Obey!: The giant is coming back to PVD

It’s been 30 years since Shepard Fairey clipped a picture of Andre the Giant from the newspaper to show a fellow RISD student how to make a stencil. The resulting sticker spread across the country by way of the skateboarding community, and “Andre the Giant has a posse” mushroomed into an analog meme, years before that word entered the public consciousness.

This month Fairey will commemorate that anniversary by returning to PVD for a three-part event, organized in collaboration with AS220 and RISD. On Monday, October 21, Fairey will go back to his alma mater to present the lecture In Conversation with Shepard Fairey: Three Decades of Dissent, which will be followed by a conversation with RISD critic Tom Roberts (the event will be livestreamed on the RISD website). That night, Fairey will begin the four-day process of painting a mural on the Founder’s League building at 91 Clemence St.

On Friday night, Fairey’s retrospective exhibit Facing the Giant will open in a pop-up space at 233 Westminster Street. Facing the Giant will include 30 hand-painted multiples, new pieces that reference and remix memorable images from the street artist’s three-decade career. The show will feature “key works that highlight clear messages of empowerment.” The free event starts at 6pm, and Fairey will serve as the night’s DJ. The show will run through November 16, with open hours from Tuesday to Saturday, 12 to 6pm.


PVD is one of only nine select cities on Facing the Giant’s worldwide tour. Fairey himself reached out to AS220 to organize the event, hoping they could secure a wall for his landmark 100th mural. “When [Fairey] decided that he wanted to work with us to bring that to fruition, he asked if we could send him some source material to inspire the content of the mural,” explains Ruth Harvey, AS220’s director of development. “So we sent some information about our youth program and its ‘hate oration gets no toleration’ policy.”

The mural will depict the likeness and words of Anjel Newmann, AS220 Youth’s Director and an alum of the program. “Anjel grew up here and exemplifies so much of what AS220 stands for,” Harvey told me. “We felt that she would be the perfect person to be the subject of his mural, so we provided some quotes and images, and [Fairey] came up with this design which uses the words ‘creativity, justice, and equity,’…those values permeate our youth program, and, I think, are aspirational throughout AS220’s work, and for the city of Providence. We’re really proud that Shepard has embraced them as core to the mural.”

The artwork will not only display those values, it will help AS220 put them into practice. A limited edition silkscreen of the mural will help raise money for AS220’s All Access campaign, a fundraising effort to make their Empire Street space more accessible and sustainable. A portion of the proceeds from Facing the Giant will also support the campaign. “We are doing renovations to the entire ecosystem of the building,” said David Dvorchak, AS220’s communications director. “We were thrilled that [Fairey] offered to help us. He reached out at the right time.”

Fairey has collaborated with AS220 before. It was in 2010, not long after his iconic (and controversial) Obama HOPE poster became one of the most widely recognized and reproduced images in political history. That mural — the “Industrial Providence” design on Aborn Street — commemorated AS220’s 25th anniversary. “AS220 champions freedom of creative expression in this city,” said Harvey. “I think as a street artist that really resonates with him.”

Fairey also has plans to visit the AS220 Youth Program during his stay in PVD. “One of the amazing things about Shepard is the many ways he supports other creative people making a living,” said Harvey. “That’s another thing that resonates between his practice and what AS220 is here to do.”

Dvorchak expressed his gratitude to the PVD community for supporting this project, as well as to Fairey for using this key moment in his career to highlight the work of an independent and inclusive creative community. He said he hopes visitors will “walk a few blocks from the mural to see what’s been immortalized.”