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Shepard Fairey

Updated on June 14, 2013

Obama Hope Poster


I did not know anything about Shepard Fairey before I went to see him speak at the Dallas Contemporary Center. He is planning to do twelve murals for the city of Dallas. A good amount of time passed before he got on stage, and as I sat in my seat, I noticed that it was not just the “skateboarder” people attending the presentation, all kinds of people who loved art attended. As soon as he started talking, I could tell he was a really cool guy. He has a way of relating to people that makes them want to listen. I definitely did. Shepard Fairey is inspired by some interesting people: Bobby Seale, Bob Marley, Noam Chomsky, and Joe Strummer (he added that his Grandmother felt that Bob Marley was the safe one). Punk music, meditation, and his wife (who he has been married to for 13 years) also influence Shepard’s art. Shepard has a well developed sense of humor, at one point in the presentation a baby cried and Shepard said, “The world only gets worse from here!” Not only is Shepherd extremely talented, there are strong meanings behind his art; themes of political and cultural propaganda often appear in his murals. Shepard Fairey thinks of street art as free speech, he believes that people should hear what he has to say, so he puts it up on the side of a building for passers-by to see.

Andre the Giant Sticker

The Obama hope poster and the Andre sticker

Shepard Fairey is known for his street art. However, within street art, his style has changed. Since street art is, in most cases, illegal. Shepard had to paint his murals offsite and then, through a process he called “wheat pasting”, add them onto a wall at night. Now that Shepard has gained respect, he is able to paint his murals directly onto the wall, legally. This is beneficial because he does not have to worry about cops. Once, he was arrested in Denver Colorado because of his all-famous Obama hope poster. Because of the Obama home poster, Shepard has had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Obama on several occasions. Directly painting to a wall also allows the art to last a lot longer, and allows Shepard to do a better job.

Though Shepard is known for his street art, he did not start off with street art. After going to an art college in Rhode Island, he borrowed money from his mom to buy screen printing equipment. He got into dept trying to spread his products, so he quickly turned to graphic design. One night a friend of Shepard’s wanted to learn how to make a stencil, so Shepard found a picture of Andre the Giant in the Newspaper to stencil. Shepard’s friend really liked the way it turned out, but Shepard did not think anything would come of it. He made a few stickers of the Andre stencil and gave them to his friends, partly as a joke. It was at this point that Shepard’s career began to explode. People saw the stickers around town and wanted the Andre stickers because Shepard and his friends were secretive about the stickers. People though that the stickers represented an exclusive posse. An indie newspaper wrote an article on the Andre sticker, gaining Shepard a lot of attention. Since 1989, Shepard has distributed over 12 million Andre stickers. Shepard meant the Andre sticker to point towards the idea that “big brother is always watching.” Shepard always distributed a lot of his work for free, and that advertised well for him. He said that he has always been “tenacious about getting his stuff out.”

Shepard's Strong Sense of Activism

Shepard believes that a person is defined by how they handle hardship, and he carries that over into his art. His art serves a purpose and has meaning. Sometimes his art is centered on agitation, while other times it is centered on harmony. Shepard believes that peace and harmony should be the status quo; however, friction and agitation seem to be the status quo. Street art is democratic; Shepard enjoys communicating and advocating through his murals. He likes to “take over space in a powerful way.” Shepard Fairey likes street art because it is not restrained by museum walls. Shepard said that, “the more people live in virtual bubbles, the more they want to connect with something that is real.” Shepard Fairey supported the “Occupy” movement through his art. However, he said that he did not agree with all the “occupiers.” Shepard said, “The political system is geared to return favors.” He also said that “the two party system is flawed.” He believes that “power always corrupts.” Every person is entitled to an equal vote. He does not think it was good that corporations were bailed out while individuals themselves were not helped out in any way. Shepard Fairey is an advocate of health care reform, green energy, and lobbyist reform. Shepard puts out around forty new prints each year. Thirty percent of the profit he makes of selling prints goes to support causes he believes in. I think that is very cool. Shepard said that, “charity is a luxury.” Through money, people can support the causes they believe in and make a difference.

Changes in the Art World

It is really cool to see a street artist like Fairey gaining respect from the art world. He is happy that the art world is recognizing his art as a form of true art. However, not everyone likes Fairey. Because much of Fairey’s art adds a propagandist angle to preexisting icons, Fairey has been sued several times. AP news sued him because he gained the inspiration for his Obama hope poster from an AP news front cover photograph. Shepard believes that “Inspiration is the basis for evolution.” Evolution is a process of adding to something that is present. He said that “copy write laws are to protect creators to encourage creation… It is to stop verbatim copying.” Shepard knows that it is very hard to make a living as an artist. He gives gave this advice to new artists, “Do something reflective of yourself.” Thank you for reading!


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    • Vimural profile image

      Vimural 5 years ago from Tucson

      I love his work. It is very impressive.

      Unlike many, I don't mind that he has gone mainstream with his work. If he has the capability to create super large murals and wheat-pastings, then why not? If anything, it just brings out the true potential within and let us fans realize there is a possibility of the combination between street art, fame, and money.