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Frank Shepard Fairey was born February 15, 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Fairey's adolescence was shaped by the influences of punk-rock and skateboarding.
In his teens, he began creating his own bootlegged clothing and skateboard decals featuring bands and brands he liked. Fairey’s early bootlegs were created because his generally conservative parents would not purchase the clothing he wanted.
In 1986, he stumbled upon the Andre the Giant image for which he has become famous for, in a local newspaper. The image was selected when Fairey demonstrated to a friend how to make a stencil; it was modified slightly to include the meaningless caption “Andre the Giant has a Posse” and made into a sticker. The sticker was reproduced en masse and began to appear around Charleston as it spread through the skateboarding community.
While the sticker had no inherent meaning, the public response varied from disregard to curiosity to out-right fear. Civic groups editorialized and theorized that the Andre image was affiliated with everything from a band to a hate group. Nevertheless, the stickers were considered vandalism and in time, Fairey would face numerous charges for defacing public property. Fairey's record includes 15 arrests as of March 2009, for defacing property as a result of his so called bombing campaigns.
Fairey affixed the stickers on municipal properties nearly everywhere he went, and the Andre sticker was being seen in Boston and New York City, soon others procured the image and were encouraged to spread the campaign worldwide in the form of stickers, stencils and wheat-paste posters.
Following high school, Fairey was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where, with an interest in screen printing, he majored in illustration.
In 1992, while still attending RISD, Fairey started Alternate Graphics, a mail order catalog business through which he could merchandise his own t-shirts, skateboards, posters and stickers. He also took small commercial illustration jobs to help supplement his income.
Shortly thereafter, the Andre the Giant Has a Posse logo was shortened simply to Obey Giant.
The Obey, for which Fairey has also become synonymous, is derived from the 1988 John Carpenter film They Live. In the film, aliens who appear as human, rule the governments and economies of the world while the humans are reduced to an unwitting, hypnotized slave-class. Themes from the film continue to appear in Fairey’s work.
Over time, the Andre the Giant face was modified into a more simplified and streamlined appearance, reminiscent of Russian Constructivist/Rodchenko style Soviet propaganda posters of the 20th Century.
In 1994, filmmaker Helen Stickler featured Fairey and his sticker phenomenon in her documentary: Andre the Giant has a Posse.
The following year, Fairey started Subliminal Projects with the late Blaize Blouin, his friend and pro-skateboarder. Subliminal Projects created and released several Obey-Giant themed posters and skateboard decks. Fairey directed a short skateboarding film featuring some of his friends through Subliminal Projects and Alternate Graphics titled A.D.D.(Attention Deficit Disorder).
In 1996, Fairey moved to San Diego, California to create Giant Distribution with partner Andy Howell. Later, with Howell, Phillip De Wolff, Dave Kinsey, he formed First Bureau of Imagery (FBI), a branding, marketing and design firm established to focus on the increasingly lucrative sports market.
FBI was closed in 1999 and Fairey, along with De Wolff and Kinsey created BLK/MRKT, similar to FBI. At this time, Fairey met and began working with Amanda Alaya, whom he would later marry.
BLK/MRKT moved to Los Angeles in 2001. Here, they could expand and were able to incorporate a small gallery. Fairey and Kinsey eventually bought out De Wolff’s share of the partnership and by then had set up offices in the Pellissier Building (home of the historic Wiltern Theater), in the Koreatown section of Downtown Los Angeles.
In December 2001, Fairey and Alaya were married in Charleston, South Carolina, Amanda has occasionally been the model for Fairey's prints (see: Commanda, 2007). Additionally, Amanda Fairey works in the capacity as publicist, agent and representative of her husband.
In 2003, Kinsey and Fairey split. Kinsey retained the BLK/MRKT name and gallery, which he relocated to Culver City, California. Fairey retained the offices and most of the employees to create Studio Number One and the gallery was renamed Subliminal Projects. Studio No. 1 has since gone on to produce numerous memorable album covers, concert and film posters.
In 2004, Fairey created the magazine Swindle with his old friend Roger Gastman. Swindle is a quarterly publication that features fashion, art, music and other pop-culture elements.
During the 2004 presidential election, Fairey teamed up with artists Mear One and Robbie Conal to create a series of anti-Bush/anti-war posters for the street-art campaign: Be The Revolution.
In 2005, Fairey accepted a residency at the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he created murals and prints that reveal a dramatic combination of constructivist style with distinctly traditional Hawaiian themes and influences.
Amanda Fairey gave birth to the couple’s first child, Vivienne in June 2005, she is the namesake of punk fashion legend Vivienne Westwood. Vivienne would be the model for Fairey’s “Vivi La Revolucion” print of 2008.
Fairey's street-art, was featured with that of Dan Witz, Banksy, Faile, D*Face, Bast, Kelly Burns and others in a feature article titled Art of the Street from the October 24, 2005 issue of Time Magazine.
Fairey’s 2006 release of his book, Supply and Demand, (Ginko Press) is the first extensive chronicle of Fairey’s work. The book focuses on his early experiences with graphics and the philosophy behind his idea/manifesto of Phenomenology as well as many of his early prints and the stories behind their inspiration.
The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, hosted Fairey as well as Joshua Davis, Phunk Studio, Michael C. Place, Michael Muller, The Mill and Matt and Mark Owens on September 7, 2007; where these important designers, artists, photographers and film makers lectured about their most recent works and their creative processes.
Fairey's solo show, One Man Army opened on September 14, 2007, at the Toyroom Gallery in Sacramento, California.
On November 1, 2007, Fairey's work appeared in another solo show Ninteeneigthyforia, his largest show to-date, at the massive Stolen Space Gallery in London, UK. The show was extensively promoted throughout London with pasters and murals and media outlets, which have exponentially increased Fairey's exposure and popularity internationally.
In December 2007, Fairey created a print for Witness Against Torture to protest the Bush Administration’s creation of a camp for prisoners of the War on Terror at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That month also saw the release of an Agnes B/OBEY/WK INTERACT Collaboration print to coincide with the exhibition of the same name that year.
January 2007 brought a commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a print depicting Frank Gehry’s designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. The prints were to promote the LA Phil’s Concrete Frequency Series of concerts.
The same month, Fairey began his now famous series featuring the “Vote” print and later, his similarly colored “Progress” and “Hope (offset)”prints that feature then candidate Barack Obama. In an interview, Fairy told Creativity-Online, “I first became interested in [Obama] in 2004, after his speech at the Democratic convention and have been impressed with him ever since.” Continuing, “my feeling about Barack is he stuck his neck out by being against the war, he always seems to speak his mind whether it's the popular position or not and he just seems like he follows what he believes in, which impresses me. So I decided I'd support him and put up my own money to do so.” Fairey’s images of Obama received were met with high emotions by both sides of the political campaign.
He revealed his ideology in his interview with Jeff Beer of Creativity Online saying, “I don't think the artist has a job to comment on politics but my favorite art has something provocative about it and communication that has a point of view. I think it's important for art to have a point of view. Every artist has a different agenda....I don't believe in the political content of the posters done under Mao or the early Soviet constructivists stuff but it's still really great to look at...Some in the art world have said that artists should be first-rate artists not second-rate social commentators. And I don't think the two should be mutually exclusive.”
On January 31, 2008, the Faireys celebrated the birth of their second child, daughter Madeline Fairey.
February 2008 saw a massive Obama paster campaign in Los Angeles by Fairey, which preceded the California Democratic Debate and subsequent primary. By mid-February, the Fairey’s Obama images were pervasive nationwide on streets, the internet, televison, newspapers and magazines. This coincided with the revelation by Fairey that he was personally and deeply disappointed in those who purchased the Obama posters and pasters, only to auction them off on eBay for considerable profit. This revealed a long-held contempt Fairey has maintained against those who immediately “flip” his prints on eBay, often before even having them available, usually for several times what the prints originally sold for.
In February-March of 2008, STUDIO NUMBER ONE moved into its current location in an historic building at 1331 West Sunset Boulevard in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. This facility houses the Studio Number One(SNO) offices, Subliminal Projects, Obey Giant Art, as well as Swindle Magazine.
On February 15, 2008, Fairey made it known that his long-time friend and assistant Jason Filipow was leaving to pursue his own artistic and design career. The same day, the New York Times mentioned Shepard Fairey and his Obama posters in a short article “Beyond Red, White and Blue” by Steven Heller, about the history of political campaign posters.
Fairey is a sitting member of the advisory board of a non-profit organization that provides art supplies to disadvantaged schools and students called Reaching to Embrace the Arts.
Fairey has defended his corporate commercial work by reminding critics who accuse him of selling out that the revenues he earns through such work, afford him the opportunity to advance not only his own art and philosophy, but help him to promote other emerging artists through Swindle Magazine and his gallery.
Fairey is diabetic and requires insulin, he frequently works as a Disc Jockey under the name DJ Diabetic at clubs. In recent years this condition has caused Fairey limited mobility and even at least one reported instance of temporary blindness.
EB Art Guide