CAC in the Classroom: Shepard Fairey

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Contemporary Arts Center
Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand
February 20-August 22, 2010

Interested in using contemporary art to help you teach other subjects? The Contemporary Arts Center makes it easy for parents, teachers, and other education professionals to do just that. These classroom presentations use the CAC's exhibitions as a teaching platform for broader subjects such as social studies, history, science and more.

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CAC in the Classroom: Shepard Fairey

  1. 1. “Obey Pole,” 2002 SHEPARD FAIREY PowerPoint by Kara Swami
  2. 2. Within the last twenty years, Shepard Fairey has become one of the most influential street artists of our time. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, his initial interests include skateboarding, punk rock, and drawing. It was in tenth grade when Fairey produced self-made punk rock t-shirts that started his ongoing relationship with the silk-screen technique. He pursued his interest in art at the Rhode Island School of Design where he launched his “Obey Giant” street campaign that attracted popular urban attention.
  3. 3. Fairey’s work combines silk-screening and graphic techniques producing stickers, clothing, skateboards, posters, stencil- based graffiti, and film. By reproducing his original images, Fairey is able to circulate and communicate his ideas to the mass public. He reutilizes a propagandistic approach, influenced by counter-cultural revolutionaries, the urban street art scene, rap and punk rock musicians, often visible in his conservative use of color and stenciled images. Loaded with political insinuations, Fairey’s practices obscure the line between fine and commercial art, asking his audience to question the effects of the media and their societal surroundings. The artist currently lives and works in Los Angeles where he also manages his founded design firm, Studio Number One.
  4. 4. Shepard Fairey, “OG Sticker,” 1989 As a street artist by nature, Shepard Fairey’s graphic designs use familiar imagery and icons that readily communicate to the masses. Fairey unintentionally stumbled upon a picture of Andre the Giant while flipping through a newspaper and spontaneously decided to use the icon as an ironic symbol for his skateboarding posse. After recontextualizing the image by stenciling and adding text to the original copy, Fairey reproduced his logo into hand-sized stickers and thereby circulated his creation within the urban circle.
  5. 5. Shepard Fairey, “Guns and Roses,” 2007 Although Fairey’s work has been around for over twenty years, he has loitered under the radar and avoided institutional recognition prior to his posters for the Obama campaign. He has been commissioned to design several album covers and posters for musicians such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Black-Eyed Peas, and Guns and Roses, to name a few. Unlike many other historically renowned art masters, Fairey employs what he calls a “populist agenda,” utilizing consumer products and urban display as his canvases. He views his art as “bureaucracy free,” that reuses recognizable symbols and motifs. By creating album covers and reproducing posters and stickers, Fairey avoids elitism and reaches the common pedestrian.
  6. 6. Shepard Fairey, “Black Sabbath Poster,” 2005
  7. 7. Shepard Fairey, “Queens of the Stone Age Concert Poster,” 2005
  8. 8. Fairey’s initial practices in street art and graffiti reflect his advocacy for noncommissioned public displays that inevitably develop immediate relationships with pedestrians. unsolicited forms of expression fundamental priorities concern underground personal expression, demonstrated through street art and graffiti practices, that advocate From the beginning, Fairey practiced street art and graffiti, reflecting his fundamental interests in noncommissioned public expression that creates an immediate relationship with the urban society. Many of his murals are plastered on urban walls in cities such as New York City and Los Angeles. Shepard Fairey, “Toxic Inspector,” in West Village, New York City, 2008
  9. 9. “True graffiti to me, is just putting work you want out on the street for everyone to see without compromise. No government censorship, no gallery owner to reject you. It’s about a pure uncompromised manifestation of your art and ideas whether people like it or not.” -Shepard Fairey Shepard Fairey, “Asian Girl,” on Chrystie Street, New York City, 2009
  10. 10. Shepard Fairey street art, “Duality of Humanity,” Washington, D.C., 2009 “It’s important to do things for people who don’t necessarily see the value of an elitist art world endeavor. I make art to communicate with as many people as possible, and the more universal I can make it, the better.” -Shepard Fairey, “Shepard Fairey, Citizen Artist,” in Progressive Magazine, by Antonino D’Ambrosio
  11. 11. Shepard Fairey, “Obey Icon,” 1995 In subsequent years, after his initial “Andre the Giant” campaign, Fairey reworked his icon by reducing the original slogan to “Obey Giant” and referencing Russian constructivist style. His concise reconfiguration proved more recognizable and efficient for public circulation, thereby exemplifying what he calls “absurdist propaganda.” The icon’s increased recognition demonstrated the shifting value and social life that every image develops in relation to its public surroundings. Consequently, the artist adopted the word “Obey” as his personal brand, tagging the slogan onto many future works. Fairey explains that in a society “motivated by symbols,” his mass- produced Obey Icons signify the “power of propaganda” over the interactive public. -Shepard Fairey, “Art and Culture,” written by Carlo McCormik in Juxtapoz Magazine, 1998
  12. 12. Shepard Fairey, “Make Art, Not War,” print, 2004 Much of Fairey’s work is inherently political, commenting on both the national and international social state. His work is very confrontational, sometimes directly stating his message and other times satirizing contemporary society and politics. By reusing his coined symbols and motifs, such as the “Obey Icon,” Fairey continues to address the inevitable influence of propaganda, while quoting his work’s past effect on consumer culture.
  13. 13. Shepard Fairey, “War by Numbers,” stencil collage on paper, 2007
  14. 14. Shepard Fairey, “All City Propaganda,” print, 2006 “You can call Warhol a graphic-art style with some painterly flourishes—you could say the same about my fine art style.” -Shepard Fairey, in “Shepard the Giant,” by Stephen Heller, in The New York Times Not only does Fairey’s style recall Andy Warhol’s aesthetic approach, but some of his works are a direct reaction to Warhol’s message and effect on twentieth-century art. Fairey understands the heavy influence of the media and propaganda on contemporary society, and thereby utilizes a similar style. He wishes to communicate in a lucid language in hopes of immediately captivating everyday pedestrians. Likewise, his propagandistic approach is Fairey’s way of commenting on the ongoing manipulation of consumer culture and society’s close dependency on the media.
  15. 15. Shepard Fairey, “Two Sides of Capitalism: Good,” 2007
  16. 16. Shepard Fairey, “Two Sides of Capitalism: Bad,” 2007 The majority of Fairey’s political work shares his distaste for American capitalism. In many cases, he utilizes the visual language of the very subjects he critiques, thereby forcing viewers to question their habitual behavior and challenge the cultural paradigm.
  17. 17. Shepard Fairey, “Obama Hope,” 2008 Perhaps most renowned for his “Obama Hope” poster, Fairey’s fame skyrocketed within the past two years during President Obama’s election campaign. Aside from the Time and Esquire magazine covers, the artist’s reproduced icon has infiltrated urban societies throughout the country. Unlike his previous works that typically practiced political satire and social critique, Fairey’s Obama posters introduced a new optimistic voice. They carry no hidden irony, but rather demonstrate his support for the candidate in hopes of spurring populist advocacy during election campaigns. Just recently in January 2009, the Smithsonian Museum hung a hand-finished version in the National Portrait Gallery—an honor awarded to individuals who have made a significant contribution to U.S. culture. Fairey’s image hangs aside many other iconic portraits of previous presidents who have shaped American history.
  18. 18. Shepard Fairey making the “Obama Hope” poster, 2008 “Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign.” -President Obama’s letter to Shepard Fairey, February 22nd, 2008
  19. 19. “I’m a populist—I’m trying to reach as many people as possible.” -Shepard Fairey, “Outlaws at the Art Museum,” by Randy Kennedy, in The New York Times
  20. 20. Shepard Fairey, “Inauguration Print,” 2009 Due to the success of his campaign posters and Obama’s appreciation for the artist’s activism, Fairey was commissioned to design a poster advertising Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
  21. 21. Shepard Fairey, “Marilyn Warhol,” 2000 In response to the many critiques Fairey receives for reconstructing pre- conceived images, Fairey explains that every creator must be “inspired by something and make an evolution”—in other words, a creator must “build on ideas.” As a graphic artist, he realizes his responsibility to communicate clearly, and thereby exercises the vernacular of the moment. -Shepard Fairey, “A.V. Club Interview,” By Justin Shady However, while utilizing visual paradigms, Fairey also confronts the media’s ruthless exploitation that inevitably yields profit. He hopes that his propagandistic imagery will inspire individuals to question the media’s overwhelming impact on society.
  22. 22. The growing recognition for Shepard Fairey’s work has not only redefined society’s definition of “art,” but also sanctified street art to a different level. Fairey has challenged the exclusivity of western art institutions, thereby revolutionizing a new appreciation for both street art and propagandistic approaches. Despite his recent exhibitions in various art galleries, he continues gracing urban walls while creating other consumerist work. All the while, he remains faithful to the fundamental incentives behind his expression: to “stimulate curiosity” and “question everything.” -Shepard Fairey Shepard Fairey, “Immigration Reform Now!” 2009

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