My hometown of Charleston, SC never ceases to surprise me when it comes to arts, food, and culture. As far removed as it is from art hubs like NYC and LA, Charleston serves up some southern heat with exhibitions like The Insistent Image: Recurrent Motifs in the Art of Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns. I caught the tail end of the exhibition, which will leave the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art on July 12. Split between new work from Shepard Fairey and survey of prints made between 1982-2012 by Jasper Johns, the exhibition’s aim was to highlight both artists’ usage of the repetition of imagery.
Fairey, a Charleston native based in LA created works for this exhibition under the theme of “Power and Glory.” At a time when our country is celebrating its history and freedom, his propaganda-like pieces call American hegemony into question. He takes the “insistent images” of iconic symbols and phrases and turns them on their heads, so that our stars and stripes no longer signify freedom and justice for all and “America’s Favorite” brands no longer seem so appealing. One piece that struck me was his Empire State of Mind, 2014 which departs from Jay-Z’s version by presenting an oil rig spewing toxins into the atmosphere from the peak of the Empire State Building. By repurposing phrases like, “The Land Where God Saves,” and “Lifeguard Not On Duty,” Fairey addresses political issues and makes you think twice about that last vacation you took. All of this ultimately to show that while we have come a long way toward being a great country, we still have work to do.