The Cost of Fuel

The digital poster The Cost of Fuel, depicts a tired, homeless man begging in the streets of Detroit, surrounded by the call to action, “the change I want doesn’t come from pockets.” The poster speaks to a deep desire for revolution, and a return to Detroit’s pre-existing patrimony, through the accentuation and stylistic appropriation of alternative artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy, each made famous through their subversive, satirical style of street art that concentrates on social and political commentary.

The style of The Cost of Fuel, is deeply rooted in Fairey’s Constructivist influences, a modern art movement championed by Vladimir Tatlin, that was born out of the early 20th century Russian Revolution, borrowing ideas from Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism. Constructivists strove to abolish the traditional view of composition by replacing it with “construction;” pieces that were created not in order to express beauty, or to represent the world, but to carry out a fundamental analysis of the materials and forms of art.

This revolutionary way of thinking was brought about through Communist values, but began to decline in the mid 1920s, partially due to the Bolshevik regime’s increased hostility towards the avant-garde world of art. However, the ideals of the Russian Constructivists moved west, inspiring the artists of the International Constructivism movement that flourished during the predominant part of the Nazi regime in Germany; where it’s influence can also be seen throughout the design and use of Nazi propaganda.

Establishing itself as a powerful communication tool, even after the war, Constructivism found new life through social commentary, inspiring artists from all over the globe, including not only Shepard Fairey, but other well known artists like El Lissitzky, Hans Richter, George Rickey and Wang Guangyi, quickly defining a visual vocabulary in Design and Propaganda.

The heritage of this movement continues through its use in The Cost of Fuel. Aimed at inspiring an introspective look at the history of Detroit and the effect of the ever-declining automotive industry, this poster uses bold, clever word play to grab the viewer’s attention. It’s purpose is to inspire those who view the piece to consider the plight of the city more assertively, and to bring a new perspective and voice to the countless individuals left homeless due to the failing infrastructure that was the automotive industry.

Subtle in distinction and purpose, the focus of this piece lies directly upon the subject. It is through his sunken, defeated posture; his defined, specific emotion that inspires empathy and remorse in the viewer, enticing them to ask questions. However, as is with many of the less-fortunate souls that wander the streets, without a more in-depth investigation, the man remains faceless, purposeless and relatively unimportant to those passing by.

Instead of blatantly displaying the outright meaning to the viewer, the composition makes use of loosely based iconography that reference popular industry and culture commonly associated with Detroit. These icons include logos from sports teams, popular clothing and stylized automotive parts, each woven into the piece, playing off the viewer’s curiosity and requiring them to become more intimate and involved with the subject matter. Further expanding upon the iconography, the roughened texture of the piece is created through layering of topical maps of Michigan, created in the early 19th century around the time of the first successful, working automobile.

Though simple in content, the main intent of The Cost of Fuel, is to help inspire the less fortunate, and inform those less knowledgeable. In order to create a solution, a return to the patrimony of Old Detroit must occur; a reinvention of hard work, pride and drive. Those that have the means to help, need to understand that simply handing a man a small amount of change that would otherwise be left dancing in a pocket with your keys, only perpetuate a stereotype and exacerbates the waning stature of the human spirit. Money has never been the solution to life’s problems.