Frank Shepard Fairey (born February 15, 1970) is an American contemporary street artist, graphic designer, activist, illustrator and founder of OBEY Clothing who emerged from the skateboarding scene. He first became known for his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” (…OBEY…) sticker campaign while attending the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which appropriated images from the comedic supermarket tabloid Weekly World News.
He became widely known during the 2008 U.S. presidential election for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston has described him as one the best known and most influential street artists. His work is included in the collections at The Smithsonian, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Fairey’s first art museum exhibition, titled Supply & Demand (as was his earlier book), was held in Boston at the Institute of Contemporary Art during the summer of 2009. The exhibition featured more than 250 works in a wide variety of media: screen prints, stencils, stickers, rubylith illustrations, collages, and works on wood, metal and canvas. As a complement to the ICA exhibition, Fairey created public art works around Boston. The artist explains his driving motivation: “The real message behind most of my work is ‘question everything’.”
Fairey sits on the advisory board of Reaching to Embrace the Arts, a nonprofit organization that provides art supplies to disadvantaged schools and students. In 2007, Fairey was commissioned to create a logo for “Music Is Revolution Foundation” and became a board member of the Music Is Revolution Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports music education for students in public schools.
Fairey created the “André the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign in 1989, while attending the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). This later evolved into the “Obey Giant” campaign, which has grown via an international network of collaborators replicating Fairey’s original designs. Fairey intended the Obey Giant to inspire curiosity and cause people to question their relationship with their surroundings. According to the Obey Giant website, “The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker”. The website also says, by contrast, that those who are familiar with the sticker find humor and enjoyment from it and that those who try to analyze its meaning only burden themselves and may condemn the art as an act of vandalism from an evil, underground cult.
In a manifesto he wrote in 1990, and since posted on his website, he links his work with Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology. His “Obey” Campaign draws from the John Carpenter movie They Live which starred pro wrestler Roddy Piper, taking a number of its slogans, including the “Obey” slogan, as well as the “This is Your God” slogan. Fairey has also spun off the OBEY clothing line from the original sticker campaign. He also uses the slogan “The Medium is the Message” borrowed from Marshall McLuhan. Shepard Fairey has also stated in an interview that part of his work is inspired by other street artists.
After graduation, he founded a small printing business in Providence, Rhode Island, called Alternate Graphics, specializing in T-shirt and sticker silkscreens, which afforded Fairey the ability to continue pursuing his own artwork. While residing in Providence in 1994, Fairey met American filmmaker Helen Stickler, who had also attended RISD and graduated with a film degree. The following spring, Stickler completed a short documentary film about Shepard and his work, titled “Andre the Giant has a Posse”. The film premiered in the 1995 New York Underground Film Festival, and went on to play at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. It has been seen in more than 70 festivals and museums internationally.
Fairey was a founding partner, along with Dave Kinsey and Phillip DeWolff, of the design studio BLK/MRKT Inc. from 1997 to 2003, which specialised in guerrilla marketing, and “the development of high-impact marketing campaigns”. Clients included Pepsi, Hasbro and Netscape (for whom Fairey designed the red dinosaur version of mozilla.org’s logo and mascot).
In 2003 he founded the Studio Number One design agency with his wife Amanda Fairey. The agency produced the cover work for The Black Eyed Peas’ album Monkey Business and the poster for the film Walk the Line. Fairey has also designed the covers for The Smashing Pumpkins’ album Zeitgeist, Flogging Molly’s CD/DVD Whiskey on a Sunday, Led Zeppelin’s compilation Mothership and movie Celebration Day, and Anthrax’s The Greater Of Two Evils. Along with Banksy, Dmote, and others Fairey also created work at a warehouse exhibition in Alexandria, Sydney, for Semi-Permanent in 2003. Approximately 1,500 people attended.
In 2004, Fairey joined artists Robbie Conal and Mear One to create a series of “anti-war, anti-Bush” posters for a street art campaign called “Be the Revolution” for the art collective “Post Gen”. “Be the Revolution” kicked off with a night of performances featuring Z-Trip, Ozomatli and David J at the Avalon in Hollywood. Fairey also co-founded Swindle Magazine along with Roger Gastman.
In 2005 he collaborated for a second time with Z-Trip on a limited edition 12-inch featuring Chuck D entitled “Shock and Awe”. In 2005 Fairey also collaborated with DJ Shadow on a box set, with T-shirts, stickers, prints, and a mix CD by Shadow. In 2005 he showed abroad, for instance in Paris at the Magda Danysz Gallery. In 2005 also, he was a resident artist at the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House (formerly known as The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu). Also in 2005, Fairey contributed the artwork for the posters, cover art, and graphics for Walk The Line the Johnny Cash biopic. In 2006, Fairey contributed eight vinyl etchings to a limited-edition series of 12″ singles by post-punk band Mission of Burma, and has also done work for the musical group Interpol.
In 2006, Fairey joined NYC based Ad agency Project 2050 as founding Creative Director and was featured on the cover of Advertising Age magazine. While at Project 2050 Shepard developed creative work for Virgin Mega Store and Boost Mobile. The book Supply and Demand: The Art of Shepard Fairey was released in 2006. In 2008, Philosophy of Obey (Obey Giant): The Formative Years (1989–2008), edited by Sarah Jaye Williams, was published by Nerve Books UK, and praised by Fairey.
In June 2007, Fairey opened his one-man show entitled “E Pluribus Venom”, at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. The show made the arts section front page in the New York Times.
Fairey donated original cover art to the 2008 album Body of War: Songs That Inspired an Iraq War Veteran, produced for Iraq War documentary Body of War. Proceeds from the album benefit non-profit organization Iraq Veterans Against the War.
In 2008 Fairey teamed up again with Z-Trip to do a series of shows in support of then presidential candidate Barack Obama entitled Party For Change. Fairey also designed posters for the British goth band Bauhaus.
In September 2008, Shepard opened his solo show titled “Duality of Humanity” at The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco. His third solo show with the gallery featured one hundred and fifty works, including the largest collection of canvases pieces in one show that he’s done.
Fairey was arrested on February 7, 2009, on his way to the premiere of his show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts, on two outstanding warrants related to graffiti. He was charged with damage to property for having postered two Boston area locations with graffiti, a Boston Police Department spokesman said. His arrest was announced to party goers by longtime friend Z-Trip who had been performing at the ICA premiere at Shepard Fairey’s request.
On April 27, 2009, Fairey put three signed copies of his Obama inauguration posters up on eBay, with the proceeds of the auction going to the One Love For Chi foundation, founded by the family of Deftones bassist Chi Cheng following a car accident in November 2008 that nearly claimed Cheng’s life.
Lance Armstrong rode a Trek Madone styled by Fairey in the 2009 Giro d’Italia, starting on May 9, 2009, in Venice, Italy.
In 2011 Time Magazine commissioned Fairey to design its cover to honor “The Protester” as Person of the Year in the wake of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and other social movements around the world. This was Fairey’s second Person of the Year cover for Time, his first being of Barack Obama in 2008.
In January 2015, Shepard Fairey made a cameo appearance on Portlandia. In July 2015, Fairey was arrested and detained at Los Angeles International Airport, after passing through customs, on a warrant for allegedly vandalizing 14 buildings in Detroit. He subsequently turned himself in to Detroit Police.
On September 17, 2015, the Jacob Lewis Gallery presented Shepard Fairey’s exhibition “On Our Hands”, his first solo opening in New York City in five years. The paintings reflect on contemporary issues facing our global community: political corruption, environmental apathy and abuse of power. The exhibition coincides with Fairey’s new monograph Covert to Overt, published by Rizzoli.
Fairey created a series of posters supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 candidacy for President of the United States, including the iconic “HOPE” portrait. The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl called the poster “the most efficacious American political illustration since ‘Uncle Sam Wants You'”. Fairey also created an exclusive design for Rock the Vote. Because the Hope poster had been “perpetuated illegally” and independently by the street artist, the Obama campaign declined to have any direct affiliation with it. Although the campaign officially disavowed any involvement in the creation or popularization of the poster, Fairey has commented in interviews that he was in communication with campaign officials during the period immediately following the poster’s release. Fairey has stated that the original version featured the word “PROGRESS” instead of the word “HOPE”, and that within weeks of its release, the campaign requested that he issue (and legally disseminate) a new version, keeping the powerful image of Obama’s face but captioning it with the word “HOPE”. The campaign openly embraced the revised poster along with two additional Fairey posters that featured the words “CHANGE” and “VOTE”.
Fairey distributed 300,000 stickers and 500,000 posters during the campaign, funding his grassroots electioneering through poster and fine art sales. “I just put all that money back into making more stuff, so I didn’t keep any of the Obama money”, explained Fairey in December 2009.
On November 5, 2008, Chicago posted banners throughout the downtown business district featuring Fairey’s Obama “HOPE” portrait.
Fairey created a similar but new image of Barack Obama for Time magazine, which was used as the cover art for the 2008 Person of the Year issue. The original iconic “HOPE” portrait was featured on the cover of Esquire Magazine’s February 2009 issue, this time with a caption reading, “WHAT NOW?” Shepard Fairey’s influence throughout the presidential election was a factor in the artist himself having been named a Person of the Year for 2008 by GQ.
In January 2009, the “HOPE” portrait was acquired by the U.S. National Portrait Gallery and made part of its permanent collection. It was unveiled and put on display on January 17, 2009.
In 2009 Fairey’s Obama portrait was featured in the book Art For Obama: Designing Manifest Hope and the Campaign for Change, which Fairey also edited.
In his December 8, 2010 appearance on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert asked Fairey how he felt about having done the “HOPE” portrait of Obama and how “that hope was working out for him now?” to which Fairey replied: “You know, I’m proud of it as a piece of grassroots activism, but I’ll just leave it at that”.
In an interview with Esquire in 2015 Fairey said that Obama had not lived up to his expectations, “not even close”. He continued, “Obama has had a really tough time, but there have been a lot of things that he’s compromised on that I never would have expected. I mean, drones and domestic spying are the last things I would have thought [he’d support].”
Fairey created a mutt version of the red, white, and blue poster, donating it to help support pet adoptions, from an image of a rescued shaggy dog taken by photographer Clay Myers. Four hundred limited edition prints were offered by Adopt-A-Pet.com, a nonprofit organization that helps shelters, humane societies and rescue groups advertise their homeless pets to potential adopters. The poster, which was also offered as a free download, was featured on the cover of the spring 2009 edition of Dog’s Life magazine.
Shepard Fairey has always been open about controversial social and political topics and often donates and creates artwork in order to promote awareness of these social issues and contributes directly to these causes.
In the early 2000s, Fairey began donating to organizations such as Chiapas Relief Fund, the ACLU, Feeding America, and the Art of Elysium. Following the Obama campaign, Fairey donated proceeds from these poster sales to the ACLU and Feeding America. In September 2010, Fairey created a poster for the ACLU with actress Olivia Wilde as the Statue of Liberty holding a megaphone and a clipboard, the ACLU’s weapons of choice.
The Obey Awareness Program, operated by Obey Clothing, was founded in 2007 as an extension of Fairey’s humanitarian efforts. This program allows Fairey to support causes he believes in by selling specially designed merchandise and donating 100% of the profits raised to handpicked organizations and their causes. Past non-profit organizations benefiting from this program include Hope for Darfur, 11th Hour Action, Feed America, earthquake relief in Haiti, Dark Wave / Rising Sun for Japan relief, and Adopt-a-Pet.com. Environmentally related non-profit organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, Urban Roots, the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge and more also received donations. The latest Obey Awareness T-shirts benefitted the Go Campaign, an organization that improves the lives of orphans and vulnerable children around the world by partnering with local heroes to deliver local solutions.
As a type 1 diabetic, Fairey often contributes to non-profit organizations assisting in medical research. He is one of the earliest supporters of Give to Cure, a non-profit organization devoted to accelerating the process of finding cures for human diseases. Fairey created the first Give To Cure sticker series with 20 distinct designs. In addition, he created three special edition prints to commemorate the inaugural Give To Cure campaign. In January 2012, Fairey created an exclusive print called “The Cure” for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes research. All proceeds from the sale went toward the JDRF. In June 2013, a feature documentary called “The Human Trial” about the quest to cure type 1 diabetes caught the attention of Fairey who then created the movie poster in order to raise funds for the film.
Every year since 2009, Fairey has contributed his art to raise funds for the RUSH Philanthropic Arts Foundation. In August 2011, Fairey donated the Buddhist inspired piece Mandala Ornament (valued at $12,000) to help raise funds for the Foundation through the ART FOR LIFE online auction, the primary annual fundraising effort that helps support thousands of underserved New York children. Proceeds from the annual gala and auction benefitted the Foundation’s signature arts education and gallery programs, which directly serve 2,300 students each year.
In June 2009, Fairey created a poster in support of the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi to bring awareness to the human rights cause in Burma. The proceeds from this print benefitted the Human Rights Action Center and the U.S. Campaign for Burma.
In 2009, Fairey teamed up with artist and activist Ernesto Yerena, activist Marco Amador and musician Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, to create, distribute, and sell posters countering dehumanizing and anti-immigrant rhetoric for the We Are Human Campaign. A majority of the proceeds went to the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) and Puente, a grassroots community group that fights for human dignity.
Fairey has also created artwork to benefit the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace (DLF). In April 2009, Fairey created a poster for the David Lynch Foundation’s “Change Begins Within” benefit concert. In April 2011, Fairey donated unique collector’s items to the foundation’s “Download for Good” campaign. In April 2015, Fairey created a commemorative poster for the 10-year anniversary of the music of David Lynch, with all proceeds from poster sales going to the foundation.
In November 2009, Fairey partnered with LGBT grassroots organization FAIR to auction “Defend Equality Love Unites” posters to raise awareness and funds for the fight for gay and lesbian marriage equality.
Fairey is a supporter of artist movements such as The Art of Elysium, an organization aiming to affect social change by making art available to striving artists and young people battling serious illnesses. In August 2010, Fairey donated one original Burmese Monk fine art piece as well as an opportunity for a live portrait sitting for Art of Elysium. In September 2014, Fairey curated The Art of Elysium’s GENESIS showcase of emerging L.A. artists, creatives, tastemakers, and social leaders.
In May 2010, Fairey partnered with Feeding America and The Advertising Council to create an outdoor public service advertisement to raise awareness about domestic hunger.
In 2011, Fairey was named honorary chair of the Young Literati, a philanthropic group of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Fairey has created artwork and curated several Young Literati Annual Toast events benefitting the Library Foundation. Fairey’s wife Amanda has held the position of chair of the Library Foundation since 2013.
In December 2011, Fairey contributed to the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s inaugural “Artist as Activist” print project to benefit the Coalition for the Homeless. Fairey created an original print called “The Future is Unwritten” to commemorate Rauschenburg’s dedication to important social issues and the mission of the Coalition for the Homeless. The print was sold on Artnet to raise over $150,000 to support the Coalition’s life-saving programs.
In July 2013, Fairey did a public arts project for the nonprofit L.A. Fund for Education. Fairey’s design titled “Create Your Future” was one of three installments in the #ArtsMatter campaign, which was a collaborative effort with P.S. ARTS and featured the art displayed on billboards and buses across the city of Los Angeles to send the message that arts matter in schools. Again in 2015, Fairey contributed to P.S. Arts, and collaborated with Marc Phillips Decorative Rugs to create a one-of-kind rug for a benefit auction for P.S. Arts.
In March 2014, Fairey created a portrait of Ai Weiwei with Friends of Ai Weiwei, a group of Ai supporters who were trying to promote awareness of the artists’ legal status in China where authorities had confiscated his passport. Proceeds from the posters went toward Friends of Ai Weiwei’s efforts to help the artist and to promote free speech. In July 2015, Ai Weiwei was granted a full six-month UK visa, reversing a decision not to grant him the travel document.