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Shepard Fairey (American, b.b. 1970)

Birth Place: Charleston, South Carolina

Shepard Fairey is a Los Angeles-based artist and influential member of the Street Art Movement. He rose to fame in the early 1990s with the creation of his Obey series, which he dispersed in public spaces in the form of prints, posters, murals, and stickers. Fairey’s popularity grew further when he transformed his seminal 1989 “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker into a widely recognizable symbol for his clothing company OBEY. Founded in 2001, OBEY became an extension of Fairey’s activism, incorporating political and social propaganda into its designs.

“The OBEY campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. The first aim of Phenomenology is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment,” Fairey wrote in his 1990 Manifesto. “The OBEY campaign attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the campaign and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with OBEY propaganda provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail. To catalyze a thoughtful dialogue deconstructing the process of image absorption is the ultimate goal. All in the name of fun and observation. The medium is message.”

Fairey’s work disrupts the boundaries between fine and commercial art and combines elements of graffiti, appropriation, portraiture and pop art. He is best known for his iconic portrait of President Barack Obama titled Hope (2008). It portrays the then-presidential candidate in red, white and blue and the word HOPE in large, bold letters. Hope became a visual emblem associated with a major moment in American history.

Shepard Fairey was born in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

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