In Last Meal, The A.V. Club asks writers, performers, and various other entertainment professionals to imagine that they’re headed to an isolated jail next week. Rather than encourage them to spend time with their family or enjoy the outdoors, we ask them to pick the five to 10 pieces of pop culture they’ll enjoy before they’re condemned to a life on the inside.
To call Shepard Fairey a “street artist” is a little deceptive—although he rose out of the skateboarding scene, creating his “Andre The Giant Has A Posse” sticker campaign in the late ’80s, he’s achieved a mainstream recognition that most street artists never find. That’s largely because of the Hope poster Fairey created during the 2008 presidential campaign, arguably the most iconic American image since Uncle Sam. With that image, Fairey became a pop cultural icon himself, though he remained true to his street-art roots (most publicly, in the form of a drawn-out fight with The Associated Press over fair use of the Obama image). Fairey is currently curating the art exhibit The Provocateurs, which is running in Chicago in conjunction with Lollapalooza, from July 31 to August 4, and features art from more than 40 artists, including Keith Haring, Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), and Camille Rose Garcia.
Fairey talked to The A.V. Club about the last bits of pop culture he’d want to consume before heading off to imaginary prison. Like his own work, his choices straddle the spaces between low and high art, from mustaches to the Mona Lisa.
Dave Chappelle and The Black Keys
SF: [When I heard about] this concept, I was like, oh, I’m going to think of some clever things to say. And then I totally forgot to do that. So now I’m on the spot. I’m not going to try to make it all about me, but of course, the things that I encounter are always top of mind.
I’ve never seen Dave Chappelle live. I just got to do the poster for his Radio City Music Hall shows. And I think he’s an absolute genius and I’m so glad that he’s come back out to do more stand-up. I really would like to see Dave Chappelle before I’m incarcerated. I think that the way he deconstructs a lot of social and racial structures, all politics, everything—it’s really smart, it turns things inside out, I think, in unusual ways. And The Black Keys—I want to see The Black Keys. I’ve seen them before. But I definitely want to see them again. I think they’re a really great live act and they’re making some of the best rock ’n’ roll that’s happening right now. So, yeah, that would be important to me.
AVC: Where did you see them before?
SF: I saw them at Coachella. And they were good in a place that big—a lot of bands can’t translate outdoors. But the way their sound works, it really sounded amazing. The visuals they did were just huge, very graphic things, on a huge screen behind them. It worked really well—the whole thing was sort of an amplification of what I think is great about them, which is that they prove that good songwriting doesn’t have to be too busy. There’s a simplicity to it. And sometimes simple done really well is the best solution. In fact, I strive for that in my own art a lot of times. But yeah, they were great. I got to do the poster for their Madison Square Garden show in 2012, but I didn’t get to go. Sometimes things like that happen. But I’m going to do the poster for their show in L.A. next November. So I’m super excited about that.
AVC: If you’re seeing them again, do you want to see them in a specific kind of venue? You’ve seen them big. Do you want to see them small now?
SF: Yeah, in a more intimate setting would be great. Luckily, I’ve gotten to see a lot of bands when they were on their way up. I got to see Jane’s Addiction open for the Ramones in a place that held, like, 600 people. It was before Nothing’s Shocking came out. I saw the White Stripes in a place that holds 250 people in 2000—at, like, an upstairs party with 100 people. Those things are always cool to experience. Not just for the cool points of saying, “Oh, I was there, I was an early adopter,” but just for the intimacy.
SF: I would really like to meet David Bowie. I’m a huge fan of his work. Mostly his ’70s to mid-’80s stuff, but really, throughout his career, I think he’s been incredible in terms of the quality of his output and his ambition, stylistically, to work with different musicians and try different genres. It’s pretty fearless. I think he’s an original shape-shifter that people like Lady Gaga and Madonna owe a lot to. And also Iggy Pop owes a lot to him; he’s one of my heroes as well. His career was basically over after the Stooges’ first two albums didn’t do well and they were dropped from Electra. And Bowie took him under his wing and got him the deal for Raw Power and then also collaborated with him on Lust For Life and The Idiot, which are two incredible albums. Bowie and Iggy co-wrote “China Girl” for The Idiot, then Bowie put it out again on Let’s Dance—his version. Anyway, I’d love to just have a meal with David Bowie to experience firsthand how he thinks. Do all these people and things that I’m interested in have to be people that are still living?
AVC: No, definitely not.
Andy Warhol and The Louvre
SF: Okay, cool. That really opens things up. I’ve always been fascinated by Andy Warhol. Because I think he was really shrewd and whether it was his decisions were more intellectual or more intuitive, I definitely would love to have been able to hang out with him and just see firsthand how he dealt with the challenges of being relevant within the moment in pop culture, and then also thinking about how to make artwork that’s quality artwork, because pop culture moves very quickly, and a lot of times, art-making moves very slowly.
I think Warhol was a master at balancing things in all of that, and I also think that the way that he dealt with criticism is very amusing. You know, I’m thin-skinned—when someone said, “Why are you making these soup cans or these Brillo boxes instead of doing something that no one’s ever seen before,” his response was, “Because it’s so much easier.” [Laughs.] I just haven’t learned how to roll with the criticism like that. But anyway, I’d love to hang out with Warhol. I’ve never been to the Louvre.
AVC: For the entire experience? Is there something specific you want to see there?
SF: Yeah, the entire experience. They have the Mona Lisa and everything else in their collection.
AVC: How many months do you plan on spending to get the entire experience?
SF: If I’ve got a week, I guess I’ll spend a day there. The funny thing about museums is a lot of times I’m only interested in maybe 20 percent of what’s there—I have my subjective taste that dictates what I’m going to give a lot of time to and what I’m not. But every now and then, something will impact me in a way that is unexpected, and I never want to rule out that possibility. And that’s why traveling and seeing things firsthand, I think, is really important, because there’s a real big difference when molecules are colliding than when you’re looking at it on a computer screen.
AVC: It’s true what they say; the Mona Lisa is very small.
SF: Seeing the Mona Lisa in person might not be a life-changing thing, but it’s still an important historical piece. And maybe it would be more impactful for me to see Duchamp’s postcard with a mustache on it. But, yeah, never know until you see it firsthand. I’ve seen a lot of urinals firsthand, but not Duchamp’s. I guess he made a few of them.
SF: Let’s see—what else? I’d probably want to try to get together with Banksy. We know each other, he’s a friend, but he’s become so reclusive. But talking to him about what’s going on in art and culture is always something that’s inspiring to me.
He has a great mind, he’s very witty, very acerbic, and is incredibly calculating about the things he does, but in a way that I think is all about the impact of the end result. And sometimes when I look at sort of the yin and yang of things, his paranoia and reclusiveness is all in service of keeping the art as potent as possible by not—by letting every viewer project their own fantasy without the burden of knowing who Banksy is and what might be guiding what he’s doing. So in some ways I think it makes the art that much more powerful. And listening to him and talking to him about art and his approach to things is always unique.
AVC: You quoted Andy Warhol about how pop culture moves quickly and art moves much more slowly, and you’ve picked a lot of things that straddle that. Except maybe the Louvre—that probably still moves pretty slowly.
SF: There is always how you communicate in the language of the moment—but the nature of humanity hasn’t changed that much over time, so it’s interesting to look at both how you maximize your time in the moment and then also how you make something that endures with human sensibility. And the Louvre might be the latter. Sometimes I think it’s important to take a breath and step back and say, okay, “These thing resonate with humans. They might be packaged differently in this era or that era. But how do I take that sort of universal truth and make that work for now?” And the Louvre might be a reminder of how those things have been dealt with at different times but also what the core good ideas are.
AVC: Is there anything else you want to do or see before you get put in the can?
SF: Well, I’m trying to think of places I haven’t been, things I haven’t seen that I want to do. I’ve done a lot. I’d love to have met Keith Haring. Keith Haring is an artist that I also really admire for the style of his work but also that he did it on the streets. He’s kind of a godfather of a lot of things that I care about. He made his work very accessible to Pop Shop. He worked on political and social causes. Even if it’s just a thank you—“Hey, thanks for the inspiration.”