Shepard Fairey (b. 1970) is a contemporary American visual artist whose instantly recognizable, striking designs is used for various social and political campaigns. Born in South Carolina, Fairey was always interested in art and design as a child, placing his own designs on T-shirts and skateboards. He received his B.F.A. in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1992 and went on to start various business ventures such as his own T-shirt silkscreen company and design agency.
Fairey first became notorious for his André the Giant Has a Posse sticker campaign that he created while attending RISD. The image was later turned into his OBEY campaign, which would be used in various outlets such as video games and T-shirt designs. The OBEY campaign is rooted in the DIY counterculture of punk rock and skateboarding, but it has also taken cues from popular culture, commercial marketing and political messaging. Fairey steeps his ideology and iconography in the self-empowerment of those who refuse to be manipulated by the machine of manufactured consent. With biting sarcasm verging on reverse psychology, he goads viewers, using the imperative “obey,” to take heed of the propagandists out to bend the world to their agendas.
He rose to a new height of prominence during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, when Fairey designed his iconic HOPE poster with then Presidential candidate Obama’s portrait. The modern day version of the “Uncle Sam” poster, the work uses only three or four flat areas of color to create a poignant, visually striking and effective image. The work also raises numerous contemporary issues on appropriation and street art. The original design now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Along with the Obama campaign, Fairey has also donated artwork and other contributions to charitable organizations such as the ACLU, MoveOn, Hope for Darfur, the Chiapas Relief Fund, marriage equality reform, 11th Hour Action, Hurricane Katrina relief, Southern California fire relief, shelters for L.A. teens, children’s charities in Iraq and the U.S., Free the West Memphis 3, Feeding America, Adopt-a-Pet.com and the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.
As Fairey’s body of work reached its 20-year mark in 2009, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston honored him with a full-scale solo retrospective, which drew a record number of visitors for the museum. Entitled Supply and Demand, the exhibit shares its name with Fairey’s career-chronicling book, now in its second edition (Gingko Press). The exhibition recently ended a run at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and will move to the Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, opening on February 20th. In May, Fairey will unveil a new collection of work through his current gallery, Deitch Projects. In addition to his poster designs, he created numerous album cover designs including ones for Led Zeppelin and Stone Temple Pilots.
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.
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