The Medium Has No Meaning
For seven years, Shepard Fairey has been conducting a global “experiment in phenomenology.” The 26-year-old Providence, Rhode Island, art school grad, skate punk, and accidental entrepreneur seeks to elevate a hollow eyed likeness of Andre Rousimmoff ? aka Andre the Giant, the late World Wrestling Federation champion and cinema star ? to iconic status through simple, brute repetition.
Fairey’s goal is quantity, not quality. Having printed and distributed more than 500,000 Andre stickers ? a decal with all the panache of an over xeroxed cartoon ? he wants Andre’s mug to be as familiar as any major corporate logo. “Advertising fascinates me,” Fairey says. “It’s pure greed, with no motivation other than profit. I don’t like advertising, so my method is to open people’s eyes to the system by participating in the process. I mean, Andre is so ridiculous that there’s nothing left but the process.”
In the wry statement he mails to those who can’t decide if Andre is a joke, a cult, or a Madison Avenue trial balloon, Fairey writes, “Phenomenology attempts to enable people to see something that is right before their eyes but obscured. The obey giant sticker campaign attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. The sticker has no meaning, but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning.”
Such an ambitious culture-jam is an expensive proposition, so Fairey has opted to morph his artistic statement into a fledgling business. With hundreds of thousands of his stickers already plastered onto street signs, lampposts, utility boxes, and skateboards all over the world, Fairey has transformed the Andre “brand” into a line of clothing and skateboards sold under his own Giant label.
The start-up venture would have made Andy Warhol proud. “I’ve never made a profit, but I’m growing,” Fairey says of his foray into the fashion biz. “I’m in an awkward position: I’m big enough to compete, but not big enough to get major distribution. And I’m too big to be supported by the underground.”
Fairey laughs good-naturedly at the paradox. “I’m trying to maintain a balance between underground credibility and commercial success. My shirts are selling for 20 bucks in stores I’d never set foot in. There are many ironies that go along with Andre,” he shrugs, “but that’s one of the reasons it works.”