Rage Against the Shepard | Interview: Joey Krebs
joey-krebsfotoboy62 | Citizen LA

“Jack’d in da Hood” has a jumbo beef with Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant Art, Inc.

“They’re exploitive media whores jacking references from real society and historic cultures for their own selfish interests,” Jack’d says.

Jack’d is the latest moniker mask worn by “The Phantom Street Artist” aka “Joey Krebs” aka “Caine 2,” etc. whose own claims to fame include cover art for the punk-rock-rap-blend group, Rage Against the Machine’s first platinum album, “The Battle of Los Angeles.”

The multi-masked Phantom creatively directed Rage Against the Machine in several music videos, including the MTV award-winning “Bulls on Parade”, and “Renegades of Funk,” which is currently receiving heavy airplay.

The MTV videos feature Phantom’s signature artwork, the silhouette or Shadow, which serves as the archetype for the Public Everyman.

Phantom is also a daring performance artist who’s drawn huge crowds at events like the Academy Awards, where he appeared as Mr. Big Money wedded to Miss Cul-cha-cha a transvestite. The piece was a parody on the marriage of culture to greed,” Phantom explains.

Phantom’s “Insulting Price of Right,” a staged event where contestants who named the right price were awarded the op to win big money by throwing shoes at the Pres, was laced with the same motif.

At the moment, The Phantom is lost in the development of a creative project that rages against what both he and his subject matter, Shepard Fairey say Fairey’s Obey Giant ‘artwork’ represents: “the power of propaganda” or in actual application, brand imaging through repetition. In defending his work as art that makes social commentary, Fairey has repeatedly said, “the medium is the message.”

The Phantom translates that to mean, “the Emperor is not wearing any clothes. “Fairey is just looking for loopholes to justify thievery.”

“Shepard Fairey has become the poster boy for Big Brother,” says Phantom. “Fairey’s own comments on his work are, “that it amounts to commerce, is ambiguous, has no message”; that’s not art, that’s brand promotion and Fairey has no right to steal from other artists and claim ownership of cultural icons to do it.”

To bring attention to his point, the Phantom is challenging Fairey to a cage fight wherein, if Fairey shows or not, Phantom says he’ll “rip the veneer off the Giant’s façade.” Clearly, The Phantom wants a piece of Shepard Fairey. At first glance, I wonder if Phantom desires to ‘take on’ Fairey for the cause or to shine in Fairey’s limelight or both.

But the Phantom isn’t pulling any punches. He eschews all discussion on himself and his own artistic achievements. We’ve logged over 500 cell phone minutes and every question I pose that is not on the topic of his present purpose is muted by a character voice amplified through a reverb mic. He’s either deep in the throws of his creative process or undiagnosed.

Heidi Hutchinson: Eddie Glowaski was your street artist mentor as a kid in New York, how did it effect you when he was shot to death?

An echoing voice booms over the phone.

The Phantom: The Time Has Come to Take Down the Giant! The Phantom challenges the Giant to a cage fight, Mano a mano!

Heidi Hutchinson: I loved your Momento Mori’ photo Vivandi recreation on the Death of an 18th Century Soldier piece for the anti-war show at…

Announcer voice cuts in with an “eek” amp squeak.

The Phantom: Join the Phantom as he battles the Giant to gain rightful title as street artist of the Universe!

Heidi Hutchinson: O.K., um, since your youth you’ve studied with some famous wrestling, mixed martial art’s mentors. How does that physical release help transcend…

The Phantom: Fair Use versus Fairey Use™! The challenge is ON! Let’s take this to the cage!

Bap! Bap! Punching noises.

Heidi Hutchinson: Is this a bad time?

The Phantom: Grrr. C’mon Fairey let’s see your strokes. Whatcha got? Take THAT Giant!

Bap! Umph! Umph!

Unknown High-pitched voice: Ouch. No, no! Cease and desist, Cease and desist! Yosi Sergeant’s my publicist!

Umph! Sounds like a knock out punch. Crowd cheering.

Heidi Hutchinson: Joey? Are you alone? …Did you book, is this Sabastian? Joey, you are fully creeping me out here.

Call drops, phone goes dead.

***

“What Shepard Fairey is doing is the epitome of rape,” Phantom says once I’ve finally pinned him down and we’re face to face. “Fairey’s ravaging historical cultures, revolutionary ideas, concepts and visions for profit alone.”

On the contrary, Fairey claims his right to use cultural iconography and appropriate copyright work without reference is protected under “fair use.”

In the postmodern age of Socratic wise cracks, “fair use” was originally adopted to allow for comment, critique or satire on work already so well known that reference is unnecessary and permission ridiculously beside the point.

“There’s fair use and then there’s ‘Fairey Use™,'” says Phantom who has trademarked the term in Fairey mockery. “Fairey is so full of hubris he’s taken OWNERSHIP of icons in the public domain and threatened to sue artists, like Baxter Orr, who dared to appropriately use the same icons Fairey has misappropriated.”

Phantom, not his real surname, who is the off-spring of first generation immigrants from Equador, also finds it offensive that Fairey labels significant art belonging to Latino cultural history such as the work of Rene’ Mederos, “propaganda.”

Fairey, however, arguably alters public domain and copy right works—which he HAS referred to in interviews as “MY icons” and “propaganda”—to a degree, over 10% subjectively, a factor that may make them fair game for fair use or already immune to copyright infringement accusations.

But Phantom views such alterations as all the more demeaning to the integrity of the borrowed works and the voice of the disenfranchised cultures from which many emerged.

“He’s making a novelty out of, degrading our cultural imagery. Satire, irony and political commentary are the tools of the oppressed,” explains Phantom. “We cannot allow vacuity, meaninglessness, novelty, mere branding into the realm of true social commentary without suffocating the voice, wiping out the vision of the people. We are seeing the structures of society collapse around us because of the lack of reference and understanding of our foundations that Fairey and his publicity machine propagate. What he’s doing is part of what’s tearing at, breaking down the structures of humanity! Understand?”

No, but somewhere between the Phantom, the plunging stock market and my raised rent notice, I’m having recurring nightmares about cranes clawing at the beams of my loft building and skyscrapers crumbling.

Since I can’t sleep I go online to discover that The Phantom, Joey Krebs, has written a book titled “Someone Else’s America.” It’s received excellent reviews from Black Book Magazine, and other subversive media including a wonderfully written critique from our own Craig Stevens who contributes to Citizen LA. There’s a stunning book cover graphic, a halk-naked child with the caption: “Father, forgive those who have sinned against us…” After an hour of trying to order the book I begin to suspect that it does not exist. I aim my recorder at the phone and call Joey.

Heidi Hutchinson: So, Mr. Phantom, what’s your best-selling book about?”

The Phantom: The disappearing structures of society sub-planted by media hype.”

Heidi Hutchinson: O.K. that’s all, good night.

***

The Phantom was born in Queens, New York in 1973. He has two sisters both of whom are now wards of the state, the Nation. Mentally, emotionally disabled. “Beautiful, beautiful souls,” the Phantom finally tells me. Tina only responds to music. But Mary is higher functioning. They were abused in foster care as children, their single working Mom unable to consistently support her children alone. They were always being displaced by evicting landlords, moving from the City out to Long Island, back to the City, and back together again when Mom could afford them. The Phantom was a bright child bursting with angry, tangled energy, creativity and a yearning to learn. But the schools were a harsh environment. How could a child put his nose in a book when he had to watch his back?

The Phantom found mentors, a family of other displaced big brothers who roamed the streets at night. They claimed City corners, blocks as their home. There was no computer or even refrigerator to post up their pictures, or essays so they placed their angst on buildings, platforms, made their mark on exposed walls and it was called street art. It was the ’80’s, the height of the graffiti art movement, all the rage. So, that’s what they did. They could have done worse. They couldn’t do any better.

Then, one night on the streets, Phantom and his crew were running away from some thugs who heard Phantom’s chief mentor, Eddie Glowaski, Caine 1, was doing well with his art. The bully’s thought he had money and wanted a piece of it. Eddie ran to the door of an old man who’d been robbed and didn’t care to be victimized again. The old man shot Eddie rather than let them in. The police report says the murder was in self-defense during a robbery. But Phantom says Eddie wasn’t armed or meaning harm. “It was a case of mistaken intent.” Eddie was cuffed before his wound was treated. He was a hemophiliac. He died of blood loss.

The Phantom fled the City, ran off to the Island again and joined a now-famous wrestling studio to sharpen his mind, build his strength and physical awareness. He dreamed of being Everyman, the power of the people fighting back. The Phantom began doing well at school. Eventually he made his way to LA to take up Art studies at USC and UCLA. “Knowledge is power,” Phantom says. He never paid college tuition, but he showed up, sat in on the classes regularly. No one ever noticed but soon his artwork was.

***

“Jackdando Mi Kultura taking back Kulture Yo,” is a project of Phantom’ Art Saves Lives (ASL) collective dedicated to preserving ethnic cultural history and promoting social interaction across “diverse expressions,” says Phantom. “We are visionary believers who are returning media to its true messengers.”

“Jack’d in da Hood®” is ASL’s new mascot ‘originated’ by The Phantom in “homage, reverance” to Fairey’s Andre’ the Giant street bully branding methods.

Though “Jack’d” is reminiscent of a faintly familiar public figure, identified by vigilant experts as fast food magnet “Jack Box,” Phantom insists any resemblance is strictly incidental.

The Phantom is not the only Shepard Fairey detractor who’s popped out of the box.

Mat Gleason, founder of Coagula Magazine an Ovation Satallite TV, Mark Vallen of Art for A Change, Art Blogger Brian Sherwin, Dan Wasserman of The Boston Globe and other critics have all weighed in against Fairey Use™.

As have certain voices of the street. At Shepard Fairey’s New York show last year a 24-year-old man known by the Tag, “The Slasher,” set off a stink bomb. He now faces a 15-year prison term sentence.

At the Art Basal show in Miami “All City Crew” tagged Shepard Fairey’s work on display and posted their video doing so on You Tube.

Fairey also has fingers wagging on the web, ‘for shame.’ A two-year debate raged on Flickr, sparked by a former Fairey fan who was shocked upon her discovery that an Obey Giant trademarked poster she purchased “Black Noveau” was not an original Fairey illustration but a traced composite of a classic Koloman Moser reprint bordered by clip art. Fairey or his shop workers only added the Obey Giant logo, with a pithy anti-war epithet and a price TAG.

Now, more grist’s been tossed into the Zeitgeist since the Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s “Fair Use Project” filed suit on behalf of Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant Art, Inc. vs. the Associated Press on February 9, 2009.

The Fair Use Project (FUP) complaint, which can be read at http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/taxonomy/term/374, seeks legal vindication over Fairey’s appropriation of ‘the photograph’ snapped by AP freelancer Mannie Garcia. Fairey snatched Garcia’s photo off the web to make ‘his’ now famous “Hope” poster for the Obama campaign without permission or citation. In case you’ve just arrived from another galaxy and didn’t know.

“Have you read John Keane, ‘The Media and Democracy’?” Phantom pointedly asks. “The media is run by elitists to manipulate public opinion. They’ve also overtaken the independent media, including Satellite Radio.” Next, NOW, Phantom believes the elitists, Fairey among them, are buying out the last bastions of free speech, the Internet, and the very streets. “Shepard Fairey is a sell-out, a TOY, a dupe for Big Brother.”

Kreb’s argument rings eerily true, in view of the recent Face Book controversy, where if not for the intervention of some keen John Q. Public observers who actually read Face Book’s new “terms of use” agreement, content posted on the site would become the property of the online mega-media corp.

Indeed, Fairey’s legal reps do have an agenda. One of their stated objectives found on FUB’s website is to “clarify and extend the boundaries of “fair use” in order to enhance creative freedom.” And FUB’s website does debatably endorse Silicon Valley giants such as “Google.”

***

In the Phantom vs. Giant battle, Fairey is likely to be favored by a vast majority across America as well as here in the land of rampant Fairey tales, Downtown LA from whence the craftsman hails.

Just yesterday I happed to eavesdrop on a conversation at our local Art’s District Ground Works coffee shop on the subject. Since I haven’t been able to reach Fairey as of this writing I reached out my recorder and asked for a quote from these obviously ‘legit’ opinionated artists who asked not to be named.

The young woman, a self-described “good friend of Shepard’s,” said, “If you have to reference your inspirations for your artwork you’d have to assume your audience is stupid.”

The man she was with also sided with Fairey. He referred to Fairey’s process as “visual sampling.” However, when I suggested to him that those with available legal funding might far better defend their copyrights and/or rights to copy than they who lack attorney retainer fees he offered this quote:

“If Fairey, used any of my work without permission I’d settle it by giving him a dental bill. Just go over and beat him up, done deal.”

I hadn’t breathed a word about The Phantom’s Cage fight challenge.

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