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Street Smarts Obey Article taken from the Los Angeles Times

Discussion in 'Channel Zero' started by Pistol, Feb 25, 2002.

  1. Pistol

    Pistol Dirty Dozen Crew

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    Street Smarts Obey Article taken from the Los Angeles Times

    Discussion started by Pistol - Feb 25, 2002

    I just happened to come across this article in the LA Times. It was from Friday Feb.22, 2002 in the Southern California Living Section

    Street Smarts - Designer who once slapped his stickers on signs goes mainstream.

    LESLEE KOMAIKO, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES


    You've no doubt seen the image all over Los Angeles, on abandoned buildings and power boxes, telephone poles and the backs of street signs. It is a face, a graphic black and white close-up of a man with deep-set eyes, a closed mouth and a hard stare. Sometimes a single word appears below the face: OBEY. This is Obey Giant.

    Shepard Fairey, a boyish 32-year-old who recently relocated to Los Angeles after a stint in San Diego, is the artist behind Obey Giant. His work is currently featured at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery on La Brea Avenue, and he is a principal in a 5-year-old design firm called BLK/MRKT (pronounced Black Market).

    As Fairey tells it, the whole Obey Giant thing started as a joke. It was 1989; the dedicated skateboarder had just completed his freshman year at Rhode Island School of Design, and over the summer he was managing a skate shop in Providence. With the boss away most of the time, he also ran a little side business out of the shop, selling his own designs--stickers and bootleg punk rock T-shirts he created using handmade stencils. One night, while hanging out with a skate buddy at home, Fairey was working on a stencil for a Clash T-shirt. "My friend said, 'I'm bored. I want to learn to make a stencil,'" Fairey recalls. "So I found an image. I saw an ad for wrestling with Andre the Giant. He [my friend] was like, 'This is stupid.' I was like, 'No way. Andre is awesome.' Spur of the moment I said, 'Andre's posse is the new thing.' But really I thought it was ridiculous. That was the very humble beginning. He said, 'No. I don't want to.' I was like, 'If you don't, I will.'"

    Some quick handiwork and "like, $4.38" later, Fairey had the first batch of giant stickers. Unlike today's giant image, these included the words "Andre The Giant Has A Posse," as well as the wrestler's impressive dimensions: "7'4, 540 LB." The face was far more identifiable in this early incarnation. (Modifications were made in 1996 in part to appease the wrestler's estate.)

    Fairey gave most of the stickers to friends and affixed a few to stop signs. "I thought it would be a quick inside joke," he says. "But our group of [skate] friends latched onto it immediately." When fall semester started up, his classmates responded equally enthusiastically, albeit with a studied art-school intellectualism. "They were like, 'What a cool, Dada, nonsensical art thing," Fairey says. "'I'm going to put one on my coffee mug.'"

    Things might have stopped there, but the giant had a momentum of its own. Fairey overheard people talking about it in clubs and bars. They thought it was a band, he says. Others assumed it was a "skate thing." Paranoid types presumed it was a gang or a club.

    "The more something is around, the more people want to know what it is and the more it gains a viral power," Fairey says. "I knew I was doing something that was affecting the environment, even if it was anonymously.... I didn't have any aspirations like it's really important or it's the best thing. And I still don't feel that way. I just got addicted to it."

    Fairey printed more stickers and bigger stickers. He made giant T-shirts and stencils. Despite the buzz, he was still operating under the larger radar. That changed in the fall of 1990 when he hit a billboard about a block away from campus. It was a campaign billboard for then mayoral candidate Buddy Cianci. Fairey didn't know much about Cianci. He just knew it was a primo spot and one he could reach. And he was amused by Cianci's motto, "He never stopped caring about Providence," a reference to his former tenure as mayor. Fairey pasted a huge Andre the Giant head directly over Cianci's.

    "It caused a big media circus," Fairey says. "I was pretty blown away by the response. A lot of people at RISD knew who I was and knew about the stickers. But I had not been interviewed, and nobody knew how to find me." Of course, the school's proximity to the billboard put its student body under scrutiny. Campus security started asking questions.

    One afternoon Fairey walked out of the dining hall to find his portfolio gone. He went to his next class anyway. But he wasn't altogether surprised when, halfway through class, he was called to the administrative offices. His portfolio contained uncut sticker sheets.

    "I knew they would be like, 'wicked busted' if I denied it," Fairey says. So he fessed up. The administrators were nevertheless grim. "They said this is a real public relations problem," Fairey recalls. "You're going to apologize, and you may get kicked out of school."

    Many of Fairey's instructors had a different response, not necessarily to the act of vandalism but to the image. "A lot of my teachers said, 'Off the record, I love this. I'm not allowed to endorse this. But I think this is awesome.'" The powers that be at RISD eventually came around as well. Last year, Fairey was invited to lecture at his alma mater.

    Today, Obey Giant is a worldwide phenomenon. There's even a heady manifesto. "The OBEY campaign attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the campaign and their relationship with their surroundings," reads the condensed version. It ends: "To catalyze a thoughtful dialogue deconstructing the process of image absorption is the ultimate goal. All in the name of fun and observation. The medium is the message."

    Fairey has put up Obey Giant posters and stickers in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as overseas. In the course of his street campaign, he's been arrested eight times, although never in Los Angeles.

    Usually the charges are related to vandalism, Fairey says. But the police, he adds, "are creative." He's been charged with trespassing, malicious destruction of public property and, once, possession of a tool of criminal mischief, specifically a can of spray paint that Fairey says he just "happened to have" with him. With each arrest, Fairey spent a few hours in jail but never more than 48. Fines have ranged from $50 to $300.

    There is also an ever-evolving team of volunteers that does the work. "I try to explain to people where the appropriate places are," Fairey says. "I have a certain ethic." Boarded-up buildings and abandoned property are game, as are the backs of street signs. And with blank billboards, says Fairey, it's carpe diem. "I want people to see it. But I'm not saying anarchy ... I try to figure out where the line is, where people are going to get really [angry]. That's a delicate thing when you've set out to do something a little antagonistic in the first place."

    Though many of Fairey's fellow street and graffiti artists admire what Los Angeles artist Robbie Conal calls his "canny distribution tactic--put 'em everywhere and anywhere," it isn't necessarily a love fest. "I think it's good, basic graphic design. But it's not overwhelming," says Conal, who is well known for his political posters, installed using equally under-cover-of-night tactics. "I'm not a huge fan. It's got to do with his content and lack of same. My question is, this is an historic method of distribution often involving adversarial ideas, and does he have one or any? Does he have any ideas besides advertising his distribution method, commercial products and himself?"

    In fact, Fairey's street campaign has served as an entree into the world of fine art. Other examples of his work, which often depict well-known public figures as disparate as Mao Tse-tung and Ozzy Osbourne, have been purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. Fairey has been taking a lot of heat lately from longtime Obey Giant fans for going commercial. There's now a line of Obey Giant clothing and accessories for men and women. It sells at trendy retailers such as NYSE on Beverly Boulevard. And BLK/MRKT, Fairey's design firm, counts several corporations--Pepsi, Ford and Netscape to name a few--among its clients.

    Though the charges of selling out clearly pique Fairey, he mostly brushes them off. Besides, the clothing is just another way to spread Obey Giant, he contends. (Nearly every piece in the collection features a tag with the OBEY manifesto as well as a stencil.) In addition, profits from the collection and BLK/MRKT help fund the street campaign.

    As for the future of Obey Giant, says Fairey, "there will be a point in time where it either fizzles, it reaches a ceiling in the cool world and doesn't grow beyond it, or it will get to where it's big and gets reabsorbed into the system, where it's like this stuff is available at Target." Until then, Fairey intends to keep up the public mischief making. Don't expect a flood of fresh postings locally, however. "I'm trying to be sensitive to the fact that this is my home," he says. "And I can be tracked down."

    That said, full restraint is clearly near impossible. Fairey has a collection of stickers in his pocket, and there's more where those came from.
     
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  2. HAL

    HAL Guest

    HAL - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    Interesting. I always liked the stuff, because it made no sense at all. Some of his posters have a sort of subversive message, but I think the point is just to confuse and look at it and have fun. Some great things get stupid really fast if you try to find a meaning in it.
     
  3. NATO

    NATO Guest

    NATO - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    its amazing how far its been taken, im pretty impressed.
     
  4. Vanity

    Vanity 12oz Veteran Member

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    Vanity - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    he sounds like an ad executive.
    'oh.. i dont want to anger people...'

    heh.. he admitted to it. what a 'herb.'
     
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  5. willy.wonka

    willy.wonka Guest

    willy.wonka - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    yup....eh yo werd up..i gots tha smarts.."r" is silent...
    street smart...
    that was interesting....
     
  6. MR BOJANGLES

    MR BOJANGLES Guest

    MR BOJANGLES - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    kids in my city rock the OBEY shirts and dont even know the history...it makes me soooo mad!
     
  7. High Priest

    High Priest 12oz Elite Member

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    High Priest - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    His posters are decent.. but kinseys blk/mrkt visual assasin ones are fucking dope.
     
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  8. daus

    daus 12oz Member

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    daus - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    I'm glad you brought this up Pistol...

    I went to check out the show too on La Brea last week and I have a couple issues with this guy. He wouldn't be where hes at right now because of graffiti artists, slapping stickers/wheatpasting/postering bills. He was pretty much embraced and influenced a lot of graffiti artists but his own work did himself in at the end. He started making images on skateboards/shoes/shirts completely selling out his image to make a couple bucks. Now when I see an obey bill I'm not sure if Shephard paid for it to sell his products or if it is still some subversive advertising campaign for something that doesn't exist. His audience has changed from propaganda/street/graffiti artists (whatever you want to call it) to kids that can fork out cash to get a hold of this image they think is 'cool' and seen everywhere. But does he even care about that? Probably not. I would be pissed if I helped Shephard get his ups by putting up stickers only to see him fuck it all up in the end. He should have just quit while he was ahead.

    Much respect to Robbie Conal whos been posting anti-political images in LA for decades and not selling out his work. He said it best in the article: "I think it's good, basic graphic design. But it's not overwhelming. I'm not a huge fan. It's got to do with his content and lack of same. My question is, this is an historic method of distribution often involving adversarial ideas, and does he have one or any? Does he have any ideas besides advertising his distribution method, commercial products and himself?"

    The second thing is that the Show is called 'Playerhaters', implying that his notariety/fame/popularity has caused others to talk shit about his work because he's getting all the attention. But it never occured to Shephard that people are hating on his work not because of his fame but simply because his work sucks now. The show should have been called "Who's The Real Players."

    FUCK POP ART-FAG BULLSHIT!!!
     
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  9. Cracked Ass

    Cracked Ass 12oz Veteran Member

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    Cracked Ass - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    "My question is, this is an historic method of distribution often involving adversarial ideas, and does he have one or any? Does he have any ideas besides advertising his distribution method, commercial products and himself?"

    The answer is...NO!!! That's the whole fucking point - how far can this nothing idea go, based solely on public curiosity? The answer to that: exposure on several continents, legions of followers, lines of clothing, interviews, cash from museums. You and I are part of the result of this phenomenon because we're arguing about it on the Net. That is the whole point - nothing else. All that remains is to watch the fire burn till it runs out of fuel.
    I've said this before and I'll say it again: I am sick of fucking blind crybabies who throw around the term "selling out". THE ONLY CHUMP IN THE "SELLING OUT" EQUATION IS THE FOOL WHO'S BUYING SHIT BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE SAID IT WAS COOL. The guy SELLING the shit gets the thumbs up in my book for sticking it to weak-minded suckers who let other people tell them what to like. I'll never buy any Andre the Giant stuff, but I give Fairey props for finding people who will.
     
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  10. misteraven

    misteraven Administrator

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    misteraven - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    Shep used to pay me (and several others in my dorm) $5 an hour to cut those stickers out my freshman year of college. Pretty funny how big that shit got.
     
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  11. THE DEVIL!

    THE DEVIL! 12oz Senior Member

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    THE DEVIL! - Replied Feb 25, 2002

    Couldn't have said it better myself. 1000.
     
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  12. Secret

    Secret 12oz Elite Member

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    Secret - Replied Feb 26, 2002

    I went to the WYWS show featuring Dalek/Shepard Fairey not too long ago. Shepard Fairey has some decent fine art. I stared at the Dalek canveses for 5 minutes and left.

    Daus, if you think Shepard Fairey doesn't acknowledge graffiti writers, you're wrong.
     
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  13. theblindpoet

    theblindpoet New Jack

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    theblindpoet - Replied Feb 26, 2002

    blk/mrkt is dope. i like arkitip better.
    has anyone seens kaws?

    and im going to risd this summer an i was wondering what it was like there. and does anyone know anything about parsons?
     
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  14. daus

    daus 12oz Member

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    daus - Replied Feb 26, 2002

    "THE ONLY CHUMP IN THE "SELLING OUT" EQUATION IS THE FOOL WHO'S BUYING SHIT BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE SAID IT WAS COOL. The guy SELLING the shit gets the thumbs up in my book for sticking it to weak-minded suckers who let other people tell them what to like. I'll never buy any Andre the Giant stuff, but I give Fairey props for finding people who will."

    I give Fairey props for getting masses of people at one point in time, to support his campaign by doing work for him putting up shit in the name of anti-slogan images. That was genius the way it played out. Now it has turned into the thing that he was against in the first place and as far as people buying his shit, I will never give him or anyone who contributes to that props. Like I said before fuck all that Andy Warhol pop art-fag bullshit.

    "how far can this nothing idea go, based solely on public curiosity"... who's curious when we already know whos behind it?? Its all about Fairey's exploitation to a greater audience who doesn't know (the asshole artworld).

    But dont get me wrong, there is something there, like you said we are arguing on the net about it so it constitutes that his work is doing something, but the potential of his work is just a dead-end. A nothing idea sucks when its already been done nearly 50 years ago.

    --another blind crybaby--
     
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  15. inkjunkie34

    inkjunkie34 12oz Senior Member

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    inkjunkie34 - Replied Feb 26, 2002

    this is being blown way out of proportion
     
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