Fairey says OBEY Barack Obama!

It is no secret that Shepard Fairey (master of the OBEY giant) has given in to commercial pressure. I hesitate to say that he’s sold out, mostly because I don’t really know what "selling out" means anymore.

 

Fairey Obama Poster

 


I drank the Obama ’08 kool-aid a long time ago; I personally think it is awesome that the obey aesthetic is now being used for someone like Barack Obama. Still, I can’t quite shake the feeling that this is far too far for someone like Shepard Fairey.

Fairey’s career has always danced on both sides of the commercial / street-art line. In fact, I’d argue that he is one of the first artists who turned graphic work into graffiti and/or graffiti into "legit" design. Still, although he’s done work for Hollywood studios, publishing and recording companies, and publishes his own magazine, Swindle, something about making political posters crosses a line.

Call me a purist.

My first response to the poster was something like "wow, I’m glad that the hip art world is paying attention to the primary season" followed by an almost immediate "man, I can’t believe that Fairey made an Obama poster…"

I want my street artists to remain apolitical, or at least to hate all politicians equally. Art can point fingers, it can laugh and satirize but when it starts to say "vote for Obama" then it comes dangerously close to propaganda. This might be okay for some more mainstream artists, but for an artist like Fairey, who has made his name and reputation on an alternative message, designing a poster like this feels false.

Obama might be the most design friendly candidate (see NotCot.com for analysis) but that doesn’t mean it is okay for my favorite designers to go ga-ga for the "system." The serious fan of street-art inside of me is shocked that Fairey did this.

Still, the slightly more rational part knows that it must be a good sign. If we’re in a position where the arbiters of taste and design are interested in politics it means that politics is finally feeling relevant to the artists of the world and that must be a good thing.

Fairey didn’t make these posters for money. According to his website he’ll be using the money from the sale of the prints for a statewide poster campaign and, frankly, I guess that is okay.

Really though, isn’t anyone else appalled?

Ashley Bowen

Ashley Bowen is a former CCT Graduate Student.