Wheatpasting and stenciling were regularly used by the group to circulate their work in public, thus, serving one of the very first purposes of graffiti, which is to reach as many people as possible. The evolution of this artistic collaboration from deploying work in different cities around the world to acquiring their own studio is similar to the development of street art itself, which rose from a subculture -illegally occupying public space- to being included in some of the world’s biggest art institutions. In both cases, the connection with the viewers is essential. FAILE never moved away from its interest in engaging with the audience and making its art as participatory as possible. Therefore, naturally, the duo never stopped being interested in the public and, more specifically, the urban site, something that is visible in its work, not only from an aspect of exhibition but also thematically. Having a look at FAILE’s work, one cannot help but notice the vibrant colors and the highly stylized lettering, similar to the ones that emerged in the streets of the US during and after the 1980s, when the war against graffiti was at its peak, leading many writers to develop their works further in order to stand out.
Modern graffiti is not the only influence that one can identify looking at FAILE’s work. From a post-modernism aspect, FAILE embraces its randomness and confidently celebrates “low art” with playfulness, while it pays homage from pop art icons, such as Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton, to midcentury décollagistes Mimmo Rotella and Jacques Villeglé. In other words, this stylistic and thematic recycling of cultural elements produces a modern-day re-contextualization of them, while trying to make a point on a wide range of subjects, for instance, commercialism, religion, the distinction between high art and low art etc. Appropriation is a key dimension in the art of the duo, which is nostalgically trying to accentuate our cultural history, whether this is architecture, religion or comic books, with the borderline between low and high art left intentionally blurry. Essentially, appropriation is a starting point for the two artists, who move on in a way that strips away the original aspect of
such cultural elements. This kind of re-contextualization is established on a series of new terms, such as the critique on today’s societal values, consumer culture and even the meaning of art itself.
Another dimension of contemporary art, which the group manages to incorporate is the idea of duality, creating a contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something. Through their art, the two artists are calling the viewers to explore the archetypical binaries of, for example, love and hate, triumph and calamity, satiation and desire.
At the same time, and in relation to viewing FAILE in the spectrum of street art, more than anything the work of the duo is aimed to be participatory. As a true child of the 21st century’s art, which is welcoming the social interactions prompted by a work as its authentic content, this NY-based group is interested in the viewer’s engagement with the artwork. For these two artists, the physical products are as significant as their social effects. As a result, the work of McNeil and Miller establishes a field of activity in which the audience’s creative investigation is encouraged to take place. Using the words of the artists themselves, the artwork “gives a person the sense that it is there just for them. That they've stumbled across this great little gem amidst the chaos of daily life that can really speak to them. We try to build in a certain ambiguity that leaves the door open for the viewer to find themselves within the story.”
This relational character of the FAILE’s art corresponds and becomes amplified by their consistent travel and lack of a permanent studio until the mid-2000s. This resulted in the duo’s embracement and utilization of urban streets and, naturally, gave the produced work a “site-specific” character since public art inevitably adjusts itself to the location of the display.
The world that FAILE has created emerges from a vast variety of materials and means, from canvases to grocery shop sign paper. The duo’s work exists on the borderline between art institutions and the outside world and, subsequently, the elite and the general public. The group manages to make, usually indirect, political comments, staying loyal to its street art roots and adopting anti-establishment trends, which take the form of reclaiming the urban environment, unsurprisingly, under the influence of punk-rock and hip-hop visual aesthetics. Once their artworks enter the public sphere, the viewer is invited to engage and interact with them. FAILE does not believe in a higher meaning or an absolute truth that exists outside of the audience’s perception, which eventually is encouraged to sculpt the meaning. The creative process jumps from one theme to the other, connecting everything in an intertextual delirium and, in the end, the audience takes the responsibility of interpreting it. This is, by itself, a revolutionary act of anti-elitism, since the meaning of the work can be now found in the mass’s reaction, placing FAILE in the spectrum of site-specificity and relational aesthetics.