An Interview With Shepard Fairey

The artist behind Obama's Hope poster talks us through his favourite pieces

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Shepard Fairey is perceived to be one of the most influential contemporary street artists around.

Born and raised in South Carolina, Fairey began his career as a child, placing images onto t-shirts and skateboards. Wider recognition when Fairey – the man behind the OBEY... sticket campaign – created the famous "Hope" poster for Barack Obama during the 12008 US presidential campaign.

We spoke to the artist ahead of his appearance in a dedicated street-art episode of CNN Ones to Watch. 

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What would your advice be to somebody starting out in the world of street art?
What I think it takes to break through as a street artist is a tenacity and a willingness to go there, put work up and have it cleaned. Also, you must be prepared to have it covered by other artists and not be too precious about it – you have to accept that street art is ephemeral. Of course, finding good places and making imagery that is unique and sets your work apart from other people is really important, but tenacity is crucial.

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Do you still view street art with the same passion/excitement as you did when you first began?
I do because it’s one of the most democratic outlets for art and it rewards people with talent and courage as opposed to more elitist forums that reward connections and resources.  I consider myself a multi-platform artist – not just a street artist – but the audience I found through street art has created many of the opportunities I now have on other platforms. 

One of your most prominent works was your Hope poster for Barack Obama; if you were to do another one, would you do it differently – and if so, how?
I wasn’t commissioned to do the poster; I did it on my own as a piece of grassroots activism. I wouldn’t do something like that for Obama now, I would do what I’m already doing – which is creating pieces of art as tools of grassroots activism based around specific issues.  I hoped that Obama would be a delivery vehicle for change on issues I care about, but I never expect one politician to be the solution to the diverse array of issues I care about. 

What are your plans for 2015?
I have a museum show in Malaga, Spain, a mural project in Berlin, and a fine art show in New York City in 2015 – so I’m pretty busy.

Shepard Fairey appears in a dedicated street-art episode of CNN Ones to Watch, Friday 12 December at 1630 GMT & Saturday 13 December at 2030 GMT, on CNN International www.cnn.com/onestowatch

Scroll through the gallery to see the 5 pieces of street art Shepard Fairey believes to be the most influential

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