Pioneering French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat counts the infamous Banksy among his many admirers. Using stencils instead of stylized lettering for graffiti, Blek was one of the first true street artists. Originally known for stenciling a giant graphic image of a rat all over Paris, which to him symbolized both freedom and the dissemination of art through the city as if it were the plague, in recent years Blek’s work has become more political, focusing on the homeless, the environment, and other social causes. His posters of kidnapped French journalist Florence Aubenas helped raised public awareness of her situation, pressuring politicians and journalists to work harder for her release.
Expanding on the legacies of artists such as Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, Shepard Fairey’s practice disrupts the distinction between fine and commercial art. A major artist of the street art movement, Fairey rose to prominence in the early 1990s through the dispersion of posters, stickers, and murals, related to his Obey Giant campaign, which yielded an international cultural phenomenon. Fairey’s iconic poster of President Barack Obama was adopted as the official emblem associated with the presidential campaign and encapsulates a number of recurring concerns in the artist’s work, including propaganda, portraiture, and political power.