Detroit police have issued a warrant for the arrest of Los Angeles graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, who was recruited by billionaire Dan Gilbet to paint murals downtown.
But police allege that Fairey, who has been arrested 17 times for vandalism and malicious destruction of property, posted his work on private and public buildings without permission, which he pledged to do after arriving last month.
Trouble is, anyone can post Fairey’s stenciled images on buildings, so proving that he committed a crime would be difficult. It wasn’t immediately clear whether police had any evidence, like video surveillance, to prove Fairey personally posted the paper images.
The warrant charges Fairey with a felony count of malicious destruction of property, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Police identified at least 14 signature Fairey images in Detroit, and eight “victims” have come forward, police said.
Fairey became famous for his iconic, inspiring “Hope” image of Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Fairey’s work has become a symbol of anti-consumerism and defiance against authority, Big Brother and mass culture.
While Fairey was in Detroit last week, Gilbert gave the artist space to post his largest-ever mural – a 184-foot-tall piece with his signature, scowling image of Andre the Giant emblazoned in the center. With Gilbert’s permission, Fairey also posted the cartooned image of the former wrestler on a water tower overlooking Woodward.
Fairey’s work, which is often accompanied satirically with the word “Obey,” questions the authority of the wealthy, powerful and political.
Last year, Mayor Mike Duggan’s aggressive crackdown on graffiti caused a big embarrassment for the administration when it began fining building owners for murals painted with permission.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.