I am standing in the hallway of a restaurant on the Lower East Side (don’t know if I will ever recognize NoHo on any real level)… While struggling for words is nothing new, this time the struggle is definitely real and undecipherable babble seems to be the only thing coming from my lips. I manage to spurt out something to the effect of “You helped me survive living in Texas when I was younger” … and that was that, a moment in time that marks a full circle in my life… a moment full of "pinch me" because this can’t be real shivers.
In the Street Art world there are few names as large as Shepard Fairey: his images have invaded all parts of modern culture and are recognized world-wide. Because of his mass appeal and his long-time love of the band "Blondie," Shepard was the perfect artist to design the album package for the group’s newest release, Pollinator. So when it came time for The L.I.S.A. Project to refresh the wall at Saxon and Parole, Shepard and Blondie were logical choices. Forty years ago, Blondie released their debut album just across Bowery on the other side of time at CBGBs, long considered one of the cradles of American punk and alternative music. Nothing of that era remains, but it still holds a place in the hearts of many, including Shepard.
When asked about his connection to the neighborhood, Shepard takes us to the grimy, dangerous past. When he first started coming in 1990 it was a great place to put up street art, a lot of abandoned buildings and spaces. He also fondly remembers his first solo NY show held at CBGB's 313 Gallery next door to the original venue in 1998. “Someone accidentally literally poked a guitar through one of my canvases and I thought it was a great story. But, I still needed the money for it so what I did was put it back in the box it was shipped in and figured out where the hole was and poked a hole in that exact spot and told the shipping guys that they had done it rather than a guitar pushed through it at CBGBs. So I collected the insurance on it.”
Over the course of two days, Shepard channeled those memories and his admiration for Blondie into the newest edition to the Bowery story. And what better spot than this for Shepard’s family to join in on the work, a true collaboration and a way to share his history and love of place with his daughters.
Shepard was inviting to all who passed by, ever the gentleman. He entertained questions and criticisms with grace and his usual down-to-earth charm. I immediately noticed the same open spirit in both of his daughters. Eager to engage, they made every young visitor feel special, even inviting some to participate in the mural’s creation. A glance at his younger daughter’s sketchbook also confirmed that talent is being passed to the next generation and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the entire Fairey family.
But back to that hallway… the mural is complete, both Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie are in attendance and the mood is festive. The paparazzi have done their jobs and retreated. Debbie is tired and yet she still manages to smile at my attempt at communication. “You helped us survive also”, she says to me. Most of the time when you meet your idols you are hit full in the face with how they don’t live up to your expectations… this was not one of those times.