Who is Shepard Fairey and why is his work important? While he has gained international fame, notoriety and in some circles a degree of hate for his political street and gallery art, his impact on street art and modern popular culture cannot be dismissed.
A Brief Background of Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey’s professional art career began when he attended Idyllwild Arts Academy in Palm Springs, CA and graduating to the Rhode Island School of Design from 1988-1992. It was at this time he found an interest in graffiti, street art and primarily sticker art. What started as a somewhat political somewhat snarky design utilizing a photo of wrestler Andre The Giant, really gave birth to a branding machine that later transformed into the OBEY brand.
Over the years Shepard Fairey has transformed into one of the most well-known muralist /street artists in the world. His signature propaganda inspired design posters, murals stickers and clothing has continually combined social activism with the OBEY brand even before it was a commercial enterprise. The irony of the brand; “Obey”, is that Shepard has changed the meaning behind the word (at least where the brand and his work is concerned) to support more rebellious acts such as questioning how the world works rather than submitting or obeying what society tells us to think or do.
Known for “controversial” posters such as 2008 red, white, and blue Obama poster or 2017 of what seems to be an ethnic woman also in red, white, and blue calling out xenophobia. Fairy is not afraid to use his art to display concerns about today’s social and political climate.
Shepard Fairey & OBEY Cross Over To Mainstream Pop Culture
“Art is not always meant to be decorative or soothing, in fact it can create uncomfortable conversations and emotions”.
This quote reflects how Fairey is not afraid to be politically outspoken and address social issues in his art. He tries to challenge everyone’s notion of art by shining light on subjects most of us would rather brush aside and move on from. His work focuses on making those conversations happen and impacting people's emotional side. As also being a social activist, there would be no change if we first do not admit the problem. Whether it is his street art, murals, or merchandise, Fairey admits the issues that go on and makes us feel uncertain about it.
Unlike the mastermind behind the ‘Obey” brand, most artists do not convey their views on the world with their work. With that being said, this is what makes Fairey stand out among other artists. He is not here for us to look at pretty pictures with ooh and ahhhs, he is here for us to look at his work and go “hmmm, I’m not sure how I feel about this”. Whether we like it or not.
During the election season, the country seems to be more divisive than before. Whether it’s being democratic, republican, independent, etc. With Fairey keeping up with the political climate, he turns to art to express it whether it’s negative or not. However, in 2008 his standpoint became groundbreaking for his art and for him as an artist.
Shepard Fairey really broke into the mainstream when he made posters portraying Barack Obama in red, white, and blue with the word Hope. The impact of the poster design and Barack Obama’s endorsement of the work, made immense news coverage worldwide including networks such as CNN, NBC, CBS and newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. According to Obey Giant, Fairey has been following along with Obama since 2004. He advocates for him on his website by not only providing the link but informing what political traits the 2008 and 2012 presidential candidate carries, including energy and environmental conservation, healthcare reform, and opposing the war. This helped make Obama a more genuine candidate than others.
New works by Shepard Fairey include a piece focused on President Donald Trump. Unlike the poster for Obama, this latest work ridicules Trump and the concept that there is no hope to be found. Shepard notes that the idea was partially inspired by the Book ‘1984’ where Trump represents the concept of ‘Big Brother’, Fairey discusses, “the idea of an all-powerful Big Brother dictating to people how they should live their lives and instilling fear into the population that believes they are being watched all the time”. Although this work has not garnered as much attention as Barack Obama’s ‘Hope’ poster, it still reflects how a majority within America feel.
With what seems to be a liberal standpoint and strong fan base, Fairey is not holding back. Aside from what type of audience his brand attracts, there is no stopping him on getting his point across even if it is controversial. Whether his opinions fluctuate, he will let the art world and beyond know how he feels.
Where To Find Shepard Fairey’s Work
While Obey (the brand) was originally considered a more subversive brand only found in skate shops and alternative retail establishments, today it is carried in major retailers around the world. As with Obey brand, today you can see Shepard Fairey’s work in almost any major city, ranging from stickers posted by loyal followers to large commissioned mural works. By far the biggest concentration of Shepard Fairey’s work is in Los Angeles, California where he lives and works.
Shepard Fairey’s latest mural (as of 4/19/2018) ‘American Dreamers’ is a collaboration with Vhils, a Portuguese graffiti and street artist. This piece of street art is located on Mack Sennett Studios in Los Angeles and directs attention to people who come to the United States to fulfil the American dream but end up,being denied those opportunities of citizenship mainly due to where they immigrated from. Whether it is discrimination or racism,economics or politics, . immigrants must fight through these obstacles and work twice as hard than American born citizens to be taken seriously. The mural reflects generations of immigrants wanting to make a better life for themselves that they can no longer have in their home country.
Shepard Fairey’s gallery art is included in Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and Albert Museum in London. Starting in 2007, Fairey has had his art conveyed in exhibitions in places such as New York, Denmark, and Portugal to name a few. Fairey has won awards such as Member and Contributor to the LACMA Graphic Arts Council, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Voices of Courage Media Award, and Art Wynwood Tony Goldman Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award. Recent awards were given in 2017, which indicates that Fairey is not retired and still as relevant today as ever.
Shepard Fairey Collaborations
These days Shepard Fairey is still very active. In addition to murals and gallery works, he continues to release a number of interesting collaborations. Most recently (as of 4/24/2018), Hypebeast has announced that he is currently collaborating with Adidas Skateboarding with the work being exhibited in “Showcase X” at the Seventh Letter Gallery in Los Angeles. Together, Adidas and Fairey hand picked the artists and professional skateboarders to collaborate with including people Fairey has previously worked with them as well as newcomers. This will be a one night only exhibit on Thursday, April 12.
In addition to “Showcase X”, the band ‘Misfits’ will be releasing a collaborating with ‘Obey’. Together they are producing collaborative clothes and skateboard decks are to be available in stores by April 13th.
As a professional artist since the 90’s, Shepard Fairey has always stayed true to what he believes in. Aware of the audience he attracts,Fairey brings light to issues that either brings us together or divides us. Regardless, Shepard Fariey does not seem to be stopping any time soon. Whether it is collaborations, art exhibits, or mural projects Fairey has a lot in store to keep an eye out for.