DEGENERATE/REGENERATE #2058 by Shepard Fairey

JANUARY 18TH, 2022

What a long, strange trip it’s been for artist/activist Shepard Fairey. The man behind OBEY Giant - and who designed the iconic Obama ‘Hope” poster, has now entered the NFT space.

His latest work: Degenerate/Regenerate.

Fairey released 7,400 Degenerate/Regenerate generative NFTs on Open Sea.The collection pulls visual elements and illustrations from classic Fairey poster designs - while incorporating elements and textures from his larger murals and works.

DEGENERATE/REGENERATE #6237 by Shepard Fairey

“I’ve always played with scale and repetition as a core part of my work,” says Fairey. “And I love to re-work old motifs or patterns, into newer pieces to create something perhaps greater than the sum of the parts.”

And the sum of those parts - come from a culmination of an eclectic 32-year art career; in which Fairey’s themes have largely stayed consistent.

Emerging out of the skateboard scene in the late 80s, Fairey’s first notch of notoriety began with his Andre the Giant Has a Posse sticker campaign.

Created while attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Fairey told Format magazine – the idea came out of a happy accident:

“I was teaching a friend how to make stencils in the summer of 1989, and I looked for a picture to use in the newspaper, and there just happened to be an ad for wrestling with André the Giant and I told him that he should make a stencil of it.”

Thinking the idea was funny, Fairey made a stencil of the ad and printed a few stickers for a group of skateboarder friends he called “The Posse” – and thus adding the term, appropriated from hip-hop slang, to the creation.

And so was born: Andre the Giant Has a Posse.

Once stickers started going up all over Providence - people began to hypothesize the underlying meaning behind this real-life meme – and its relationship to its surroundings.

Fairey declared the sticker campaign to be an experiment in phenomenology – where people aren’t used to seeing propaganda or advertising for which the product or motive is not obvious – and thus they create a multitude of speculation. 

The tipping point was in 1990. As part of a school art project – Fairey put a large Andre head on a billboard – over the face of mayoral candidate Buddy Cianci – thus causing everyone in Providence to wonder where it came from and what the hell was the underlying political or motivational meaning. (Was the artist saying the candidate was ‘a brute’?)

Local newspapers, TV, and radio had a field day; hence opening Fairey’s eyes to both the power of propaganda and creating art on a larger scale.

The prank also gave a new Orwellian meaning to his smaller Andre the Giant stickers. So Fairey expanded the campaign outside of Providence to Boston and New York – where it caught on like a street art wildfire. 

Things in the Andre the Giant Has a Posse stratosphere were going along swimmingly – until an inevitable lawsuit threat came from the WWE (formerly Titan Sports, Inc) in 1994 - and spurred Fairey to stop using the trademarked name: ‘André the Giant.’

So, Andre and his posse – evolved into OBEY…which stylistically fits more into the design of Russian propaganda posters.

And what I love: The roots of the project come from the 1988 John Carpenter movie: They Live.  Fairey said he got a VHS copy of They Live from a $1 rental store – and little did he know that the dystopian future sci-fi flick would change the course of street art history.

In the movie, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (yet another wrestler for inspiration) plays a drifter who finds a special pair of sunglasses that allows him to see subliminal messages lurking in advertising, which is meant to keep the population subdued.

The most notable message Piper’s character sees on a billboard is a large ‘OBEY’ – complete with the iconic Futura Condensed Extra Bold Oblique font.

This concept blew Fairey’s mind. A big fan of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger – Fairey noted that she also used the Futura Condensed Extra Bold Oblique font. So, Fairey utilized the red, black, and white color palette of Kruger’s work – combined with a dash of Russian Constructivism – to create a project that made people confront the concept of obedience.

They Live’s theme was also exactly aligned to what Fairey wanted to base the concept of his art project on – as well as how the art would be displayed; competing with commercial advertising in public spaces.

“The movie has a very strong message about the power of commercialism and the way that people are manipulated by advertising,” Fairey says. “People don’t realize that they’re being manipulated because they are so caught up in consumption…that they don’t realize they are being controlled by aliens who are the authoritarians.”

And thus, Fairey went on to plaster the world with his OBEY Giant message – blazoned with a scaled version (to avoid copyright infringement) of Andre the Giant’s face.

Degenerate/Regenerate isn’t Fairey’s first major endeavor into the NFT space. Back in May, he teamed up with hip-hop producer Mike Dean – and dropped the NFT series: OBEY 4:22. The project showcases how art and music can be personal, immersive, and connecting to serve all of humanity.

“The movement of sound inspired my approach to the visual art for this collaboration,” Fairey says. “Mike Dean's music is a sonic journey, and I'm a big believer in the union of sound and vision to bring art to life.”

Fairey finds power in NFTs - much in the same way he found power in taking back public spaces with his OBEY street art project.

“Web3 offers self-empowerment and community empowerment,”he says. “Degenerate / Regenerate” plays with these labels and concepts in contrast to the notion that digital scarcity and the perceived value of NFTs as legitimate art is still very much being questioned by many in the traditional art world.”


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