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My Billboard with Andre

January 23, 2000|Stephen Lemons

Like some melancholy deity desperately seeking worshipers, the woeful, homely mug of the late French wrestling champ Andre Roussimoff, a.k.a. Andre the Giant, has for the last two years quietly observed Los Angeles from utility boxes, construction sites and hijacked billboards. So it comes as no surprise that a tour abroad was in order.

To hype his recent show at the Chamber of Pop Culture in London, Shepard Fairey, a 29-year-old graphic designer from San Diego and Andre's acolyte, plastered posters all over London urging Brits to "Obey" the giant.

The prankster concocted the campaign in the late '80s while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design. "It was pretty amazing that this guy who was so ugly and so big had taken his misfortune and turned it into a lucrative career," says Fairey of Andre's appeal.

How lucrative a career it is for Fairey is another matter. Andre's estate threatened suit over trademark infringement when Fairey named his Web site "Andre the Giant" (he now avoids the phrase altogether), and he's done jail time in Philadelphia and New York for his guerrilla art activities. He says that cash made from selling silk-screen posters goes back into the campaign. So is it worth it?

"I'm poking fun at the inundation of advertising by making an absurd thing ubiquitous," Fairey says. "A lot of people sit back and let themselves be spoon-fed culture through TV or whatever. I feel like I'm a good example of what you can do if you put the time in." *

Shepard Fairey's Web site is http://www.obeygiant.com.

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