Shepard Fairey's Occupy Imagery

Shepard Fairey's Occupy Imagery

Campaign artist transforms his icon for a new cause


Many have accused renowned street artist Shepard Fairey of selling out something fierce. Since rising to notoriety on the back of his "Obey" sticker distribution, Fairey has started up his own clothing line, published a few books of his artwork, and done the art for one of the most successful presidential campaigns in recent memory. He's the guy behind the iconic "Hope" poster that gave so much fuel to the Obama craze back in 2008. He's certainly come a long way from plastering pictures of Andre the Giant around the back alleys of Providence.

While you can no longer call Fairey an underground artist, I'm not sure "sellout" is the proper label either. Even the most commercial of his work displays a thorough understanding and inherent criticism of the mechanics of advertising and phenomenology. He gets what makes people tick, but that doesn't necessarily means he wants to abuse it.

Indeed, Fairey's latest output seems to point the sting of criticism back at himself and one of his more recent clients. Joining with the Occupy Wall Street movement, he went ahead and designed a flier promoting a rally in Times Square. The flier adopts the "Hope" poster format to depict a hooded individual wearing the Guy Fawkes mask of Anonymous. The accompanying text has been altered to read, "Mister President, We HOPE You're On Our Side."

Glib, much? The transformation of the artist's original work into its new form carries a truly biting message. There's a potent feeling of regret running through this flyer; regret for illustrating a message of hope and change and progress that has yet to manifest itself in anything beyond campaign slogans. The graphic seems to imply that the real agents of change are out on the streets of cities across the country now, not sitting in the oval office. The image now seems to accuse the same person it once lionized, as if to ask why Obama never lived up to the promises carried by Fairey's campaign imagery. 

The "Hope" poster has been parodied and rehashed all over the place, but only now that Fairey has remixed his own work does a variant on the original really hold some power. It begs a few very important questions--and perhaps reclaims the imagery of hope for its original, intended purpose. It's definitely cool to see the country's foremost graphic artist on the side of Occupy, laying down his skills on the streets where they started.