Shepard Fairey paints Harley's Art of Rebellion

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Photos: ElemantalC and Colin Young-Wolff

To mark the launch of the Harley Iron 883, the company commissioned Shepard Fairey and several other artists it describes as “low brow” to create original art based on the bike and to decorate its fuel tank. The show is running at Santa Monica’s Robert Berman Gallery until February 21st.
Shepard, who created the iconic Obama “Hope” image, created both the
promotional flyer for the exhibition and an original painting of
Johnny Ramone.

It’s great to see a major manufacturer not only realizing that it needs
to aggressively pursue a new, younger audience, but doing so in a way
that’s credible, accessible and aspirational. If Harley and its rivals
put more marketing effort into this style of project and less into
cheesy videos and condescending campaigns targeted at rednecks we think
they’d see a significant reduction in the increasingly ancient average
rider age.

We’re a bit disappointed with how literal, even by his own
standards, Shepard’s work turned out, but the exhibition does have some
notable highlights. Ignore for a minute the unambitious tanks — which
seek to accomplish nothing new outside of decoration — and focus
instead on the other artwork. A particular favorite is Shawn Barber’s
crotchety old man, which glorifies the traditional Harley rider
stereotype without relying on either the obvious — bikes and their
accoutrements — or the unrealistic — the character is as appealing for
his flaws and humanity as he is for the perceived romance of his
lifestyle. You don’t really want to be him, but somehow you’re happy
that he exists. David Trulli’s piece is also pretty cool, providing a
tactile sense of speed and style, leaving identity, setting and context
up to the viewer.

This isn’t the first such exhibition from Harley, similar ones have
been held for each of the Dark Custom lineup. Judging by the success of
this event, neither will this be the last. In the future we hope to see
Harley release its marketing grasp slightly, choosing artists from a
wider selection of styles, presenting them with a more creative brief,
then allowing them to create more ambitious projects. When it comes to
corporate sponsorship of the art world, just like the Iron 883, less is

The Art of Rebellion

  • Scott
  • Dr.Danger

    I love Shepard’s work. I have been watching out for his work for years. Now that he is around Boston more, they mess it up.

    He also has a gallery up in the ICA around here, great set of prints.

    I still can’t believe the Boston police arrested him.

  • Yukes

    HD is always going to be in that strange position of marketing to a demographic that is supposedly rebellious and irreverent. It’s a paradox.

    That being said, it is obvious that “real bikers” or “real builders” are going to trash HD for their attempt at emulating their scene. Same goes for those who think this art scene is theirs too.

    At the end of the day HD is doing that it needs to do to stay relevant, and yes, make the stockholders happy. It’s capitalism, and it’s American.

  • guerogrande

    wow, real cutting edge HD. Maybe you can create a “Giant Robot” commemorative 883. Or better yet you can sell an 883 with white-primer tanks, and all the hip “alternative” artists can custom paint them and sell them for exorbitant prices…

  • Ben Carlson

    I’m really surprised that Harley would go with a politically liberal artist like Shepherd Fairey.

    Having campaigned for the current President via his art, you would think a choice like that would alienate a large majority of the Harley riding/wannabe crowd… this being the crowd that is (was?) all about blue collar work ethic, big American cars, rebellion, and grease and oil.

    This group just doesn’t quite mesh in my mind with the Green™, prius-driving, oil-bashing, vegan crowd that runs with the current administration.

    re: “I still can’t believe the Boston police arrested him.”

    He’s a well known graffiti artist. He had two warrants out. I don’t think that the Boston PD had a vendetta against him…


  • thomashenny

    I wished HD would’ve asked me, I would submit this…