December 15 , 1997
“A GIANT Phenomenon”
By Melissa Sankary
Obey Giant has hit San Francisco again. Roaming the streets, one can’t help but notice the face of late heavy-weight wrestler plastered on billboards, slapped onto stop signs, or in some other inconspicuous place. But the image is not new to many of us who have been enjoying Andre’s subliminal presence since 1989 when RISD freshman Shepard Firey serendipitously created the first “obey giant has a Posse” imagery.
A mixture of chance and intent played a role in the legacy that would become the obey giant industry of stickers, clothes, skateboards and posters. Shepard was first struck by the image of Andre, while scanning the newspaper for designs to use in creating stencils. As Shepard cut the first stencil, the fate of this endearing yet unattractive icon was sealed. Shepard and his friends laid the image next to the text “Andre the Giant has a Posse” as a way of poking fun at the seriousness skateboard crews had about their cliques. In the end, they realized that they had created an image embraced by skateboarding culture as a whole, as well as graffiti artists, club kids, filmakers, sticker collectors, cultural anthropologists and the like.
The proliferation of the Andre image is a great example of successful street propaganda. Very quickly, the image was disseminated to friends around the country in the form of stickers, posters and the like eventually invading the “urban landscape” which is the principal target of the Andre the Giant campaign.
While the Giant phenomenon began as mere fun, when Shepard replaced Providence mayor Vincent Buddy Cianci’s head on a poster with the Andre head during an election year, the Andre images became noticed outside the skateboard cliques. Although the incident created quite a stir, mayor Cianci simply retaliated by placing his own face over that of obey giant â€¹ guerrilla art warfare at its best.
The use of the Andre image with political billboards and the Russian-constructivist design of Giant caused some people to question the meaning behind the image. According to Shepard, the work is less about a specific “meaning” and more about the reaction created in the mind of the viewer. He hopes that upon viewing a Giant image, people wake up to their surroundings and environment. The Russian communist influence in some images reading “Obey” or declaring “We Want You To Join The Posse” is merely reverse psychology as people in society already subconsciously obey messages of consumption disseminated by corporations through advertising and billboards. By questioning the absurdity of the Giant campaign, people may then be more inclined to question the messages of mass marketing.
Shepard’s work also includes less confrontational designs such as Andre replacing George Harrison in a Beatles’ poster or as Marilyn Monroe in a Warhol-esque silk-screen. And as the Andre image continues to permutate with nearly half a million images produced thus far, we are left eagerly awaiting the newest Giant propaganda to hit San Francisco. Meanwhile, you too can join the cause by using the sticker opposite this page.