Artist Shepard Fairey’s Iconic Obama ‘Hope’ Portrait Is Headed for the Auction Block

One of the three original Barack Obama portraits produced by Shepard Fairey in 2008 will head to auction next month.

Pixelated red, blue and white portrait of Barack Obama with word "HOPE" shown underneath
Shepard Fairey, HOPE (Barack Obama), (2008). Courtesy Heritage Auctions, HA.com

In the early months of 2008, street artist Shepard Fairey created what would become a defining image of Barack Obama’s presidency. His HOPE portrait of the then-senator quickly became a key symbol of the Obama campaign, appearing on 50,000 posters and hundreds of thousands of stickers.

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Despite its mass reproduction, only three original versions of Shepard’s image exist. One will be up for sale with Heritage Auctions next month with an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 and a starting bid of more than $300,000. “We are honored to offer this important work at auction—this image defined an entire movement and Barack Obama’s presidency,” said Taylor Curry, Heritage’s director of modern and contemporary art in New York, in a statement.

Fairey first made a name for himself while attending the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1980s, where he created stickers depicting wrestler Andre The Giant alongside the phrase “Obey.” The project, which emphasized themes of conformity, went viral and eventually inspired the name of Fairey’s subsequent Obey Clothing brand.

A new take on the presidential portrait

In 2008, Fairey—a fan of then-candidate Obama’s platform—created the Hope portrait as a form of grassroots activism. It depicted an image of Obama in stencil form with Americanized hues of red, white and blue. Due to the artist’s use of an Associated Press photograph in the portrait, he later settled a copyright lawsuit with the news agency.

The work originally portrayed Obama above the word “Progress.” This was later changed to “Hope” at the request of the Obama campaign, which quickly adopted the image as its logo. Subsequent versions included phrases like “Change” and “Yes We Did,” with Fairey even being tapped to create a similar image for Time magazine’s Person of the Year cover in 2008.

One of the three original stenciled collages was purchased by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2009 ahead of Obama’s inauguration—an unusual move for the museum, which typically acquires portraits of presidents when they leave office. Another was sold by Heritage Auctions in 2022 for $735,000 and remains in private hands. The edition hitting the auction block next month was first sold in 2008 at an Arts for Life benefit auction to a private collector before fetching $600,000 at Sotheby's in 2020.

Fairey, meanwhile, has continued to use his art for advocacy. He’s created artwork for the Occupy Wall Street movement and donated works to exhibitions protesting arms conventions, in addition to making portraits of young activists for a campaign from the nonprofit Amplifier that distributed posters across 1,000 U.S. school districts for educational purposes.

His 2008 HOPE portrait will star in Heritage’s Modern and Contemporary Art Auction on May 14 alongside artwork by artists including Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Gordon Matta-Clark and Sérgio Camargo. Other highlights include Fernando Botero’s marble Cabello sculpture and a bronze study from Arnaldo Pomodoro, which have respective high estimates of $700,000 and $300,000. “This small and exquisite auction will emphasize the best representation of national and internationally important artists, emphasizing Heritage’s dedication to showing important and unique works,” said Frank Hettig, the auction house’s vice president of modern and contemporary art, in a statement.

Artist Shepard Fairey’s Iconic Obama ‘Hope’ Portrait Is Headed for the Auction Block