Fezzik commands you

Shepard Fairey’s “Rose Soldier,” screenprint, 2006.

Shepard Fairey’s “Rose Soldier,” screenprint, 2006.

Graphic artist Shepard Fairey is more than willing to admit he walks a tightrope between commercial design success and guerilla-art credibility, but it helps that his most ubiquitous work retains a formidable anonymity more than 16 years after its first appearance. His “Obey Giant” stickers, featuring the unmistakable visage of wrestling’s most beloved behemoth, began as a pet project at the Rhode Island School of Design but since have been plastered in public spaces around the globe.

The pieces to be featured at Fairey’s upcoming show at the Toyroom won’t be limited to Andre’s big punum, but the message remains the same, and that’s where it gets interesting. While the works center around one single imperative piece of text, “Obey,” they actually have no objective message at all. What you choose to obey, or not to, is for you to decide.

Fairey’s skill lies in the presentation of works that are open to interpretation in a style that recalls the most pedantic of arts: propaganda. He brilliantly captures the gorgeous un-subtlety of Soviet (and Maoist) poster art by referencing the iconography (raised weapons and military badges), the dynamic perspective and the classic three-color scheme of red, black and white.

Far from being one-note exercises in art history, the works draw upon a number of other influences to form a very distinctive personal style. His use of montage is as much a nod to Kurt Schwitters and Robert Rauschenberg as it is to master propagandist Gustav Klutsis, and Fairey obviously keeps a keen eye on conventional advertising, being the mirror image of his own art: the means identical, the intention reversed. The end results are striking—bold, eye-catching prints for your subjective viewing pleasure. They bring to mind another, possibly more appropriate, command: “Enjoy.”