Shepard Fairey#039;s Supply and Demand boasts Hope at ICA

by Beacon Staff • February 11, 2009

As iSupply and Demand/i went up at the Institute of Contemporary Art last week, street artist Shepard Fairey was arrested on two outstanding warrants for vandalism, which, since he is known primarily as a tagging-based guerrilla marketer of dissent, is not particularly surprising.

The show, which opened Feb 6., is the first gallery showing of Fairey's art. The best places to find it are normally on the sides of buildings in Boston, New York and San Diego. However, because of the illegal nature of his work, he's no longer allowed within the city limits of the last locale.

Fairey is best known for his red, white and blue portrait of President Barack Obama. The newly iconic image, now on display at the ICA, was recently hung in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., as the first official portrait of the new president.

Fairey is currently enjoying a rising career arc that stems from his famous image of Andre the Giant, neacute;e Roussimoff. The image of Roussimoff was first created as a sticker and stencil by Fairey during his time at Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1980s. It was the picture of the man known as "Monster Eiffel Tower" or "Monster Roussimoff" that gave Fairey the name of his company "Obey Giant."

The black-and-white outline of Roussimoff's face can be seen in every piece on display, sometimes as the blatant centerpiece or hidden on the inside of a star with his dimensions - seven feet, four inches tall and 520 pounds - wrapped subtly around its points.

Despite his propagandist mystique, Fairey has worked with well-known companies like Pepsi and Mozilla as well as bands like Led Zeppelin and Flogging Molly. Even his more commercial work demonstrates Fairey's affinity for bold, linear designs in a tri-chromatic palate. Mixed into the room filled with Fairey's commissioned works are portraits of artists whom he found inspirational, including Jim Morrison of The Doors, 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G. and Flavor Flav. Each of the portraits is titled first with Fairey's standard command of "Obey" before their names.

Fame and awe aside, the real gems come in the form of his propaganda posters and anti-war art. Almost everything in Fairey's work has an overt element of dissent, and it is not better demonstrated than in his party line placards which intertwine the likenesses of leaders Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin with the looming visage of Andre the Giant.

His most predominant medium is newsprint, and when it is used under renderings of soldiers, small children, Muslim women or even the President, it adds remarkable depth. From far away, they seem simply textured, but when viewed up close, headlines about the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, troop movements in Vietnam and other major news stories are visible.

Although it may sound like papier m