TIME Picks Protester for Person of the Year, Tapping Shepard Fairey for the Cover

TIME Picks Protester for Person of the Year, Tapping Shepard Fairey for the Cover
Detail of Shepard Fairey's TIME Magazine "Person of the Year 2011" cover
(Courtesy TIME magazine)

TIME magazine announced its "Person of the Year" this morning, debuting the cover of its popular annual special issue at the same time. The winner is "The Protester," named in honor of 2011's wide-ranging Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the recent Russian election rallies. And — surprise, surprise — the "Protester" cover was created by none other than Mr. Hope man himself, street artist and designer Shepard Fairey.

The cover itself is a portrait of an anonymous protester masked in a mouth-covering scarf and wearing a thick woolen hat set against a monochromatic background of collaged rally scenes — signs are visible in the background reading "we need good jobs" and "people power, not ivory tower." Below the face of Fairey's anonymous protester are the outlines of maps showing the battleground of political struggle. The style is classic Fairey, taking influence from Soviet-era propaganda and mixing it with a graphic street-art style and flat blocks of color straight out of stencil culture. The center-weighted portrait is reminiscent of other works Fairey has created in support of political protest and struggle: see his poster of imprisoned Burmese dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi for comparison.

This isn't the first time Fairey has thrown his design weight behind the recent political protests. The artist's poster for Occupy Wall Street riffed on his now-classic Obama poster, featuring a protester in a Guy Fawkes-style mask  with the words "Mr. President, we hope you're on our side" emblazoned below it, alongside a "we are the 99 percent" pin. A poster Fairey made for an October "Occupation Party" recycled the artist's earlier work with a woman gazing out into the distance. In contrast, the TIME image seems to demonstrate a much stronger, more generalized support of global protest. The magazine cover is unspecific but direct, attempting to find a common visual language for events occurring all over the world.

And how are the critics greeting Fairey's effort? Christopher Knight of the L.A. Times writes of the cover, "Questioning authority never looked more corporate and conventional." One argument in the artist's favor might be that the widely-distributed magazine cover format is perfect for his bold, graphical style and the simplicity of his symbolism — all the image takes is one glance to understand. So maybe the cover is not so much "corporate and conventional" as stylized, iconic, and accessible — the perfect symbol for a generality.