Aspen will mark another milestone in its evolution as a major presence in the global arts community when Shepard Fairey arrives today to undertake a multi-day composition of a large-scale mural, which will remain permanently on a brick wall in the alleyway of a Durant Avenue building.
Over the span of three decades, Fairey’s career has included his rise from street artist to a prolific and much-commissioned muralist. He has also created some of this generation’s most iconic political imagery, such as the “Hope” poster used in Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. In the course of three days, the piece created by Fairey and a team of assistants, which will measure around 55 feet wide by 22 feet tall, will mark the latest addition to his Global Mural Project.
In recent years, a small group of locals have been quietly orchestrating a visit by one of today’s most recognizable artists.
Fairey’s arrival marks the culmination of a six-year journey for the project’s principal architects, Katie Kiernan and Bob Chase. The relationship to Fairey first took shape in 2012 when Kiernan began showing his work at her former gallery space, 212, in the Aspen Grove Building. Along with a personal connection to the messages of human connectivity and common individual rights expressed in Fairey’s work, Kiernan’s admiration was galvanized by the resoundingly positive response from the public.
“The response to our first exhibition was unanimous. The work sold out and I was delightfully surprised in the community’s response to his work, to say the least,” Kiernan said in a recent interview.
At the time, the Aspen mural commission was little more than a pipe dream. Fairey is largely regarded as one of the most sought after mural artists in the world and maintains a schedule which reflects that status. With murals in cities ranging from Los Angeles to Detroit and Paris to Johannesburg, plus over 30 group and solo exhibitions since 2002 and various roles in over a dozen commercial projects, the necessity of accommodating Fairey’s availability was clear early on.
After brainstorming with then-gallery assistant Paul Woznicki, who remains an employee of Kiernan’s and an active member of the team organizing the project, Kiernan began chipping away at the mountain of logistics that stood in between the inception of the idea and the eventual execution.
Kiernan began scouting potential locations for the mural in May 2015, and soon saw the first signs of the power of Fairey’s work to transcend the gap between members of the public and those within the established structure of the art industry. That gap has traditionally been present in a city where the contents of international galleries can seem wholly out of reach for much of the population.
This bridge came in the form of one local resident more well known as a purveyor of hearty lunches than for her role as a dedicated art collector. Barbara “Babs” Menendez, owner of the Big Wrap, emerged as an integral piece of the puzzle when it came to acquiring the right space for the mural, as well as connecting participants whose support would prove essential to the project’s realization.
“When I did my first Fairey exhibit in Aspen, she acquired a beautiful piece,” Kiernan said. “She was an avid supporter and collector of his work and she was one of the first people I told in 2015 about my goal to get Aspen to be a part of The Global Mural Project. She took it so seriously that she started emailing me furiously — suggesting walls all over town — and I would run around figuring which buildings were historically preserved landmarks.”
Such buildings are ineligible for the addition of a newly-created exterior mural under city of Aspen historic preservation policy.
Menendez eventually suggested the alley-facing wall outside of Big Wrap at 520 E. Durant Ave., putting Kiernan in touch with attorney Andy Hecht, who handled legal arrangements, and the Marcus Family. “We reached out to Steve and Jimmy Marcus, who own the building, they came on board almost immediately and that led to the successful approval,” Kiernan said.
Chase — who came on board with the project in 2017 after reconnecting with Menendez, a long-time friend, while eating at Big Wrap — also noted the significance of Menendez’s role.
“She really localized the whole project, directed us to the right people. She put Katie and I together, one burrito at a time,” said Chase, whose roles in the art industry include artist representation, production of joint exhibitions with other galleries and a seat on Aspen Art Museum’s National Council.
He underscored a direct benefit to the community as his primary motivation in becoming involved in the project. Working with Kiernan made sense, he added, given the alignment of their businesses and their drive to “pull this off in a way that the community deserved.”
“I’m a huge supporter of the arts in this town and a huge proponent of cultural tourism as a part of the backbone of this town,” Chase said. “I think that it’s becoming increasingly more important as something that differentiates Aspen from any other mountain town and it’s the only reason I get to live here.”
Both Chase and Kiernan emphasized the overwhelming enthusiasm and cooperation they received from the city of Aspen along the way. Despite having to acquire multiple permits and approvals, they were met with a near total absence of pushback, they said.
“The Historic Preservation Commission” — which has purview over the exterior of all downtown core buildings and signed off on the project on May 9 — “applauded us for our presentation,” Kiernan said. “We did all of our research. We had to convey that it would be environmentally friendly.”
Chase added, “Once we got rolling, everyone jumped on board. After all the hoops, everyone got excited about this, every time I talked to [city officials in] planning or engineering everyone said, ‘Oh, such a cool project.’ We’ve really been welcomed, every department wanted to do whatever they could to help.”
Residents can view the work in progress from Monday through Thursday. In addition, the location of an exhibition of Fairey’s most recent work will be announced upon his arrival.