The reaction that first summer in Providence was very motivating to Shepard, people were talking about the Andre stickers on line at the store, and it was written up in the local paper. Shepard began to see that there was a psychological component to this whole process…people needed to interpret the image in a way that meant something to them. He was very fascinated by the reactions he was getting. Then he began making large paper paste ups of his images, the old Andre face was replaced with a more stylized version, a “Big Brother” kind of face. The iconic face also got a tag line added to it “OBEY”….inspired by the the Sci-Fi movie “They Live” in which aliens have taken over the planet and use subliminal messages to keep us in line. But also exposure to Barbera Krueger’s use of words in her art was a driving force in his idea that art with words could affect social change, a theme that would be used to this day.
During his many out of town art trips he stopped to paste up his iconic image everywhere, he even went so far as to climb an eight story water tower to paste up an eight foot high Obey face! Nobody would risk life and limb to make a statement on art and provoke thought…unless your an obsessed artist that can’t help from doing what he believes is his right-the walls, wheresoever they may be, belong to all of us. The objection is that it’s not making anyone any money, and that’s where the capitalist piggies put their cloven foot down. You see it’s okay for posters to be pasted up on every square inch of available space in “Any City, USA-as long as some money has been made off the people who put it there. So with that being the case, Fairey has been arrested 13 times, often being kept from his medication (he has Type 1 diabetes) in retaliation. He has been very straight forward about taking responsibility for his work, admitting that any of his images seen out there…might have been done by him. But he also has some fanatic fans who go to the trouble of making their own copies of his images and pasting them up themselves. Shepard however, has his standards, he never pastes up over another artists work, he always uses fresh clean walls.
But although Shepard had achieved a real status in the punk world of indie artists living on the edge, he was sleeping in his car when he did art shows out of town, he couldn’t even afford a cheap room! So, after much soul searching, he decided to move to San Diego intending to work in his beloved skate industry, but instead he went into graphic design and started to do some commercial work, he co-founded BLK/MKT Design Studio with Dave Kinsey and Phillip DeWolff where he would spend six years before going out on his own. Selling out was what some felt he was doing, but to Shepard it was stayin alive. It was after all, Paris (the center of the art world in the old days) that was covered in paste up advertising way back in the late 1800’s, Fairey figured he was in no way encouraging street art tactics to be used to sell products, it had all been done before….long ago.
Things started to happen for him, he was asked to make some posters to advertise “Man on the Moon”, the Andy Kaufman biopic in 1999, and he would also create brand logos. But it was also in 1999 that he met his future wife Amanda, who proved her love for the guerilla artist by being the lookout for him on paste up nights, even to the point of having to convince the police she wasn’t a prostitute waiting for a John on the street corner!
Fairey would go on to design album covers and movie posters, as well as many concert posters, sometimes the buildings where his meetings with ad reps were taking place by day, would also be the next target for a paste up attack by night, even if he had gotten the commission! Shepard has found a way to get the most “street” into his commercial work without letting it become about the money, often passing up lucrative deals because there was no creative juice in it to make the job attractive. But it was a slow and painful process, that still had not come to the fruition that would come, a few hundred paste ups later.