Written by Jocelyn Saucedo
Shepard Fairey shook up the world of American politics in 2008. Internationally recognised for designing the iconic Barack Obama poster "Hope," Fairey originally found his place in street art. Long before creating the image that led Barack Obama's presidential campaign, he launched his art career by publicizing his drawings on t-shirts and skateboards. After studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, he developed his “Obey” Campaign with his drawing of Andre the Giant.
From Street Art to the National Portrait Gallery
Caught between his origins in street art and having his work displayed in Washington D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery, Shepard Fairey straddles a line that few cross. He admits that “it’s not like when people walk into a gallery and say, ‘I know this piece is supposed to be good because it’s in a gallery, so I’ll just go along with the idea that it’s brilliant and wonderful.’ On the street, people aren’t bashful. They will say if they like something or if they think it sucks.”
Free Speech and Commercialization
Over-commercialization seems to be the great divide between street art and modern art for Fairey. He has garnered criticism for accepting commissions from large corporations, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, and for commercializing his “Obey” Campaign through a clothing line. Some find it ironic that his work evokes themes of free speech, while companies often hire him to create consumer campaigns. Others, however, believe it is fine for street art and artists to be accessible to consumers, even if it is through a corporation.
Fairey says his experiences and perceptions as an artist have changed, especially now the public recognize his work, and that “there’s another kind of struggle, which is the struggle I have with myself in terms of how I can evolve my ideas and push them forward based on the fact that I’m not going to be perceived as a complete outsider anymore.” The Associated Press, as well as the man who took the original photograph of Obama, also sued Fairey over copyright, though he later admitted the photograph was the basis for his “Hope” poster and that he had tried to destroy any evidence of the original.
A combination of modern and street art often occurs when an artist's work is politically charged, as is Matthew Land’s piece, “The Leopard Cannot Change Its Spots,” featured at Thumbprint Gallery. As Land describes, “In society today it seems that we, as citizens of the world, place a lot of power and responsibility in the hands of politicians and businessmen who say they are going to help us.”
You can view and purchase works by Thumbprint Gallery artists at our online store. Check it out here.