Shepard Fairey is the artist behind OBEY GIANT, the graphic campaign that has changed the way people see art and the urban landscape. What started with an absurd sticker he created in 1989 while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design has since evolved into a worldwide street art campaign, as well as an acclaimed body of fine art.
The OBEY GIANT campaign is rooted in the DIY counterculture of punk rock and skateboarding, but it has also taken cues from popular culture, commercial marketing, graffiti, 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.
Inspired by the rise of many key artists in and around the skateboard culture, Fairey started his original Subliminal concept in the mid-to-late 90’s with a friend as an apparel brand. The Subliminal idea evolved into what is today the art gallery and creative space Subliminal Projects located in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Subliminal Projects identifies as an extension of its primary philosophy of bridging the gap between the fine art world and subculture artists, while embracing new forms of graphic art, illustration, photography, and time-based media.
In 2003, Fairey founded Studio Number One, a creative firm dedicated to applying his ethos wherever art and enterprise intersect. Building from Fairey’s approach to design striking, thought-provoking work, the company has since evolved into its own creative entity and become one of the top boutique agencies in the country.
Fairey’s art reached a new height of prominence in 2008, when his “HOPE” portrait of Barack Obama became the iconic image of the presidential campaign and helped inspire an unprecedented political movement. The original image now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Nearly a decade later, Fairey engaged the world with “We The People,” a collaborative campaign with Amplifier featuring a series of portraits released in support of the Woman’s March in 2016 to rally around those marginalized by the then incoming president.
Along with these prominent campaigns, Fairey has also donated artwork and made contributions to charitable organizations such as the ACLU, MoveOn.org, Hope for Darfur, the Chiapas Relief Fund, marriage equality reform, 11th Hour Action, Hurricane Katrina relief, the Art of Elysium, Silverlake Conservatory of Music, Homeboy Industries, My Friend’s Place, 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/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. After its time in Boston, the Supply and Demand exhibition made additional runs at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Penn., and the Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio, also breaking attendance records in both museums. In May 2010, Fairey unveiled a new collection of work, entitled MAY DAY, through Deitch Projects as the world-renowned gallery’s final project at its Wooster St. space. In 2011 Shepard was featured in the Art in the Streets exhibition at the MoCA Geffen in Los Angeles and in 2012 he had his first solo exhibition in London in 5 years, entitled Sound & Vision. In 2014 Fairey had his first major exhibition in his hometown of Charleston, S.C. at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art alongside Jasper Johns, and in 2015 he traveled to CAC Malaga, Spain for a solo exhibition.
During the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, Fairey was selected to be the first-ever artist to install a 3-dimensional piece at the Eiffel Tower. His Earth Crisis Globe was pioneering and featured art with a message to protect the planet. Fairey returned to Paris in 2016 for his environmentally themed Earth Crisis art show. Later that year HOCA Foundation in Hong Kong presented a career survey entitled Visual Disobedience.
In 2017, Fairey created the largest-ever solo exhibition titled Damaged, which drew record attendance and featured more than 230 pieces at the Los Angeles show. Debuting on November 11, 2017, the artist was the subject of the Hulu documentary OBEY GIANT: The Art and Dissent of Shepard Fairey which explores his life and career and won a Webby Award.
Now as the artist’s career nears its 30th year, Shepard Fairey continues his original mission to create work that is accessible to all and forces viewers to question everything. His most recent installation is part of Beyond The Streets, the definitive showcase of graffiti and street art, which is on exhibit May through August in Los Angeles.
In addition to his guerilla street works, as of 2018, Fairey has painted more than 85 large-scale murals around the world. Fairey is expected to complete his 100th painted mural in 2019.