Shepard Fairey Biography
Claim to Fame: Graphic designer and street artist (“Andre the Giant Has a Posse” campaign and Barack Obama "Hope" poster)
DOB: February 15, 1970
Diabetes Type: 1
Defiant, controversial, and bold, Shepard Fairey is a contemporary street artist and graphic designer who gained notoriety with his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign, launched in 1990, and his inspirational “Hope” and “Progress” posters, developed for the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama. He is a prominent figure of many counterculture groups, particularly the skateboarding subcultures that emerged in the 80’s and 90’s.
Widely considered one of the most influential street artists producing today, Fairey has had his work showcased at The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, to name a few. He has been compared to American painter and pioneer of pop art, Andy Warhol, as well as English political street painter, Banksy, and has worked closely with a number of celebrities and organizations to develop artwork for everything from album covers to bicycles. His creations have been the subject of a number of documentaries and books, and have appeared in various films, television shows, video games, and commercials.
A native of Charleston, North Carolina, Frank Shepard Fairey is the son of Strait Fairey, a doctor, and Charlotte Fairey, a realtor. As a child he showed great talent for the arts, particularly illustration, which motivated his parents to send him to Idyllwild Arts Academy, a boarding school in California that specializes in the arts. Fairey received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1992.
Fairey’s first step toward a professional career in graphic design began in school when he developed t-shirts, hats, and stickers featuring his artwork and distributed them to friends. As his illustrations became more popular, he began to use his celebrity to generate curiosity and prompt conversation. This was achieved when he created his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” artwork. He posted images of Andre the Giant throughout public areas and urban settings with no explanation, causing people to question its purpose. As a result of that ambiguity, it became so popular that it was distributed within skater communities, where it began to spread and appear on stop signs, telephone poles, phone booths, garbage cans, dumpsters, and building walls. Due to its mystique and ominous message, fascination built and Fairey became associated with an underground, counterculture movement.
In 1995, Fairey’s fame was bolstered when his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” became the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Helen Stickler. The film attempted to explore and chronicle the artist and his inspiration for creating such unusual and significant artwork. The film was a success, shown worldwide and praised for being a poignant lens on the counterculture movement. However, due to the name “Andre the Giant” being a trademark of the World Wrestling Federation’s Titan Sports, Inc., Fairey was forced to change his artwork’s slogan to “Obey Giant,” a reference to John Carpenter’s 1988 horror film, They Live.
Following his graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design, Fairey opened a printing business in Providence called Alternate Graphics. In 1997, he left the business to co-found BLK/MRKT Inc., a company that developed advertising designs using alternative, low-cost materials and methods. The company was successful, working with organizations like Pepsi and Hasbro, but Fairey left the group to work with his wife on a shared design company called Studio Number One, designing album covers and movie posters.
In 2008, Fairey achieved worldwide fame for his posters depicting then-Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama against a red and blue backdrop with the words “Hope” and “Progress” in bold. The images were so popular that Obama used them for his campaign and Time commissioned Fairey to design its “Person of the Year” cover featuring Obama. The success achieved from the “Hope” posters took Fairey from street artist to professional contemporary pop artist and introduced him to a world of galleries, art shows, auctions, and the like. In 2011, Fairey again designed Time’s “Person of the Year” cover, this time focusing on the Occupy Wall Street protesters and all the subsequent protesters worldwide.
Fairey has always been vocal about his type 1 diabetes, often performing in dance clubs as DJ Diabetes and Emcee Insulin. He has recently been the subject of considerable speculation in regards to his health, particularly his eyesight. Amidst rumors of blindness, Gothamist.com interviewed Fairey, who stated, “When I was in NY last summer for my show at Jonathan’s, I just had a bleed in my right eye and the whole time I was working on that show I only had partial vision in my right eye. But, I was still able to work, I could still paint and cut, and do what I need to do.” Dispelling the rumors, the issue of diabetes health is still important to Fairey and he is determined to stay fit so he can continue producing his artwork.
Find more artists with diabetes.
1 - AnimalNewYork.com. Is This The End Of Shepard Fairey? http://animalnewyork.com/2008/05/is-this-the-end-of-shepard-fairey/ (Accessed 12/23/11.)
2 - AnimalNewYork.com. No End in Sight For Shepard Fairey, http://animalnewyork.com/2008/05/no-end-in-sight-for-shepard-fairey/ (Accessed 12/23/11.)
3 - Gothamist.com. Shepard Fairey Goes Up in NY; Not Blind. http://gothamist.com/2008/05/08/shep.php#photo-1 (Accessed 12/23/11.)
4 - Gothamist.com. Shepard Fairey, Street Artist, http://gothamist.com/2007/06/21/interview_shepa.php (Accessed 12/23/11.)
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