Since its seems to be a growing trend over the past year or two for high end department stores and boutiques to carry trendy, expensive OBEY t-shirts, The Blot felt it was important to enlighten readers of where this OBEY clothing line really came from. Especially since the clothing line is based on one of my favorite artist’s work. But, to find out what these OBEY shirts are all about you have to go back to the company’s roots.
The company that many refer to as OBEY is actually named OBEY Giant, and the giant in question just happens to be one of the greatest pop culture icons of all time. You see the OBEY Giant movement began with a simple sticker created by Shepard Fairey in 1989. The picture I’ve created above is actually a spoof of the original OBEY Giant sticker known as "André the Giant has a Posse.” André the Giant, as I’m assuming most of you know, is one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. He also did some acting and is fondly remembered by most as the gentle giant Fezzik in The Princess Bride.
From what I’ve read, the movement came out of the skateboarding subculture Fairey was a part of growing up in South Carolina and later as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. (Link) Sometime in the early 90’s the WWE, who owns the trademark for the name André the Giant, took notice of the stickers, which were quickly spreading across America, and threatened to sue Fairey for copyright infringement for illegal use of the name. Because of the threat of a lawsuit, the street art campaign morphed from "André the Giant has a Posse” to “OBEY Giant” and more recently to the ubiquitous “OBEY.” As Fairey’s style evolved, the imagine of André has also shifted from the full head shot of early stickers, to the more iconic square outline of his face, to now in Fairey’s more recent pieces of artwork using his facial outline in smaller designs like the star pictured here as a part of a larger image.
It has been reported that Fairey added the OBEY slogan as “a parody of propaganda, but also a direct homage to the ‘OBEY’ signs found in the 1988 cult classic film, They Live, staring Roddy Piper” and directed by John Carpenter. (Link) It really is amazing how I can always tie things back to Rowdy Roddy Piper, don't you think? As the graffiti art campaign continued to evolve, the posters and stickers have continued to take on more of a propaganda look with the outline of André’s face being moved to the background in much of Fairey’s more recent work.
For a better explanation of what the OBEY movement is really about, I defer to the company’s website ObeyGiant.com. In the company’s own words, “The OBEY campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. The first aim of Phenomenology is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The OBEY campaign attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the campaign and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with OBEY propaganda provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail. The medium is the message.”
If anyone is interested in finding out more about Fairey and OBEY Giant, I recommend roaming around ObeyGiant.com and definitely check out this article. Also, for a really great comprehensive gallery of Fairey OBEY artwork and additional information on the propaganda art campaign go to TheGiant.org. And remember, to become an official member of The Blot’s Posse keep coming back to The Blot Says… every weekday and don’t be afraid to post a message.