Beyond the Streets


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The Andre sticker, which Fairey created as a student in 1989, is the cornerstone of his 30-year practice. The artist uses a cropped image of the original sticker to reflect on three decades of evolution in his work and dramatic shifts in society. Fairey’s career started with placing stickers in public space, an intentionally ambiguous statement, that over decades transformed into an overtly political, message-driven practice. Fairey inserts colors, rips and patterns reminiscent of psychedelic imagery onto and around the iconic face. The disorienting design addresses the dramatic shift from analog forms of disseminating information to the current digital bombardment of imagery and information online. Fairey ages the iconic face by covering it with colored lines and tears, signifying years of work put in by the artist to establish himself by placing work in public space, a realm loaded with competing messages and the threat of arrest. The layers and rips are also a nod to the ephemeral nature of street art. For 30 years Fairey has placed his art in the urban landscape, which has been removed by property owners, civil servants, eroded by Mother Nature, and covered by other artists.

“Obey Andre” is a testament to the commitment and ingenuity required to produce, promote, and distribute the Andre sticker for 30 years. It is also a reminder that Fairey’s sticker campaign, which started before the popularization of the Internet, predates several of the pillars of the digital age. Initially, Fairey produced the stickers himself and paid for ads in skateboard magazines to promote the campaign and give away free stickers, predating the viral dissemination of imagery online. When the campaign reached critical mass due to tremendous demand for the stickers, he could no longer afford to continue production and was forced to charge for each sticker — thereby predating the web 2.0 business model. His work also predates social media by bringing like-minded people together, in this case, rebellious youth, to place his stickers in public space across the globe. Later in making Obey stencils available for download from his website, Fairey established an open source platform dedicated to defiance.

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