When Shepard Met PAPER

Shepard Fairey
Customized PAPER cover created by Fairey in 1999 for PAPER's 15th anniversary retrospective at Holly Solomon Gallery.

I first heard about PAPER around 1992 from my friend Blaize Blouin, the only pro-skateboarder I can recall ever hailing from our hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Blaize was only a year older than me, but he was always into cool stuff first, including punk rock, dancehall reggae, hip-hop, trip-hop, graffiti --  and PAPER magazine. According to Blaize, PAPER was plugged into everything cool in New York: music, art, fashion and parties. Blaize was fairly smug about his role as a tastemaker, and I grew weary of acknowledging the consistent quality of his selections. Despite my curiosity, I made no immediate effort to check out PAPER.

I was living in Providence, Rhode Island, at the time, frequently making the three-hour trip to New York to put up stickers and stencils. Other than my high school friend John, who attended NYU and lived in the Village, I had no friends in the city. Don't get me wrong, I was curious about what was going on in the New York streetwear, graffiti and music scenes, but I had no real access. I spent most of my time in New York wandering around the streets by myself doing street art. I knew about artists like Futura and Haze because of their graffiti and collaborations with the Clash and Beastie Boys, respectively. Blaize had turned me on to what Futura and Haze were also doing with their streetwear lines, and I saw the potential for me to do something similar; I could fund my street art by selling T-shirts using the same graphics I put up on the street. Blaize hooked me up with pro-skaters Harold Hunter and Jeff Pang, who toured me around New York on foot with a stack of Ts to all the boutiques and skate shops that might be (but mostly weren't) receptive to buying my designs.

Things looked pretty bleak for me in terms of connecting with the New York culture I was interested in, until I was prompted in the fall of 1994 by my friend Helen Stickler to submit some art to a Bard College art show curated by her friend Carlo McCormick. I'd never had the courage to submit work to a "real" art show, but its premise, art related to streetwear and graffiti, was so perfect for what I was doing, I thought it might be the only art show I was qualified to participate in. I sent in the three or four "art" posters I had ever made and forgot about it. A month or so later, I got a phone call at my Providence printing studio from Evan Bernard -- the same Evan Bernard, I found out, whose name I'd heard dropped on the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication that was in heavy rotation at my studio. Evan asked me if I was going be at Alleged Gallery's "Represent" streetwear art show that night, sponsored by PAPER magazine. I said I didn't know anything about it. He said the flyer mentioned Andre the Giant, which he assumed meant me, and he asked if I could bring him some T-shirts if I was coming to the event. I was still confused and unconvinced, until Carlo McCormick's name came up and I put it together that the Bard art show to which I had sent work was now traveling to New York. My co-workers and I excitedly bailed from the print studio early to speed down to the city for the opening.

That night was life changing. My work was on the wall next to Futura, Haze, Stash and other artists I looked up to. In addition to artists like Phil Frost, Thomas Campbell and Mike Mills, I finally met McCormick, who turned out to be an editor at PAPER, and his boss David Hershkovits, who was, as I recall, passing a joint between Carlo and Futura. I also met Alleged Gallery owner, Aaron Rose, who picked through the box of my T-shirts after Evan Bernard. I was met with such a warm reception that I was emboldened to ask Aaron if I could premiere a skate video I had been working on at Alleged, and I asked PAPER if they would sponsor the event. Surprisingly they both said yes. Blaize, who was there too, said, "See, I told you PAPER was cool." Annoyingly, I had to concede that Blaize was right again.

Once I was clued in to what PAPER was up to, it seemed like everything in New York I cared about had some connection to the magazine. When it came to cool downtown culture, it seemed like all roads (or at least streets and avenues) led to PAPER. My favorite brands, like Supreme, X-Large and X-Girl, advertised in PAPER and I struggled to come up with ways to advertise my brand in the magazine. I eventually worked out a barter deal to print T-shirts for the magazine in exchange for ads. They even let me design my own take on their logo to use for the Ts I printed. What a coup: "I get to stand on the shoulders of PAPER," I thought.

I won't bore you with every detail of my many years of friendship and collaboration with the magazine, but PAPER and its staff have been an important part of my scene and my life. It has consistently not only covered but supported the culture I care about.

I've always felt that art should be recognized not only in galleries, but in other great creative forms like music, fashion, movies and design. PAPER showcases all of these areas not as disparate categories, but as interlocking pieces of creative cultures. When David and Carlo asked me if I would guest edit the art issue, I thought to myself, "Isn't every issue an art issue?" (And to be sure, the artists featured in this issue cannot simply be called "artists"-- they're a genre-defying group who also count themselves as musicians, performers, filmmakers, designers, entrepreneurs, etc.) I was more than happy to modestly reciprocate for all that PAPER has done for me, and anyway, I'm the one who once again gets to stand on PAPER's shoulders.

Above: PAPER T-shirt logo designed by Fairey in 2004.

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