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“Art is not always meant to be decorative or soothing, in fact, it can create uncomfortable conversations and stimulate uncomfortable emotions” – Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey is an American graphic designer, illustrator and social activist who, along with artists such as Banksy and Space Invader, has played an integral role in successfully bringing Street Art into fine art galleries.
Born in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina, Fairey attended the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Palm Springs and the Rhode Island School of Design. As an art student, he became obsessed with Punk and the skateboard culture and began practising his street art by pasting homemade stickers and drawing on t-shirts and skateboards.
In 1989, whilst attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Fairey created his ‘Andre the Giant Has a Posse’ sticker campaign, appropriating the image of the wrestler of the same name. it went viral and has since spawned over a million copies around the world. When he was forced to stop using images of the wrestler, Fairey produced later designs indicating simply ‘Obey Giant’ or ‘OBEY’. Rooted in the DIY counterculture of punk rock and skateboarding, the image makes reference to popular culture, marketing and political messaging, with its sarcasm verging on reverse psychology.
Most of Fairey’s stickers are anti-authoritarian, commenting on soclal issues such as on peace, justice, equality and human rights. Fairey designed the iconic ‘HOPE’ sticker for Barack Obama’s 2008 US presidential campaign and in 2009 the original portrait became part of the permanent collection of the US National Portrait Gallery. Fairey also created an exclusive design for Rock the Vote, and his influence throughout the presidential election was a factor in his being nominated as a Person of the Year for 2008 by GQ Magazine. He has gone on to produce a number of other works, such ‘The Protester’, commissioned by Time Magazine in 2011 in the wake of several worldwide movements such as the Arab Spring, or his 2015 poster representing Marianne, the French national icon, as a tribute to the victims of the 2015 Paris attacks.
Maintaining his links the punk and skateboarding sub-culture, Fairey often supports social causes and opposes corporate influence, providing social critique through his work.
Shepard Fairey’s art has been displayed at institutions in the United States such as the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Smithsonian, the MOMA in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., as well as venues around the world such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. As his work continues to attract attention from iconic publications and brands, Fairey’s work is becoming increasingly sought after by collectors.
Shepard Fairey currently lives and works in Los Angeles.