Welcome to whatsgood. This is the first instalment of a 5-part weekly series of articles. We’re going to deep-dive into the origins of some of the most influential streetwear brands worldwide.
Formally established in 2001, OBEY Clothing has been built on Shepard Fairey’s “worldwide street art campaign”. What does that even mean? The OBEY Clothing website goes on to explain counterculture and political propoganda in commercial spaces. There’s really more to this story than a design student creating an “absurd” sticker. The secret lies in the choice of words — absurd sticker.
Inspired by, poster artist Robbie Conal’s, midnight guerrilla plastering of LA, Shepard developed and conducted an experiment that changed modern-day streetwear. And yes, we’re of course talking about the André “the Giant” Roussimoff stencil. Supposedly created in less than 5 minutes, with the word OBEY under it, his concept was to reclaim corporate advertising spaces. Now this part of the story isn’t very different from other street artists. Fighting establishment as well as unwanted messaging on trains, buildings, etc. lies at the heart of street art and graffiti culture.
Tell me something I don’t know, right?
Other than the blatantly obvious messaging of the word “OBEY”, the stencil really didn’t have a meaning. In fact, in the words of Shepard himself
“I don’t think it’s great art”.
He wanted to test how far he could take an absurd, meaningless image using the channels of traditional advertising and propaganda. Basically take something provocative, don’t provide any context and place it everywhere imaginable. Essentially, the initial concept could be considered a joke.
“Just planting something out there that’s provocative and not explained and is all over the place. It does something. I really thought that it was something nobody had exploited to its full potential outside the realm of advertising […]”
How deeply does our subconscious pick up on the mass-advertising we encounter daily, is really what he was testing (globally repeated in UK, Singapore, Japan and even Australia) — and he even did this with a stencil he wasn’t particularly crazy about himself.