Growing up in San Diego I loved three things fiercely: reading, skateboarding and surfing. The last two were invariably done with my best friend Jim, in whose company all of my best ocean-bound moments occurred. Beyond the inevitable stacks of surf and skate magazines, my house was also awash in books about art, architecture and design. So it’s been with a certain mix of wonder, amusement and intellectual curiosity that I’ve watched the development of Shepard Fairey’s Obey grow into a multimedia force. I was in high school when their first generation stickers, with all the graphic appeal of a Kinkos clerk’s off-duty scribbling, first appeared, and I was always happy when I discovered one of the many evolutions in other cities across the country — especially when I was living in New York.
Obey is now a full-on design brand, but it’s never stopped thinking about its output as acts of social commentary, or as they state, propaganda. Fairey built an intellectual, self-aware brand from nothing more than a crude sketch of Andre the Giant, and the idea that the viewer, being asked to “Obey,â€? will somehow get the joke: what seems like an ad has no product behind it, and there is nothing to obey.
I love the simplified goal behind Fariey’s efforts: manufacturing quality dissent. By using the medium of street art, often equated with graffiti or vandalism, the Obey presence, once limited to stickers but now ranging into an entire clothing line, positions itself as an exercise in Phenomenology, with the aim of “reawakening a sense of wonder about one’s environment.â€? Where once there was an ad for nothing but an idea, there’s now a brand based on getting people to think about their surroundings.