His name is Shepard Fairey. And while he may not be a household name to some people, I bet you’ve seen his work before. Shepard is a world-renowned artist responsible for creating a street art phenomenon where the aim is to promote self-discovery and awareness through ubiquitous iconography. His rise into the current popular mainstream culture is tied to his “HOPE” poster, which was used extensively during the presidential campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama. His artwork is distinctive through its contrasting color palate and intricately designed images of historical figures, pop icons, and historical propaganda.
Shepard’s visit was timed to complement the 10th grade Humanities curriculum at Webb, in which students have been examining idealistic revolutions of the 20th century that ultimately grew into authoritarian, somewhat Orwellian regimes. Sophomores have been engaged in ongoing discussions about the appeal of these revolutions, and the efforts of governments to shape their citizens' understanding of these issues via propaganda.
This was the first time we’ve had a person of Shepard’s celebrity status on campus, and let me just say that Shepard Fairey has some rabid fans here. The buzz for the week leading up to his visit was palpable. A large percentage of students absolutely adore his work, his Obey clothing line, and his message. I know of two students, at least, who went out and bought new Obey t-shirts just for the occasion.
But it went beyond just pure fanaticism; the students soaked up his words with a voracious appetite. “I really like how he stuck with his passion for creating art, even when he wasn’t very financially successful at first,” Kevin Guardia ’13 said. “It was really great to hear someone speak who felt like a contemporary of ours; it helped all of us make a deeper connection. I also really enjoyed seeing his first ‘Giant’ sticker because it gave me a great perspective on how much he’s grown as an artist.”
Shepard discussed heady topics of the Iraq War, September 11th, and gas-guzzling SUV’s. While not all of the political opinions Shepard espoused were well received by every single attendee, nearly every adult I spoke to afterward remarked on how much this presentation reminded them of the guest lecturers they heard in college. He spoke with strong conviction and with a foundation of facts. The creative way that Shepard expresses his political positions through beautiful and engaging artwork is a great example of one of Webb’s central educational philosophies of “unbounded thinking.”
As Jenny Sim ’13 said in her introduction of Shepard during the assembly in Mudd: “He is an artist who blurs the line between the political, the sarcastic, and the beautiful. He encourages us to question everything, and directs our critical attention to the role played by propaganda, popular culture, and the mass media in controlling what messages we will, as a people, obey.”
On behalf of The Webb Schools, I would like to send my profound appreciation to Shepard Fairey, and his wife, Amanda, for spending the better part of an entire day with us. Thank you so much for coming to Webb!
The Inland Empire Daily Bulletin covered the event and you can read that article by clicking here.