by Natasha Walter
Ox-Op is currently exhibiting fine art by Shepard Fairey of the Obey campaign. The Obey campaign, which began by inundating cities across the country with the now infamous Andre the Giant stickers and wheat-pastes, “can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. The first aim of phenomenology is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment…” according to the Obey website.
his smart designs, Fairey proves to be as visually savvy as he is intellectually
astute. In a throwback to the days of Soviet propaganda, he uses reds and pattern
work reminiscent of U.S.S.R. gear. Against this backdrop, the print on wood
“Stay Up Girl” features a fifties-era young woman with a spray-paint
can in one hand and an Obey bill in the other. Below her is the slogan “Think
and create, paint and destroy,” a simple but piercing phrase. With this
visually slick pull into the notorious days of communism, Fairey brings the
viewer to the line between propaganda and screechy advertisements.
In “Visual Disobedience,” a print on metal, the silhouette of a
man stands primed for action, a gun slung over his shoulder while an easily
overlooked flower sticks out the barrel. In his hand he holds the signature
Obey mug. This image is yet another example of graphic quality that delivers
an immediate political punch. The picture doesn't rival the print’s appended
“Visual Disobedience” slogan, but certainly complements it, gracefully
carrying its weight. The words, like much of the text that appears in Fairey's
work, seem aimed at cutting through the toxic exterior of media bombardment
and getting to the imaginative qualities of life.
also creates large-scale prints on paper. These majestic portraits of rebels
exhibit elaborate stencil and collage work. Ornate frames appropriately showcase
such visionaries as Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist and activist; Bobby Seale,
co-founder of the Black Panthers; and Joe Strummer, lyricist of the Clash. With
such iconic representations Fairey seems to be saying that men like these should
be our heroic figures, rather than the Hollywood celebrities or founding fathers
we worship in this country.
Judging by the presence of all the Obey paraphernalia in Minneapolis (there
is even an image entitled “Minneapolis Stay Up”), Faiery’s
campaign is a radical success. For me it represents an encounter with an inner
force that is paradoxically consoled by the lack of an agency that seeks to
regain power through consumerism. To discover your own insight, drop in—more
than once—to Ox-Op for a close-up encounter with visual disobedience.
Shepard Fairey: Visual Disobedience is at Ox-Op Gallery, 1111 Washington
Ave. Ox-Op.com. Hours are Tue.–Fri. 4 p.m.–8 p.m.; Sat. 1–5
p.m.; closed Sun. & Mon.