WOW! – Work Of the Week – Shepard Fairey “Obey ’04 (Wage Peace)”

Retro Series - Obey 04

Shepard Fairey aka OBEY

OBEY ’04 (Wage Peace)



42 x 30 in.

Edition of 89

Pencil signed and numbered


Shepard Fairey’s background is rooted in American skate and punk rock culture, with his work born out of a combination of a graffiti aesthetic and Pop art sensibilities. Straddling the divide between the fine art world and the street art world, Fairey—despite his massive popularity—has had to wait to be accepted by the more traditional art world. His higher profile has also, in turn, gotten him into some serious problems with law enforcement (he recently faced felony charges in Detroit, despite eighteen prior arrests for illegal tagging). Fairey said of this conflict: “To some people street art is vandalism, to others it’s gentrification, and either of those could be considered more legit than the other depending on your perspective“.

His artwork stands out in both the street and in a gallery setting. Although he is still viewed primarily as a street artist despite his indisputable commercial success. Fairey’s use of powerful, accessible images and messages display an influence from early advertising, alternative culture, and Pop artists like Andy Warhol. This combination of clear messaging and graphic compositions gives his work a broad appeal that speaks to a wide cross section of society. “Street art has to stand out from the static, and contend with the metabolism of the city“. He evokes communist propaganda, Barbara Kruger style advertorials and Jasper Johns subversion.

Fairey’s work also has a strong political component. He was already well known for his OBEY Andre the Giant tags and stickers before he created the image Obama Hope in 2008, a block-colored portrait of the presidential hopeful Barack Obama. The image, now world-famous, was subsequently adopted as the official presidential campaign image and became probably his most famous image. In addition, he also created a poster in support of Ai Weiwei’s—now successful—campaign to regain his passport in 2014.

Early in his career, during the OBEY sticker campaign that made him famous, Fairey seriously questioned the nature of his imagery, firmly establishing himself as an outspoken counter-culture figure, often addressing issues of war, human rights, ecology, and politics.

His art can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. Heidegger describes Phenomenology as “the process of letting things manifest themselves.” Phenomenology attempts to enable people to see clearly something that is right before their eyes but obscured; things that are so taken for granted that they are muted by abstract observation. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with this art provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail.

A perfect example of this is the work entitled Obey ’04, from the Retro Series. The silhouette of the soldier is a strong graphic form against the red background. Here we can see all the typical elements that characterize Fairey’s art: red, beige and black colors, modern and current subjects and the predominant presence of the graphic element.

Also present is the image Fairey became known for, the Andre The Giant face. This is represented by the soldier holding up this iconic image. We also see it in that sort of mandala shaped like a star in the upper right, a true symbol of the artist.

Fairey, who is definitely a pacifist, creates work that speak of peace and war, conveying his concern with politics.Here we can see the words “wage peace” instead of the typical “wage war”, and a flower inside the rifle instead of bullets.

The Obey ’04 from the Retro Series was created to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the artwork of OBEY. The series was first released for the opening of Shepard’s 20 years Retrospective at the ICA Boston.

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