Obey Giant @ SLU

Oliver Baudach and I are organizing a new exhibition of silkscreen prints and stickers by Shepard Fairey for the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.

Shepard Fairey, “Ankara (Red),” 2005, silkscreen print, 118/300, SLU 2006.40


Silkscreen prints and stickers by Shepard Fairey

Organized by Oliver Baudach and Catherine Tedford

August 10 – September 3, 2022

INSPIRING | CONTROVERSIAL | OBEY! presents work by one of the most well-known contemporary American street artists, Shepard Fairey. Drawn from St. Lawrence University’s permanent collection and private collections, the exhibition showcases work from over thirty years of the artist’s prolific career: from Fairey’s Andre the Giant Has A Posse sticker first produced as a college student in 1989, to silkscreen prints from the 1990s and 2000s, to the iconic 2008 Barack Obama HOPE portrait, as well as We The People stickers created in response to the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and Earth Crisis stickers today. While Fairey’s earlier images focused on punk musicians, skateboard heroes, and Obey Giant themes, his more recent subjects include social justice activists, immigration reform, gender equality, consumer capitalism, and climate change.

The artist himself is not without controversy, however, having weathered multiple arrests for defacing property in cities around the world and lawsuits for using Obama’s image for the HOPE portrait without giving credit to the original Associated Press photographer, Mannie Garcia. In Fairey’s quest to “manufacture quality dissent,” he has also been criticized for “industrially (re)producing and commodifying [that which] banalizes and deactivates it” [and therefore] contributes to perpetuating the system he says he fights against,” according to author Francesco Screti.[1] Though Fairey states, “I refuse to stay in my assigned lane as an artist and commentator. My friend and curator Pedro Alonzo once said that I’m too street for the corporate world and too corporate for the street world. Either way, I hope I’m breaking someone’s rules.”[2]

As part of the exhibition, Oliver Baudach, founder and director of Hatch Kingdom, Berlin, Germany, has also curated a section that includes stickers by various artists based on three of Fairey’s most popular designs: the original Andre the Giant sticker; a later stylized version of it with “OBEY” in bold red text beneath it; and the 2008 HOPE portrait. All three designs have been appropriated by artists who have riffed on the images and text to create what are called “Obey bootlegs.”

In addition, a lecture by Chris Ingraham entitled “Stickiness” will be presented on Thursday, September 1, at 4:30 p.m. in Griffiths Arts Center Room 123. Here is the bio he sent me:

Chris Ingraham is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Utah and a core faculty member in the Environmental Humanities graduate program. His research and teaching focus on media aesthetics, rhetoric, and the human relation with the more-than-human. In addition to publishing regularly in American and European academic journals, Dr. Ingraham is the author of Gestures of Concern (Duke University Press, 2020) and co-editor of the book, LEGOfied: Building Blocks as Media (Bloomsbury, 2020).

I learned about Chris through a colleague at SLU, Allison Rowland, who shared Gestures of Concern with me. I liked it so much that I quoted Chris in my recent essay on teaching with stickers for the ACRL’s forthcoming Unframing the Visual: Visual Literacy Pedagogy in Academic Libraries and Information Spaces (due out in 2023):

“In his book Gestures of Concern, Chris Ingraham writes that stickers can be used ‘to create surprising public experiences, to stoke curiosity, revitalize perception, and reorient people with a newfound attentiveness to what’s around them’ and that (more generally), stickers are part of ‘efforts people make to join in public affairs in ways that feel participatory and beneficial, though their measurable impact remains imperceptible.’ He states that the ‘force of such gestures affirms a sense of something more intangible. Call it kinship, empathy, solidarity, kindness.’” Anything that affirms empathy and kindness these days sure goes a long way, imho!

Oli will be coming to campus next week to create sticker boards of his Obey stickers and Obey bootlegs. We plan to add the new stickers to the Street Art Graphics digital archive, too. Photographs to follow soon!

Obey bootlegs

[1] Screti, Francesco. “Counter-revolutionary art: OBEY and the manufacturing of dissent.” Critical Discourse Studies, 2017, 362-384.

[2] Fairey, Shepard. Covert to Overt. New York: Rizzoli, 2015.