LFB is kicking off a new series which profiles graffiti and street artists who have contributed to the decoration of the city. Enter: Shepard Fairey.
Shepard Fairey is an artist, activist, and entrepreneur from Charleston, South Carolina, USA. He has made his mark on Berlin with several huge murals and various paste-ups scattered about the city and is arguably most well known outside of the street art community for his clothing label and the Barack Obama “Hope” poster he created. Unlike most street artists who remain anonymous, Fairey has always wanted to be known for his work-be it illegal or not. Therefore, contrary to other street artists, information about his life and work is readily available:
Born in 1970 to a real estate broker mother and doctor father, Fairey first got into art at the age of 14 when he began drawing on his skateboard decks and t-shirts. He graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy high school in 1988 and from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1992 with a bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration. It was during his time in Providence, Rhode Island at RISD that Fairey’s worldwide recognised alter ego was born in the form of his “André the Giant has a Posse” sticker campaign. This involved printing stickers in the school’s printing lab and then plastering them all over both the school and the rest of the town. Fairey was almost kicked out of RISD after he was caught printing the same stickers that were already everywhere around the city. It has been said by Fairey that the original idea for the campaign had no meaning and was created to gain awareness and respect amongst his artist and skater peers. Fairey also claimed he was influenced by other street artists and began using the design of paste-ups on walls and billboards. The designs included an illustration of André the Giant, a French professional wrestler what was competing in the WWF at the time. The campaign, however, had no affiliation with the wrestler and was used as a gimmick. After seeing the reaction to the campaign, Fairey realized he could turn the design into a phenomenon.
After graduating from RISD, Fairey set up a sticker and t-shirt printing business in Providence, which gave him the financial freedom to pursue his art. Between 1997 and 2003, Fairey cofounded BLK/MRKT inc., a company specialising in guerilla marketing whose clients included Pepsi + Netscape.
In addition to Fairey’s various creative projects, he officially registered a clothing brand, called Obey, in 2001. This clothing brand was and continues to be aimed at the consumer market, or the “everyday man.” Obey functions as both a vehicle for spreading Fairey’s artwork as well as a way for Fairey to share his populist views. Obey is a unisex streetwear brand of which the logo design features a modified version on the face seen in the original sticker campaign. Obey Clothing has grown to be one of the biggest names in the worldwide streetwear scene.
In 2003, Fairey came to Berlin for the first time to feature in a street art exhibition, called Back Jump. During that same year, he set up a design business in Los Angeles, CA, called Studio Number One, with his wife Amanda Fairey. Studio Number One has gone on to produce work for many big-name clients, including The Black Eyed Pea’s, Led Zepplin, Smashing Pumpkins, Anthrax, and Flogging Molly, and is still operating today.
In 2008, Fairey created a poster series in his support of Barack Obama’s candidacy for presidency, which was described as “the most efficacious American political illustration since uncle sam wants you” by art critic Peter Schjeldahl. Despite campaign officials declining any direct affiliation with Fairey and the posters, Fairey stated Obama’s officials requested that the world used on the poster be changed from the original word “progress” to “Hope”.
Fairey printed 300,000 stickers and 500,000 posters during the campaign, which was funded by sales from his artwork. After the campaign, Fairey received a letter of thanks from President Obama which read: “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”.
With fame gained far outside the street art and design world, Fairey progressed as an artist from stickers, tee shirts, and paste-ups to huge morals on the side of tower blocks all over the world – some of which can be seen right here in Berlin (alongside his paste-ups).
His first Berlin mural, which reads: “Make Art Not War,” can be seen on the side of an apartment block outside of Hallesches Tor U-Bahn station in Mehringplatz, Kreuzberg. Kreuzberg is an area of the city Fairey said he fell in love with when he first visited Berlin in 2003 and was happy to be given the chance to display his work in the district on a big scale. The wall was organised by Urban Nation, an institution for urban contemporary art based in Berlin. The Mural took Fairey and his team just two days to complete, which then left him plenty of time to hit the streets and paste up some famous street art spots.
Fairey returned to Berlin in May of 2015 to paint his second mural in the city, unveiling a huge scale version of his “Israel / Palestine” design, which was released a few years prior as a screen-print. This design was meant as a subtle message about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. The wall-also organised by Urban Nation-can been seen on the side of an apartment block at Bülow Str. 97 in Schöneberg, the same street where Urban Nation HQ is located.
Fairey’s third and most recent Berlin mural, “No Future,” can also be found in Schöneberg on the corner of Frobenstraße and Schwerinstraße. This mural sends a populist message typical of his work against sexism, racism, and xenophobia which reads: “No Future for Apathy! Ignorance! Sexism! Xenophobia! Racism!”
We are always spotting Fairey’s paste-ups all around the city (many of which unfortunately have been defaced) and hope to see more mural work from Fairey in Berlin soon.
Photography by: Aaron Beattie