Kensington: Graffiti to Be Removed from Shepard Fairey Mural

Lauren Cassady removes graffiti from the Shepard Fairey mural at Frankford Avenue and Norris Street in Philadelphia.
Lauren Cassady removes graffiti from the Shepard Fairey mural at Frankford Avenue and Norris Street.
Lauren Cassady removes graffiti from the Shepard Fairey mural at Frankford Avenue and Norris Street in Philadelphia.
Art conservator Lauren Cassady removes graffiti from the Shepard Fairey mural at Frankford Avenue and Norris Street.

When Lauren Cassady first saw the photos on Facebook, she was infuriated.  A friend of hers from the East Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia had posted pictures of the side of a building with a large graffiti tag containing the word “Spain.”

Cassady removes graffiti from the mural with special solvents.
Cassady removes graffiti from the mural with special solvents.

Graffiti on a brick wall is not that unusual in Philadelphia, but for residents of the neighborhood, this tag was particularly irksome.  It was made on a mural by Shepard Fairey, the world-renowned street artist most famous for creating the iconic “hope” poster of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Fairey and a team of artists came to Philadelphia on April 23, 2010, and produced three murals, of which this was one. In mid-January of this year, residents noticed that the mural had been defaced with the large black and white tag.

After seeing photos of the tagged mural, Cassady, a professional art conservator, volunteered to come to the corner of Frankford Avenue and Norris Street two days per week to remove the graffiti.

To remove the spray paint and marker used to make the graffiti, Cassady sits on a bucket in front of the mural, slowly dabbing the tagged portion of it with a solvent-soaked Q-Tip.

Cassady dabs at the spray paint with a Q-Tip.
Cassady dabs at the spray paint with a Q-Tip.

“It’s a very slow process,” said Cassady. “You can’t use a lot of solvent at a time, or else you will harm the original work.”

She won’t be able to remove the tag completely, but hopes to get the mural as close to its original state as possible.

Cassady isn’t being paid to restore the mural, but rather volunteered to do it for her portfolio and because she genuinely enjoys restoring artwork, however tedious it might seem.

“It’s pure zen to me,” she said. “I just love it.”

21 Comments

  1. and once again the purpose of graffiti is neglected by trendy art critiques. It’s not your place to deligate which graffiti stays and which goes, it’s all illegal.
    Paint over it or leave it, otherwise your harming the delicate system known as vandalism (haha).

  2. Street art has one rule, it lives and dies on the same wall.
    by taking off the trowie from Shepard’s mural,
    YOU ARE KILLING STREET ART.

    People are valorising an art form over another..

    I understand the action as respect for Shepard`s work but
    the street are everyone`s canvas.

    get real

  3. I guess that if a graffiti artist starts to pull in six figures a year then it would become worth saving, the American dream in the art world.

  4. You call that hideous tag an “art form”???
    I’m sorry, I don’t see how it even can get remotely close to something called “art”. Art (permission-based or not), requires creativity. A moron who spray paints “Spain” in ugly letters on someone else’s property is not an artist, but a vandal.
    ..Good job, Lauren!

  5. Hey, thanks for the mention. Just to clarify – this mural by Shepard Fairey is not graffiti – it is a commissioned piece, paid for by the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia. I have contacted Mr. Fairey, and sent the photos his associate requested of the tagging damage. He has in the past, repaired commissioned pieces by pasting new work over graffiti. That won’t be necessary here, so I doubt he’ll revisit this mural.
    – Lauren Cassady

  6. Cassady, you’re an idiot. You obviously don’t understand the nature of “Street Art”.

    It’s about evolution.

    You’re placing your personal value system on it, instantly evaluating one as more important than the other. People like you are why there is art being taken off the street to end up on Ebay.

    If you have so much free time, donate to helping out in a soup kitchen or teaching underprivileged youths how to use computers or even make their own art. Or is that not “cool” or worthy of conservation?

  7. @ PutUpOrShutUp
    Haha! Because bitching on the internet is such a noble use of a person’s time! How about teaching some underprivileged youths how to flail inadequately at something?

    Lauren, good on ya.

  8. Hi, Lauren Cassady here. Just a few more thoughts.

    As a privately owned piece, the tagging was going to be removed, with or without me. It was going to be painted over with colors matching Fairey’s ink. It would then no longer be a Fairey wheat paste, it would be a paint-by-numbers representation, and much more permanent. What I am doing is the lessor of two evils in my opinion.

    Also, I have been approached, both on the street and online, by several active street artists/bombers, who support me fully. The subculture has a well defined set of mores and standards, and these artists, the local ones especially, want to beat the shit out of this “spain” guy. Basically, they tell me that a “toy” bombed a “king”, a huge non-no in that world. It just doesn’t happen without repercussion in that community.

    It seems, without exception, that it is what I refer to as the Vanilla Ice Yo Boys, those who read about street art in art school or were “bad-ass” high school kids who pasted a flier or two back in the day, who are decrying the cleaning the loudest. Those who live the life on a nightly basis, as a way of life, have thanked me.

    Fairey has requested pics of the “damage”(his words)from me, so he can assess the best way to get it fixed. I sent before and after pics, but have not heard back. I would love to hear his opinion, whatever it is!

  9. Lauren, hate to break it to you, but all of Fairey’s work is paint-by-numbers. You’ve been taken for a ride. Go find some original art to restore and leave the walls to their own evolution.

  10. Hi from Singapore.
    We do not have “spontaneous” street art or graffiti, only commissioned ones! The last person (a Swiss) who did it, cut chain-link fencing at a Metro Rail Transit train in the rail yard, tagged a train, got caught, convicted, fined, CANED and is spending time in the slammer! One can do street art here, just don’t get caught! His U.K. accomplice is still on the run!

  11. Forgot to share this:

    Fairey is in Singapore…a retail outlet selling his clothes, I kid you not! What do you all think of him having his images on T-shirts and Fairey labeled pants and etc marketed this way? It’sobviously for monetary gain and perhaps to take the wind out of bootlegging merchandisers? His images were being bootlegged onto t-shirts by opportunistic screen-printers and sold on streets in Bangkok! I thought that is cool! But Fairey selling the rights to someone to market his images…hmmm?

  12. That building is mine. It belongs to me. Thus that Shepard Fairey mural, although his intellectual property, is mine. It belongs to me by its presence on my property. Keeping with this the spain tag is also mine- to do with as I choose. None of this would have stopped the anti-graffiti network from roller painting a HUGE RED BLOCK over that tag if I had refused Laurens help. The anti graffiti network painted the garages in the back and ANNIHILATED not only the original murals but also the 6′ silver and black lined letters that by all appearances, the same person tagged. I don’t have any issue with street art- I’m not anti the evolution, and some of it I love and wish was still there, but NONE of it would have been there once the Anti-Graffiti Network got their uninvited rollers on it. So the choice was really this- remove the graffiti and save the mural- which taste aside, I happen to love and think beautiful- or leave it to the Anti-Graffiti Network and watch it all disappear. I chose to bring back the Shepard Fairey mural, and I am very happy with that choice.

    Thank you Lauren.

  13. THANK YOU, LAUREN.

    this outpouring of negativity and ‘psuedo-art-elitism’ is complete nonesense, and please dont give these lonely posters any credence.

    im sorry, but writing the word ‘spain’ (btw, i live up the street, pass the cafe every day and had no idea up until now what it said)in the penmanship of a dyslexic eleven-year old is NOT art. its like calling the brake fluid dripping out from under my car art. and the fact that it was spray-painted over a mural, ie: not some random building, bridge or billboard but another piece of ACTUAL commisioned street art illustrates (pun) that it was an act of deliberate destruction, of defamation and the spirit of art is supposed to be something creative, something positive and constructive. does ‘spain’ really insire you? does it brighten up your morning? frankly PutUpOrblahblah, i dont think you really give a shit about the tag at all, judging from the absurdity of the anger in your post youve clearly got your own unresolved issues to work out and are just venting your own rage over the most random philly-related minutiae in the most cowardly way possible. would you like me to come to your home and start graffiting illegible nonesense all over the interior of your apartment? would you get mad? but hey, its just art, bro. its evolution.

  14. i agree the spain throw-up was horrible. skinny hipster college boy painting on parents and tax payers dollars without a care. believe he is from ny. deff not a philly native. could care less what he painted over, he just sucks.

    fairey work here is commissioned. it looks neat , ill agree its art, not my kind of art but whatever. calling it street art is lame. it is as street as paint by numbers in your trust-fund paid for appartment.

    lauren cleaner q-tip lady.. do your thing.

    building owner.. your comments about “the buff ” are interesting… sometimes they are as bad as the graffiti writers, its true.

    everyone.. go back to jersey.

    me… type neater.

  15. SPAIN is a GRAFFITI BOMBER. he represents graffiti to the fullest. street art gets hardly any respect from the real hardcore writers and it gives a nice background for a throwie 🙂

  16. hey,
    for anyone who really does graffiti. Sheppard is a sell out. He gets around for sure but its not graffiti if its legal, plain and simple. As for the guy “Spain”, he may not be the most artsy-fartsy graffiti writer but the guy actually does graffiti. hes been cross country and hes killed every city hes been to. Calling someone a toy when yourself has nothing to do with graffiti besides admiring it is simply “toy”. by the way what constitutes a “real graffiti writer or bomber”? Also if you look at all these legal Sheppard posters from coast to coast they are crushed with writers who the “graffiti community” thinks are “real bombers”. case in point…. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nystateofgraff/4673061357/

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