In 2006 I was searching on Ebay for some hand signed artwork to purchase, inspired by my late friend Harvey Ellner’s art collection, I had been buying art for years and putting it in storage to be sold for my retirement. I didn’t think that I could expect alot of return on my investment at my level (which is small) but hoped that I could at least realize a profit to finance some travel in my older age. One particular day I was searching for something unusual in hand signed prints and found the words “Obey Giant” attached to auctions, page after page of unique images unlike any I had seen before now began to appear. I started to research what this was and who made this art and why, and will share a little of what I found with you.
The artist who made the images is Shepard Fairey and he is now considered the father of the modern street art movement, he inspired a generation of street artists, pasters (artists who use wheat paste to put up paper images), and stencil spray paint artists like England’s “Banksy” and he has the scars to prove it-literally. But before he became the icon of social consciousness in modern graffiti art he was just Frank Fairey, a South Carolina boy who as he puts it just “faded into the woodwork”…that is until he discovered ( in 1984) the two things that would change his life and ultimately the art world forever, punk rock and skateboarding.
In conservative Charleston, S.C. some young people would get into skateboarding and the collecting and pasting up of stickers associated with the skateboarding culture as a passing phase, stickers were not abundantly available but the few that he would see advertising skateboarding were gold and he would buy all he could get, but punk band stickers were another matter, not available in Fairey’s experience so far. So he learned to draw all his favorite band logos, and copied them out on sticker paper at his parents business (when they were out of the office) and soon he was stickering to his hearts content. In 1988, Fairey began attending the Rhode Island School of Design and it was here while he was working on an art degree, when he decided to major in Illustration, his life would be changed forever.
One night when a friend asked him to teach him how to cut paper stencils he found a picture of Andre the Giant and suggested to his friend that this would make a great stencil, and they should make it and be Andre’s “posse”. The friend gave up cutting the stencil after a while saying that it was stupid, and Fairey finished the stencil himself, adding the wrestlers height and weight to the stencil as well as the tag line “Andre the Giant has a posse”. Then after making a silkscreen of the stencil, Fairey began to spread these paper stickers all over Providence that summer, and later switched to vinyl inked stickers that would last longer. He is said to have made over a million hand cut stickers between `89 and `96 and after moving to California, he switched to getting them made professionally to save his last few brain cells from the toxic vinyl sticker ink. What started out as a joke and attention getting would later become a full fledged phenomenon, as Shepard (his middle name) would eventually take these stickers to New York and Boston by car, and begin to send them to friends all over the country that had been bitten by the sticker bug-thus sending the image he had created out into the world, where it would find an unsuspecting public that would question the meaning of the image. Speculating that it was somehow tied to a band, a cult of some sorts, and generally something to be mis-trusted and even feared, many people began to ask themselves and others…What is this Obey Giant thing?