With elections taking place this week, social media is ablaze with bipartisan debate over issues that may change the tides for at least the next two years. Voting isn’t inherently sexy, but it is a crucial responsibility in which your actions can change our collective lives! Celebrities, musicians, and artists like today’s spotlight are giving cause to their creativity, inspiring thousands more on-the-fence constituents to hop off the fence and into their polling place.
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Shepard Fairey is potentially one of the most influential and recognizable street artists of this generation. He has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in almost every industry, including the president. But, he didn’t become famous overnight. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane into the crazy world of Shepard Fairey, shall we? Fairey was born in South Carolina in 1970, then later attended art school in California and Rhode Island. He was heavily influenced by his passion for skateboarding and art, which is evident in his early works and overall style.
The first defining moment in Fairey’s career was the “André the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign in 1989. The sticker features a picture of André the Giant with his height and weight listed. Fairey created these stickers while attending school in Rhode Island and claims to have done it as a phenomenological experiment. He claims that the stickers don’t have any real meaning but existed simply for people to wonder what the meaning was and create a discussion about one’s surroundings. This idea would go onto become the “Obey Giant” campaign that helped Fairey rise to fame. Portraits and repeated imagery would continue with Fairey throughout his career.
Fairey has always been passionate about using his art for political activism. This is apparent from his extremely famous “HOPE” poster that he created in support of candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 election. Despite its popularity, there has been some controversy surrounding the fact that Fairey did not credit or ask permission from the photographer who took the original image. Fairey even admitted to destroying evidence and submitting false images to make it appear like he didn’t appropriate the image… yikes. But, hey, no one is perfect. Nevertheless, it skyrocketed Fairey into being a household name. Art critic for The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl, even said the portrait is “‘the most efficacious American political illustration since ‘Uncle Sam Wants You'”. So really, it’s hard to even know the level of impact that this piece of art had on the election, but it was huge. The poster also had a massive impact on pop culture and has been recreated hundreds of times by other artists. The “HOPE” poster became an icon, a repeated image similar to the other campaigns that Fairey had done before. Despite Obama declining to use it as an official part of the campaign, he emailed Fairey and personally thanked him stating “I would like to thank you for using your talent in support of my campaign. The political messages involved in your work have encouraged Americans to believe they can change the status-quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support. I wish you continued success and creativity”.– Barack Obama, February 22, 2008. So, that happened. Even now, political activism is still an important aspect of Fairey’s life and he provides money, time, and artwork for many social issues.
Currently, Shepard Fairey seems to be living his best life and still making art. He even just opened a VR/AR app pop-up tomorrow called “DAMAGED” in New York City. It’s safe to say that Shepard Fairey will continue making art an activist for as long as he possibly can. Keep doing you, Shepard!