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Street Artist Shepard Fairey: Background information when reading Now Is Not the Time to Panic

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Now Is Not the Time to Panic

A Novel

by Kevin Wilson

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson X
Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2022, 256 pages

    Aug 2023, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Street Artist Shepard Fairey

This article relates to Now Is Not the Time to Panic

Print Review

Print of Shepard Fairey's Andre the Giant Obey designIn Kevin Wilson's Now Is Not the Time to Panic, the main characters decide to anonymously make a piece of art and post it publicly. This idea is part of a larger street art aesthetic that encompasses everyone from unknown graffiti artists to international superstar Banksy. One of the most famous street artists, one who got his start with a mysterious image of his own, is 52-year-old Shepard Fairey.

The Charleston, South Carolina native loved skateboard culture and punk rock as a teenager. Around age 14, he began selling skateboards and t-shirts he'd decorated. On his website, Fairey explains why stickers, in particular, were so influential to him at the time: "I found sticker sightings an encouraging sign that there were more dedicated proponents of punk and skate culture lurking somewhere in the city." Since stickers and other punk rock merchandise were not a simple internet click away, he designed his own.

Fairey earned his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, where he started experimenting with street art. His first notable creation was a sticker featuring a portrait of wrestler-actor Andre the Giant and the words "Andre the Giant Has a Posse." After Fairey faced legal trouble for using the wrestler's image and name, he modified the sticker to feature an altered portrait and one word: "Obey." The picture of the Giant with that single command intrigued and perplexed viewers, and Fairey sold over a million copies of it.

"The Andre stickers started as a joke, but I became obsessed with sticking them everywhere both as a way to be mischievous and also put something out in the world anonymously but that I could call my own," Fairey says. In addition to covering Providence with his stickers, he had a grassroots campaign, sending them to friends across the country to post around their cities and towns. He also took out ads in skateboarding magazines, initially to give away stickers, though he soon started charging five cents each.

"Almost every art and financial opportunity in my life has stemmed from my stickers and their poster and stencil relatives," Fairey explains. As his work progressed, he continued designing stickers and posters, developing a distinctive style of bold color prints using found images. He began working with corporate clients like Netscape and Adidas in addition to doing album artwork for musicians like Smashing Pumpkins and the Black-Eyed Peas. He made posters for movies and TV shows, including the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and the Showtime series Dexter. Some critics have accused Fairey of selling out, and his response is that he puts the profits from these projects back into his street art and activism.

Arguably Fairey's biggest achievement came in 2008, when he designed a bold red, white and blue image of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, which he titled "Hope." Obama's campaign began using the image, introducing Fairey's work to a mainstream audience. However, Fairey had based his image on a photograph by Mannie Garcia of the Associated Press (AP) without securing copyright permission. The AP sued, Fairey countersued, and they eventually settled out of court.

Despite his high profile, Fairey still enjoys creating street art, and has had the occasional brush with the law as a result. In 2009, Boston police arrested him on the same night he was to DJ at a celebration for the exhibit of his work at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The arrest was based on years-old charges related to postering in the city's Back Bay neighborhood. Fairey pled guilty and apologized. He was arrested in 2015 for destruction of property in Detroit, and at the time, news sources noted that Fairey had previously been arrested 17 times.

Making art endorsing Obama was just one occasion in which Fairey expressed political opinions. Over the years, he's made posters to protest the Iraq War, endorse the Occupy Wall Street movement, support gun control, back environmental causes, and more. He's been commissioned to create several murals, including one honoring Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

Fairey's work now appears in galleries worldwide, and he still sells prints and other products, mostly to raise funds for charity. And, if you look closely, you may be able to view his work for free, illegally placed on a building or street sign near you.

Print of Shepard Fairey's Obey, courtesy of Artsy

Filed under Music and the Arts

This "beyond the book article" relates to Now Is Not the Time to Panic. It originally ran in November 2022 and has been updated for the August 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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