If you pass through Hillcrest, you may catch a glimpse of a large mural by famed street artist Shepard Fairey on the side of a Fifth Avenue building near University Avenue. It features images of faces, a bird, a giant eye and the words “Obey Never Trust Your Own Eyes Believe What You Are Told” in capital letters.

But there’s a big distraction: slashing lines of faded paint that don’t belong there, the products of a spray-paint attack back in August.

A special type of acrylic varnish didn’t fully protect the mural on the south-facing wall of an Urban Outfitters store. The code of honor among graffiti artists didn’t work either. And neither did the reputation of Fairey, who created the work as part of an exhibition sponsored by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

What went wrong? Here are questions and answers about the August attack on the mural and the subsequent repairs that didn’t fully remove the graffiti.

Has this sort of thing happened to Fairey before?

Yes. The U-T reported that vandals had attacked several previous art projects created by Fairey, who’s best known for his iconic “HOPE” posters supporting the Obama presidential campaign. “The nature of street art is hostile,” Fairey said in a statement after the Hillcrest mural was vandalized. “Frequently, the competition or jealousy from your own peers turns ugly.”

Isn’t there a “code of honor” among graffiti artists that discourages them from defacing each other’s work?

Yes there is. It’s unwritten and unofficial.

Normally, “the only way anybody starts to get disrespected by someone is if their crew has a problem with another crew. The code of ethics in the streets is that if you disrespect my art, I disrespect yours,” said Marcus “Kut Father” Tufono, the administrative director of Writerz Blok, a program that allows local graffiti artists to legally paint on giant panels in southeastern San Diego.

Fairey has plenty of respect in the graffiti world, Tufono said. “No one would ever purposely disrespect his artwork,” he said, “especially when everybody knows that man and everybody knows what he’s done, not only for graffiti art but guerilla marketing and promotion. He made it so a lot of artists can make a living through their art.”

Tufono speculated that “young kids” who ignored the code are responsible for spray-painting the mural in Hillcrest.

Isn’t there some sort of protective varnish on the mural?

Yes. But it didn’t repel the spray paint or allow it to be completely removed.

“The museum used an acrylic-based medium, which functions as a varnish that protects paper, paint, spray paint, and glue, from the elements,” said museum associate curator Lucia Sanroman via email. “This varnish prevents the proper attachment of additional paint on its surface; sometimes a little residue does remain.”

In general, the museum tries to protect its public art pieces through varnish on murals and anti-graffiti coating on some sculptures, Sanroman said, but it tries “to keep these to a minimum so as to not disturb the artist’s work too much.”

Who’s in charge of repairing the mural?

In his statement back in August, Fairey declared that he wouldn’t give in to vandalism: “In street art, tenacity always wins and I’m not going away.”

In a way, however, Fairey has gone away: The artist isn’t responsible to pay to repair damage to his mural. In this case, the property owner is: it’s Carleton Management, a real-estate investment company based in Rancho Bernardo. Company representatives didn’t reply to requests for comment.


The Museum of Contemporary Art sent across these photos of the mural in its original state, taken by Geoff Hargadon.

Artist Shepard Fairey, seen here at the Hillcrest mural during its July installation, is not responsible for repairs to his artwork. Photo by Geoff Hargadon.

And here are some more images by photographer Sam Hodgson of what the mural looked like early this week.

CORRECTION: This story has been changed to clarify that Fairey is known for his “HOPE” posters supporting the Obama campaign, not “Obama” posters. We regret the error.

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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