The Political and Social Art of Shepard Fairey

Nazia Safi
Published on

Shepard Fairey’s art aims to send messages about politics, human rights, war, and environmental issues. He is considered one of today’s most influential street artists. His signature digital artworks, posters, murals, stickers, and clothing items encourage questions about the public space and expected behaviors. “I’ve never really considered myself just a street artist,” he told Smithsonian Magazine in an interview. “I consider myself a populist. I want to put my work in front of people by many different means.”

A Verisart-certified NFT work titled Obey Ideal Power from Shepard Fairey will drop during Verisart and SuperRare’s inaugural 10 x 10 auction series. Bidding will begin on March 29th, 2021, at 1:00 PM EDT and close on April 1st at the same time. Learn more about Shepard Fairey before the bidding starts.

Shepard Fairey. Image from Hubolt.
Shepard Fairey. Image from Hubolt.

Frank Shepard Fairey was born in a conservative family from South Carolina. At an early age, Fairey showed an inclination towards the arts, but his traditional family environment was a hurdle. After he attended a local private school, Fairey’s parents supported his decision to pursue art. He graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy in Palm Springs, California in 1988.

While in school, Fairey began to draw on skateboards and T-shirts. He soon experimented with paper-cut stencils of band logos. “At first I just cut stencils and spray painted shirts,” he told Fecal Face in 2007. “…Then I started screen-printing some shirts for myself and couple extra for friends. You could see that in a short time in 1984-1985 my whole career was beginning to form based on that stuff.”

Fairey took a part-time job at a skate shop while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. He continued to experiment with stencils. Though Fairey was becoming popular, one particular work earned international recognition. In 1989, he came across an image of André the Giant in Weekly World News. Fairey created a stenciled portrait of the actor-wrestler with the words ‘Andre the Giant has a posse’ scrawled on the left. His height and weight are noted on the right side.

Shepard Fairey, Andre the Giant has a posse, 1989. Image from Mental Floss.
Shepard Fairey, Andre the Giant has a posse, 1989. Image from Mental Floss.

Fairey’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1990s when he created his ‘Obey’ sticker campaign inspired by the movie They Live. The original sticker featured André the Giant’s image along with the slogan Obey The Giant. Gradually, it became more stylized. “The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker,” reads an excerpt from Fairey’s manifesto.

Shepard Fairey, Obey Giant. Image from Artnet.
Shepard Fairey, Obey Giant. Image from Artnet.

By the late 1990s, Fairey’s works became more synonymous with political and social agendas. His works combine appropriation art, business art, graffiti, Pop art, and Marxist theory using digital and analog design techniques. This March, Verisart and SuperRare will present a new piece of digital art by Fairey. Titled Obey Ideal Power, the artwork is the digital version of Fairey’s 2018 Damaged Wrong Path Mural. It was part of a large mural of 12 canvas paintings, featured in his show titled ‘Damaged.’

Shepard Fairey, Obey Ideal Power, still image of NFT, 2021. Image from SuperRare.
Shepard Fairey, Obey Ideal Power, still image of NFT, 2021. Image from SuperRare.

Despite many controversies and legal battles, Fairey entered the mainstream in 2008 when he created his iconic Hope poster. Made for the U.S. presidential election, the work featured a red, beige, and blue stylized stencil portrait of Barack Obama with the word “HOPE” written below. The poster received the Brit Insurance Design of the Year Award in 2009. A copy of the artwork set a new auction record for the artist in late 2020. Obama Hope sold for USD 600,800 at Sotheby’s against a $50,000 to $70,000 estimate.

For the past two decades, Shepard Fairey’s market has progressed gradually. This year, nine works by Fairey hit auction blocks across the world. In March of 2021, Fairey’s Afrocentric (2007) achieved $94,500 at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale.

Shepard Fairey, Hope, 2008. Image from Medium.
Shepard Fairey, Hope, 2008. Image from Medium.

Last November, Fairey once again attracted worldwide attention when he unveiled the cover of Time‘s November 2nd, 2020 issue. For this piece, Fairey worked to promote voting in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The cover, very representative of the artist’s style, shows a person wearing a bandana around their face. The word “VOTE” is written in the background.

Fairey’s philosophy remains unchanged over the years. His artworks speak against the abuse of power and the military, supporting women and people of color. The real message behind his work is “question everything,” Fairey said in an interview by John Del Signore. “So I’m picking apart some of the symbols of Americana that a lot of times people just adhere to out of some idea of this vague abstract American dream.”

Shepard Fairey’s Obey Ideal Power will be available during Verisart and SuperRare’s 10 x 10 series this March. The artist will drop his digital art at SuperRare on March 29th, 2021 at 1:00 PM EDT. Bidding will close on April 1st, 2021 at 1:00 PM EDT.

Want to know how the media is responding to Beeple and NFTs? Check out Auction Daily’s recent coverage.

Media Source
Writer
James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

More in the auction industry