Frank Shepard Fairey (born 15 February 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina) is a contemporary artist, graphic designer and illustrator who emerged from the skateboarding scene and became known initially for his "André the Giant Has a Posse" sticker campaign. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston calls him one of today's best known and most influential street artists. He usually omits his first name.
Shepard Fairey was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. His father was a doctor. Fairey became obsessed with art at the age of 14. At that time he started to place his drawings on skateboards and T-shirts.
Fairey graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in illustration.
In addition to his successful graphic design career Shepard Fairey also DJ's at many clubs under the name DJ Diabetic and Emcee Insulin, as he has diabetes.
His first art museum exhibition, aptly named Supply & Demand alongside his book, opens in Boston at the Institute of Contemporary Art in February, 2009.
He sits on the advisory board of Reaching to Embrace the Arts, a not-for-profit organization that provides art supplies to disadvantaged schools and students.
Fairey currently resides in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Amanda and daughters Vivienne and Madeline.
Life and work
Fairey created the "André the Giant Has a Posse" sticker campaign in 1989, while attending the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). This later evolved into the "Obey Giant" campaign, which has grown via an international network of collaborators replicating Fairey's original designs. In a manifesto he wrote in 1990, and since posted on his website, he links his work with Heidegger's concept of phenomenology. His "Obey" Campaign draws from the John Carpenter movie "They Live" which starred pro wrestler Roddy Piper, taking a number of its slogans, including the "Obey" slogan, as well as the "This is Your God" slogan. Fairey has also spun off the OBEY clothing line from the original sticker campaign. He also uses the slogan "The Medium is the Message" borrowed from Marshall McLuhan.
After graduation, he founded a small printing business in Providence, RI called Alternate Graphics, specializing in t-shirt and sticker silkscreens, which afforded Fairey the ability to continue pursuing his own artwork. While residing in Providence in 1994, Fairey met American filmmaker Helen Stickler, who had also attended RISD and graduated with a film degree. The following spring, Stickler completed a short documentary film about Shepard and his work, titled "Andre the Giant has a Posse". The film premiered in the 1995 New York Underground Film Festival, and went on to play at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. It has been seen in more than 70 festivals and museums internationally.
Fairey was a founding partner along with Dave Kinsey and Phillip DeWolff of the design studio BLK/MRKT Inc. from 1997-2003 which specialised in guerilla marketing, and "the development of high-impact marketing campaigns". Clients included Pepsi, Hasbro and Netscape (for whom Fairey designed the red dinosaur version of mozilla.org's logo and mascot).
In 2003 he founded the Studio Number One design agency with his wife Amanda Fairey. The agency produced the cover work for the Black Eyed Peas's album Monkey Business and the poster for the film Walk the Line. Fairey has also designed the covers for The Smashing Pumpkins' album Zeitgeist, Flogging Molly's CD/DVD Whiskey on a Sunday, and the Led Zeppelin compilation Mothership.
In 2004, Fairey joined artists Robbie Conal and Mear One to create a series of "anti-war, anti-Bush" posters for a street art campaign called "Be the Revolution" for the art collective Post Gen. In 2005 Fairey collaborated with DJ Shadow on a box set, with t-shirts, stickers, prints, and a mix CD by Shadow. In 2005 also, he was a resident artist at the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu. In 2006, Fairey contributed eight vinyl etchings to a limited-edition series of 12" singles by alternative rock band Mission of Burma, and has also done work for the musical group Interpol.
In 2004, Shepard Fairey co-founded Swindle Magazine along with Roger Gastman.
"Supply and Demand: The Art of Shepard Fairey," was released in 2006. In 2008, Philosophy of Obey (Obey Giant): The Formative Years (1989 - 2008), edited by Sarah Jaye Williams, was published by Nerve Books UK, and praised by Fairey.
In June 2007, Fairey opened his one man show entitled "E Pluribus Venom," at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. The overtly political nature of Fairey's work in the show led to a bomb scare in which the thousands of gallery-goers had to be evacuated from the space. The show made the arts section front page in the The New York Times.
In September 2008, Shepard opened his solo show titled "Duality of Humanity" at The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco. His third solo show with the gallery featured one hundred and fifty works, including the largest collection of canvases pieces in one show that he's done. With the reception nearing the November elections, Shepard hosted an after party donating all proceeds to the Obama campaign. At the after party, he created a live mural using his epic image of the Democratic Candidate. Before leaving the city, with over 50 street pieces, he went around the city with "The New York Times".
Fairey created a series of posters supporting Barack Obama's candidacy for President in 2008, including the iconic "HOPE" portrait. He also created an exclusive design for Rock the Vote. On November 5, 2008, the city of Chicago posted street banners throughout the downtown Loop business district featuring Fairey's Obama "HOPE" portrait. The banners say "Congratulations Chicago's Own Barack Obama, President-Elect of the United States of America". Fairey created two additional images, "Change" and "Vote", for use by the official Obama Campaign, since his original image could not be seen to have any official affiliation with the presidential campaign since it had been "perpetuated illegally" and independently by the graffiti/street artist.
Contrary to the above citation, Fairey has noted in several interviews that he had originally created the iconic poster with "PROGRESS" wording instead of "HOPE", but after a couple weeks of distribution, the Obama campaign contacted Fairey and asked that he change it to "HOPE" since that was more in line with the campaign's message, resulting in the campaign-approved "HOPE" poster. Fairey distributed a staggering 300,000 stickers and 500,000 posters during the election campaign, funding his grassroots electioneering through poster and fine art sales."I just put all that money back into making more stuff, so I didn't keep any of the Obama money," said Fariey in a December 2008 interview. Fairey received a formal letter of thanks from Barack Obama for his contribution to his 2008 presidential 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. - Barack Obama, February 22, 2008
Fairey created the portrait of Barack Obama that TIME Magazine used as the cover art for its 2008 Person of the Year edition issue. His influence, particularly with Obama's presidential campaign, contributed to him being named a Person of the Year 2008 by GQ Magazine.
In January 2009, the 'HOPE' image was acquired by the US National Portrait Gallery, and became part of the permanent collection. It was unveiled and put on display at the Gallery on January 17, 2009.
Shepard Fairey has received criticism. Some critics have accused Fairey of “repackaging” leftist propaganda. Others have suggested that Fairey exploits obscure or anonymous artists for profit. Fairey was questioned about criticism surrounding his use of images from social movements, specifically images created by artists of color, in an interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones. In his reply Fairey mentioned his collaboration with Public Enemy, the Zapatistas movement, and his charity work for Darfur in order to defend himself against charged of exploitation. He also suggested that critics of his work are trying to justify their own apathy by being critical of his art.
Liam O'Donoghue retracted support for Shepard Fairey’s art days after the interview with Mother Jones. O'Donoghue posted an article, titled Shepard Fairey’s Image Problem, on several independent media sites. The article explored the hypocritical views of Shepard Fairey involving his use of copyright protected images while at the same time defending his copyright protected works from being used by other artists and corporations. O’Donoghue suggested that Fairey’s art is embedded in corporate America and that his popularity with the “fickle youth market” has saved Fairey from being exposed for plagiarism. O’Donoghue’s Shepard Fairey’s Image Problem was picked up by several online sources, including Eyebeam .
According to Erick Lyle, Fairey has cynically turned graffiti culture into a self-promoting ad campaign, turning street art into a cheap hustle that is no different from corporate advertising. On the other hand, San Diego Union-Tribune art critic Robert L. Pincus says Fairey's, "is political art with a strong sense of visual style and emotional authenticity. Even in times when political art has ebbed, Fairey's has just the right balance of seriousness, irony and wit to fit the mood of the moment". "Following the example set by gallery art, some street art is more about the concept than the art" writes The Walrus (magazine) contributor Nick Mount. “Shepard Fairey’s Obey Giant stickers and Akay’s Akayism posters are clever children of Duchamp, ironic conceptual art".
In a review of ‘E Pluribus Venom’ at Jonathan LeVine Gallery for the New York Times art critic Benjamin Genocchio stated that Shepard Fairey’s art comes off as “generic” despite the range of mediums and styles used by the artist. Genocchio went on to say that Fairey’s art can be seen as a luxury commodity.
The director of Ad Hoc Art, Andrew Michael Ford, has stated for the New York Times that Fairey‘s practice does not “match up“ in the minds of people who view his work. Ford suggests that some people will view Fairey’s work as “very commercial”. In his criticism of Fairey’s art he went on to suggest that Fairey is “ripe” for criticism because he profits off of politically and socially charged works. Ford stated that despite his criticism he is a fan of Fairey work.
Bloggers have criticized Fairey for accepting commissions from corporations such as Saks Fifth Avenue. Fairey defends his corporate commissions by saying that clients like Saks Fifth Avenue help him to keep his studio operational and his assistants employed. Fairey has received criticism for his work in advertising while still calling himself a street artist. The idea being that street art represents art without for-profit corporate influence. Fairey has acknowledged the irony of being a street artist exploring themes of free speech while at the same time being an artist hired by corporations for consumer campaigns. Of this he has stated that designers and artists need to make money. "I consider myself a populist artist," Fairey says. "I want to reach people through as many different platforms as possible. Street art is a bureaucracy-free way of reaching people, but T-shirts, stickers, commercial jobs, the Internet -- there are so many different ways that I use to put my work in front of people."