On Thursday afternoon, an eight-story-tall banner, which looked an awful lot like a work by Shepard Fairey, unfurled on the side of a building in South Lake Union.
On Thursday afternoon, an eight-story-tall banner, which looked an awful lot like the work of Shepard Fairey, quietly unfurled on the side of one Amazon.com-occupied South Lake Union building, visible from the corner of Thomas Street and Westlake Avenue North.
The image, of a feminine face with blasts of color and framed in a Soviet-poster-style aesthetic, resembles a recent Fairey print: “Target Exceptions,” which, Fairey wrote on his website, deals with cultural expectations about who is or isn’t “an ideal candidate to immigrate.”
Fairey has been a guerrilla artist (for example, his famous “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign) and an official artist (he designed the iconic “HOPE” posters during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign).
Was this huge banner sanctioned art or a guerrilla stunt?
“Sanctioned,” Scott Redman, CEO of Sellen Construction, said on Friday. The massive Fairey banner (printed on very light — but very strong — mesh fabric) is one component in Redman’s vision to turn this South Lake Union building into a canvas for public art.
The “9th & Thomas” building is one of hundreds the Sellen companies has built over the years. (And the property has been in Redman’s family since 1944, when his step-grandfather — John Sellen — launched the company at that address.)
But it’s the first one he’s developed. “We’re still rookies at this part of the process,” Redman said. “I’m a big arts fan and supporter — visual arts, music — and was thinking about how to use the building, lobby, even the garage as a bit of a resource to present art to the community.”
So he hired KEXP DJ John Richards to design a lobby playlist, bought a large collection of prints from photographer Lane Mercer (who documented the iconic ’90s rock scene: Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, others) and commissioned muralists with the help of curators at 4Culture.
Redman’s team also designed the building with an exterior grommet system to hang rotating external art. “I thought it would be an incredible long shot to get Shepard Fairey to agree to this,” he said. “I’ve been a fan since he started the whole ‘OBEY’ thing (part of Fairey’s guerrilla sticker campaigns) in the ’90s. In my wildest dreams, I’ve thought: ‘I’d love to have a Shepard Fairey on the side of a building.’ “
But Redman got in touch with Fairey’s people, then Fairey himself, and soon they were talking about logistics for the roughly 37-foot by 113-foot banner.
Rainier Industries printed the huge banner in pieces, with 10 horizontal seams, then stitched them together before taking it to the building. “We printed it on mesh material, so it gets a little wind passing through it,” said Casey Brookbush, who started working on the project for Rainier over a year ago. “Otherwise, it would turn into a huge sail — and you definitely wouldn’t want that.”
After the banner got to the site, Brookbush said, a high-access rappelling team installed it from the top down. It took them five hours to fasten it to aircraft cable as a kind of double-purpose anchor and frame.
Rainier also makes huge banners for the Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners, plus a “large online retailer” that a non-disclosure agreement prohibits Brookbush from mentioning by name. (You can probably guess who.) “When we started this project, I had no idea what the art would be,” he said. “Lo and behold, it wound up being one of my favorites.”
He paused before stating the obvious — which still, after all these months of work, seemed to impress him: “It’s a big banner.”
In a statement, Fairey said the images in the banner (the feminine face, the Statue of Liberty, the fiery hand) all reference current political crises, from immigration to climate change.
“I’ll be donating proceeds of this print to the ACLU,” Fairey wrote, “to support their advocacy work for immigrant communities.”