Andre returns to College Hill

Propaganda Dept.
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 15, 2012

DÉJÀ VU The replica billboard.

If you found yourself on Benefit Street this past Monday, you could have been forgiven for wondering if Providence's own rascal king had made a stunning return to politics: there, behind the First Baptist Church, was a large "Re-Elect Cianci" billboard.

But, on closer examination, you would have found something askew. Plastered over the former mayor's visage: the round, sturdy, inscrutable face of the late wrestler Andre the Giant.

This, you see, was a replica of one of the city's great art stunts: the 1990 defacing of a Cianci billboard that stood just on the other side of the church, at North Main and Steeple streets.

The perpetrator, of course, was a RISD student by the name of Shepard Fairey, who would ride his "Andre the Giant" meme to a career as a world famous street artist.

The re-creation, this past week, was part of RISD student Julian Marshall's senior thesis: a short film, tentatively titled Obey the Giant, on Fairey's undergraduate days.

I spoke with Marshall on the set, after watching a couple of cops tackle a stand-in for the young Fairey for the cameras. He was hush-hush about the plot and he asked that I keep the whole project "on the DL" for a couple of days.

But here's what the filmmaker did tell me: the film, made with Fairey's blessing, is a fictionalized version of the billboard stunt that launched an artist.

In an illustration class dubbed "Style and Substance," Fairey was given a fortune cookie and told to illustrate the message inside: "to affect the quality of the day is no small achievement."

The media storm that followed his billboard prank was, undoubtedly, affecting. And so, in a smaller way, was Andre's brief return to College Hill this week.

Related: Cambridge author Caleb Neelon traces graffiti's hidden history, Old school, Photos: Shepard Fairey, Z-Trip, Chuck D at the ICA, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , graffiti, STREET ART, Andre the Giant,  More more >
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