Fairey returns for hearing on graffiti counts
Source: Boston Globe, by Brian R. Ballou
Returning to Boston to face two graffiti charges, the Los Angeles-based artist who created the controversial "Hope" poster of Barack Obama may be facing a deluge of new charges.
During a closed-door hearing yesterday in Brighton District Court, Boston police applied for two additional vandalism charges against Shepard Fairey, and a detective working the case indicated that police plan to seek 29 more charges in Roxbury district and Boston municipal courts.
Fairey, wearing a charcoal suit and dark dress shirt, declined to comment after the hearing, and strode out of the courthouse with his lawyer, Jeffrey P. Wiesner, and several supporters. Hours later, Fairey released a statement that said he was not involved with "illegally posting" his artwork, which is widely available on the Internet.
"I can only assume that the gratuitous piling on of felony charges by the Boston police is related to my longstanding advocacy as an artist for the idea that public visual space should be filled with more than just commercial advertising," the 39-year-old said.
Wiesner, in a telephone interview yesterday afternoon, said he has not seen "less evidence presented for a criminal charge."
He said police acknowledged yesterday before the magistrate that they had no eyewitnesses or surveillance video of Fairey putting up posters.
"Their fundamental premise is that the posters are out there, and Mr. Fairey must have put them up because they're his."
It was not clear yesterday when court officials would decide on the application for new charges.
Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, said yesterday that "investigators are confident that the evidence speaks for itself."
According to a police report, Detective Bill Kelley "found at least 29 of suspect Fairey's illegally placed monikers" on public and private property in the Back Bay. The report states that Fairey has admitted to placing the monikers, which Kelley noticed on Jan. 24.
Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said yesterday that "We have not yet had an opportunity to review any of the additional charges, but we will review the facts and circumstances of each one to determine their strength."
Fairey's "Hope" poster of Obama now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Boston police arrested him last month, pulling over his taxicab as the artist was on his way to the opening of his exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the South Boston Waterfront.
The two charges filed yesterday in Brighton stem from allegations that Fairey posted an Obey Giant poster on a railroad trestle over Storrow Drive and put up numerous Obama posters in Allston, near Brighton Avenue, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 25 of last year, according to Wiesner.
Fairey also had a hearing yesterday in Brighton that stemmed from a charge filed in September 2000, when he was accused of posting graffiti on an electrical box in Allston. That case was continued until April 14. He has another hearing on Wednesday for allegedly defacing Massachusetts Turnpike Authority property with posters at Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street on or about Jan. 24.
Chris Ott, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said: "Police have the right to enforce the law, but they have to do it fairly and it has to be based on evidence that he actually did this. You don't have to look very far in a city like Boston to find other posters put up advertising things like movies. It's clear where those postings come from, but you don't see people being prosecuted for those."
Anne Swanson, who cochairs Graffiti NABBers, an offshoot of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, said she and other residents have spent at least a thousand hours in the last three years taking down posters, stickers, and other types of graffiti in the community. She called it "visual litter that appears in vast quantities here."
Aside from criminal charges in Boston, Fairey is also in a dispute over his image of President Obama. He acknowledges that the poster was based on an April 2006 photograph taken by Mannie Garcia, a freelance photographer who took the photo for the Associated Press.
The AP has accused Fairey of copyright infringement and wants compensation. Fairey filed a preemptive suit last month in federal court in New York.
Garcia, who no longer freelances for the AP, recently told the monthly magazine Photo District News that he did not want to fight Fairey over the image.
"I'm concerned about it, but this is a unique situation," Garcia said. "This is not just some artist who ripped something off."