Shepard Fairey shot to national fame as the graphic artist behind a 2008 iconic poster of Barack Obama, a portrait labeled simply "HOPE" and in a style that could be described as Andy Warhol meets Socialist Realism. Fairey, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1992, was already well known among graffiti artists and fans, thanks to one of Fairey's early works of "guerilla" art, an impromptu stencil design based on an ad for Andre the Giant, a professional wrestler. Fairey made stickers of the image in the late '80s, along with the scrawl "Andre the Giant has a posse," and the image went viral, spreading far and wide through urban America, on street signs, billboards and walls. He later adapted the image and added the word "obey." Mixing left-wing politics with "appropriated" images and bold graphic design, Fairey now works as a fine artist and advertising designer, with a gallery in Los Angeles and business ventures that dip into publishing, fashion and urban sports (skateboarding). Supporters call what he does appropriation art, but detractors call it plagiarism, and Fairey's success has put him in the middle of a legal and artistic debate about who owns what when it comes to images in the public. With permission from the staff of Obama's presidential campaign, Fairey began distributing the "HOPE" image in January of 2008. A year later, with Obama in the White House, Fairey's poster was officially displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Around the same time the Associated Press declared Shepard's poster was based on a 2006 photo taken by the AP's Manny Garcia and they should get credit and compensation. Fairey filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the AP, arguing he didn't owe them. Fairey has appeared in the documentary films Andre the Giant Has a Posse (by Helen Stickler, first distributed in 1997) and Bomb It! (2007), and his work has been documented in the book Supply and Demand.
Just before the opening of his first solo exhibit, at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in February of 2009, Fairey was arrested on an outstanding warrant for vandalism (tagging).
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