Home Art magazine About Frank Shepard Fairey

In the last issue, we started to talk about the difference between the meaning of Street Art and Urban art. We analyzed how both movements had their roots in many historic social and political issues. Now we can explore these roots, focusing on a specific and famous artist like Shepard Fairey  - generally known as OBEY.

Born in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina in the United States, Frank Shepard Fairey now is one of the most celebrated Street artists in the world. His work has literally changed our imagination of the urban and has been used in screen-prints, stencils, stickers, masking film illustrations, collages, sculptures, posters, paintings, and murals.



Life and education...

In 1988, the artist graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy in Palm Springs, California. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1992 from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. After graduation he founded a small printing business in Providence called “Alternate Graphics”, specializing in T-shirt and sticker silkscreens to be able to continue his own artwork. Over these years he met the American filmmaker Helen Stickler, who created a short documentary film about Shepard Fairey artwork, titled “Andre the Giant has Posse”.

Thanks to this award-winning movie his artistic poetry . The first “André the Giant Has Posse” was created by Fairey during a sticker campaign at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). This was a new kind of propaganda, and this campaign later evolved into "Obey Giant", which has grown via an international network of collaborators replicating Fairey's original designs. The aim of the project was to inspire curiosity and cause people to question their relationship with their surroundings. As a big music fan and insider of the underground culture, among his first important jobs we see a series of “anti-war/anti Bush” posters for a Shepard Fairey street art campaign called "Be the Revolution”; on a box set for DJ Shadow with T-shirts, stickers, prints, and a mix CD; in 2005, Fairey contributed the artwork for the posters, cover art, and graphics for “Walk The Line” the Johnny Cash biopic and for punk bands such as Mission of Burma, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Led Zeppelin.was circulated around 70 festivals and international museums




















Toward the Success...

Shepard Fairey’s work mixes elements of graffiti, pop art, business art, and Marxist theory. His work has been seen in galleries around the world and even museums. The first big show was in June 2007 at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery entitled “E Pluribus Venom”. The show made the arts section front page in the New York Times. Fairey's first art museum exhibition, titled "Supply & Demand" (as was his earlier book) and was held in Boston at the Institute of Contemporary Art during the summer of 2009. But the real twist was in 2008 when Fairey created a series of posters supporting Barack Obama’ candidacy for President of the United States, including the iconic "Shepard Fairey Hope” portrait. This work was considered the most efficacious American political illustration since “Uncle Sam Wants You”. Because the Hope poster had been "perpetuated illegally" and independently by the street artist, the Obama campaign declined to have any direct affiliation with it. Although the campaign officially disavowed any involvement in the creation or popularization of the poster, Fairey has commented in interviews that he was in communication with campaign officials during the period immediately following the poster's release.

Fairey has stated that the original version featured the word "PROGRESS" instead of the word "HOPE", and that within weeks of its release, the campaign requested that the issue (and legally disseminate) a new version, keeping the powerful image of Obama's face but captioning it with the word "HOPE". The Shepard Fairey hope campaign, openly embraced the revised poster along with two additional Fairey posters that featured the words "CHANGE" and "VOTE". Fairey distributed 300,000 stickers and 500,000 posters during the campaign, funding his grassroots electioneering through poster and fine art sales. In February 2008, Fairey received a letter of thanks from Obama for his contribution to the campaign. The letter stated:

I would like to thank you for using your talent in support of my campaign. The political messages involved in your work have encouraged Americans to believe they can change the status quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support. I wish you continued success and creativity. (Barack Obama, February 22, 2008)



Shepard Fairey political art...

Fairey is an extremely controversial figure in the world of urban art. After the HOPE poster’s success, the artist stepped up his production, creating inflammatory, politically charged posters that criticized the status quo and corporate culture. Sensitive about controversial social and political topics, he often donates and creates artwork in order to promote awareness of these social issues and contributes directly to these causes. There are many examples of this, like the poster he donated to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) with Olivia Wilde in the guise of a contemporary Statue of Liberty holding a megaphone and a clipboard. In 2007 the artist founded the Obey Clothing as an extension of “The Obey Awareness Program” for support causes he believes in by selling specially designed merchandise and donating 100% of the profits raised to handpicked organizations and their causes.

I look at myself as someone who wants to empower artists (including myself) and so I refuse to subscribe to a dysfunctional standard toward street artists that does nothing but hold us back. I’ve been called a sellout for using platforms for my art other than just the street, but I think there are many valid ways to share one’s art with the public and many valid ways to solve the difficult problem of surviving financially as an artist.


Fairey created some of the most famous street images in history, and although his legal troubles disappointed some fans, it is difficult to say that Fairey’s influence is diminished. He was building his own Posse of dedicated fans faster than ever before, and Shepard was conscious of his new status as a counterculture celebrity.


Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.