When Obey’s works recently popped up around the city for a second time, the fervor of a national artist contributing to a blossoming street art scene was considerably more quiet. Compared to the first visit in April 2011 when posters appeared in Tempe in suspected promotion of the fourth annual StickerPhiends art show, there was less media coverage, less criticism from the art community, and less enthusiasm expressed by fans.
More important than the lack of excitement surrounding Obey’s works are the discussions they spawn. Do outside artists have a place in Phoenix’s mural scene, and if they do, is it appropriate for Obey to try and pass his posters as art when they’re also promoting his clothing brand? What many people do not know, but what is obvious to others, is that Shepard Fairey, the man behind the brand did not put these works up himself. What is commonly seen as his street art installations are more akin to guerilla marketing strategies carried out by a team of accomplices who promote his many business endeavors– including his clothing line.
In a 2012 interview for MadOne’s “StickerPhiends” zine, Fairey responds to questions concerning the relationship between his art and his clothing line.
A lot of people think I started doing the clothing line more recently, to like cash in on my street cred or something. I was actually making t-shirts the first week I made the original Andre the Giant has a posse sticker in 1989. I made five home screen shirts of the graphic to give to friends. And when I lived in Providence I screened shirts of all the same images I put up in streets and sold those to pay for all the vinyl and posters and everything [. . .]
So, I’ve asked three Phoenix artists to share their feelings on the subject. All of them have contributed to Phoenix’s mural/street art scene and have brought additional awareness to the benefits public art offers a city. Their answers reflect on how Obey’s work fits into the greater context of Phoenix, and ultimately, if they help to nurture or hurt a creative public art scene here.
“Obeys work that has recently been pasted up can be a reminder of a what a prolific and super active street artist/company can do when a profitable apparel/lifestyle brand and teamwork is involved. Broad trips to cities, wheat pastings, parties, etc. next city, same thing. marketing. I think the best way to look at it is as though it serves as a marker, or a reminder of what one guy started and now many follow. Do these images insult us because they are a reminder that we can go buy product online or walk to Urban Outfitters to get some Obey Shwag? consume this. This option, of course propels the option to look to the west and east for what is cool, instead of continuing to make our own here to offer up to the larger thing happening locally and worldwide. At one time, it would have been more impressive to see this type of thing here, but now a days, Phoenix has its own development happening, and more and more as each artist can look within themselves to find what it is they have to contribute to their city.
I think its great that the Ronad Reagan got some attention with a violin and some “stupid” spraypaint on it. That’s the spirit!!! These pastes are a like a hiccup in a way, since we have our own artists contributing to phoenix, in a healthy and skillful way that stands on its own. Little guy Phoenix is growing up but not old.”
“There’s an ugly but necessary whorish/commercial side to art and I think Shepard sending his posse is really a compliment to Phoenix. This validates our efforts for national notoriety and thankfully no one here wants our city to be a satellite scene for Los Angeles. We’ll keep being Phoenix no matter what. So, I think we should welcome out of towners but hit their cities back twice as hard!”
“As a young girl growing up in Southern California, seeing andre the giant pasted on the backs of stop signs and electrical boxes was my first exposure to street art of any kind. Even as a child I was curious about the image . . . who was the face of? Obey what, exactly? Who was putting these up and why? That being said, I think Shepard Fairey, among many many other graffiti and street artists alike, has done a lot to pave the way for artists today. Unfortunately, there are still ignorant people out there (even gallery owners!) who “like” famous street artists but look down on a young kid’s tag on the street . . . in my mind, tagging is the purest and simplest form of self expression, and an extremely important one.
As for Obey’s recent paste-ups in Phoenix . . . I myself have been guilty of sneering at his clothing brand . . .nobody said you can’t get rich, but it raises questions . . . does he use his profits to bring awareness to a cause or start up art programs for inner-city youth? Or is he just hoarding his money? I see absolutely no problem with an outsider coming to Phoenix and putting up art of any kind, as long as it’s done in a respectful way. Hell, the way I see it, I rather see an Obey poster than nothing at all on a blank wall . . . blank walls are something we have way too much of here in Phoenix. I love the fact that some of them got defaced, because it’s creating a discussion and forcing people to get off their asses and do something, even if they’re vandalizing someone else’s shit.
So to wrap it up, did Fairey send someone out here to put up posters as a way of promoting his brand? Maybe. But again, better an Obey poster than a blank wall or another McDonalds billboard. Are you pissed off that there’s Obey shit in Phoenix? Then stop whining and use that anger as motivation to do something better. Leave YOUR mark on the city and do something to make it a more beautiful place for us all.”