Shepard Fairey mural overlooks Fishtown [photos]

The celebrated street artist Shepard Fairey has painted a large mural in Fishtown at the invitation of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. The work’s location is precarious.

The 29-foot-square mural, “Lotus Diamond” on Frankford Avenue near Girard, is a variation of an image the artist recently made for Hennessy cognac: at the center is the pair of eyes from Shepard Fairey’s famous Andre the Giant “OBEY” graphic, out of which radiates a kind of mandala of petals and vines.

“Even though I make a lot of provocative, aggressive images about topical things, I also think art can be a soothing experience and remind people to aspire to the good in humanity,” said Fairey, who does not subscribe to any particular religion but — if he had to — feels closest to Buddhism.

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His use of the Andre the Giant image made him a hero in the underground in the 1990s. His controversial “Hope” poster for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign propelled him into mainstream. His most recent work in Philadelphia was put up four years ago on the wall of the Rocket Cat Cafe, about a half mile north of “Lotus Diamond,” which has since been damaged by vandals.

No hard feelings.

“The way this neighborhood has changed in that amount of time is dramatic,” said Fairey. “It’s as crackling as a Williamsburg (New York). It has the right energy.”

When he made himself available to the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program for a mural project on short notice, director Jane Golden snapped into high gear. At the eleventh hour, after a few missed hits, she secured this wall of a dilapidated building facing a vacant lot.

The owner of both parcels plans to develop a 125-room hotel in the next two years.

“This site was for a temporary project, to be honest,” said Golden. “Temporary could mean a year, two years. We understood the precarious nature of what we were doing, but we said, you know what, let’s just move forward.”

The owner of the properties, Roland Kassis, said he is working with his architects to try to design the hotel around the image. It may become part of its interior.

“We want to attract good art into this neighborhood,” said Kassis at the mural’s unveiling. “When people attack your building — as a developer, it’s the worst thing. But to have something like Shepard Fairey, it’s a great thing.”

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