Reader San Diego weekly

October 09, 1997

Reader San Diego weekly

October 9 1997
“obey giant. The face looks like a cartoon character. This must mean something to somebody, but not to me. Is this legal to put stickers here? ‘obey giant Has a Posse.’ What do I think of it? I really don’t know. A waste of paper.”
A three-inch-square black-and-white sticker. Stuck to a pole at a North County intersection. The shopper, middle-aged and brusque, dismisses the obscurity with a wave. Her diamonds sparkle, however.
“obey giant is dead, isn’t he? Is it his fan club? A fan club for a dead wrestler.” The man’s bemused.
Three kids think it’s pretty cool. They don’t really know what it means. And don’t much care. Anything stuck to a stop sign or a mailbox or a light pole is automatically rad. Bumper stickers for the under- 16 crowd. They’ve seen the sticker around a lot- anyway, so it’s nothing new to them.

Andre the Thrasher
Graphic artist Shepard Fairey, in his studio somewhere in San Diego County. “When I first created this sticker, a lot of the skateboarders had cliques. These were the guys who would load into one car and go downtown and show each other up on skateboards and write their crew names with paint pens or something.
“So I was studying illustration at Rhode island School of Design, and I had my group of skating friends, and one of them wanted to learn how to make stencils. We were looking around for an image to use when I saw this picture of obey giant, and we thought it was funny. I simplified the face to what I thought were its most important elements, and that’s how I came up with the original style. So we said, ‘Well, this is going to be our posse, our crew.’ It was, like, to participate but to condemn at the same time, because the whole thing was totally absurd. The image had nothing to do with skateboarding. Wrestling is about the furthest from skateboarding culture.”

Andre Rene “The Giant” Roussimoff; b. France, 1947; 7’4-, 520 pounds; wrestler (“WWF Wrestlemania 111,” 1987, Detroit, Andre vs. Hulk Hogan, 90,000 spectators Iive, 33 million TV viewers);, actor (The Princess Bride); d. 1993, France, heart attack

“So we started putting the stickers on our boards and on light poles and stop signs, and then it became cool. Like, people would ask, ‘What is that? “Oh, no – you don’t know? The Watershed Crew knows what’s up with it. We’re in on it. You don’t know? Where’ve you been?’ It started as pretty much an inside joke. It was never intended to get so huge.”

Singapore, Graceland, Fourth & E
“After one summer of putting them all over the city, the local [Providence, RI] paper came out with a little thing that said, ‘Who knows what’s up with this Andre thing?’ The person that let them know would win free tickets to a s ow local club. And that’s when I thought, ‘Wow, this is powerful!’ I figured if I can do this in Providence, I can definitely do it in other cities too. “So I went to New York City one weekend and put up all these Andre images in SoHo, the Lower East Side. People would see them on the street, but nobody knew who did them. And I started sending sheets of these stickers to friends in South Carolina, New York, Georgia, telling them to go to Kinko’s and copy them on sticky paper and just put them around. It’s a rush. And it was unstoppable from there.
“My cousin just saw one in Singapore. It showed up on MTV, on a sign at Graceland, in Germany, London, the Caribbean, Russia, on Jim Morrison’s grave.
I have no idea how they got there. Other people have done those, but I’ve put up most of the stickers and Andre stencils and posters myself. I go up to L.A. and hit Melrose, Santa Monica. When I go to San Francisco, it’s Mission. In San Diego they’re all over downtown and in Encinitas, Solana Beach, Leucadia. There’s a poster on the Balboa Theater downtown, with lots of other band posters and stuff.”

obey giant Has a T-Shirt
Andre stickers produced since 1989: 600,000+. Total Andre images: 80, for T-shirts, posters, stickers, including a ’70s acid-head Andre, Russian 1 Communist Andre, “OBEY” Andre, gang-banger 1 Andre. Largest Andre: 9 feet high, SoHo. “There’s been a backlash, even anti-Andre stickers. Like at school, when not that many people knew what was up with it, then I was really cool, and the stickers were really cool. But as I got to be seen as more mainstream -like, ‘He’s got all these T-shirts, newspaper articles, TV, and stuff. He’s sold out.’ Well, that was ridiculous. I was dirt poor. And I just thought how funny that was, because the thing itself, it never changed. It was constant. But then people’s perception of what it meant, what it symbolized, changed.”

Sheriff Kolender Has a Posse
Encounter # 1.
Class assignment: Illustrate a for-tune cookie insert (“To affect the quality of the day is no small achievement”). Solution: An 81/2-foot Andre superimposed on the face on a Providence mayoral candidate’s billboard. I tried to keep it pretty quiet, but somebody told the candidate’s daughter I’d done it. And then the police start trying to collect information about me, collect evidence. I knew they were snooping around for a couple of weeks. They had all these photos and testimony from people. I think it was pretty anticlimactic when they finally asked me, ‘Did you do it?’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah. Sure.’ “The candidate made a big show of forgiving me and asking that I be sentenced to community service. He never followed through on that, because once he’d made his public statement to the press, he’d made his point. After that, the actual sentence didn’t matter.”

Encounter #2.
“I was putting posters up in SoHo. Some New York undercover cops pull up in an unmarked car. I had 80 posters, 300 stickers, a couple of stencils, paint. They labeled it all and put it in Baggies for evidence. At the time, Mayor Giuliani had this big ‘Quality of Life’ campaign. The theory was, if you eliminate the petty crimes – graffiti, drinking in public, possession of marijuana that it won’t escalate into bigger crimes. The cops knew my work, but they couldn’t figure out my modus operandi, because I’d go back to Rhode Island during the week. Apparently they’d been looking for me for two years. “Anyway, they were really nice to me at first, like they were living a double life cops and closet graffiti aficionados. Then their supervisor came up, and they were saying stuff like, ‘Yeah, check out this jerk. We’ve seen this stuff in six different precincts. This is a felony. All the damage you’ve caused is really extreme. Think how much paint they’ve wasted repainting lamp bases [to cover Andre stencils]. I spent two days in jail. I’m diabetic, and they confiscated my insulin and wouldn’t let me take any. I got really sick, so I spent part of the time in the hospital. In the end, the judge sentenced me to time served.”

Encounter #3.
“I was in Encinitas putting up some stickers a while ago, and this sheriffs deputy swoops down on me wanting to know what I was doing. She gives me this lecture and just lets me go with a warning. ‘You’d better not do this anymore. If we see any more of these things going up around here we know who you are.

Epiphanies Optional
From html “The obey giant sticker campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. Heidegger describes Phenomenology as the process of letting things manifest themselves. The first aim of Phenomenology is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The obey giant sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. Whether the reaction be positive or negative, the sticker’s existence is worthy as long as it causes people to consider the details and meanings of their surroundings.” – Shepard Fairey

“Since the sticker doesn’t have a meaning, everyone was making up their own meaning for it And that was a really interesting aspect of people’s psychology that the sticker was bringing out.
Everyone needed a meaning. My job is to keep the curiosity going. The explanation for why I didn’t just quit after making a funny joke is because I think there’s a lot of legitimacy to this.” – Shepard Fairey, in obey giant Has a Posse, video, 17 min, producer/director Helen Stickler; winner, 1995 New York Underground Film and Video Festival; Best Documentary THAW’96.
In his studio, the artist elaborates. “In a lot of ways, it’s a Rorschach test. People see it and have a reaction to it, and when they find out it doesn’t really mean anything, they can look at their reaction and think, ‘What does that say about my perception of things like this?’ Sometimes people get mad, like, ‘What is this thing? Why is it theres But the Marlboro Man is in their face every day and they don’t get mad at that because they can say, ‘Oh, they’re trying to make me smoke. That’s totally cool.’ ”
Andre’s image, devoid of any real meaning, became propaganda. “It was anti the idea of people buying a product just because their favorite athlete uses it – where you buy Air Jordans just because Michael Jordan advertises it. “If everyone in the world reaved this kind of thing goes on, I don’t think Michael Jordan could sell a billion pairs of shoes. So the ultimate thing with Andre – if it were as successful as it could possibly be, there would be no need for it. It would stamp itself out. “I’m not saying that people are going to achieve an epiphany from my work, but just that there might be some sort of dialog going on about what it really means. And it satisfies my urge to create images. The world seems so vast. It’s a way to get my thumbprint out there, even if no one knows it’s me.”

– Linda Nevinas