Land of the giant. Author: Burgoyne, Patrick.
He’s a 520 pound, seven feet four inch Russian wrestler and his face is on streets all over America. His image has graced over 650,000 stickers and 2,500 posters. He has been spotted in New York, in San Francisco and even at Jim Morrison’s Parisian graveside. obey giant first appeared in Rhode Island in 1989, his fleshy, impassive features staring out from a black and white sticker on which were listed his vital statistics and the words “obey giant Has a Posse”. The stickers were plastered all over the district prompting admiration among local graffiti artists and outrage among those whose property had been defaced. The culprit was a student at Rhode Island School of Design and part-time assistant in a skateboard shop named Shepard. Fairey. “I made the sticker from an ad in a wrestling magazine — it took about five minutes,” he says. “It started a buzz around Rhode Island and when I saw the power of making people intrigued I thought I’d exploit it. “The whole thing started as a reaction to the little tagger cliques and skate posses — I was making fun of them because wrestling culture is about as far from skateboarding culture as you can get,” Fairey continues. By 1993 Fairey had moved to New York and into posters, plastering images of Andre all over the city. “I make maybe 100 posters of each design on good paper and 100 on thin paper to paste up. I started out using red and black and white because on a lot of photocopiers you get the option to use red as a spot colour plus they’re good propaganda colours.” He once covered a billboard with 64, tiled, 11 by 17 inch photocopies that made up a huge image of Andre. Now Fairey has graduated to screen printing his posters. Friends and admirers have introduced Andre to cities across the US. Numerous gallery shows and a documentary film have spread his notoriety still further. “I’m not trying to be a graffiti artist — that’s an isolated community which only wants its proponents to understand what it’s doing. I’m much more populist,” he says. “I’m interested in throwing up an absurd image in a propaganda style into the horizon of the public. They’re so used to being bombarded by images that sell something that they don’t know how to react.”. Fairey characterises his work as an exercise in mass psychology. “Andre exposes people’s susceptibility to familiar images. I want people to stop accepting the familiar just because its familiar. Advertising makes people do that, so when people see Andre they can’t figure out what it’s selling. You familiarise people with the image, elevate it to an icon, and then you have them with you for the tangental stuff.” This “tangental stuff” has seen Andre appear in a variety of disguises and, in some cases, disappear from his posters altogether. Andre’s image now appears on a range of clothing as well as several skateboards. Fairey is a keen skater himself and some of that culture’s street-smart attitude can be seen in Andre. Recently he has been joined on weekend billsticking escapades by Misha Hollenbach, art director at the cheekily-named skateboarding company Fuct, who is creating his own line of posters. The two of them continue to decorate the cities of the West Coast with Andre’s unnerving likeness — a Big Brother for the millennium. As for his meaning, Fairey leaves that to the viewer. “How people interpret it reflects their personality. It’s like a Rorschach test.”. Though now a partner in San Diego design firm First Bureau of Imagery, Fairey still goes out putting up posters three times a month “but I always have stickers on me and I keep a bucket of paste in my car — just in case”. Added material. Right: a colour version of the original Andre sticker. Below and below right: Fairey says that Andre’s iconic status is now so strong that the imagery has become far more ‘tangental . Bottom: the results of a good night’s work. Clockwise from above: Andre has become a commercial phenomenon with posters available mail order and a range of clothing, Andre as rock star Gene Simmons of Kiss, a San Diego lamp-post gets the treatment.