Beyond the Streets

Shepard Fairey

Activism

Shepard Fairey’s career started with a sticker he created in 1989 as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. The image emerged as a crude stencil and sticker based on a pro-wrestling ad of Andre the Gian, to which Fairey added the phrase, “Has a Posse.” The sticker campaign began as a joke, but quickly spread throughout Providence and the surrounding areas. The public proliferation of this viral art became an obsession for Fairey that has lasted 30 years, launched his career, and allowed him to spread his imagery and messages of empowerment worldwide.

Fairey’s art practice is fueled by a non-conformist attitude that embraces punk rock, DIY culture, skateboarding, and addresses a range of themes, from climate change to civil rights activism and mass incarceration. Stylistically, his work is characterized by bold, iconic images that convey a clear message through the use of common references and text.

The exhibition “Facing the Giant: Three Decades of Dissent” features a selection of key works that highlight how Fairey has developed an intentionally accessible visual style that speaks broadly by pulling from visual history to address critical issues. Many of the works depict the constant struggle against oppressors, signaling the human tendency to abuse power. Through portraiture, Fairey celebrates those who fight for change, including musicians, civil rights heroes, and overlooked leaders. Fairey’s bold, clear messages empower the public to re-examine norms and question their surroundings.

A constant presence in the urban landscape allowed Fairey to forge a diverse global following, establishing himself as a leading artist. He has influenced youth culture, fashion, identity, aesthetics as well as helped to elect a president. Fairey’s relationship with popular culture, simultaneously drawing from it conceptually and feeding it materially, has yielded an almost unrivaled impact for his art.

– Pedro Alonzo

Kilroy