Shepard Fairey’s career started in 1989 when he reproduced an image of the wrestler André the Giant on a sticker. He has since dedicated himself to the viral dissemination of his own work. Recruiting legions of likeminded youth to participate in the defiant act of pasting stickers illegally in public space, he has made his imagery ubiquitous.
Marilyn Warhol, 2000, is characteristic of Fairey’s work. The bold and simple design combines André the Giant’s grotesque face with Marilyn Monroe’s glamorous hairstyle taken from Andy Warhol’s classic 1967 print, an intentionally humorous gesture that reminds me of MAD magazine’s irreverent use of the character Alfred E. Neuman. Fairey simultaneously emulates and pokes fun at his hero Warhol, who pioneered the conversion of imagery pulled from popular media into art.
Ironically, Fairey has a complicated history with appropriation, a strategy that has been deployed throughout art history. He has faced criticism and legal action: in 1994, he received a cease-and-desist order from the company that manages the wrestler’s estate that prohibited Fairey from using the name “André the Giant” and limited his use of the likeness. Fairey responded by adding the word “OBEY” to images of the face streamlined to form a graphic icon. Marilyn Warhol may be one of the last instances in which Fairey used the original depiction of the wrestler’s face. I can’t help but wonder if Andre will be remembered as a professional wrestler, as Fezzik in the children’s adventure film The Princess Bride, or as Fairey’s image on prints and stickers.