Winter 2006

Andre’s mug: inspiring prank, global brand… or a one-hit wonder? [extract]

Supply and Demand: The Art of Shepard Fairey

By Shepard Fairey, Roger Gastman, Steven Heller, Carlo McCormick, Helen Stickler, Kevin Taylor and Rob Walker
Gingko Press / Obey Giant, £35

The hard-sell intro to Supply and Demand will, no doubt, have many digging into their pockets, eager for the promise of this hefty tome. Carlo McCormick writes: ‘A ringmaster in the circus of signs, Fairey makes meaning jump through flaming hoops, hucksters like a true carnie the tinctures of an impossible cure, and stomps his way through the public spectacle like a herd of elephants coming to town.’

For £35 the hard-backed monograph delivers 360 pages and a generous proportion of colour illustrations that span the high-wire exploits of Shepard Fairey, street artist and father of the phenomenal Obey Giant. Hopping between contributions from writers including Roger Gastman and Steven Heller, Fairey divides and reflects upon his work under headings such as ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Surveillance’, before completing with his ‘Commercial Work’. Of course, one could argue that ultimately all of his work is commercial, since Fairey has made a decent brand of himself with many advertisers keen to make it to his corner of the street.

Fairey begins, however with his defining venture: the conception of Andre the Giant. It is an inspiring account of how a student prank elevated a dead French wrestler into a counter-cultural brand-icon, and all this whilst securing a little theoretical validation from Heidegger. Illustrations capture various stages of development as Andre evolves – under the influence of Barbara Kruger – into the ubiquitous Obey Giant. Fairey follows with an extensive photographic archive of his campaigns, congested spreads recording audacious ‘bombs’ and ‘hits’ staged across a variety of global cityscapes. Written accounts of the rooftop chases, the imprisonments and the police brutality – something of a rarity in the art and design section of most bookshops – confirm Fairey as one willing to suffer for his brand . . .

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