Police make top graffiti artist pay for his art

DETROIT – Graffiti artist Shepard Fairey was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on charges of illegally tagging buildings while in Detroit to complete a commissioned project.

Fairey, 45, did not testify at the preliminary examination before 36th District Court Judge Kenneth King, who acknowledged the artist's ability but chastised him all the same.

“Sir, you may have a lot of talent, but you can't go around doing things without permission,'' King said. "You can't put things on people's property without their permission.''

Fairey is charged with malicious destruction of property. The charges include damage to buildings and a railroad bridge.

The artist was in Detroit in May to complete a 184-foot-tall mural on a downtown building. The work was financed by businessman Dan Gilbert's Bedrock Real Estate Services, which owns the building.

A malicious destruction of property warrant was filed in June for damage to other buildings in Detroit. Fairey was arrested in July at Los Angeles International Airport and released. Later that month, he turned himself in to authorities in Detroit.

A video was shown at Tuesday's hearing. In it, Fairey talked about his work.

“The defendant has pretty much given us a lesson on how to tag a property, a property that he readily admits he has no permission to tag,'' King said.

Detroit Police Sgt. Rebecca McKay testified that she found the “Obey the Giant'' image posted without permission on buildings after Fairey's visit in May. “Obey the Giant'' is one of Fairey's signature pieces.

An attorney for the city has said three of nine damaged properties are city-owned. The damage to all is estimated at about $30,000.

Defence attorney Bradley Friedman said the image is of Fairey's artwork, but added that prosecutors offered no proof the tagging was done by Fairey.

A Sept. 15 arraignment has been scheduled in Wayne County Circuit Court.

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