My Sticker With Andre
Postering with the posse in London town

Carrying an industrial size bucket of paste and a courier bag crammed full of his trademark graphics, San Diego-based graphic artist Shepard Fairey recently hit London to make his presence known in advance of his debut UK exhibition, The Giant Rock 'N Roll Swindle at The Chamber of Pop Culture.

See also...
... by Chris Campion
... in the Scope section
... from December 1, 1999

Fairey is the man who appropriated the ugly mug of dead wrestler André the Giant and has spent over 10 years obsessively propagating his image in the name of a vaguely-sinister cult with but one message: "OBEY." He seems blissfully unaware that André is completely unknown in England, where Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks are the champion fat, dead, and ugly wrestlers.

GettingIt joined him for a few hours as he hit the trail to spread the gospel of GIANT.

Central London, 12 p.m.

Ironically, we're opposite the famed St Martin's School of Art when Shepard spies the first spot suitable for his artistic vandalism -- the entrance to a disused toilet in the middle of a busy road. But no sooner has he slapped the paste on the wall than two belligerent undercover council officials race across the street flashing lime-green ID cards and yelling "Stop!" They've obviously watched one too many episodes of New York Undercover. Veiled threats of prosecution are uttered. Shepard plays dumb and, defeated at the first turn, we slope off back to the van in search of a fresh location.

Farringdon, 12:30 p.m.

Shepard successfully sticks a sequence of nine André faces on a blank wall at an abandoned gas station. Then he spots the perfect location for an even larger installation on a stretch of wall opposite, which lies directly below a flat roof some 20 feet up. People waiting at a nearby bus stop are agog as he shimmies up a post, balances precariously atop it, and leaps in a cavalier fashion across dead space onto the roof before hauling the bucket and posters up behind him by rope. Unfortunately, another symbol of authority, the owner of the lot, has stepped up to foil the scheme and stares up imperiously like a surrogate André as Shepard sheepishly climbs down.

Old Street, 2 p.m.

We hit the insufferably hip sector of London's East End. The main landmark here is a huge roundabout with what looks like the skeleton of a lunar command module at its core. In actuality, it's a vast advertising hoarding. Shepard eyeballs a sizeable granite bunker at the side of the road, in full view of the revolving traffic. We build a makeshift platform using a discarded section of iron railing laid across two appropriated road signs and Shepard gets to work pasting a large 9-by-9-foot image of André. The platform is dismantled and we step back to admire his handiwork before returning to our transport, only to see the flashing blue and white lights of a police car parked right behind it.

Arrest wasn't on our schedule. Stuart, our designated driver, a stoic individual who's day job is the delivery of a free listings magazine called Don't Panic, boldly offers to deal with the situation. He casually approaches the cops while Shepard takes a back street to ditch the bucket. We wait on a street corner until Stuart gives the all clear. It was a false alarm. The cops were on the beat in search of activists behind the anticipated anti-capitalist protests on November 30 and have mistaken the stoic wrestler's glare for deviant anarchist propaganda. Stuart somehow convinces them that it's merely the work of a visiting American artist. Amazingly, they put a call out to Scotland Yard to tell them that "OBEY" is OK. André now appears to have official countenance. At this rate he could run for mayor. Shepard is bemused, to say the least, by the laissez-faire attitude of the British Bobby. After all, he says, NYPD cops will gleefully lock you up for pasting a single sticker in public.

Kings Cross, 3:45 p.m.

After cutting a swathe through Liverpool Street and Islington, depositing subliminal "OBEY" graphics on every available surface, we head towards Kings Cross where Shepard wants to show off a placard put up the night before that he's particularly proud of -- high on the side of a building looking over a crowded intersection. But to his horror, a commercial stickering firm has declared a turf war and rudely defaced the vast graphic with a lurid yellow poster. He claims to have beaten the pros at their own game, stickering them into submission on more than one occasion. And, as we leave Shepard, he vows to sneak back to the spot in the dead of night to reclaim André's coveted position above the city streets.

Chris Campion has never been mistaken for André the Giant, but he refuses to give up trying.