We might know Shepard Fairey for his murals, his OBEY posters, his Obama Hope poster from 2008, the list goes on, really. He has found himself at the zeitgeist of pop culture, and to think “Shep,” as he’s known, or just Frank (his birth name) started out as a graffiti artist, is truly a success story, making his way up from the skateboarding scene, through the ranks of the art world to global fame.
He is a fashion designer, too, as Fairey, owns and operates OBEY Clothing, since 2011. It’s a skate slash streetwear brand, with classy knits, patterned sweaters, wide-leg pants, hoodies, scarves and hats that convey a sense of uprising—like an extension of the artist’s own activism.
Last night, he launched his new timepiece with Hublot in Los Angeles, which is a North American exclusive. The limited-edition timepiece, with the long-winded name (the Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph All Black Shepard Fairey) features his signature mandala star at the heart of the watch’s elegant face, and is graced in a sleek, tar black design. The new timepiece retails for $25,200 and is limited to 50 pieces.
Fairey, who has an exhibition on at Dallas Contemporary in Dallas Texas, speaks to Forbes about his new watch, inspiration from Blondie’s Debbie Harry and black spray paint.
This is your fourth piece designed with Hublot, correct?
Shepard Fairey: Yes, in the sense that it’s the fourth color iteration of the second watch. I did two color variations on the first watch, this the second color variation. I don’t know if that’s two or four watches, but there’s subtle differences from this one and the previous version. The etching on the casing is more subtle. Everything is more subtle. It’s erring on the more understated side. The way I dress, which is usually all black goes well with it.
It’s also punk?
The funny thing is that the mandala is a hippie, spiritual symbol but the way I like to execute everything is that it must have a little bit of that punk side, whether it’s the color combination, or a bit of patina, rips, that sort of thing. The matte black on this feels very punk rock. A guitar spray-painted, type of thing.
You’re also a fashion designer, besides your artwork. Does your style inspiration come from Blondie singer Debbie Harry? You collaborated with her on a fashion line.
Yes, Blondie was one of the first bands I loved as a 10-year-old. The more I got to know about them, the more I appreciated their approach, coming out of the CGBG scenes, the Ramones, the Stooges, but also, loving 1960s girl groups. They had this punk side of their music combined with this melodic side. Debbie is so sophisticated in her fashion sense, mixing high and low. That street meets elite sensibility is something I have always liked, how you can make sophisticated things feel less daunting, and elevate the gritty things, and have them work in harmony. It takes a shrewd understanding of things to pull that off. Blondie did that well.
Are you doing that with this timepiece, too?
The way I look at it, is that this is an art piece. What Hublot is doing design-wise, some people would just throw some graphics on something and otherwise, everything under the hood would be stock. But Hublot is going to every length they need to bring an artist’s vision to life. We went through a few concepts on what was possible, technically. Then I refined it to what was inherently aligned with what I do well. We found a solution. The mandala camouflages the watch mechanism itself. There’s real harmony between the two. Harmony is a big theme. Punk rock for me was always about being disruptive and disharmonious when necessary. I do like it when something can feel like, at a glance, its special, yet it’s the way it should be.
Everything you do is D.I.Y. (do it yourself), in a way?
The D.I.Y. techniques, like stenciling, collage, screen printing, are all in place, just more sophisticated. That’s not unprecedented, people like Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg and Barbara Kruger have all worked like that. I like to make sure people understand the empowering lineage of my work. I want more people to be creative. Unlike some artists who use what I think is a very pretentious strategy of saying “if you don’t understand it, it’s because you’re not sophisticated enough,” or “I’m not telling you my secrets because I’m the only genius,” a lot of it is bravado and not really justified. I’m like “Hey, these are tools anyone can use and I’m confident in the way I use them, and I don’t feel threatened by sharing these tools with others.” I know how much it meant to me, whether it was skateboard culture or early hip hop, or punk rock—like Joe Strummer saying “what are you waiting for? Go out there and use your voice”—this is what I’m still trying to promote.
The irony is that a watch like this is not accessible to a lot of people, it’s too expensive. But it’s one facet of how I’m trying to engage with as many people as possible. Even if someone is just looking at this online, if it’s leading them to other facets of what I do, I think there’s a lot of value.