Among hundreds of tags, bubble letters, and a few other stickers applied to a random bathroom wall in Hollywood, California, was the crudely produced paper sticker that read, Andre the Giant has a posse. The sticker didn’t stand out any more than the others, but I knew that it was part of something important. It was personal, cool, and as an enthusiastic 12-year-old coming into my own identity, I wanted to understand it and contribute to it.
After that first encounter, I began noticing the same stickers everywhere. There were also big wheat pasted posters and stencils, all containing the same message: I am a living member of the city, not a subject.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the work of this artist, Shepard Fairey, and the work of others who expropriated public space to display their art, had a huge impact on my education. Instead of passively listening to teachers at my school and what the media said about graffiti, street art, gangs, or anything else that was in my reality, I went out to experience the truth on my own terms. Years later, I understand that this proactive approach to understanding the world is the spirit of the creative, the ethos of the artist. In a recent post on his instagram page, Shepard did a good job expressing this point down into a quote:
I think that the power of art is that it can impact people emotionally and lead them to addressing things intellectually, that otherwise, they would just ignore.