Monday, October 15, 2012
Shepard Fairey’s commercially successful OBEY clothing line draws criticism, ambivalence from local arts community
Do big sales mean sell out?
Crossing over the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Oak Cliff greets drivers with streets full of colorful buildings and family-owned shops. As you drive down Singleton Boulevard, you will notice that one of the buildings has a face of a woman on it. Her colorful eyes gaze up and her lips are taut in subtle resistance. The words ‘Rise Above’ are painted next to her.
This mural is one of five in the Dallas area that was created by graphic designer and illustrator Shepard Fairey, and it is also one of the many pieces of the OBEY campaign. OBEY’s purpose is to weave art and propaganda together to spark curiosity and thought over hot button issues.
Recently, the underground street art organization and its images have turned into a widely popular clothing line sold in stores like Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom. While Fairey’s work has become a trend, it is unclear whether the clothing line is as influential, political and loved as the street art it came from. While making a living is important, it can cost artists their reputation.
“I too used to wear it [OBEY clothing] back in the day but now it is just super played out to me,” said local graffiti artist and DJ, Edgar Plaza.
Fairey, who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, is the founder of OBEY. The campaign became a nationwide phenomenon after Fairey created the infamous red white and blue Obama ‘Hope’ poster in 2007.
Starting in Rhode Island, OBEY began by filling local streets with stickers. The most common of these stickers is the close up black and white face of André the Giant from the Princess Bride, and plays off of a ‘big brother’ campaign.
OBEY’s website tagline claims its “manufacturing quality dissent since 1989.” But today you are more likely to find Fairey’s images on the shirt of a local teenager. The clothing line started in 2001 and uses Fairey’s street art as well as his other fine art pieces. According to OBEY’s website, the clothing line has, “become another canvas to spread his art and message to the people.”
But has Fairey’s art become just another trend? Josh Davis, a junior at SMU, owns several pieces of OBEY clothing. Davis says he purchased the clothing because, “it just caught my eye. Seeing the word ‘Obey’ across a tank was so blunt but in a really cool way.” Davis admitted he was unaware of OBEY’s roots and messages but he said he was “definitely interested in looking into it.”
A woman who wanted to be identified as a representative of Urban Outfitters said that while the clothing line was popular its customers were, “pretty much across the board. There are lots of different races and ethnicity as well as people with different jobs.”
Frank Campanga, a Dallas street artist, says that while he likes Fairey’s messages he finds Fairey’s T-shirts “cheesy.” But has the clothing line hurt or helped Fairey? People joke about starving artists and tell wide-eyed hopefuls that it’s hard to make it in the art industry. Campanga said, “it’s difficult to make a living as an artist, and he’s pulled it off. It spread his art around and makes him a bundle.”
After approaching Fairey to do a mural for the Dallas Contemporary Museum and surrounding community exhibitions and public relations manager Cluley worked closely with Fairey and said, “people came out in droves to see him in action, take photographs or to shake his hand.”
While Fairey tried to finish the five large, permanent murals in only seven days, Cluley says she often found him, “answering questions and giving out stickers,” which she claims “was inspiring on a human level.”
The painted woman from Oak Cliff continues to lift her face to the sky as she is printed onto T-shirts, shipped off, and shoved into the clothing racks of a department store. She will be pulled out and tried on. Whether the buyer is aware of the message she carries or is just following a trend, the important thing is that she is worn.
As Cluley put it, “Yes, I think the message and the artist behind the message may be lost at times, but I think there are more instances where what Shepard creates helps to convey a message that people believe in.”
Pegasus News Content partner - The Daily Campus
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