10 things to know about Shepard Fairey

Today, Shepard Fairey‘s fame goes way beyond the world of street art aficionados: his “OBEY” image has become a logo and invaded every major town in the world. Since his Obama poster Hope put him under the spotlight, he has undoubtedly been a hot topic in the art world! With a style inspired by communist propaganda, he is often noted due to his many collaborations with major multinational brands and corporations. Has success turned him into a sellout artist? We will let you make up your own mind. In the meantime, we give you 10 interesting facts about him that you might not know!

1. His favorite color

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Lotus Ornament (Red), 2008

Taking inspiration from communist propaganda posters, it seems only fitting that  Shepard Fairey has made a particular shade of red his signature color. It is this red that acts as the background of the infamous ‘OBEY’ stickers found splattered across many major cities. This bright, commanding red is present in all of his work, and is a sure sign you are looking at a work by Fairey.

2. Shepard Fairey, a skater kid

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Skateboards printed with the infamous ‘OBEY’ tag

At first, Shepard Fairey was just a skater kid who was into punk rock music. He became interested in being an artist at the age of 14. He would initially screeprint t-shirts and skateboards for himself and his friends. Later, while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, he worked part-time at a skateboarding shop. This would explain his interest in street art as well as introducing the foundations of his career as a world renowned street-artist.

3. Andre the Giant

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Andre the Giant has a Posse sticker,

His famous « Obey » visual, originally comes from an advertisement he found in the newspapers with the face of the famous French wrestler and actor, André Roussimoff, known under the nickname Andre The Giant. The ‘has a posse’ part of the sticker came from the name of the group of people Fairey was with at the time who called themselves ‘The Posse’, but it was also common hip-hop slang. The phrase ‘Andre the Giant has a Posse’ went on to be the title of Helen Sticker’s 1995 documentary which featured Fairey and documented his street art campaign.

4. Hope

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 After the success of his « Hope » poster during Obama’s campaign in 2008, he was sued for copyright infringement by Mannie Garcia, the photographer who took the original picture Fairey used. The actual image of Obama is reminiscent of an iconic image of John F. Kennedy looking off to his right hand side. This served Fairey’s purpose well as he wanted to create a poster that would elevate Obama to an iconic status. To do this, he used patriotic colors – red, white and blue – to align Obama with American ideals. This image of him looking off into the distance, coupled with the slogan ‘Hope’, helped to portray Obama as a pioneering, inspiring leader, who would safely lead the country in a new direction. Ultimately, this poster came to be one of the most widely recognized images from the Obama campaign.

5. Shepard Fairey’s extra curricular activities

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At nighttime, the street artist also spins his music in clubs under the nicknames DJ Diabetic and Emcee Insulin. He aligns DJing with creating his designs as they both contain elements of problem solving and a creative process to achieve an end result. In 2016 he performed a DJ set at Art Basel Miami Juxtaposition, playing mostly remixes of old 90s hip-hop records.

6. Smashing Pumpkin

Album cover of “Zeitgeist” by Smashing Pumpkins, 2007

In 2007, he designed the cover album for the Smashing Pumpkin, an American alternative rock band. His choice of visuals stemmed from his concern with the climate crisis and also . Water creeps up the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of America which Fairey intended to represent the changes in society following 9/11. The ideals on which America was founded (civil liberties, freedom of speech and privacy) were all slowly being taken away. The background of the setting or rising sun remains ambiguous, but ultimately served to suggest hope for things to change.

7. Shepard Fairey is a wanted man

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Fairey was busted more than 12 times for damage to public or private property. In 2015 he was arrested  in Detroit upon his return from Europe for malicious destruction of property. He was accused of causing more than $9,000 worth of damage in Detroit and punishment for these sorts of offenses come with up to five years in prison…

8. Unexpected collaborations

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Russel Brand frequently endorsed the work of Shepard Fairey. Likewise, Fairey has supported the work of Russel Brand, admiring his ability to combine humour with social commentary in an accessible and informative way. In fact, in 2010, Fairey designed the wedding invite for Katy Perry and Russell Brand’s wedding!

9. Shepard Fairey and Classic Literature 

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In 2008, he designed the cover for a new edition of the English classic “The Animal Farm” by George Orwell. The timeless tale from Orwell about revolution gone wrong fits perfectly with the themes that Fairey explores in his works. This eye-catching, street art inspired cover, added a new lease of life to the novel as future generations rediscovered the ideas and concepts that are explored.

10. Shepard Fairey : Robin hood or sellout? 

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Because Shepard Fairey had not saturated public space quite enough, he partnered up with Curio Wallcoverings to produce limited-run wallpaper. These striking wallpapers consisted of Fairey’s iconic “Obey” motif and his classic colors such as red and cream. A more domestic slant for the infamous street artist!

A renowned street artist with a loud voice on a vast range of subjects, Shepard Fairey is a true artist. He seeks to insight change, a theme that can been seen across his works. Take his ‘Obey’ project that aimed to make people question authority, or his involvement in the Obama campaign or his posters urging people to take action in the climate crisis. He truly captures the essence of what it means to be a street artist in our day and age!