Cover of Time Magazines “Man of the Year” Issue Hitting Newsstands December 29, 2008, Artwork by Shepard Fairey

Gracing the cover of Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue is no small thing and while it may have seemed obvious that President-elect Barack Obama would win the honors for 2008, it was a nice surprise that Time staff chose street artist Shepard Fairey to illustrate the honors. When it comes to mainstream news publications, actually Time Magazine has covered the so-called “underground” street art scene before including pieces on WK Interact, Swoon, and others in a photo essay starting way back in 2005. Having caught onto the wave of support Shepard’s stickers and poster known as the “Hope” image captured among the new generation of voters, tapping Shepard to create something similar for their “Man of the Year” cover will also provide Time with some new cred.

According the Shepard, “It got so the Hope poster and the stickers that I first made, if you had one it meant you connected with a peer group, meaning you’re down with the cause.” Shepard’s work from the world of street art has become an excellent symbol of the power of viral marketing. Many businesses have tried to tap into this power of inspiring the masses through street art, hiring various street and graffiti artists for advertising and marketing campaigns, and viral components for the last few years. However, it’s a hard thing to do. Authenticity is key. And this is what Shepard knows only too well. The guy has been arrested many times for illegal postering or stickering but his reasons for displaying his work in various urban environments has never been to make money but simply to send a message. Or, as he puts it, “The message is the medium.”

Shepard Faireys “Hope” poster

In an interesting interview on Time’s website (although the narrator is about as dry as an old-school education film), Shepard Fairey talks about how he came to creating the Hope poster and his work in general. The Hope poster started as a short-print run of 700, until it quickly became an in-demand commodity, not to mention that Shepard and his street team ran out after “displaying” them in various parts of the country. They then printed another 300,000 and officially contacted the Obama team who later endorsed the image and gave it a thumbs-up.

The image, like the Time magazine cover, showcases Obama in a red, white, and blue collage effect and is also very much iconic of Shepard’s work in general. For the background, Shepard chose symbols such as dollar signs, oil rigs, and windmills, and other things that represent our society today as well as symbols of hope for the future.

“What I try to create is something that can become a meme, that can be replicated fast, and this is what I do.”

As for the Hope poster and Time Magazine cover which hits newsstands December 29, 2008, Shepard states, “This may be the most iconic image of my life.”