His fame snowballed after he created the ‘André the giant’ image, with the attached slogan
commenting on the consumerist era of today and the effects of media, advertising and other methods of persuasion we are bombarded with. Statements like ‘OBEY’ accompanied the image.
He slathered walls, billboards, and advertisements in an incognito Banksyesque fashion, although he was not as lucky as Banksy, in that he was arrest in excess of 13 or so times. His social comment ‘Obey’ gave him the fame and reputation among the fringes of society, developing a cult following.
Pop culture, irony and Propaganda are the words I would use to describe his aesthetic. Sheppard uses appropriates images from media and photographs and converts them to an illustrated, painterly’ feel reminiscent of the style of the likes of Barbara Kruger and Andy Warhol. It’s simplistic and often only containing up to 3 or 4 colours, these images are easily reproducible, which is really good for his methods of dispersion, and also is a comment on consumerist mass-production.
Since his ‘André ‘ image, he has produced many iconic pieces. He prints on walls, murals, t-shirts, stickers, posters, and pretty much anywhere there is a blank surface. The ‘Obama’ poster is one of his most famous, predominantly because of the controversy that surround the release of the image, which led him to court after being sued by the photographer from whom he appropriated the image from without consent. But aside from that the whole idea of a Black American president, as a contrast to the bush administration and the shadow of years of war and lies, what better symbol of hope than this image. It is also interesting to note that initially this image was accompanied by the slogan ’Progress’ instead of ‘Hope’, but Shepard felt that Hope was a more positive message than Progress which could be mistaken for A socialist outlook. For theses reasons and the fact that he did in the end become president, the image was embraced in that time and remains an iconic picture of its time.
There have been many discussions in recent years surrounding the hot topics of copyright and Intellectual Property. In this Post-Modern era, where appropriation and artistic licence are generally accepted and encouraged, where do we draw the line? I agree with Shepard when he said “It’s about making a work that is inspired by something pre-existing but changes it to have a new value and meaning that doesn’t in any way take away from the original—and, in fact, might provide the original with a second life or a new audience”. Without open minds, and broader opportunities for artists with this aesthetic and message style, we would not have visual access to these confronting and thought-provoking imagery. Or like anything made illegal in this ever –tightening rules of our time, things go underground, have penalties and become more dangerous…… I guess it’s not all bad.