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Rhode Island School of Design/Fall 2000
Publishing Director: Liz O’ Neil

Fairey Still has a Posse A decade after it all began at RISD, the Andre the Giant campaign is still going strong thanks to a posse of international rebels led by Shepard Fairey 92 IL, the mastermind behind this global experiment in phenomenology. Fairey has made it his mission to plaster stickers, posters, and stencils of the late pro wrestling champ’s face across cities as far-flung as LA, Chicago, Boston, New York and in Europe and Australia. His followers cover areas he has a hard time getting to; last year fans blitzed Stockholm with 2,000 obey giant posters and, to hype Fairey’s show at the Chamber of Pop Culture in London, peppered the city with posters urging Brits to OBEY the Giant.

The entire Andre subculture started off as a joke: After coming across a photo of the reportedly 7’4-tall, 500+-pound wrestler, Fairey and a few of his skateboarding friends at RISD made a spray-paint stencil from the picture. They emblazoned the image with the words: obey giant HAS A POSSE to parody other skaters who rode in gangs, or posses, and adopted corporate logos to accessorize their boards. It became an anti-posse, Fairey remembers. How people interpreted it was a reflection of their personality-it was a kind of a Rorschach test.

But why does the Giant have staying power? It’s a populist street campaign about living in a world dominated by corporate imagery, about stimulating viewers to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings, Fairey explains in his Web site manifesto. The sticker has no meaning, but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning. It first gained ground in 1990 when Vincent A. Buddy Cianci was running for reelection as mayor of Providence and Fairey covered one of his campaign billboards with an eight-foot-tall image of Andre. The media immediately interpreted the symbol as a statement about Cianci’s character, which had taken a beating since he was kicked out of office for assaulting his ex-wife’s lover.

But whether he defaces a billboard or adds visual interest to city streets, Fairey’s goal is to get people to question conspicuous consumption; I’m poking fun at the inundation of advertising by making an absurd thing ubiquitous. Though it has yet to become big business, more than one million stickers, 15,000 posters and countless spray paint stencils have been put up throughout the world, making the Giant project one of the most ambitious art campaigns ever. The icon has surfaced on TV shows such as Homicide, Law and Order and Veronica’s Closet, and has made guest appearances in movies like Batman Forever, The Devil’s Own, and 8mm. It spawned a related skateboarding film called Attention Deficit Disorder and in 1995 a 17-minute documentary by Helen Stickler 91 FAV, who was fascinated with how Fairey’s artistic obsession with a pop-culture icon spread into a subculture of its own. Her film obey giant has a Posse has been featured at festivals throughout the country, including the Sundance Film Festival, the New York Underground Film Festival (where it won second place) and the Florida Film Festival (winning Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Documentary).

Ironically, through his company Black Market Inc. in San Diego, Fairey and a team of 10 go beyond Andre to conduct guerrilla marketing on a corporate scale for other giants like GTE, Hasbro, Netscape, NBC, and Pepsi. And last spring he created two-color illustrations of comedian Andy Kaufman for a pseudo-underground campaign to plug Universal’s Man on the Moon.

Capitalizing on the capitalists? You bet. But as Fairey sees it, if he doesn’t do it, somebody else will: I don’t have a problem with the contradictions. The world is full of contradictions. As for why Andre still works, Fairey says it’s because it has no agenda. And who decided that public spaces were more attractive without any visual noise? All I’ve tried to do is -like Warhol-make the run-of-the-mill into an Icon. For more a Fairey’s love affair with the Giant, go to www.obeygiant.com