The story behind street art icon Shepard Fairey, creator of Obey

The work of Shepard Fairey is on display in Bologna until the 28th of February. We explore who is behind some of the most iconic images of our times.

“The real message behind most of my work is ‘question everything’”. This is how Frank Shepard Fairey, one of the world’s most well-known contemporary street artists, describes his work, which is currently being exhibited at the ONO Arte Contemporanea gallery in Bologna, Italy.


Obey’s ascent: André the Giant

Born in California in 1970, Fairey began his career in 1989 with a campaign featuring stickers showing the face of celebrity wrestler André René Roussimoff, known as André the Giant. These first appeared on the walls of the city of Providence in the United States, where the artist was studying design, and subsequently all over the world. The image, now an icon, also became the logo Fairey’s clothing line, Obey.


Obey asks us to question the world around us. It wants to provoke a reaction, awakening people’s sense of wonder and encouraging them to ask themselves what the meaning behind the image-logo is. As its manifesto reveals, the absence of a single, right answer ensures that the “various reactions and interpretations of those who view it reflect their personality and the nature of their sensibilities”.

Hope: Obama and the turning point

The artist’s fame reached its peak in 2008 when he created Hope, a four-colour print of the face of Barack Obama, during the now-president’s first race for the White House. The posters, affixed illegally in full respect of street art tradition, were captioned with the words “change” and “vote”. They remain the undisputed, albeit unofficial, symbol of Obama’s electoral campaign. The president himself wrote Fairey a letter to thank him for the creative support, and for encouraging citizens to believe they could participate in change.


These images, together with many other well-known works by Shepard Fairey, are on display in Bologna until the 28th of February. Entry is free and posters, some autographed by the artist, are on sale.


Featured image: Obey the Peace in Cambridge, USA © Soe Lin/Flickr

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