A key player in American and international street art, Shepard Fairey alias Obey manages to impose his signature in art galleries, cultural venues and on the walls of the most important cities in the world. Discover 5 things to know about this figurehead of urban art.

Art Shortlist
by Art Shortlist - March 9, 2021

1 - He began to be interested in art at the age of 14 years old

Frank Shepard Fairey was born in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1984, he started drawing to customize t-shirts and skateboards.

In 1992, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Shepard Fairey is very inspired by artists such as Andy Warhol, Alexander Rodtchenko, Diego Rivera, Robbie Conal and Barbara Kruger.

2 - He started his career inspired by a French wrestler

In 1989, Shepard Fairey's destiny changed when a friend asked him to explain how to make stencils. To show him, he grabbed a newspaper and came across a picture of the French wrestler André le Géant, he decided to use it to show him how to do it and here is the result :

André Roussimoff was a 2.24-metre giant. A native of Grenoble, he is to date the only Frenchman to have been world wrestling champion.

On this work, we can read "André the Giant has a posse".

This astonishing creation is a great success. Shepard Fairey quickly decided to make a new one, simpler and purer, the Obey Giant logo was born.

Later, Shepard Fairey and his friends put this portrait on many walls.

In the 1990's, he created a clothing brand that quickly became all the rage in the skateboarding community and is now known worldwide, far beyond the borders of the world of skateboarding and street art.

3 - His pseudonym Obey is taken from a movie

Unlike Banksy or Daft Punk, Shepard Fairey does not hide his identity. His pseudonym Obey is taken from a low-budget film directed in 1988 by John Carpenter: Invasion Los Angeles. This film is a fiction which tells the invasion of the earth by extraterrestrials, it is considered as cult in the United States. In this film, messages addressed to humans are visible everywhere in the city of Los Angeles.

The name "Obey", caught the artist's attention when he saw it appear in capital letters during the film.

Obey in the movie Invasion Los Angeles

Obey is a name that the artist makes full use of since it addresses the themes of obedience and submission in our societies: "People submit, conform and do not question the tacit rules of society. When they are told to obey, they are obliged to think about what they are willing to submit to. It is therefore a way to encourage people to think more and analyze things".

4 - He puts his art at the service of politics

Shepard Fairey is undoubtedly one of the most influential urban artists in the world. He has always wanted to give a political dimension to his work: "I call my art propaganda because I believe that any art that defends specific objectives contains elements of propaganda. There is a difference between propaganda in the sinister sense of the word, which wants to have the last word in a conversation, and art that aims to open a conversation".

In 2008, the artist created Hope, Barack Obama's campaign poster. Once elected, the President of the United States thanked him: "I want to thank you for using your talent to serve my campaign. Your political messages encouraged Americans to believe that they could change the status quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a billboard".

Hope by Shepard Fairey

In 2017, during Donald Trump's mandate, the street artist launched a new poster campaign: We The People. This series of works had the mission to reunite a divided American people.

Since 2017, a work by Shepard Fairey has been hanging in the presidential office of Emmanuel Macron. It is the painting Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. In 2019, President Macron even received the artist at the Elysée Palace.

Emmanuel Macron and the work of Shepard Fairey on TF1

This is what the artist said during his meeting with the French President: "I did it as a mark of support for France after the attacks of November 13. "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was made more for the French people than for any politician, so I hope that it embodies this idea, that it is a symbol to do good for everyone, all citizens".

5 - He designed an album cover for the Black Eyed Peas

In 2003, Shepard Fairey started "Number One", his own design studio with his wife. In 2005, he created the cover artwork for the Black Eyed Peas's album Monkey Business. An album that sold more than 10 million copies!

Monkey Business by the Black Eyed Peas

Shepard Fairey is therefore not only politically committed, he is also committed to music and the arts in general.

Discover Shepard Fairey's works for sale on Art Shortlist