Dave Kinsey, 32, and Shepard Fairey, 33, are sk8tr boi-ish fine artists with a savvy approach to merchandising (posters, T-shirts and the like) and a lot of street cred - partly because they do a lot of work in the street. RISD grad Fairey, for instance, has spent more than a decade papering urban landscapes with "Obey Giant" posters, featuring the image of the late wrestler Andre the Giant. Pray tell, why? He can get unexpectedly heavy in a manifesto and call it an "experiment in phenomenology" a la Martin Heidegger, but it's also, of course, a way of branding himself. And if you can brand yourself, you likely can brand anything. So, seven years ago, the two started a visual communications company, semi-subversively known as Blk/Mrkt Inc., now based in Los Angeles, "as a way to fund our fine-art careers and explore various design and creative challenges though experimentation and experience," says Kinsey, an Art Institute of Atlanta grad. Besides the kind of work you'd expect - album covers and promotional materials, Burton snowboard designs - Blk/Mrkt has scored corporate points with clients like Earthlink, Levi's, Coke, Pepsi, adidas and Ford. They're getting several fingers into the mainstream youth market pie, with work on the Mountain Dew and Pepsi Max logos, and just recently they even did an update of the Hawaiian Punch label, hardly a Dew Dude favorite, despite its pugilistic aura. "We explored a lot of crossover ideas in manipulating the consumer's existing view of the brand," says Kinsey. "What if this was a hip-hop street brand or a completely new drink?"
Asked about his influences, Kinsey mentions David Bowie; Saul Bass, "a master of logos and crossover design and illustration"; Tibor Kalman, "for his awareness and strategic visual communication techniques"; and Dr. Seuss, who's "tweaked." Kinsey himself is sufficiently tweaked to be unintimidated by notions of selling out, if indeed such a concept is even relevant anymore in a culture that appears to have nearly achieved the Complete Corporatization of Everything. "We feel our cred is honored by the underground due to our roots, fine-art presence and crossover abilities," he says. "We've always believed in just doing our thing. Our fine art is kept pure by residing in the places it needs to be to maintain that." Yes, they're gallery guys, and they even have their own gallery - but Kinsey insists "we want to bring art back into advertising and marketing. We want to build brands and images that are memorable while still keeping the integrity of our fine art and presentation. Content and creativity over consumption." Obey, corporate giants!