Shepard Fairey and Obey: No rest for the legally embattled street artist

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Until the 2008 presidential campaign last year, Shepard Fairey was probably most well known for his “Obey” images and brand. Fairey has come a long way since first sketching out the Andre the Giant stencil that became the iconic image of “Obey.”

Like many contemporary street artists, Fairey came up through higher education, and attended a graphic design program in Rhode Island. It was during these formative years that Fairey developed the social experiment using a crude, hand cut stencil of Andre the Giant’s face, with the word “Obey.” The cryptic image caught on with other international artists who then reproduced and riffed on the theme in their own work. Fairey has since developed a streetwear line also called Obey.

Although the Obey label and Fairey’s intricate design style have made him one of the most recognized and successful street artists in the US, Fairey has experienced significant drawbacks from remaining in the public eye. Unlike most taggers, or the British street artist Banksy, Fairey has not attempted to remain anonymous.

Fairey’s transparency has led to several arrests resulting from art fixtures in illegal locations and civil lawsuits.

The most recent notable legal battles are tied to a graffiti-related arrest in Boston, and a lawsuit by an A.P. photographer who claims that Fairey illegally used a photograph when creating the “Hope” Obama image.

Last week, Fairey pleaded guilty to the Boston charges for which he received two year’s probation, fines and miscellaneous restrictions related to tagging. According to the NY Times, the 39-year-old Los Angeles street artist who became famous for plastering his posters and stickers throughout U.S. cities, must pay $2,000 to a graffiti removal organization and cannot possess tagging materials — such as stickers or paste — in Boston except for authorized art installations. He also must tell officials when he plans to visit Suffolk County, where Boston is located.

The issue with the A.P. photo and Obama’s “Hope” piece has also recently come back into the limelight.

FaireyhopeandphotoThe image that Fairey created in connection with the 2008 Obama campaign, has become one of the most universally recognized symbols of last November’s election. The image to the left shows Fairey’s version of a photo that Mannie Garcia, a photographer for the Associated Press, claims Fairey illegally reproduced.

Fairey’s lawyers responded to the allegations saying that they were sure that Fairey’s piece would fall under a “fair use” exception to copyright law, if the A.P. were able to prove that Fairey used the photo. The latest drama in this case is that the photographer, Garcia, is now claiming the the rights to the photo actually belong to him, and not the A.P..

It is pretty upsetting that these greed-fueled suits even exist, especially taking into account that any proceeds that Fairey realized from creating the image, were only used to produce more copies of it.

Through all of these issues Fairey has managed to stay busy, not only with his “Obey” line, but also with his efforts in philanthropy and writing.

Earlier this year, Fairey designed a series of posters promoting the WWF’s Earth Hour.

shepposterHe also designed the Saks ad below, from which he donated the proceeds to charity.

faireysaksFairey also recently designed the print below, according to AnimalNewYork, Fairey hopes “will be part of some Green Energy Initiatives in the near future.”

obey-windmill

Fairey has also recently authored a book, titled “Art for Obama” that has just become available.

9780810984981

Fairey’s streetwear line Obey is available here.

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