This past October, famed UK street artist Banksy spent a month in New York City, leaving behind 31 provocative works in public spaces scattered throughout the city’s five boroughs. Each new piece threw the press and public deeper into the kind of frenzy usually reserved for pop culture events like a new Harry Potter book or Miley Cyrus’s latest fashion curveball. Art news, by comparison, tends to be more austere.
Yet by the time Banksy left a small mural on the Lower East Side, featuring a stencil of galloping stallions in steampunk goggles who looked like the four horses of the apocalypse, the piece found itself quickly surrounded by barbed wire. Its property owners apparently realized the value of the work by the sheer traffic it drew. The Post made it headline news. The Times and CNN were not far behind.
When Patrick McNeil was a high school freshman in Arizona, he regularly traded notebook sketches with his friend Patrick Miller. Their subject matter was typical teen angst: underground band logos, alternative superheroes, and other emblems of adolescent escapism. Though they went separate ways to study art in college, McNeil and Miller reunited in New York City by the end of the 1990s, working with a female poster artist from Japan, Aiko Nakagawa. During a short stint in jail for pasting Do-It-Yourself (DIY) screen prints illegally on city walls, the trio came up with a moniker for their work: FAILE.
“We really liked the idea that you could fail to succeed,” says McNeil as a way of explaining the name’s origin. (FAILE is also an anagram of “A Life.”)