“The real message behind most of my work is 'question everything’"
Shepard Fairey is an American graphic artist and social activist. Part of the Street Art movement, with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat as his predecessors, Fairey communicates his brand of social and political critique via murals and public spaces. "I've never really considered myself just a street artist," he has said. "I consider myself a populist." Born 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina, Fairey studied art in California, where he got into the 1980s skateboard culture and its associated street art scene. Fairey borrows from graphic styles of the 20th century, blurring the boundary between high and commercial art through type and image.
His iconic Hope (2008) portrait for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama is perhaps his most well-known work, in addition to his Obey sticker campaign, which started while Fairey was enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early 90s. The notion of ‘Obey’ came from the iconic John Carpenter film ‘They Live’ - a sci-fi message of anti-capitalism and media brainwashing, combined with a stencil version of Andre the Giant’s face (a famous WWF wrestler in the 1980s) which was an image Fairey had used previously. Since then, the ‘Obey’ message has slowly become a worldwide phenomena, with clothing, paste-ups, graffiti and prints all bearing the anti-brand.
Through the 1990s, Fairey worked in graphic design,working with companies who specialised in screen printing, stickers and guerrilla marketing , which allowed him to not only promote his street art, but use his experience in the urban art scene to market new brands. By the early 2000s, Fairey had set up his own design agency with his wife - and went on to produce artwork for such bands as The Black Eyed Peas, Anthrax, Flogging Molly, Led Zeppelin, Smashing Pumpkins, Queens of the Stone Age, Henry Rollins and most recently, Blondie. Music features in much of Fairey’s work, especially punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Ramones (The Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid being a particularly large influence on Fairey and they have since collaborated on anti-capitalist art works), classic Hip-Hop icons such as Tupac and Chuck D and even metal bands like Black Sabbath. Fairly has even taken this connection a step further by introducing his own art-pop band Noise in 2016.
His work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian, Washington D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and his work has appeared on the cover of Time magazine twice. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.