Since 2008 the distinctive poster art of the famous street artist Shepard Fairey has become synonymous with the American Presidential election. His artwork Hope, made during president Obama’s successful campaign in 2008, became one of the defining images of the election, and was said to have been instrumental in bringing a young electorate to the polls. President Obama himself wrote to the artist to thank him and added “Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign.” Now Fairey has done it again, only this time his poster is not one of optimism but of doom. Shepard Fairey’s artwork Idiocracy, (pictured above) draws from the cult film of the same name, taking imagery from that movie to lambast and the anti-intellectual and increasingly aggressive campaign of Republican hopeful Donald Trump.
The original movie, directed by Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge, was a commercial flop, barely achieving more than $500,000 at the box office. Since its release in 2006 however the movie has risen to cult status, not least because of the perceived shocking similarities of its plotline with the current president campaign. Judge has compared Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to the movie’s brainless wrestler-turned-president, President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, while Oscar-winning writer Etan Cohen recently tweeted “I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary.”
Shepard Fairey’s artwork and limited editions have for many years formed a connection between rebellious street art and current affairs, critiquing corporate culture at every turn. As he states himself, “The real message behind most of my work is question everything.”
He first can to prominence with his series of Obey posters made in the 1990s. Having emerged out of the punk and skateboarding scene, Fairey created a sticker campaign whilst studying at the Rhode Island School of Design which was an unprecedented success. Practically overnight stickers featuring the face of Andre the Giant and carrying the slogan “OBEY” were found all across America. They remain one of the most iconic images of the 1990s and have become synonymous with resistance to authority figures. “The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react” states the official Obey Giant website, “to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker”.
Since then Fairey has spearheaded the campaign #MakeAmericaSmartAgain after noticing the “dumbing down of American media.” His decision to draw inspiration from the movie Idiocracy stems from its “harsh but necessary indictment of the anti-intellectual culture and politics that seem to become the norm more and more everyday.” His background as a street artist and his belief in the democratization of the arts has given him immense credibility, and few artists are capable of moving so fluidly between the street art scene, the gallery world and between popular culture and politics.
Shepard Fairey’s artworks take their graphic styles from the twentieth-century and his work is now in the prestigious permanent collections of the V&A Museum in London and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He is a popular and outspoken critic of deceit in the political class and whilst speaking to the Guardian newspaper recently he stated, “let’s face it, members of both parties have lied and appealed to the lowest common denominator. The point is that as voters we need to demand better from all the parties and all the candidates.”
Proceeds of the sale of Shepard Fairey’s artwork Idiocracy will go to the League Of Women Voters.
By Katja Taylor – FAM Editorial