You've probably seen the stickers and the posters plastered on public property: a sad-looking face with deep-sunken eyes and the word "Obey." You may have wondered what it meant. Is it mock propaganda? Andre the Giant? A joke? Should you be offended?
Shepard Fairey, the 35-year-old artist responsible, is happy to remain indifferent. As he wrote in his 1990 manifesto: "Many people who are familiar with the sticker find the image itself amusing, recognizing it as nonsensical, and are able to derive straightforward visual pleasure without burdening themselves with an explanation. The paranoid or conservative viewer however may be confused by the sticker's persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions."
For Fairey, the fact that viewers feel the urge to peel it off means he's succeeded. He has driven an individual to action, to react to something that ostensibly has no meaning. It exists to make people wonder.
The local graffiti-art collective Aerosol Warfare is exhibiting a collection of Fairey's recent work, mostly poster art, this month at its gallery. Check out "Shepard Fairey: Solo Exhibition," but keep an eye on the streets, too. Fairey has vowed to "hit" Houston at some point during his upcoming visit. As evidenced by the work of Aerosol Warfare, Give Up, I Love You Baby and various random, electrical-box poster art around town, the graffiti movement is back in vogue. Esquire magazine's December 2005 "Genius Issue" featured an article about the mysterious London-based graffiti artist Banksy, one of Fairey's personal friends.
Los Angeles-based Fairey, who recently deejayed at the MFAH's Basquiat exhibit, agrees that the medium is making a comeback. "I think poster art is coming around," he says. "A lot of artists are seeing it as a tool to get a message across, bypassing the gallery system and taking art directly to the people. Things like graffiti and the Web are grassroots. People get to hear your ideas, and you get to be in control." Posters and stickers make sense logistically as well. "The poster has become the substitute for aerosol graffiti. It takes me 15 to 30 seconds to put up a poster. It's more efficient, and the penalties are less," Fairey admits.
Aerosol Warfare member GONZO247 finds inspiration in Fairey's work ethic. "He's nonstop," says GONZO247. "He's highly motivated and working harder than any artist I know. And he's very versatile. From sticker campaign to poster campaign to fine art, you can't really distinguish between them. His images are powerful and well made."