We spent last weekend on a surf trip in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties north of Los Angeles. On the way back to LA, as we drove sun-kissed and exhausted along Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a., PCH) and we neared scenic Santa Monica, we spotted the mysterious, blank gaze of Andre the Giant on a busted-up retaining wall built into the side of the cliffs.
Artist Shepard Fairey and/or his minions/interns/assistants had struck this beautiful stretch of beachside paradise with his classic and iconic street artwork, a poster often called “Obey” or “Obey the Giant,” but originally called “Giant Has a Posse.”
This is the meme-marketing experiment-as-design-turned-art that launched the career of Shepard Fairey back in the early 1990s. For a few years, the extreme close-up face of late professional wrestler Andre the Giant, as he was known, was everywhere in the form of this artwork put up on walls as wheat-pasted posters and stickers. That visage of Andre has found it’s way woven into many other pieces of artwork by Fairey since then.
But since the mid-2000s, it seem Andre’s face has been seen less and less, as the subject matter and focus of Fairey’s work has gradually shifted toward more politically-tinged realistic representations of people in his own distinct and adorned graphical style.
So this poster on PCH was a bit of a surprise for its being the original, classic “Obey” design and its scale, as well as its unusual location. Santa Monica doesn’t have a lot of illicit street art, and along this part of PCH there are few potential blank canvases for such artwork to be put.
The retaining wall is perfect, but it’s hard to reach given its situation on the side of a cliff on a side of PCH that has no easy pedestrian access. Plus there’s the neverending stream of speeding highway traffic to contend with. There was a chainlink fence blocking access to the spot too, but the fence has been mangled down freeing up a path. Putting up such a large piece of artwork here isn’t easy.
The context of Fairey’s artwork is unusual too. It’s not the usual cityscape setting. Aside from the dilapidated wall, the artwork is on the outward appearance, set in an un-urbanized environment — tucked into a beautiful coastal bluff flanked by palm trees, plants, dried brush and multi-million-dollar beachfront mansions. On viewing, there’s a brief moment of cognitive dissonance.
Soooooooo … full marks to Mr. Fairey!