Los Angeles, California —
All political art is propaganda (that is the point), but most political posters are bland, forgettable, wallpaper, like Fred Thompson on an off day. Fairey wanted something more iconic — aspirational, inspirational — and cool. In other words, he wanted to make posters that the cool cats would want. The 2008 Democratic primary season equivalent of the Che poster (with all that implies). More Mao, more right now. The kind of poster that might make its way onto dorm room walls of fanboys. The kind of poster that might sell on eBay, as a signed Fairey Obama recently did, for $5,900. He wanted his posters to go viral.
“I wanted strong. I wanted wise, but not intimidating,” Fairey says of the look for his Obamas. The agitprop pop art has become a must-have accessory among a certain subset of the candidate’s supporters, who have gobbled up more than 80,000 of Fairey’s posters and 150,000 postcard-size stickers since Super Tuesday.
Who is this Shepard Fairey? He is a skate punk — with a secretary. A CEO in Puma sneakers. The rebel who did Pepsi ads. If you live in a big city, including Washington, you have probably seen his handiwork. Since 1989, during his student days at the Rhode Island School of Design, Fairey has been slapping stickers and pasting posters depicting the face of the Andre the Giant, the deceased French actor and professional wrestler, on every available surface, legal and not. Fairey has spent two decades shimmying up lampposts and over chain-link fences in a tenacious public art enterprise, irony performed on a landscape scale. Thousands of his Andre stickers include the word “OBEY” in bold lettering. What are we dealing with here? Obey what? Obey whom? A giant from France? Aha. You have cracked the code. It is reverse psychology. ( Pssst! Don’t obey.)