What moves you? I mean, what really moves you?
What takes your breath away and renders you incapable of averting your eyes?
What fascinates you? What grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let you go until you look, really look?
What wakes you up in the middle of the night? What makes the sweat pool in your palms?
What moves you? What makes you want to get up and shout? What makes you melt down and weep?
Whom do you crush on? What do you admire? Whose picture would you plaster on your wall?
What turns you on? What makes every last hair on your arms rise to attention? What makes your brain light up like ten thousand fireflies? What inside or outside you is so intense it could spark a flame in a monsoon?
What takes your breath away? What threatens to dismember you if you don’t give it a pen already? Or a brush? Or a pound of clay? Or a voice? Or a mallet? Or a wrecking ball?
What turns you on?
That. Do that! For the love of life, do it already.
That. See it. Play it. Make love to it. Pay attention to it. Get curious about it. Read it like a 4-year-old asking for that bedtime story night after night. See it again and again until it saturates every pore in your skin. Hear it until you catch its essential thread. Feel it until the need you hadn’t even known was there cries “Uncle” and begs for mercy.
Last night I went to see the Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA in Boston. It was my third time in as many months. The first time I went I had no idea. I went because my friend had tickets. I said, “Shepherds? Fairies? Wha—?”
Shepard Fairey began as a street artist in Boston in the 80’s when he began making posters of Andre the Giant. Something inside him needed expression and, apparently, he listened and gave it a voice. Or rather, a can of spray paint.
I vaguely remember noticing Andre graffiti plastered or spray painted on the random box, or in the corner of a billboard, and every so often, large on the wall of some abandoned building. Eventually I saw the ObeyGiant posters in enough places that I wondered what they were all about. But I never really stopped to find out. I was too immersed in my own inner saga, my turmoil, my drama, my bad dreams, my own world of trying at once to fit in and be special.
Which is sort of his point. Or at least the point where I go with Fairey’s “ObeyGiant”, which is to remind us of how “powerful visuals and emotionally potent phrases can be used to manipulate and indoctrinate.” In other words: Believe this. Not that. Try this. Buy that. This is cool. That’s not. We are good. They are bad. And so on…
When I walked into the Shepard Fairey exhibit for the first time, I was greeted with the Obey images that had been peppering the odd places in my city. Oh that, I thought… hmmmm, weird.
And then I entered the next exhibit room to find larger-than-life murals that fairly took my breath away.
Standing back, I saw a Palestinian woman peering through a curtain, a boy too young to shave with machine gun on shoulder, an Arab woman’s fiery eyes on a face otherwise veiled. Up close I could make out newspaper headlines, ads, propaganda campaign slogans, the subtle juxtaposition of visuals we can’t help but constantly take in unless we live in a cave (and maybe even there), the information we are spoon-fed at every meal and at every snack and at every drive through, all of which add up to what to me feels some kind of endless noise.
It comes at me from everywhere. Clutter. Filler. Agendas. Causes.
Not even in the privacy of my own home, with no TV, does it stop. I shut my laptop, and there it is, still, yet so not still, but frantic. Chattering. Blathering.
It’d be easy to blame. I often do. My blame lands, probably fully justified in many people’s minds, on a million and one targets, many so beautifully portrayed in Shepard Fairey’s art.
But blame deflects. Blame very quickly turns into the very same noise and clutter and filler and agenda and endless causes that made me point the finger in the first place.
When I stop and recognize the part I play in what I would blame, I’m left with an inner noise so loud it makes me feel an awful lot like this. I’m tempted, and often do, add distraction to the noise so as to numb it. It does, for a nanosecond. But not very well. When I stop and when I notice I am often, these days, brought to weeping. And then always I am left with a powerful longing for essential.
Essential. Ahhhh, fresh air.
Essential. Ahhhh. Direct. Upfront. No excuses. No apologies. No convincing. No preaching. No converting. No finger wagging. No pointing. No hemming and hawing. No hiding. No pretense.
Essential says: Here I am. This is it. This is what I’ve got. No more, no less. Hello.
It sounds a whole lot like truth. Truth with room for black and for white and for every color in between.
Essential. So heartbreakingly honest. No need to cover up.
The weeping stops. Everything has grown oddly still. And into this you-could-hear-a-pin-drop quiet comes the sound of hooves. Far away at first but quickly gaining. Pounding in my chest like a herd of wild horses galloping down a beach.
Life. It wants out! And it’s coming.
(Shepard Fairey: Supply & Demand will be at the ICA in Boston through August 16. Hurry!)