Shepard Fairey’s silk screened sticker-based campaign started in 1989 with an image of André the Giant. Over time, Fairey’s artistic imagery has evolved into a sometimes subtle, sometimes not, parody of a range of iconic styles, mostly a juxtaposition of popular political propagandas and multi-national commercialism.
In addition to countless small stickers, OBEY Giant has been spread by stencil, murals, and large wheatpaste posters, covering public spaces from abandoned building faces and street sign backs, to commercial spaces such as billboards and bus stop posters.
Some time last night – dedece Sydney was .. “very honoured” .. to become a Street Art recipient of Obey.
Shepard Fairey is an American contemporary artist, graphic designer, and illustrator who emerged from the skateboarding scene to become one of today’s best known and most influential street artists.
He first became known for his “André the Giant Has a Posse” (OBEY) sticker campaign, in which he appropriated images from the comedic super market tabloid Weekly World News.
Fairey and campaign co-creators, Michael Meinhart, Blaize Blouin, Alfred Hawkins, and Mike Mongo Nicholl created paper and vinyl stickers and posters with an image of the wrestler André the Giant and the text “ANDRE THE GIANT HAS A POSSE 7′ 4″, 520lb”, as an in-joke directed at hip hop and skater subculture, and then began clandestinely (and somewhat fanatically) propagating and posting them in Providence, Rhode Island and the Eastern United States.
By the early 1990s, tens of thousands of paper and then vinyl stickers were photocopied and hand-silkscreened and put in visible places throughout the world, primarily in culturally influential urban settings in the United States, such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Austin, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco, but also in places which travellers often visited such as Greece, London, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, and the Caribbean Islands. In effect, Fairey and associates were creating a ‘posse’ of a wide audience of those who were in on the joke and willing to spread the message, and those who were not but found the original image compelling.
Threat of a lawsuit from Titan Sports, Inc. in 1998 spurred Fairey to stop using the trademarked name André the Giant, and to create a more iconic image of the wrestler’s face, now most often with the equally iconic branding OBEY. The “OBEY” slogan was not only a parody of propaganda, but also a direct homage to the “OBEY” signs found in the 1988 cult classic film, They Live, starring Roddy Piper.
” The OBEY sticker campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. Heidegger describes Phenomenology as “the process of letting things manifest themselves.” Phenomenology attempts to enable people to see clearly something that is right before their eyes but obscured; things that are so taken for granted that they are muted by abstract observation.
The FIRST AIM OF PHENOMENOLOGY is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The OBEY sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with the sticker provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail. The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker. Because OBEY has no actual meaning, the various reactions and interpretations of those who view it reflect their personality and the nature of their sensibilities.
Many people who are familiar with the sticker find the image itself amusing, recognizing it as nonsensical, and are able to derive straightforward visual pleasure without burdening themselves with an explanation. The PARANOID OR CONSERVATIVE VIEWER however may be confused by the sticker’s persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions. Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.
Another phenomenon the sticker has brought to light is the trendy and CONSPICUOUSLY CONSUMPTIVE nature of many members of society. For those who have been surrounded by the sticker, its familiarity and cultural resonance is comforting and owning a sticker provides a souvenir or keepsake, a memento. People have often demanded the sticker merely because they have seen it everywhere and possessing a sticker provides a sense of belonging. The Giant sticker seems mostly to be embraced by those who are (or at least want to seem to be) rebellious. Even though these people may not know the meaning of the sticker, they enjoy its slightly disruptive underground quality and wish to contribute to the furthering of its humorous and absurd presence which seems to somehow be antiestablishment/societal convention. Giant stickers are both embraced and rejected, the reason behind which, upon examination reflects the psyche of the viewer. Whether the reaction be positive or negative, the stickers existence is worthy as long as it causes people to consider the details and meanings of their surroundings. In the name of fun and observation.”
Shepard Fairey, 1990
“Artist captures attention with sticker based on Andre” by Nicholas Drake
The most difficult task any artist faces is capturing the public’s attention. With so many vying for even a fractional moment of attention, few ever get Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. Charleston-born Shepard Fairey, along with his associates Blaize Blouin and Alfred Hawkins, had managed with notable success to make his mark.
Starting in the summer of 1989, Fairey created a silk-screened sticker based on obey giant, best known for his role in Rob Reiner’s film ‘The Princess Bride.’ The 2-inch-square black-and-white stickers are titled obey giant has a Posse and bear the exaggerated features of the larger-than-life media figure.
Beginning in Charleston, the former Wando student and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, started pasting the stickers everywhere and anywhere the casual eye might fall. Then, utilizing a network of friends, he began distributing the 7-foot-4, 500 pound gargantuan’s image about the nation.
Eventually they spread it abroad. Like the old ‘Kilroy was here’ graphic, the sticker aroused a kind of perplexed curiosity. The public interest spawned and outpouring of stenciled images and posters to meet the demand. This obey giant line is produced by Fairey’s graphic company ‘Andre,’ based in Providence, R.I.
Caught between Andy Warhol’s vision of the commercial graphic and its influence, and Keith Haring’s “paint it anywhere” graffiti, the graphics produced by Fairey and Subliminal are social commentaries on the American way of life and the advertisements that reinforce that lifestyle. “I started to see this interesting process, like why people are fascinated with various icons and how that relates to advertising and our being inundated with images all day and every day. Especially to have something be seen in a peculiar context like the corner of a stop sign and not have an explanation to it. Fairey seems particularly fascinated by the responses he gets from his graphic inventions. Because the obey giant has a Posse sticker has no actual meaning, the various reactions and interpretations of those who view it reflect their personality and the nature of their sensibility. Now that the Andre phenomenon has gone on for some six years, Fairey has come to take it all with a philosophical sense of humor and a wry assessment of human nature. The sticker itself is an odd object of art.
Slicker than graffiti, due to the mass-produced process of silk-screening, the curiosity aroused by the appearance of these stickers has caused a demand for translating them into products for the market place. Yet, Fairey still manages to maintain their social commentary. There are so many things that are elevated to icons that are so absurd. Lifestyle advertisers make you associate positive things with their product, but few people question that. The thing about the Andre stickers is that they are so absurd that Im hoping that if people question this that maybe that will start a domino effect.
To help get his message and explanation out, he advertises in youth-oriented publications like skateboard and music magazines. Fairey shrewdly follows the evolution of Pop culture. The 15- to 25-year-olds are setting the aesthetic trends in contemporary culture. They might not be ready for fine art, but they are the ones who are defining what is cool visually.
About Frank Shepard Fairey
Born February 15, 1970, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Shepard Fairey attended Porter Gaud, a private, college preparatory shool, in Charleston, SC, for several years before tranferring to Wando High School, in Mt. Pleasant, SC, in 1985.
He completed two years at Wando and then again transferred, but across the country, to ISOMATA (Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts) in Ildyllwild, CA, for his senior year. He officially graduated from ISOMATA 1988.
After high school, he attended RISD (Rhode Islande School of Design) and majored in Illustration. It was during his years at RISD that he first created the original ‘Andre the Giant has a Posse’ sticker and also “liberated” his first billboard with an image of Andre.
Fairey graduated from RISD in 1992 with a Bachelors of Arts in Illustration.
In 1992, while still an illustration student at RISD, Fairey started his first business venture, Alternate Graphics, to showcase his emerging design and silkscreen printing talents.
He created stickers, t-shirts, skateboards, and posters which were all available via black and white mail order catalogs that he distributed. He also did small commercial printing jobs for clients to help cover some of his expenses.
In 1994, Helen Stickler created a documentary film, Andre the Giant Has a Posse, that focused on Fairey and the growing phenomenon of his subversive stickers and posters.
By 1995, Fairey had two or three full time employees, two of whom were long time friends from Charleston, whom he had known through his many years of skateboarding. During this time, he also created a small sister brand, Subliminal Projects, with Blaize Blouin, and released several skateboard and poster designs using this moniker.
Fairey created a skateboard video, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), that showcased the small group of skateboarders that he sponsored via Alternate Graphics.
In 1996, Fairey moved from Providence, RI, to San Diego, CA, to partner with Andy Howell in Giant Distribution. Shortly thereafter, Fairey partnered up with Dave Kinsey, Phillip De Wolff, and Howell to form First Bureau of Imagery, FBI, a branding, marketing and design firm targeting the emerging action sports market.
In 1999, FBI was dissolved and Fairey, Kinsey, and De Wolff formed BLK/MRKT, another branding, marketing, and design firm. During this time, Fairey met his future wife, Amanda Ayala, who began working with him.
In 2001, the BLK/MRKT offices were moved from San Diego to Los Angeles and expanded to include a small art gallery. De Wolff’s partnership was purchased by Fairey and Kinsey, who became the sole propietors of the operation, now doing business from an office in the historic Wiltern building located in Koreatown.
In 2003, Fairey and Kinsey decided to make a professional split; Fairey kept the location and most of the employees, renamed his agency Studio Number One, and renamed the art gallery Subliminal Projects.
Kinsey took the name BLK/MRKT and its gallery, and relocated it to Culver City, CA, where it is still in operation.
In 2004, Fairey teamed up with long time friend Roger Gastman to create a quarterly publication, Swindle. The magazine documents pop culture, fashion, and music, and each issue is released in both soft cover and hard cover.
In 2006, Fairey released a comprehensive, hard cover monograph, Supply and Demand, that documents much of his personal and professional design work. The entire book was designed in-house at Studio Number One and it is published by Ginko Press. It is currently in its third edition.
Andre the Giant
For many people, Andre the Giant is the epitome of professional wrestling. One of the biggest stars of the 1970s, he had three tremendous advantages as a wrestler:
He was big.
He had a strange yet extremely effective charisma.
He was huge.
At 7’4″ and 500 pounds, Andre the Giant could have been famous for his size alone. His drive, talent and ambition, however, proved to be as big as Andre himself, and the wrestler became legendary for his achievements in and out of the ring
Andre Roussinoff was born in France in 1946. One can only imagine this process as a bit of an ordeal. Andre was afflicted with acromegaly, a painful hormonal imbalance causing abnormal lifelong growth. Andre’s disease elevated him to over six feet tall by age 12 and kept him growing well past puberty. He eventually settled down somewhere in the neighborhood of seven feet (although he was advertised by promoters as being 7-foot-4).
Andre started off a skinny but muscular giant when he first emerged as a wrestler in France, then jumped the Atlantic to begin working the robust Canadian circuit. His fame soon spread to the U.S. market.
His size was his obvious selling point, and his increasing bulk created an increasingly formidable appearance. Billed as the “eighth wonder of the world” (after a line in King Kong), he was often advertised as weighing more than 500 pounds, which was actually true at his peak weight, but not through most of his career.
Andre had a gentle demeanor (in both his private and public lives), which combined with his awe-inspiring size to make him an extremely effective babyface (good guy) wrestler. He worked under a variety of unnecessarily clever stage names until joining the WWF in 1972, when Vince McMahon Sr. gave him the simple sobriquet that would define his career.
Andre was a rare mainstream star in the days before Vince McMahon Jr. created the first nationwide wrestling promotion. McMahon booked Andre as a special attraction, moving him from city to city, and loaning him out to other territories, resulting in much wider exposure than most of his peers enjoyed.
McMahon also booked Andre on one of the longest legitimate undefeated streaks in modern pro wrestling history, which lasted almost 10 years and cemented the Giant as an unstoppable force, or more aptly, an immovable object, too large to be pushed around by the usual wrestler’s tactics.
Andre carved out a substantial name for himself and crossed over to mainstream entertainment, notably appearing as the Bionic Bigfoot on The Six Million Dollar Man, in addition to appearances on such television classics as B.J. and the Bear and The Greatest American Hero.
Although he was already the best-known name in professional wrestling, McMahon propelled Andre to even greater heights of fame when he took the WWF to national television in the early 1980s. His iconic status was cemented with his well-received role of Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987).
But even as his star continued to rise, his health began to decline. Andre had continued to gain weight, due to his acromegaly, which fueled appetites proportionate to his size. On a light day, Andre ate twice as much as anyone else in the room (even when “anyone else” included other professional wrestlers).
He could also drink prodigiously, in amounts that would kill a lesser man. The legends may or may not be exaggerated. At one point, it was said he drank two cases of beer a day (although his tolerance was so high because of his size that he could hardly be called an alcoholic). He would occasionally indulge himself by ordering the entire menu at a restaurant.
Andre was beloved both by the fans and his fellow wrestlers. His gimmick of the “gentle giant” carried through every aspect of his life, even in the ring, where he extremely careful not to accidentally injure his fellow performers with his incredible size and strength. (Uncharacteristically, he was once arrested for allegedly manhandling a cameraman, but he never spent time in jail over the incident.)
But his ever-more-massive frame put tremendous stress on his knees and other joints, which not only carried all 400-plus pounds of him on a daily basis but also suffered abuse inside the ring. Even ordinary-sized wrestlers frequently experience knee problems, but acromegaly is particularly hard on the joints, including knees, shoulders, and hips. The last years of Andre’s life were spent in significant and often severe pain, and he found it increasingly difficult to move about in the ring.
The peak of his wrestling career came in the late 1980s, when he was called on to “do the job” and lose a high-profile match. The WWF had launched its highly successful pay-per-view event Wrestlemania in 1985, and it immediately became the Superbowl of pro wrestling. Shortly before Wrestlemania III, Andre turned heel (“bad guy” in wrestling jargon) in a shocking betrayal and turned on his “best friend,” Hulk Hogan.
Andre was the epitome of wrestling throughout the ’70s, and Hogan was the rising star to emerge from the 1980s. With Andre’s health now sharply declining, it was time to pass the torch. He did so in memorable style. The two faced off before a sellout crowd in the main event of Wrestlemania III, a match that culminated with Hogan lifting Andre into the air and bodyslamming him to the mat for the win.
The visual impact of Hogan powering through the legendary 500-pounder was devastating, and the win was historic, since Andre had done so few jobs during his run as a main eventer. Wrestlemania III was the beginning of Hulk Hogan’s historic rampage through the annals of professional wrestling as one of the industry’s greatest stars.
For Andre, it was the beginning of the end. Hogan and Andre continued to feud over the title for more than a year, but the Giant’s disease had progressed and he was in virtually constant pain. His ability to perform declined, and after slipping down the card, he eventually stopped performing altogether.
After a few months of quiet retirement, Andre died of heart failure related to his acromegaly, bedridden in his native land. His legacy continued after his death when the seven-foot Paul Wight debuted as “The Giant” with Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling using a gimmick that claimed he was Andre’s long-lost son. (He wasn’t.)
Andre still pops up occasionally in wrestling video games and video releases, some done on the cheap with obscure footage from the pre-WWF days and others featuring his career highlights. On a more dignified note, Andre became the first inductee into the WWF (now WWE) Hall of Fame in 1993.
Outside the wrestling world, Andre was memorialized by Shepard Fairey in his a sticker-campaign called “Andre the Giant Has A Posse” (later renamed “Obey Giant”) which was an artistic effort to simulate a spontaneous cultural outpouring over Andre’s iconic status.
In the end, “iconic” was the word that summed him up. For fans of all eras, Andre remains perhaps the ultimate embodiment of wrestling’s nobler aspects, which would otherwise tend to get lost in the sea of bad taste and steroid abuse into which modern wrestling has submerged. Like the mythological giant he resembled, Andre seemingly belonged to a different age.
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