Torin Ford was staying at the Plaza hotel in downtown Las Vegas last week when he noticed that the door at the end of his floor hallway was open a bit.
Ford — a heavy equipment operator from Fairbanks, Alaska, who’s using the Alaskan construction off-season to travel the country — looked out and up and saw a group of people on suspended scaffolding several floors above him painting what looked to be a mural on the hotel’s northern tower.
Ford learned the next day that he wasn’t watching some random sign painters gussy up a drab wall. He was watching Shepard Fairey, a noted street artist, illustrator and political activist, at work.
Fairey is perhaps most widely known for his now-iconic 2008 “Hope” poster of Barack Obama. More recently, his contribution to a “We the people” series for the inauguration of President Donald Trump included an illustration of a woman wearing a red, white and blue hijab that appeared often during last weekend’s women’s march on Washington.
— Shepard Fairey (@OBEYGIANT) January 18, 2017
Fairey began work on the building-length mural Wednesday and was planning to work through the weekend for a scheduled completion on Sunday. Jonathan Jossel, the Plaza’s chief executive officer, said Fairey and the Plaza became acquainted through Life is Beautiful and Just Kids, a street art organization and Life is Beautiful partner.
— Subliminal Projects (@subliminal_art) January 27, 2017
Who approached whom? “I don’t have a good answer for you,” Jossel said. “It just came about because I think it was meant to be. We like what he does, he loved the site of this wall, and I think it just came about because the timing aligned. It was a good deal for us, a good deal for him and it just came together.”
Fairey is known for his political activism, and his work includes retro-styled populist themes and a collection of what have become known as “Obey” images. While his art has been shown such venues as New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, Fairey also is noted for street art, posters and record album art, and — among the highest honors American pop culture can bestow — Fairey has appeared as his animated self in an episode of “The Simpsons.”
Fairey’s images also appear on a popular line of clothing. According to his Obey Clothing website, Fairey’s “Obey” campaign is “rooted in the Do It Yourself counterculture of punk rock and skateboarding, but it has also taken cues from popular culture, commercial marketing and political messaging.”
Fairey’s Plaza mural — which covers all three panels of the hotel’s northern facade — seems to incorporate his logo with, in a nod to its home, the four playing card suits.
What is it? Jossel said he preferred not to offer an interpretation. Every viewer should be free to interpret a piece of art as he or she wishes, he explained. But Jossel did say that hotel officials are thrilled that the Plaza has become the canvas for a Fairey creation.
Fairey tends to shy away from most interviews and didn’t respond to an Instagram message requesting an interview. But the project appeared to involve the work of four people at a time — Jossel said one of them was, indeed, Fairey — using suspended scaffolding to work their way from the top of the building to nearly its bottom.
The tower faces had been prepared with black and red paint. Onto that, the artists attached templates to the building and, bit by bit, cut out pre-determined pieces. They then used spray paint to color in the open areas, working through gusts of wind that made the scaffolding move and bump away from the building and temperatures that made their sweatshirts, hoodies and coveralls appropriate artists’ attire.
Passers-by occasionally looked up to see what was going on, but most didn’t give the project more than a glance, unaware that they were watching a pretty famous artist. For a few minutes on Wednesday afternoon, even a drone caught the action, rising and falling vertically a few times and then disappearing.
Also slated to create a mural at the Plaza is English multimedia artist D*Face, who will bring to the project his pop art-style leanings, bright colors and comic book references. The murals by both Fairey and D*Face are to be officially unveiled Feb. 11.
In the meantime, Jossel said he expects Fairey’s mural to become a tourist attraction in itself, rather than just something pedestrians might notice as they walk by.
“I think people are going to come here to see it,” he said. “I think they’ll come here from all over the country to see it. We’ve already seen it on social media: ‘I’d better go and check it out.’
“And it’s not just us. It’s downtown. They’ll learn about this area as well.”
Consider Ford the mural’s first street-level fan. While he considers himself an art lover, he wasn’t familiar with Fairey’s work.
But, Ford said, “it’s a beautiful piece. It adds color and life to the Fremont (Street) Experience area.”
Read more from John Przybys at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.