Artist Shepard Fairey wanted by Detroit police for graffiti

Street artist Shepard Fairey exits the Manhattan Federal Court after being sentenced for doctoring and destroying evidence in the case against him, in New York September 7, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Street artist Shepard Fairey exits the Manhattan Federal Court after being sentenced for doctoring and destroying evidence in the case against him, in New York September 7, 2012.

Reuters/Brendan McDermid


Police in a city known for its vast stretches of graffiti-marred abandoned buildings are seeking to make an example of noted street artist Shepard Fairey, who during a recent visit to Detroit allegedly defaced several properties.

Detroit Police Sergeant Rebecca McKay said on Thursday that Fairey, 45, the man behind the “Obey” street-art sticker campaign, set a bad example for other artists when he plastered his signature Andre the Giant posters on buildings in and near downtown.

Police have issued a felony arrest warrant for Fairey, accusing him of two counts of malicious destruction of property, each punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

“When you’re in Detroit, we welcome your work, Shepard Fairey, your commissioned work, not your Wild West work,” McKay told Reuters.

In all, McKay said the posters caused an estimated $9,100 in damage, including to the Old Vanity Ballroom, a registered historic site.

Reuters was not able to reach Fairey or a representative for comment.

Fairey, best known for his Obama “Hope” sign used in the 2008 presidential campaign, has tangled with the law in the past. He was sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to destroying evidence during a copyright battle over the Obama Hope image, which was based on a photograph taken by someone else.

The legal troubles in Detroit arose after his visit to the Motor City last month when real-estate mogul Dan Gilbert commissioned him to create an 18-story mural on the side of the One Campus Martius building.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press at the time, Fairey said he planned to do other, unauthorized, works during his visit.

This skirmish comes as Detroit is reeling from a historic bankruptcy and trying to overhaul its reputation as a bastion for illegal street artists who use abandoned properties as their canvases.

Last summer, Mayor Mike Duggan formed a quality-of-life task force targeting graffiti and building code violations. The team has apprehended about a dozen people suspected of vandalism.

“Whether it’s appealing to the eye or not, it is a crime,” McKay said. “He is well aware of the law, and instead of respecting the city of Detroit he took us two steps back.”

(Reporting by Serena Maria Daniels; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Eric Beech)

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