Obey the Giant: Short Film Presents the True Story of Shepard Fairey’s First Act of Street Art

Street artists: you either love ’em or hate ’em. Or, to put it less blunt­ly, you either find ’em inno­v­a­tive pub­lic icono­g­ra­phers or find ’em puerile pub­lic nui­sances. I sure­ly don’t have to get into the con­tro­ver­sy of appraisal and reap­praisal that swirls end­less­ly around Eng­lish sten­cil-wield­ing satirist Banksy, but even the far less secre­tive and aggres­sive Shep­ard Fairey has detrac­tors as fer­vent as his admir­ers. Yes, I mean the Oba­ma “HOPE” fel­low, though he began launch­ing images into our zeit­geist well before any of us knew the name of the future Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. You can learn much more about his ear­ly, pre-HOPE work by watch­ing Obey the Giant, a brand new twen­ty-minute doc­u­men­tary free to watch online. Among the truths revealed: Fairey also cre­at­ed “Andre the Giant has a posse” stick­ers, those pil­lars of nineties under­ground cul­ture and results of an “exper­i­ment in phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy” that you’ve almost cer­tain­ly been spot­ting ever since.

Direct­ed by for­mer Fairey intern Julian Mar­shall, the short exam­ines the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing his cre­ation of this prank­ish yet sur­pris­ing­ly long-lived cam­paign. Why appro­pri­ate the image of such a well-known pro­fes­sion­al wrestler? Why cred­it him with a posse? Why start spread­ing the word on the streets of Prov­i­dence? To address these ques­tions, Obey the Giant goes back to Fairey’s years at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late eight­ies and ear­ly nineties, when he hung out with a tight-knit group of hip-hop-lov­ing skaters, known inter­nal­ly as “the Posse,” and need­ed a sam­ple image to try mak­ing a sten­cil out of. The doc­u­men­tary, which crowd­sourced its $65,000 bud­get through Kick­starter, fea­tures a fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of Fairey por­trayed by an actor. The move seems faint­ly rem­i­nis­cent of Banksy’s real­i­ty-ambigu­ous 2012 film Exit Through the Gift Shop, though the real Fairey does­n’t con­ceal his iden­ti­ty. He even occa­sion­al­ly turns up, so I’ve heard, at the muse­um here in Los Ange­les where my lady works — in the gift shop, as it hap­pens.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Oba­ma “Hope” Poster & The New Copy­right Con­tro­ver­sy

Shep­ard Fairey Caves In, Revis­es Occu­py Wall Street Poster

Artist Shep­ard Fairey Curates His Favorite YouTube Videos

Strik­ing Posters From Occu­py Wall Street: Down­load Them for Free

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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