Observer Eccentric Newspaper

May 03, 2001

Thursday May, 3 2001
Detroit Street art, pop art, wind up behind CPOP’s doors
By Stephanie Angelyn Casola Staff Writer

Shepard Fairey never met obey giant. He wasn’t even a fan of the World Wrestling Federation’s most famous face. But the 31-year-old San Diego street artist made a name for himself by spreading the late wrestler’s image across the globe.

“A friend of mine wanted to learn how to do stencils,” said Fairey, during a phone interview from his California based BLK/MRKT design agency. ” I was looking through the paper and came across this ad with obey giant in it.”

Pet Project

Fairey created the first version of this image and made sticker copies of it at a local Kinko’s. He declared to his skateboard buddies what would lead to a worldwide phenomenon “obey giant has a Posse.” What started out as a joke among friends about the 7-foot-4, 520 pound pro wrestler manifested into something beyond his imagination. “He was so ugly, but so fascinating looking,” said Fairey, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. “He was the first freak of nature who was able to turn that into a lucrative career.”

Fairey began putting stickers around town wherever he went. There was no hidden meaning, no attempt to promote or sell something. Andre simply became his pet public art project. The mystery captured attention. “People wanted to know what it was about,” he said.

Fairey began plotting out the placement of his stickers. They can be seen on “Welcome To…” state signs along U.S. highways, behind Santa Claus in mall Christmas photos, on film and news footage, flagpoles, and billboards. “I wanted to spread it as far as I could,” said Fairey.

This weekend, The Giant will come to Detroit as Shepard Fairey presents a month-long exhibition titled Destroyer at CPOP Gallery. Fairey will be armed with artwork in the form of Giant banners; screen prints, and prints on wood, metal and even paper. “I started hijacking all sorts of pop culture icons -Jimi Hendrix, Kiss- I’d do Andre as Sid Vicious, Andre as Gene Simmons, in Neil Armstrong’s first moon landing.” He said. “When he died I wrote ‘Wrest in Peace,'”

Not everyone embraced this art, essentially a form of graffiti. But Fairey has always maintained his work is a result of “phenomenology” – the process of letting something manifest itself. Sure, he’s gotten into trouble. “I’ve been arrested eight times,” he said. “I don’t do anything on private property. I definitely have ethics about where I’ll put my stuff.”

The CPOP exhibition will offer more exposure for Fairey and the images that are making him an industry giant. “For a lot of people, my stuff is still mysterious,” he said.