Artist Feature: Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey is a contemporary street artist and graphic designer, whose images are known around the world. He’s most famous for his striking Hope and Change posters made during the 2008 election campaign of Barack Obama. His work incorporates aspects of graffiti culture, tagging, propaganda images, and skateboarding culture. Besides his work as an artist, Fairey is an activist who has partnered with dozens of nonprofits to raise money for diverse causes. He most often works to combat hunger, support accessible education, and fund diabetes research. (As he suffers from the disease himself.)
Fairey started working in his distinctive style when he was at the Rhode Island School of Design, when he first started printing his “Andre The Giant Has A Posse” stickers and plastering them around the campus. Fairey has said that the image itself means nothing, rather, it’s an in-joke with people who know what it is. It was meant to confuse passers-by, and reference what seemed like some sort of cult or gang. The image spread quickly and inspired Fairey’s OBEY GIANT clothing line.
After school, Fairey opened businesses, including clothing stores, printing shops, and a guerilla marketing company. In the early 2000s, he started doing art full-time. He’s worked on several album covers and political poster series. Fairey has been arrested twice for graffiti and is an advocate for decriminalizing street art and graffiti. After the success of his Obama posters, Fairey gained international renown and has produced several other posters in the same style. For instance, his We The People series, include images of three American women in a similar style, promoting unity and diversity during the divisive Trump presidency.
Shepard Fairey | Art by Kat Sampson
“Why is non-commercial public expression considered criminal?”
Fairey’s style often references traditional propaganda images in the way that he stylizes his figures, how he utilizes strong lines and solid outlines, and how he employs symbols like a torch, a raised fist, guns, flowers, or stars to get his point across. Fairey’s use of these symbols is self-aware and removed from their original context. Rather than attempting to control people, Fairy is explicitly repurposing this language of control and persuasion to mobilize people politically by their own choice.
In collaboration with Kat Sampson, we present The Not Just Dead White Guys coloring book with 24 vibrant portraits, showcasing diverse artists, both deceased and living. Half are contemporary artists, including Shepard Fairey who are shaping the art scene today, while the others are important historical figures. Join us to celebrate their diverse contributions and create a more inclusive art world!
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