Sheperd Fairey in Providence

RISD-graduate Sheperd Fairey has pasted and painted his art over many decaying (and not-decaying) Providence buildings

About this Property

Our Two Cents

We like to think that we crossed paths with Mr. Fairey at some point in the nineties, but we were a skate poseur from North Smithfield at the time. We barely went to Providence to hang on Thayer, and when we did, we hadn’t heard about the Watershed skate shop where Shepard worked for a time. We might have seen his stickers start to pop up by then, but really, his work only came into our consciousness in 1995 while we were out of state at college. Years later, he commands national attention – and at times, a lot of it.


One of Sheperd’s most well-known stunts was to deface a Vincent “Buddy” Cianci campaign billboard. While Cianci was running for re-election in the early nineties, he was a notorious figure. He had come out of jail and decided to run for Mayor again. He had been responsible for many positive developments in Providence but was also corrupt and violent in some of his dealings. He was the perfect target for Shepard’s “Andre the Giant” campaign.1 Sheperd was caught, and Buddy was furious. Still, he agreed not to press charges if RISD provided “counseling” for him.2 The news coverage was a huge lift for the lessor-known artist.

The other smart marketing move he made with his art early on was to make it available to anyone. That’s partly why it seems you can find his stickers all over the world, as anyone can send away for stickers to post themselves, or download a template to create their own stencils of the famous Obey face. It also makes it hard to tell who posts the art — the artist himself, or a fan of the movement.


The closest we got to Shepard was attending a print show at the Bush Gallery on Wickenden Street, run by local artist Mike Bryce (in the same space as the former Gallery Agniel 3). It was a two-person show with Peter Cardoso. We purchased a few signed prints for $50 that could fetch a few thousand now if we wanted to part with them — which we don’t.


Anyone who has ever been inside Max’s Formal Wear on North Main Street might have noticed a few drawings behind the counter that looked like the work of Shepard. The owner claims to have known him when he was a student at RISD. People have told me they have been hearing the same story for years, “Someday, he’s going to make me a new sign”. Well, in 2008, the first signs appeared. Then, one morning in late June 2011, we noticed the large billboard had been replaced with a glorious red, tan, and black design very much inline with Shepard’s style. Seems like his story was true.


As the Boston ICA was hanging a big retrospective of his work, Shepard came back to town and new murals of his began to pop up. Some were with permission, and some were not. Quick graffiti paste ups were mixed with bigger and more complex layering of his own work on top of itself, making a one-of-a-kind compositions.


A huge painting was undertaken at the back of AS220 and the neighboring Pell-Chafee Performance Center overlooking Aborn Street in 2010. This was Sheperd’s largest mural anywhere. Well-known local muralist Johann Bjurman – best known for his mural of the peeling building façade above on the J.P. Hanley Building – blocked out and painted Shepard’s site-specific design. For the August 14th Foo Fest, Mr. Fairey was in town to receive the first national “Free Culture Award” from AS220. A limited number of 18 x 24” prints of this mural were available for purchase.


Again in 2019, Shepard came back to town, largely for a 30-year retrospective of his work. He and his crew also seemed to leave prints up around town. AS220 and RISD collaborated with Shepard Fairey for the installation of his 100th mural, a 3-decade exhibit, and a lecture series in Providence. In Conversation with Shepard Fairey: Three Decades of Dissent was the lecture series while an exhibit called Facing the Giant: 3 Decades of Dissent was held at 233 Westminster Street.4

In the News

Boston NPR coverage of when Sheperd opened an exhibition on Westminster Street in 2019

With Plans For A Downtown Mural, Shepard Fairey Returns To Providence

by David Scharfenberg
Providence Phoenix | June 16, 2010 (abridged)

It is a rather unremarkable collection of bricks at the moment: an exterior wall at the back of Trinity Repertory Company’s Pell Chafee Performance Center in downtown Providence. But in the coming months, if all goes according to plan, that wall will host a mural designed by the world’s most famous street artist, Shepard Fairey.

Fairey, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, first won attention as a student with his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign, a cryptic and alluring bit of viral art that later evolved into an “Obey Giant” crusade.

Two years ago, he vaulted to national prominence when his stenciled image of Barack Obama – often appearing above the word “Hope” – achieved iconic status.

The artist’s return to Providence was born of a conversation between David Ortiz, development director for the arts group AS220, and communications consultant Andy Cutler on Cutler’s porch on a warm day last fall. Ortiz was searching for new ways to engage with supporters and raise money. And Cutler suggested reconnecting with the underground rock and art movement that animated Providence in the late 80s and 90s and was so central to AS220’s early work. The talk turned, inevitably, to Fairey. And soon, AS220 artistic director Umberto Crenca was chatting with the artist about limited-edition prints that could be sold to raise money for the organization and an even bigger prize: the mural. […] the project promises to be of significance: Crenca says the artist told him it will be his largest mural to date.

Fairey will not paint it himself. He is, instead, designing the work for a relatively modest fee of $5000. Johann Bjurman, a Rhode Island muralist and fine artist, will execute.

Crenca says he hopes the mural will pull suburbanites off the well-worn path to the Providence Performing Arts Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center; will disabuse them of the notion that downtown is still the seedy center of so many decades ago. “It’s a visual draw into the interior of the city,” he says.

But whatever its power, the mural will inevitably be tied up with Fairey’s provocative brand […]

Buddy skirmish

by David Brussat
Providence Journal | October 16, 1990

The saga of Vincent “Buddy” Cianci’s billboard, I am sorry to report, has been cut short. Literally. Cianci’s image was cut off his own sign at the bottom of Angell Street on the East Side, apparently with a saw, after a battle of wits with a local saboteur. The billboard reads: “Elect CIANCI Mayor. He never stopped caring about Providence.” Alongside the slogan ran an above-the-waist shot of the former mayor flashing a smile and waving, his coat slung over his shoulder. Nothing very remarkable about this — except that Cianci’s image seemed far too small for the sign.

One morning, observers noticed that overnight a drawing of somebody else’s face had been pasted over Cianci’s: It was Andre the Giant, the huge, Russian-born professional wrestler. Cianci’s shirt bore the label “7’4, 520LB” and the slogan was changed to “Andre never stopped caring about Providence.”

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wondered who did it, or what it meant.

Cianci’s counterattack was swift. By next morning the little Buddy was covered by a big Buddy, the same photograph blown up so large that his hand extended off the top of the billboard. Those of us who were paying attention to what seemed to be a form of guerrilla theater — a dirty tricks campaign]? — eagerly awaited the prankster’s next move. Many were certain it would involve Buddy’s hand, which begged to have some object put in it. I imagined that across the city people were wondering what this object would be.

We were disappointed. An enlarged copy of the drawing of Andre the Giant was superimposed over Cianci’s head, but the hand remained empty — and time went by. We awaited Cianci’s inevitable witty riposte; but instead, Cianci’s image was scraped off the billboard, and a few days later the illustrated part of the billboard was sawed off, signaling surrender (or perhaps victory) but certainly peace. Eventually there appeared in the paper a small story attributing the derring-do to a student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

The student claims he had never heard of Buddy Cianci, which makes it difficult to judge who won this battle of wits, if that’s what it was. I wish it had not ended so abruptly. An extended conflict between the forces of artful politics and political art could have sent a useful message regarding the utility of billboards to political campaigns: They can backfire.

Also this: When it comes to billboards, beauty and politics do not mix.

  1. Siclen, Bill Van. “RISD students re-create Cianci billboard altered by Shepard Fairey.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. breaking_news, 14 Feb. 2012. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 30 Jan. 2022. 

  2. “Billboard prank resolved.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. NEWS, 6 Oct. 1990, pp. A-03. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 30 Jan. 2022.#### 2001–2002 

  3. GRAY, CHANNING. “Bush Gallery to fill void left by Gallery Agniel.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Lifebeat/MOVIES, 9 Mar. 2001, pp. E-07. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 30 Jan. 2022. 

  4. Captured January 30, 2022 from