The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 13: ASSASSINATION: Baxter Orr, Artist and Graphic Designer

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Portrait of Baxter Orr. Courtesy of Baxter Orr.
Baxter Orr: Strawberry Shortcake, 2009, color silkscreen print on archival white paper. Courtesy of Baxter Orr.

Being an artist who admires the outlaw country music of Johnny Cash, there is an element of admiration for the little guy who stands up to the big man when times are needed. Baxter Orr is one of the few artists who has received a cease and desist letter from Shepard Fairey (damn it, I still can’t get a death threat from poodles?) because of brilliant parodies created by this young Texan. With characteristic wit, Orr skewers our sheepish obedience to the media who fawned over President Obama as well as the trends of hero worship that is all too common in today’s crazed world.

Orr is pure magic. His graphic designs are punchy and akin to street art in its use of stencil-like forms and popular imagery. As a printmaker, he masters a variety of subjects ranging from a tender look at women’s faces to the deconstructed impression of Elvis Presley. No one can stop him now, not even the jaggernaut of the Fairey.

He is not represented currently by a commercial gallery. So if you have any questions about Orr’s artwork, feel free to contact him privately at baxterorr@gmail.com.

So here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the “assassination”:

qi peng: Considering your brilliant riff (or parody) of the Shepard Fairey’s famous image of “Obey Giant,” where did the idea come from and what were the results of designing your lovely image called “Protect Yourself”?

Baxter Orr: In college I created the original Protect Yourself image. I really like the idea of Fear for the Sake of Fear, more importantly the idea of questioning someone’s intent who is using fear to try to sell you something. Whether it be Global Warming, Hope, or the guy who is changing your oil who claims if you don’t have a transmission flush your car will explode and you will be sorry you didn’t pay the $89.95 to have it done.

As the Protect Yourself Campaign evolved I decided to start using pop culture icons to further the original idea of Protect Yourself. When I made the “Protect Yourself – Giant” print I had been a fan of Shepard Fairey for years and figured I might as well pay tribute to the Giant.

qi peng: Why do you think that you got in trouble with Fairey’s team over the use of your remixed image?

Baxter Orr: I think I pissed Shepard Fairey off by mocking his fanboy Hope image with my Dope print so when I put out the “Protect Yourself – Giant” print I am pretty sure it pushed him to the edge and he couldnt take the bash to his ego. Shepard Fairey seems to be a very arrogant man, he is always belittling people in interviews, knocking people who disagree with him and never has to question in his mind whether he is right in his actions cause his OBEY posse never questions him and defends him at all costs. This is very ironic cause the very thing he is famous for is his “QUESTION EVERYTHING” OBEY campaign. Its strange but many people gain great success and lose the very thing that made them successful.

qi peng: What are some of your hobbies and favorite places and restaurant to hang out when you are not in your studio working?

Baxter Orr: I love music, I write quite a few folk songs and find myself playing guitar a lot, its more of a hobby now that I am really pursing art, but I do have a passion for it. Austin is filled with so many amazing hangouts and restaurants. I find myself hanging out and working at Book People quite often. I love pizza and have to say Conan’s pizza on campus is my favorite restaurant in town.

qi peng: What have been some of your most ambitious projects, either in graphic design, illustration or printmaking?

Baxter Orr: Its been an exciting year, I did my first prints about a year ago and had no idea what to expect, the first couple sold pretty well so I started releasing more and more. I think just getting my art business started has been a pretty big accomplishment, I always get a kick out of it when I sell prints to another country, I think I’ve sold to at least 13 countries so far. I almost wish I would have bought a giant map and a bunch of colored pins before I started just to visualize where they have all gone to. Lately I have been trying to get back into painting, my goal is to do 100 paintings and see where they lead, just explore, no confines, no structure, it might be a couple years till I get to 100 but the first dozen have been pretty fun and interesting.

qi peng: What are some of the techniques that are unique to the Baxter Orr design philosophy?

Baxter Orr: I guess I am really drawn to simplicity and graphic purity, its is amazing how hard it is to make something simple but also compelling. I rely on color a lot to make my designs more infectious, I find with a lot of artists it seems like color is an afterthought but when used properly it can really take a piece to the next level.

qi peng: How do you choose the subjects that you enjoy illustrating or redoing for your own works? What is the process from start to finish from the idea of the project to the actual piece itself?

Baxter Orr: You know when something catches your eye? A “shiny object” an attractive girl, a charismatic pop star, you just have a natural inkling toward it. I find this is how most of my illustrations start, I just see someone or something and am drawn to it, then expand on it, then work it into a print.

qi peng: What is the secret to a sexy logo? Which logos are awesome and which ones suck?

Baxter Orr: For me a good logo is simple but also smart, I really like the Fedex logo, that little arrow gets me everytime, also I think one of my all time favorite logos is the old Milwaukee Brewers logo with the M&B in the baseball mitt. There are way too many sucky logos out there to list.

qi peng: The “Protect Yourself” icons are fairly remarkable and funny. Where did you get your sense of humor?

Baxter Orr: My father was a funeral director and I think being around death and the seriousness and darkness of that growing up gave me a very cynical sense of humor. I just see the reality in stuff, I usually say the thing everyone seems to be thinking but no one is willing to go through the potential disaster of verbalizing it.

qi peng: Is it good to get a lot of attention from the Fairey team, regardless of results?

Baxter Orr: It was nice to get some free publicity from Shepard Fairey, I think if he knew what he knows now he would have just let it be, but the whole situation was just too ironic to be ignored.

qi peng: Where are some places that you would like to travel to someday? What are some of your favorite foods that you enjoy and would to recommend to your fans?

Baxter Orr: I really need to take a trip to Mexico soon now that I am fairly close living in Austin, I have been wanting to go for quite a while just haven’t yet. I find myself grilling a lot when it is nice out. If you are thinking of moving to Texas, make sure to get your fill of Italian food before you move down cause it seems all I eat now when I go out is BBQ or Tex-Mex.

qi peng: When you riff off a Fairey image, do you consider that result a parody? What are you trying to point out about Fairey’s design philosophy?

Baxter Orr: Yes, it is a parody, its a little joke, nothing more nothing less. Shepard Fairey at one point was an innovator, he has done more for modern screenprinted art and street art than any other individual. I think he is very talented but has failed to progress, its very evident in his current work. I think a lot of his older fans feel he has digressed talent wise as the quality level of his work has declined pretty consistently over the past three years.

qi peng: Is the “opponent” a biter or sell-out for street artists? If so, why?

Baxter Orr: I dont think you can have a clothing line in every mall in the US without having some people question whether or not you are a sell out. He is the street art equivalent of what Blink 182 is to punk rock.

qi peng: How do you design such wonderfully seductive images of women? What do you think about the status of women in your artwork or in real life?

Baxter Orr: There is something intangible, indescribable when you make eyes with a woman you find very attractive. I am drawn to the insecurity and frailty of women, the gentleness of them. I guess I just try to capture that beautiful frailty with the women images.

qi peng: What is the art world like in Austin, Texas where you work at?

Baxter Orr: The art world here in Austin has a lot of potential, I hope more NYC and CA artists get sick of not being able to make a living where they are and start moving to Austin. I really think there could be a major movement here in Austin, there are tons of people who readily support the arts and a fair amount of affordable studio space, it really is a great place to live and work, very glad I moved here.

qi peng: Is street art pretty huge in Austin?

Baxter Orr: I wouldnt say street art is huge here, there are a few street artists here and there who put stuff up regularly. I put stuff up fairly often but nothing too risky, Im not gonna go paste up the capital building or anything.

qi peng: How did you get the nickname of “Propaganda Re-Engineer?”

Baxter Orr: When I put out the Parody print I modified Shepard Fairey’s “Propaganda Engineer” (a term he used on several of his earlier prints) to fit what I was doing.

qi peng: What are some of your upcoming projects that we need to take note of? What are your plans to continue the dopeness factor within all that you deliver to the public?

Baxter Orr: I am going to be trying to release a lot more prints this year, I’m really trying to put out at least one a month. Also a few new illustration and commission projects are in the works.

qi peng: Is there anything else cool or fabulous that you would like to share with the readers here or your fans or even Shepard Fairey himself? Do you have any secrets or advice of how to make other artists mad or jealous of your mad, crazy skills?

Baxter Orr: Just for the record, my intent wasnt to make Shepard Fairey mad at all, like I said I was a big fan and at the time I got the cease and desist I had at least 40 of his prints in my collection (which I recently sold and upgraded to some amazing FAILE prints). Message to anyone doing anything: Just do what you do, do what you like and have a natural inkling to do, even if it doesnt start as the most original thing push it and develop it into something that is uniquely you, ignore the herd and just be yourself, whether or not you are popular with the fanboys.

[Note: Baxter Orr: 1 to Shepard Fairey: 0. How will the “Obey Giant” army respond without my interview with them?]

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 1:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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