Jon Furlong, “Martha Cooper Paste Up, NYC”



October 10 - October 24, 2015 at Subliminal Projects, Echo Park

by A. Moret


Reflected from a fractured mirror found on a side street of London, photographer Jon Furlong reveals himself. His visage remains obscured by the body of his camera, but his reflection collides with the reflection of a red sightseeing bus, signage and the silhouettes of bystanders who happen to share the frame with the photographer. While the work is titled “Self Portrait,” very little of Furlong’s identity is revealed as he documents the world that exists behind-the-scenes of Shepard Fairey's OBEY GIANT.




Jon Furlong, “Martha Cooper Paste Up, NYC,” 2010, black and white photograph.



Since 2005 Furlong has worked with the OBEY team, first photographing clothing produced and then following the artist and his crew to cities across America and around the globe, including Amsterdam, Charleston, Cincinnati, Copenhagen, Dallas, Los Angeles, Málaga, Paris and London. “Covert to Overt” celebrates the first time that Furlong’s photographs have been accessible to the public, and they coincide with Fairey’s latest collaboration with Rizzoli books.


His immediate access to the otherwise hidden process of installing large-scale street art — comprised of silkscreened pieces with wheat paste, X-acto knifes and spray paint — during odd hours of the day (or night) grants viewers an inside look into the documentation of Fairey’s creative practice and the cultural impact of the medium and message that the artist created for the last 20 years.


As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Fairey began tagging the East Coast landscape with stickers, posters and stencils bearing the image of professional wrestler and actor André the Giant. Soon the messages evolved with the phrase “André the Giant has a posse.” The symbol gained a popular following until a lawsuit with World Wrestling Entertainment in 1994 ended the use of the imagery. In 1995 Fairey created the OBEY imagery, which resembles a Rorschach test and spread like wildfire. In his OBEY manifesto Fairey declared that the image was meant to engender a sense of phenomenology, in that the presence of the imagery was intended to “rewaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment.”  While the image does not advertise one particular brand or product and has no literal meaning, the application of the image in an urban space activated a new way of thinking.  Furlong captures Fairey applying the OBEY face above an emergency exit door in Málaga, Spain in 2013. As Fairey smooths out the final touches of the stencil, Furlong captures a can of wheat paste, a broom and several cans of spray paint within the composition.


Operating as both a documentarian and participant in the creative process, Furlong stands beneath a lift in Chicago. The crew above works away while the sun breaks overhead. Furlong also assists during street art installations, as seen during a moment in Detroit as dusk breaks to evening and Fairey remains hard at work with his fingernails covered in spray paint. The message of OBEY has been a call to action, just as the “Attention!” mural in Dallas reads: “Attention! This has been called to your attention so that you know it has not been overlooked.” Furlong’s extensive documentation and access into the subculture of OBEY lends insight to the true phenomenon of the street art movement, which inspired the public to examine their quotidian environment with a more vigilant pair of eyes.