with.”

The mural “Natural Springs” is located at the Mana Ice House, 581 Monmouth Street. “Shepard Fairey: On Our Hands” will be on view September 18-October 24, 2015 at the Jacob Lewis Gallery, 521 West 26th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY. Shepard Fairey prints will be on view at Pace Prints from September 18-October 17, 2015. For more information on Shepard Fairey and his art visit, obeygiant.com.

Photos by Beth Achenbach

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