Shepard Fairey is a renowned contemporary street artist, graphic designer, illustrator, and activist. First recognized for his Andre the Giant Has a Posse OBEY sticker campaign while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Fairey rose to global prominence during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, gaining widespread attention for his Barack Obama Hope poster. Fairey creates across mediums, including paintings, screenprints, murals, and stickers, to present bold imagery and clean lines that embrace marketing and advertising strategies while conveying political and social messages. Prolific across industries from corporate brands to music, Fairey’s collaborators include Banksy, pioneering West Coast graffiti writer and multimedia studio artist RISK, and Australian street artist Dmote. Fairey's work straddles graffiti, pop art, business art, and Marxist theory.
Born Frank Shepard Fairey in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 15, 1970, he began creating drawings for skateboards and T-shirts in 1984. Fairey graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy, a pre-professional arts training and college preparatory school in Idyllwild, California, in 1988, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from RISD in 1988. After RISD, Fairey founded a small printing business in Providence, Rhode Island, called Alternate Graphics, specializing in T-shirt and sticker silkscreens, in order to fund his broader art practice.
The OBEY sticker campaign he created at RISD has proliferated into an international network of Obey Giant collaborators replicating Fairey's bold, iconic designs. Fairey was eager to win the support of RISD classmates and fellow skateboarders, not expecting this venture to become massive. Fairey’s “Obey” and "This Is Your God" slogans are borrowed from ubiquitous subliminal anti-capitalist messages in John Carpenter’s now-cult classic 1988 action-comedy-horror film They Live starring professional wrestler Roddy Piper. Furthering his anti-consumerist sentiment, Fairey derived “The medium is the message" from a phrase coined by Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan in the first chapter of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. Fairey explores the sociological impact of using public space to display conspicuous yet ambiguous images.
Fairey’s work is in the permanent collections at National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, New Museum of Design in New York, The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Harvard Print Museum in Cambridge, Mass., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
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