Starting in the 1980s, Barbara Kruger can be said to have pioneered a certain kind of design aesthetic that has gone on to find use in many sectors of the art world, as well as commercially. Kruger’s work Repeat After Me follows a convention common to much of her work: a black and white photo collage among text carrying a message that informs the viewing of the image, and communicates political commentary concerning it or concerning a broader narrative that the image fits within. Kruger often produces designs which support and elucidate Feminist ideology, or aim to bring about questioning of Capitalism or status quo.
In this work, Kruger uses her convention of bold oblique Futura type in white against a red background. The image displays a sort of puppet holding an optical illusion, possibly meant to hypnotize the viewer. The phrase ‘Repeat after me,’ matched with the puppet imagery can be read as a skewering of social expectation, in that a capitalistic society expects us, the viewer to be like puppets who repeat the behavior of the past to the benefit of some other party.
Much in the same vein, and borrowing not only aesthetic style but also common themes in their content, is graffiti artist and designer Shepard Fairey. The inspiration from Kruger’s work can especially be seen in his most popular work, first proliferated in 2002 but repeated often since then, Obey Giant. The most obvious inspiration from Kruger is the use of oblique bold Futura. While Fairey’s usage is typically in all upper cases versus Kruger’s mix of cases, his work also hold in common convention the frequent use of compositions restricted to white, black, and red.
Fairey doesn’t stop short of reference to Kruger simply in aesthetic style though. The theme of his quintessential work is also similar to much of Kruger’s, and especially Repeat after me. While Kruger’s work displays a puppet trying to hypnotize, Fairey’s work shows a stylization of Andre the Giant in Big Brother fashion imploring us to ‘OBEY.’ The message is similar in both pieces: give in to the status quo and obey. Both Kruger and Fairey use similar design conventions to turn the obfuscated messaging of the status quo into overt statement through satire. Another inspiration Fairey draws from Kruger is the use of the figure as an element looking out at you. Kruger’s work often shows people looking out to the viewer with messaging that can either be viewed as being communicated by the person or seen as a comment on their situation in the design. Fairey’s work, especially the Obey Giant has itself gone on to become a commodity in apparel, stickers, or other ephemera. In this way, Fairey’s work can be seen as carrying the torch that Kruger lit, not only criticizing a Capitalist status quo through satire, but becoming a deeper part of that narrative through commodification of the satire into product.
Works Cited & Referenced:
Kruger, Barbara (American conceptual artist, designer, and writer, born 1945). Repeat After Me. 1985-1994. http://library.artstor.org.ocadu.idm.oclc.org/asset/SS35436_35436_19550994. Web. 28 Mar 2018.
Fairey, Shepard (American graphic artist, active late 20th-early 21st centuries). Obey Giant. 2002. http://library.artstor.org.ocadu.idm.oclc.org/asset/SS35436_35436_19383200. Web. 28 Mar 2018.
Eskilson, Stephen J. Graphic Design: A New History. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn, 2012.