As one of the graffiti artist duos of the twenty first century that has successfully bridged the gap between fine art and the streets, FAILE’s art is best summed up in their own words;
“The ideas of getting locked in and known for one thing, and having to repeat it sounds like a dreadful situation to be in.”
Much like peering into the pages of a comic book, FAILE’s art is bold and makes bright color choices, much like its advertisement counterpart of mass media marketing. Wheat-pasting generally has a basis in consumer driven advertisements. Growing up in the time period of the creation of colored television and comic books, the influence of consumer culture runs deep as a reoccurring theme in FAILE’s work.
Beginning as childhood friends from Arizona, McNeil and Miller made the split in 1996 as they moved to different areas of the country. Patrick Miller decided to pursue an art degree from Minneapolis, and Patrick McNeil made the move to New York. By 1999, they were reconnected and living in Brooklyn where they formed a trio with filmmaker, Aiko Nakagawa, later known as Lady Aiko. Nakagawa left FAILE in 2006, making them the duo that we know today. When the streets first saw the art of FAILE, they were actually going under the pseudonym ‘A LIFE’. Their work, beginning with wheat-pasting and transitioning into pop-culture collages, was refreshing, when much of the graffiti art world during the time operated from an underlying masculine vein.
The wheat-pasting of female nudes throughout NYC set the stage for a successful career, where they could bridge the gap between the fine-art gallery world and the streets. In their own words, “We were attracted to the idea of something softer, something more feminine.” In a male dominated art world, their work could immediately stand out. This immediate recognition brought about their inclusion in shows, but more importantly the opportunity to create murals in multiple areas of the world, expanding the breadth of their portfolio. As the call for their work increased, so did the need for a permanent studio. During 2005, this became a reality, with Nakagawa leaving shortly after.
In 2006, FAILE was invited to be a part of the show, Spank the Monkey, which also included the famous graffiti household names; Os Gemeos, Shepard Fairey, and Banksy, to name a few. They decided to display twelve paintings titled, “War Profitees,” that spoke to a somber reality of the 2006 Lebanon War. It brought their work to another level, arguing that an important political statement could be made by street artists on a fine-art level.
With the ability to have a permanent space, came the beginning of the production of sculptural elements.
FAILE and Sculpture
Sculpture has played an important role in FAILE’s ability to have interactive art. The idea of blurring the lines between the viewer and participant, became a common theme in installations from 2008 to the present. Using multiple surfaces to display their collaged, and pasted imagery. Some of the shows with this underlying theme include; ‘Lost in Glimmering Shadows’ (2008), ‘Deluxx Fluxx’ (2010), ‘Where Wild Won’t Break’ (2013), ‘Savage/Sacred Young Minds’ (2015), and most recently, 'From the Air We Share’ (2018-2019)
Lost in Glimmering Shadows, and Where Wild Won’t Break, used appropriated imagery from the western themed United States in concurrence with the relationship of the American Citizen to the Native American population. Prayer wheels, and other sculptural elements interacted with wall hung work.
The first major retrospective of FAILE’s work, ‘Savage/Sacred Young Minds’, brought back sculptural elements from previous shows, returning them to New York, after many of their shows had been abroad in Europe. Arguably, it is the moment when New York galleries truly accepted art forms related to graffiti as having a place in the high art world.
‘From the Air We Share,’ was a combination of mural works, and a painted train, all commissioned.
Wood is just one of the ways FAILE has used a material other than the normal surfaces of wall, canvas, and paper. Ceramic tiles have been another reoccurring medium from 2010 to the present. Installations with this medium exist internationally, as well as in Brooklyn as, ‘Casa de los Azuelos,’ which is both sculpture, and public facing wall art.
FAILE as a Household Name
FAILE is one of the few graffiti based names to successfully make the leap into the fine art realm, while still remaining close to their graffiti and mural pasts. They walk the line between pop-art and what some may consider, the golden age of graffiti, beginning in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. They use a unique blend of wheat pasting, stenciling, and rapid-fire splicing. Most of their art blurs the line between viewer and consumer, questioning the larger beliefs of a consumer driven America.
They started a career with wheat pasting and graffiti, and have since successfully transitioned into sculpture and interactive art. When most artists stay with one or two mediums their entire life, it is refreshing to see artists dabble successfully in multiple mediums while still remaining true to their work. FAILE really are artists in the broader definition of the word. Today, murals, interactive permanent installations, and sculptures are just some of the ways to see the lasting legacy that will be FAILE.
“Our process has always resembled this loose and fast critique on society, whether it be literal or figurative. Our image-making has at times been very methodical and researched, other times it’s been experimental and dirty. Street art at it’s roots is punk.”
Interested in seeing some of FAILE’s work? Deluxx Fluxx is permanently installed in Detroit. Countless murals exist throughout the world, as well as the United States. Their work recognizable in its bold details and concurrent themes of appropriated marketing materials collaged onto walls and objects. FAILE will be around for years to come.