The “Hope” poster created for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign is perhaps the most iconic presidential campaign poster of all time. The poster is a stencil style portrait of the President with the word “hope” directly under the image. It was created by contemporary street artisit Shepard Fairey, who prior to the campaign had already made quite a splash in the art and design world.

Fairey was originally known for creating the Obey Giant image, which I’ve featured a link to above. Originally designed as a sticker, skaters would put it on their boards, street signs and around other skate spots. The image gained traction very quickly and was soon popular around the world. Fairey was heavily involved in the skateboarding scene at the time, and launched the Obey clothing line shortly after as a skate/surf brand. After his success with the Obey, he continued to make other designs for the brand and work on other projects. Often drawing from famous anti-government works from the past, he originally wanted the images from Obey to encourage people to question their surroundings.

Even after his huge success with Obey and Obama Poster, Fairey continued to produce art on the streets in the form of graffiti. He was arrested in 2009 in Boston for several warrants related to graffiti, and again in 2015 in Los Angeles for warrants related to vandalism.

Given the message behind most of Fairey’s work, I find it interesting that his most famous work is a campaign poster for the Obama campaign. To me, campaign posters seem to be the exact opposite of his message, encouraging people to vote for a certain candidate, and not necessarily question anything. For that reason, it surprises me that Fairey was involved with a project like this. However, today it appears that Fairey may now regret his support of the campaign. After Obama’s reelection, an interview with Esquire revealed Fairey thinks that “Obama has had a really tough time, but there have been a lot of things that he’s compromised on that I never would have expected. I mean, drones and domestic spying are the last things I would have thought he’d support” (Fairey)

The original Obey giant cant be interpreted in many ways, but one of the main takeaways I had from it was that part of questioning everything is questioning the government. The huge giant’s face looking at you the way it does sort of reminds me of Big Brother from George Owell’s 1984. I found it ironic that Fairey not only created this campaign poster in the first place, but that as a direct result of it he could be losing some of the freedoms that his original work wanted us to question if we still had.

As a supporter of the Obama campaign, I liked Fairey’s poster quite a bit and can remember wanting to purchase one myself. It’s interesting though how a work that an artist produces can sometimes have an effect that the artist never intended. In other words, Fairey began as a street artist, and just so happened to create an image for the Obama campaign that may have had a huge impact on the election. Fairey was able to do something that none of President Obama’s campaign strategists could, create the iconic image that would define the campaign. We have no idea if Fairey created the image strictly for aesthetics, or if he actually wanted to support the campaign. However, Fairey clearly was not a supporter of domestic spying, but upon making the image for the administration, he ended up indirectly supporting something he was against.

Somewhat of a side not, but Fairey has also run into several issues with his work relating to the rules of fair use. Some of his most iconic images, including the Hope Poster, have gotten him sued by the government and other individuals for using their photos or work from the past. I think this is interesting as the discussion continues over what is fair use and what isn’t. Fairey clearly draws from other works and photographs when creating his designs, however aesthetically he insists they are completely different. Lately the discussion involving copyright infringement and fair use has been centered around technology, but I think this is very relevant as well.

Esquire Interview:

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