photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
SHEPARD FAIREY is a celebrated RHODE ISLAND SCHOOL OF DESIGN-trained GRAFFITI ARTIST / GRAPHIC DESIGNER best known for his "OBEY GIANT" urban guerrilla sticker/poster/stencil campaign and the ubiquitous "HOPE" icon he created in support of BARACK OBAMA's successful presidential campaign back in 2008. inspired by the likes ROBBIE CONAL, BARBARA KRUGER, MARCEL DUCHAMP, ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG and ANDY WARHOL, FAIREY ventured out with his EXPERIMENTAL CAMPAIGNS that often played with REPETITIVE MESSAGING and the general public's capacity to be influenced and manipulated by such.
the recent documentary OBEY GIANT: THE ART AND DISSENT OF SHEPARD FAIREY (HULU, 2017) is very much concerned with fleshing out and introducing the career of FAIREY to a general public that is seemingly unfamiliar with STREET ART and its misunderstood code of ethics, which are often the target of overzealous police departments. what comes across is the intent of his work, which is often POLITICALLY, CULTURALLY and SOCIALLY ACTIVIST in nature, and the inherent risk of utilizing forgotten derelict and abandoned building facades as his canvas. there is a transition of sorts from the "ANDRE THE GIANT HAS A POSSE" SOCIAL EXPERIMENTALISM phase to his reactionary BUSH-era visual screeds against the war in IRAQ to his more recent, constructive post-OBAMA that advocates on behalf of a whole host of causes he believes in and provides free visual graphic work for (including CLIMATE CHANGE, MARRIAGE EQUALITY, PRISON REFORM, IMMIGRANT RIGHTS, etc.). in essence FAIREY is a master of PROPAGANDA, but he uses his powers for good in that he creates omnipresent visuals that promote and support an immediately identifiable VALUE SYSTEM that promotes CORE HUMANISTIC BELIEFS in INCLUSIVITY, DIGNITY, INQUIRY and DIVERSITY.
i personally was unaware of FAIREY's legal challenges regarding the ASSOCIATED PRESS photograph he transformed into the famous "HOPE" icon. the fact that there were two images and he misremembered which one he utilized and thus made a string of bad choices to cover up that mistake. the documentary itself may be a mea culpa on his part as such apparently affected his CREDIBILITY and fundamentally questioned his HONESTY. in my mind the whole charade feels like corporate overreach. seems the ASSOCIATE PRESS was attempting to extract money and the ability to reach back and futilely attempt to control the ability of artists to transform what is essentially their INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. feels equally ludicrous as the BOSTON police department arresting FAIREY on the opening night of his new showing at the prestigious INSTITUTE of CONTEMPORARY ART. what a bunch of schmucks. what i gained from those two misadventures is the cost of doing business as a famous GRAFFITI ARTIST. that is the risk you run playing along the edge of legality. not that im judging in the least.
OBEY GIANT: THE ART AND DISSENT OF SHEPARD FAIREY is an interesting career retrospective for a guy that is still young, only 52 as of 2022. as long as he isnt incarcerated, im very much looking forward to his creative work and international ADVOCACY CAMPAIGNS for years to come.