Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Arts & Culture

Shepard Fairey, Street Art, And Viva la Revolución

Artist Shepard Fairey stands in front of his work on the side of Urban Outfitters in Hillcrest.  Fairey is in town for MCASD's new exhibit "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape."
Geoff Hargadon
Artist Shepard Fairey stands in front of his work on the side of Urban Outfitters in Hillcrest. Fairey is in town for MCASD's new exhibit "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape."
Shepard Fairey, Street Art, And Viva la Revolución
The walls of San Diego have been known for Wyland's whales and Chicano murals. But as of this weekend, some of the world's most prolific street artists will be adding their work to our urban environment. It's all part of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's new exhibit, "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape." We'll talk with the show's curator, along with Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the Obama Hope poster and Obey Giant, and French street artist, JR.

"Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape" opens on Sunday at MCASD's downtown Jacobs Building location and will be on view until January 2, 2011. There is an opening reception for museum members on Saturday night.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The urban landscape of San Diego is becoming a canvas for some of the world's most exciting street artists. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is hosting an unusual show that takes place both inside the galleries and outside on public sites around the city.

San Diego, with its mural tradition inherited from Mexico—most notably at Chicano Park—is no stranger to images emerging from a city landscape. But the artists whose work is featured in this exhibition are involved in international exploration of street art as both a gift and a challenge to the urban environment. I’d like to introduce my guests. Pedro Alonzo is a freelance curator from Boston. He co-curated MCASD's exhibit, "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape." Pedro, good morning.


PEDRO ALONZO (Freelance Curator): Good morning. Thank you for having me here.

CAVANAUGH: Shepard Fairey is street and visual artist known for his Obey Giant campaign and his Obama Hope poster. Shepard, good morning. Thanks for being here.

SHEPARD FAIREY (Visual Artist): Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And JR is a French street and visual artist and photographer. JR, good morning.

JR (Photographic Street Artist): Hi. Nice to meet you.


CAVANAUGH: Now, Pedro, this "Viva la Revolución” is an exhibit of street art. Tell us, what’s the difference between street art and graffiti?

ALONZO: Well, the main difference is that street art, the artists are really trying to speak to the public. The images, you know, the visually arresting images, it’s about a dialogue, whereas graffiti is much more about an insular challenge between graffiti artists. It’s about the process of repeating your tag over and over again in a stylized fashion.

CAVANAUGH: So give us a sense of the history of street art as opposed to graffiti or tagging, as you say. Is someone like Keith Haring or Samo, Michel – Jean-Michel…


CAVANAUGH: …representative of a certain era of street art?

ALONZO: Well, I – In my opinion, it really starts with Haring. I think Haring is one of the artists who began to make – who challenged the arts establishment by saying, hey, I’m not just interested in a couple of curators and a couple of collectors. I want the world to appreciate my art. And many of the things that he initiated, the model he established in his practice, is something that I’ve seen pop up with other artists. But I think the biggest difference between that generation, Basquiat and Haring, and this generation is that the internet didn’t exist. So these artists were much more dependent on the arts establishment in order to function and to thrive. With street art, they were – The internet allowed them to circumvent the gallery system and create their own scene. So that’s largely why street art has gone ignored for so long, is because it doesn’t cater to the art establishment in any way. There are very few curators out there that, you know, who know who these artists are or who kind of really care. And it was a real effort on my part to go out and meet these guys and to earn their trust and, in some cases, convince them to do a show. And in many cases, these artists were criticized for going into the museum. The first show I did called “Spank the Monkey,” there was a lot of chatter on the – that was in England. There was a lot of chatter on the internet about, you know, how dare this old guy—I’m not really that old—but this old guy, you know, bring this into the white cube, you know. This should be out in the street. And, you know, I didn’t force the artists.

CAVANAUGH: The white cube, the gallery.

ALONZO: The white cube, exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, my God. And, Shepard, I want – I’d like you to weigh in on this. What do you think the internet has done to change street art?

FAIREY: Well, it’s really allowed people all over the world to see what other artists are doing and, I think, built a great support network. It also means that you can document about five spots from good angles and become a street art celebrity really quickly. But, you know, there’s good and bad with the internet. But I think the most important thing is what Pedro’s talking about, being able to have a website to share your work and to maybe, you know, sell posters or tee shirts, something to support your practice. I mean, street art costs money, it doesn’t make money. You lose money doing it but – so before the internet, you would have to either work a menial job or basically somehow get in – into a gallery and really embrace that system. And that’s something I never really wanted to do. I’m a populist. I wanted my work to be everywhere so doing street art and bypassing all of the bureaucracy of the gallery world was great, and then you take it to another level of exposure through the internet because that’s – the internet’s incredibly democratic, so I think it’s good for that reason.

CAVANAUGH: And, JR, does the internet give you more control over the work that you choose to do and how you get it seen?

JR: You know, in the past years, I’ve been working in places where it’s hard to reach sometimes like the favelas of Cambodia, India or places in Africa. And the internet makes me share that work with other persons because that work was directed for the people out there because it was their own photos. So it was for the local community but the internet allowed other people who maybe would not take the step to go and take the plane and go and visit this place to at least have a first new look over this place, have another eyes through the art and then maybe want to go and see by themself.

CAVANAUGH: It makes local art international.

JR: Yeah, kind of. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Pedro, the one thing that’s really exciting about this exhibition is the fact that all of San Diego is, in a sense, involved in it. Tell us what people will be seeing in downtown San Diego in terms of public art, street art.

ALONZO: Yeah, well, the first artist to arrive is also a Frenchman, Invader. And he did a roughly 30 by 16 foot Invader on the side of the art center, you know, on 12th and G. Another piece that’s finished is a piece by Os Gemeos on Horton Plaza. And so that’s – you know, then there’s several works by the artist Vhils around town. We’re having a – Well, JR’s doing a massive piece in downtown. Shepard’s done – finished a piece in mural, a mural, excuse me, in Hillcrest. He’s working on another piece in South Park, and he’ll be doing several spots in downtown. It’s hard to program this. It’s not like you say, okay, hey, you know, Shepard, this is the wall and, you know, you need to finish it in two hours, and, JR, you’ve got, you know, a day and a half and – You know, this is a very organic process. A lot of things happen and, you know, and it’s challenging to secure walls. It’s challenging to deal with the City. You know, the art world is very accustomed to having our white box to play with and we can really do whatever we want in there and sometimes when it’s – if it’s a little too extreme, you know, we’ll get called on it, you know. But, otherwise, you know, we basically do what we want and we have our audience that’s supportive of it. But when you bring out art in the streets and when you do a show like this, you have to. It would be ridiculous for us not to do work out in the street. It would be – It would really neuter the entire exhibition. You enter into a whole series of challenges that are just not part of what we’re – what we’re used to doing.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Pedro Alonzo. He is co-curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s exhibit "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape." And joining him, two of the artists featured in the exhibit, Shepard Fairey and JR. Shepard, you are featured in a film called “Exit from the Gift Shop” and there’s a character in that film who takes on a persona called Mr. Brainwash. He sort of represents the commercialization and mainstreaming of street art. Do you think that street art has become too commercialized?

FAIREY: Well, first of all, street art itself can’t become too commercialized because you can’t buy it, the actual street art. But the esthetics of street art, anything that becomes culturally relevant, its style will be copied if there’s a market for it. And, yeah, that’s always disheartening when something that I think has a purity and an authenticity and a real ethic behind it, some people just jump on the bandwagon for reasons that aren’t as pure. But at the same time, I think that’s the way all culture works and it’s just an incentive to keep evolving, keep innovating. And the actual street art is always going to be something that I think is done with, especially if it’s done illegally, done with risk and passion and I think that transfers to the viewer. I think the real stuff transfers. Mr. Brainwash is somewhat of an anomaly because he’s the DIY street artist who’s actually a millionaire with a bunch of property in Los Angeles…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Umm-hmm.

FAIREY: …and a huge crew of people working for him. And he’s a friend of mine. But he is – That’s why the film is so fascinating because he is challenging in his very complicated mixture of some real – some genuine passion but some – but no original ideas and a lot more money that most street artists have. So it’s – Yeah, I think it’s a good debate he raises.

CAVANAUGH: Well, speaking of that debate, I mean, you are arguably one of the most famous street artists, Shepard. I mean, you’ve got your work in major collections, the Obama portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. So how do you deal with the idea of your real art world success and this outsider status that street art brings with it?

FAIREY: Yeah, the whole gray area in life is where it gets interesting and the black and white is just – yeah, that’s for really lazy people, I think. I make art to share my ideas and my esthetics with people. Like I said, I’m a populist. The outsider street art thing was an absolute necessity for me because I didn’t want to pander to the art system but I’ve always looked at everything in life as you approach everything trying to do what the best solution is. And so I’ve frequently said I utilize an inside/outside strategy. When I can’t achieve what I want through the dominant system, I will bypass it and I’m very resourceful. But if I can share my work through a museum or a gallery and actually turn that crowd onto what’s going on in the streets, which I think is so important, so democratic, then, yes, I think that’s an important opportunity to take. So I guess I’m comfortable with some occasionally awkward juxtapositions, swimming in shark infested waters, if you will, and, you know, all the people that I think do important things are up for a challenge.

CAVANAUGH: JR, is the attitude towards street art any different in Europe than here in the United States?

JR: Umm, I would say for me to continue that debate, what’s really interesting that works so far here and in Europe is that wherever you do art in the street, you mostly compete with advertising when you think about it. And you’re allowed to use another space that the advertising can’t use and that’s why sometimes they’re jealous about us. And we do it with passion and, like you said, Shepard, and a desire and at night and on our own, you know, money and risk. And that’s what make the art even stronger. That’s what make it compete advertising like nothing else. And I think the only risk in commercialization is if your art become an advert itself but for a brand, not for yourself because, you know what, you have to leave from what you’re doing and to stay independent, and that’s have always been, I think, the edge, the risk, in the pa kua (?) and it’s the same – You know, like for me, it’s great to have at the same time, you can dig in your work in a museum and continue doing it the way you want in the street, so you can show another side. For example, in the museum, I’m showing videos of how it have been done in other countries. You allow people to see another face of it, so you have to find your own way to make it different in the museum and the continuity of it. But then the street should always stay your, you know, your studio in a way. I have always pasted even my first photograph in the street, so I have always shared those photograph with the people even if they liked it or not, even if they scratched them or covered them up, that’s part of the game.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a break but before we do, JR, I read that you used to work as basically a graffiti artist but then you found a camera?

JR: Yeah. Exactly. And then I documented my friend. I was not a good writer so I just decided that all the tunnels and rooftop were so exciting that I wanted to document them to share them with my friend then…

CAVANAUGH: Do you think this is fate, the fact that that camera was on the subway?

JR: No, no, I don’t think so. I just found out that when I pasted those photos, I accidentally interact with much more people than I used to do when I was doing graffiti.

CAVANAUGH: I see. We are going to have – continue our conversation about the new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape." We’ll continue our conversation. We have to take a short break. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Shepard Fairey, JR and Pedro Alonzo, and we’re talking about the "Viva la Revolución” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. And before we move on, I just want to recap a little bit of our conversation during the break. Shepard, you were saying you saw JR’s photographs when they were really small.

FAIREY: Yeah, he was pasting up about 18 by 24 inch photographs on the streets of Paris when I did my first show in Paris in 2003 and I thought they were great photos but just to see the evolution of what he’s done in the, you know, the scale and the placement, it’s always exciting to see an artist, you know, evolving and progressing…


FAIREY: …and, you know, I think at this point JR is the most ambitious street artist working.

CAVANAUGH: Well, how big are…

JR: Oh, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: …your photographs now?

JR: It depends, depends the size of the building. I adapt it to the architecture. But the biggest we did in Paris, when we covered the Ile St. Louis. This enterprise was 8 km, of course, there so we have to implicate hundreds of people that night that were volunteers and people who came and help. And it’s true that, you know, starting when I was 16, 17, I knew Shepard’s work and the way he used the street around the world and I could see also photos at that time from internet because that was the beginning of the internet, so I could discover what he did. And then seeing it being – you know, arriving on your own city, that motivates you to go and – motivates you to go and like paste overseas. And that’s my first time in U.S. when I came in LA, he helped me with pasting the first posters in Los Angeles and the – and then I document his work and pasted back in other countries. So it’s – I like this idea that, you know, we kind of – I always feel like a kid, you know, playing in the streets, you know, and you go and see like, okay, where do I start? The Champs Elysees, the avenue up there, and it’s the same in each city you go.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, so Pedro, where do they start here? How did you get permission for all these artists to use open spaces in San Diego?

ALONZO: Well, we went – I first spoke to the City, you know, just everyone I thought I needed to speak to. And they gave me basic instructions on what we needed to do. And one person at the City said, look, I – You know, if you want one of our buildings, a city building, go ahead and, you know, ask and we’ll try and help you but that’s going to be complicated. You’re really better off speaking to, you know, private parties. And, you know, speak – You know, because all you really need from them is consent. And, really, if you read the laws, the difference between graffiti and art or an image on a wall is consent. So that’s how it’s defined. And so we spent a lot of time talking to people. I’ve done this before so I have some experience and I feel very strongly about the work and it helps that these artists have become so prominent. I mean, you know, people are thrilled. They see the images, you know, they may not’ve seen JR’s work before but when they see what he did in Paris, they all freak out and, you know, if you can cover a bridge in the center of Paris, you know, hell, he can have my building, too. You know, it’s easy to convince. And Shepard, you know, he’s, you know, you know, very famous and people love his work and…


ALONZO: …and, you know, so it’s – So there’s that. And it’s an interesting process to go through this with people but it’s been a good experience.

CAVANAUGH: So, Shepard, your piece is going to be in Hillcrest on the side of a building, is that right?

FAIREY: I have one mural that’s already completed…


FAIREY: …in Hillcrest. Am I allowed…

ALONZO: Yeah, yeah.

FAIREY: …to reveal…?

ALONZO: Yeah, reveal…

FAIREY/ALONZO: …the location.

CAVANAUGH: Reveal the location.

FAIREY: Underground bunker. No, it’s on the side of Urban Outfitters, formerly the Corvette Diner. And interestingly enough, the people that own the building are the…

ALONZO: Fosters.

FAIREY: …the Fosters who I used to rent a design office in San Diego from them from ’97 to 2001.

CAVANAUGH: You lived here for…

FAIREY: That’s right.

CAVANAUGH: …a number of years. Yeah, that’s right.

FAIREY: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s fascinating. Now, I – The underlying message to a lot of your work is basically question everything. And I wonder if you see your work as trying to inspire political activism in any way or where does that come from, that question everything?

FAIREY: Well, I think awareness, in and of itself, promotes activism, action. You can just proceed more powerfully in life if you’re paying attention. So my work isn’t – Some of it is about specific issues, some of it’s just about encouraging people to question everything they encounter. I think a lot of times telling people how to think doesn’t make a breakthrough. People need to have their own epiphanies. But there are certain issues that I care about that I – global warming or war or any number of things, so I try to just create a mixture of provocative images, some of which are topical, others are really about getting people to what is this thing I’m being presented with in my work and then maybe the next time they look at an ad, they’ll say what am I being presented with here.

CAVANAUGH: Right, now I know that there’s a legal dispute underway involving your use of a photograph of Barack Obama as the underlying image for the Hope poster and I know that you can’t comment on the lawsuit and I’m not asking you to, but to what you just said, is there something more powerful about using an existing image? What does that allow you to do?

FAIREY: Well, with Barack Obama, it’s – if you’re going to make an image about him, it’s got to look like him, so I think…


FAIREY: Could you draw him from memory?

CAVANAUGH: Probably not.

FAIREY: Right. I don’t think pretty much any artist could or human being or monkey. But I – You know, I think that, first of all, reference is a very critical component of all communications so if I’m going to try to present any figure that needs to be recognizable, it needs – people need to know who I’m talking about. And then beyond that, there’s a lot of – I think there are a lot of symbols that people have preconceived ideas about that you can build upon what their assumptions are about an image or you can twist it and revitalize, I think, their sensitivity to how symbols and images can be manipulated. So I think reference is very important in all communication but art as well. But, you know, I think that the idea that it’s – a piece of art is uniquely that artist’s vision is what’s important and how they transform it for their purposes. I think human beings are very sensitive about distinguishing something that’s just a verbatim reproduction of something and something that has obviously had an artist editorialize about it. And, yeah, so at some – Yeah, it’s a case by case thing but I don’t believe in – I believe in copyright, I don’t believe in people should be able to take images verbatim and just repackage them and sell them. But I do think that it’s critical to artistic expression, the visual version of First Amendment rights that people be able to make transformative use of images.

ALONZO: Yeah, and the irony about this piece is that in most cases, artists use existing images that are, you know, very famous. Warhol, Vik Muniz, you know, with the wall series he did on the Pulitzer Prize winning images of Life magazine. You know, Marcel Duchamp putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. I mean, these are iconic existing images. The twist here is that Shepard took images that most people really, you know, weren’t that familiar with and he created the icon. That image of Obama, I think, had been licensed, you know, four times or something. And then now it’s huge. Everybody has seen it because of the work…

CAVANAUGH: It’s in the National Gallery.

ALONZO: …he did. But on the other hand, if you look at Andre the Giant, the same thing. I mean, you know, some people may remember him in “Princess Bride” but most people are going to remember him because of his rendering, of Shepard’s rendering of him. And, I mean, that’s – I mean, Andre has been immortalized by Shepard.

CAVANAUGH: JR, I know that you worked on a piece yesterday here in San Diego down at 5th and C. Tell us about it. What are you doing here?

JR: I’m pasting up a gigantic eye on the street. In the work I’ve done on the last project, 28 millimeters, it’s the lens I use to shoot from really close on the person, to do it with their trust. And so all the person I photograph know that they’re going to be paste up and so I’m looking in the camera like if they’re looking in the street. And I’m making those eyes traveling around the world with me. And most of the time, with them I bring the story because that’s what the people wanted, that their story travel.

CAVANAUGH: Are they women’s eyes?

JR: Yeah, they’re women’s eyes.

CAVANAUGH: Because your project, you have a longterm project “Women Are Heroes.”

JR: Exactly. Since two years and a half I’m traveling. You know, after I did the project on the – in the Middle East where I paste up on the wall and in Israel and in Persian city, it was the first time I went up in a country where there’s no museum, I mean, or quite far away, quite distant. And I was surprised how the people in the street would just stop, all the street would just stop and consider that pasting and try to understand it. And it never happened to me that way, and I was like I want to go in places where there’s even no museum in the countries around. So first time I went to Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia and I arrived there and I realized that there were mens who were taking care of the streets. So I knew that if I was pasting in the street, because I’m doing it without authorization, I will have to confirm the image with them. And what more strong than the women’s condition in those places to rise up questions of the country and because it’s already were present in the country, in the social politic and human condition where, you know, the condition of the woman.


JR: So I decided to focus on the woman and then you could see through their eyes, when I was just working in the street, the dignity and the strength that they have going through all the conflicts and stuff. So I went in places that I’ve seen through the media but that I wanted to be my own eyes. And so like Brazil in the favelas that keeps coming up in the media. In Cambodia, a lot of evictions going on right now there. In India, in Kenya, where we did the train, is just after the post-election riot violence, and so I wanted to highlight those anonymous person by pasting them up. And for them, sometime it was great to have their photo in their community and sometime they were like, yeah, but people already know me. Why this photo is going to change something for me? But if you make this photo travel, then people will get my story. And most of the people ask me, okay, I want you to take it – I want you to take my story like throwing a bottle in the water.

CAVANAUGH: In the water, right, exactly. Since you’ve been all over the world, and I want to ask Shepard this, too, first JR, what do you think of San Diego as an urban space, as a canvas?

JR: As a canvas, I say it’s pretty interesting because most of the buildings are not that high and you have distance. The streets are quite large. So you can do pieces that – for me, the piece I’m doing here, it’s a really big one. But because you have distance on the street, it’s pretty funny. It looks like a normal piece I would do in Europe. So I have to adapt it to the U.S. format, you know, but it’s a great way of – Yeah, a great city to work, especially for me I would say for the way it takes times and day and night and that, you know, it’s hard work at the end, you know. People just see the work of, and I’m sure it’s same for Shepard. At the end you give a lot of yourself.


JR: It’s physical. You know, you think of the idea, you make it, but then after it’s all logistic, how you put it up, you know, how you paste it, the technique and the people involved. And that whole thing for me is the strongest. That’s, for me, the artwork. The moment you put your step in the street and you decide to put it up, that’s, for me, where the art process start. The rest is the preparation like making the glue.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

JR: For me, the photograph is just part of the process. It’s not the art itself, the photo on the…

CAVANAUGH: It’s the putting it up.

JR: Yeah, exactly, it’s putting it up.

CAVANAUGH: And you’ve – Well, you know San Diego. You’ve put up art here before, haven’t you, Shepard?

FAIREY: Yes, I have.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, you have. And what do you think of it? I mean, you’ve been all over the United States, all over the world now. What do you think of San Diego as a canvas?

FAIREY: Well, it’s a challenge. I – It’s pretty conservative here. I lived here for five years, from ’96 to 2001, and eventually, though I had never been stopped by the police putting anything up, the police showed up at my office and more or less said that I needed to not put anything up in San Diego or I would be facing a civil suit. So, yeah, that’s one of the reasons I don’t live in San Diego anymore.


FAIREY: But, you know, that’s just one aspect of San Diego. There’s a lot of great people here and the feedback that I get from people at art shows here or while I was doing my mural in Hillcrest is amazing. There’s a lot of support and so many people have said, oh, it’s about time the establishment recognized this art form in San Diego. They’re very happy about the museum show. You know, it validates something that they think has made an impact on culture but been unrecognized. So, you know, I’m really happy to be here. I love, you know, I love a lot of aspects of San Diego. It’s nice to be back. And, you know, I think it’s a really – going to be a really great event to – for people to see the work on the street and indoors, you know, how it’s presented. It’s pretty exciting.


ALONZO: You know, I should point out, yeah, I mean, a large part of the show is inside the museum…


ALONZO: …you know, on Kettner there next to the train station. It’s – And, you know, we’re very, very excited about it. But, you know, when – when you do these shows, you do – You know, you’re challenging the establishment. I mean, these are challenging exhibitions. You’re – you are – you know, these artists have made a career of putting their word out in public space, a space that has traditionally been reserved for the elites. And what’s interesting though is that Shepard didn’t end up in San Diego by accident. He didn’t move here for the weather. And if I remember correctly, he told me he moved here because you used to come here for ASR, the Action Sports Retail convention…

FAIREY: That’s right.

ALONZO: …which is where all of the, you know, the surf and skate brands come twice a year, right. Now, if you look at any of those shows, it’s all about design and it’s all inspired by what these artists here are doing. They’re, in some cases, they’re total knockoffs, in other cases they are commissions where they pay the artist for their ideas. But all of these brands thrive on the work these artists are doing. If you look at a lot of advertising, it – Now, it has changed. Whereas, before, these artists were mimicking advertising, now the advertisers mimic them. And it’s also interesting when you look at the space that they share. I’m not sure how it works here in San Diego but I know that in the city of New York, advertisers put up – We pasted posters on derelict buildings and nothing happens to them, ever. An artist does that, and they’re persecuted for it.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, yeah.

ALONZO: It’s the same space, it’s the same material.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of – Of the artists represented in "Viva la Revolución,” what do you think – How many of these artists still are using spaces that they’re not getting permission to use?

ALONZO: Well, I need to point one thing out.


ALONZO: They’re not all street artists.


ALONZO: The show is largely street artists but there are many artists in the show such as Mark Bradford, William Cordova and, you know, Moris, even Ryan McGinness, who has been mistaken for a street artist but he’s not really a street artist.


ALONZO: You know, these artists, you know, because – and the reason why I did this is because it’s about a dialogue. It’s in the title. And in order for the arts establishment to understand what’s going on, in order for the larger community, the elites, if you will, to understand what’s going on, you need to have that bridge there. And these are artists that are working with very similar themes. How many of them are still doing stuff illegally? You know, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I assume many of them still do. I don’t – In many cases, most of them are probably now too busy doing shows all over the world, being invited to do things. I mean, you just – I mean, JR’s travel schedule, I’d hate – I’d hate to count your miles.

JR: Umm-hmm.

ALONZO: I mean, you’ve been in Africa, you’ve been in the Middle East, you were in Shanghai.

JR: Most of the travels I do, I allowed myself a few exhibition a year just to dig more into projects because I realize the more stuff I did like overseas, the more it was on papers and the internet and in the press. But at least there was explanation behind it and I was talking my own game where I was pointing stuff, I was pointing, hey, look, I’m going to show you another vision of the favela and to show that visions I’m going to do – going to have to do something so big that you’re going to relook at the situation, that the media’s going to reinterest from what I add on at the same situation. But at the end, they just say, whoa, it could end up in a paper and be like, oh, that’s what a great big installation extraordinary. And I was like, no, no, that’s just the visual but look behind. And so I say I have to slow down. And I made the movie this year that was selected in Cannes and it’s going to be released in cinemas. I don’t know when in the U.S.

CAVANAUGH: What’s the name of it?

JR: It’s “Women Are Heroes.”


JR: But it’s the name of the project. But I document the whole way because I knew on that project I wanted to show what’s behind. That was much more interesting than the process of doing it, is why the people accept it. How the people reacted in those communities because that’s – because it was all done illegally. So all the work I’m doing like obviously the projects, is still done illegally when it makes sense to do it illegally. And I give an example. In the Middle East, if you ask the permission on one side and you don’t have it from the other side of vis resa (?) then you pull this or pull that. If you are sponsored by a brand and then people will also take it from another way. And I wanted it to be taken neutral. You know, that’s why also I stay behind my initials, so the people focus on the work and I give hardly information about myself so we can – You know, I’m not putting up those anonymous on the street to highlight myself and you find out that it’s pretty hard, you know, to live behind it. And what I – at least I’m trying to do is to give – allow myself two exhibition a year to show – to dig like there’s a 9-minute-30 films presented at the museum where you understand how, you know, the process of the people that are behind those projects are – And also you can find more when you go and look by yourself on the internet. There’s always material available.

CAVANAUGH: I am so sorry but we are really out of time.

JR: Oh.

CAVANAUGH: And I’m so surprised myself. But I do want to ask you, Pedro, is there some kind of guide people can use to find the works that are outside the gallery? Or is that maybe not the point?

ALONZO: No, no, actually – Well, there’s nothing like running into one of these pieces by surprise if you don’t know it’s there. So I suggest that people, when they walk around downtown San Diego, they just keep their eyes open because some of them are very large and some are very small. But the idea, you know, when they walk around the city, is to stumble into – But we will have maps giving people guidance around the city so they can find it and we also are working on an application for phones so that people can not only find where it is but also receive the information, you know, someone’s story, you know, documentary. You know, we have the Teen Art Council is recording the artists and, you know, so we’ll have audio/video/text, all sorts of information about each work.

CAVANAUGH: And I have been told that there will be pictures online on our website this afternoon at

FAIREY: Yes, and that’s actually one of the beauties of this. I mean the piece isn’t even finished and it’s already online all over the world. I mean, artists show up and say, oh, I saw your piece. And I’m like how, you know, how did you see it? Where – Say, oh, I saw it online this morning.

CAVANAUGH: The internet.

FAIREY: So, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: That’s what we’re saying. Pedro Alonzo, Shepard Fairey, JR, thank you so much.

FAIREY: Thank you.

ALONZO: Thank you.

JR: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape" opens Sunday at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, downtown, Jacobs Building location. It will be on view a nice long time, until January second. And you can go online, as I say, Coming up, the Weekend Preview as These Days continues on KPBS.