(From the Chicago Tribune Online) In Chicago, street artist Ray Noland created a series of eye-catching posters, including a print of Obama playing basketball on the White House lawn. An Ohio man drew a portrait on an Etch A Sketch. An Iowa woman carved a bust out of chilled butter. Others fashioned figures from aluminum […]
In Chicago, street artist Ray Noland created a series of eye-catching posters, including a print of Obama playing basketball on the White House lawn.
An Ohio man drew a portrait on an Etch A Sketch. An Iowa woman carved a bust out of chilled butter. Others fashioned figures from aluminum foil or carved likenesses from driftwood. One Seattle artist produced a picture made entirely from Marshmallow Peeps.
It’s enough to make you wonder if there is anything that hasn’t been used to create a portrait of President-elect Barack Obama. Are there children working with, say, mashed potatoes? Or portrayals made from pancakes?
“Now that you mention it, we actually have seen pancake portraits,” said Ken Harmon, 26, of Oakland, who runs The Obama Art Report (obamaart report.com), a daily blog that links to hundreds of Obama-inspired creations. “One of my other favorites is an oil painting of Obama riding naked on a unicorn,” he said, before adding proudly, “I actually own that painting.”
Move over, Leonardo da Vinci; Americans are celebrating the election of Barack Obama by creating an odd and amazing assortment of portraits of the president-elect. And with a yes-we-can attitude, they’re using every imaginable medium, knitting Obama sweaters, painting lawn murals and folding paper into intricate Obama origami.
The groundswell of Obama art will be front and center Jan. 17-19 during the inaugural celebrations in Washington, in a 200-piece exhibit called “Manifest Hope: D.C.” Some submissions will likely be serious works, including oil paintings, sculptures and pen-and-ink drawings. But others will be strange and whimsical creations—such as the handmade “Barack-in-the-Box.” The toy, sculpted from polymer clay and featuring a hand crank, plays “You Light Up My Life” before the top springs open and out pops a tiny version of our soon-to-be commander in chief.
“Every time I think that I’ve seen it all, somebody turns in something else,” said Yosi Sergant, 32, producer of the “Manifest Hope” show. So far the offerings, which are coming in at the rate of 20 to 30 submissions a day, have included an Obama-themed quilt, a puzzle portrait and even an Obama bicycle.
“I’m surprised daily,” Sergant said.
The boom in Obama art began in mid- to late 2007, when the then-junior senator from Illinois was still slugging it out for the Democratic nomination against Sen. Hillary Clinton. Back then, street artists were churning out pro-Obama posters, stickers and stencils, and plastering them on every building and telephone pole within reach.
As Obama’s campaign gained momentum, established artists joined the fray. Shepard Fairey, a graphic artist, in January 2008 released a now-ubiquitous print of Obama above the word “hope.” Robert Indiana, who created his iconic “LOVE” sculpture in the 1970s, unveiled a similar Obama-inspired sculpture in August. And Stan Herd, a pioneering earthworks artist, transformed a Dallas parking lot into a 100-foot-portrait of Obama using rocks, mulch and bricks.
“I wanted to be part of this grass-roots effort,” said Herd. “And you can’t get any more grass-roots than making art on the ground.”
During the campaign, Obama strategists moved quickly to leverage the movement, carving out a space for art on the Web site barackobama.com and recruiting artists to create official campaign materials. All of which helped encourage the deluge of photos, paintings and other representations of the Obama visage.
The Web site etsy.com, which allows people to sell handmade crafts, lists 2,700 Obama items for sale, including soap carved to look like the president-elect and an Obama-as-angel holiday ornament (51/2 inches from loafers to halo). In Chicago, street artist Ray Noland created a series of eye-catching posters, including a print of Obama playing basketball on the White House lawn. A student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago constructed a life-size, papier-mâché sculpture of Obama as Jesus, wearing flowing robes and topped with neon blue halo.Was it the largest outpouring of political art in our nation’s history? Impossible to say, said William L. Bird Jr., curator of the political collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. “Artists have always flocked to national figures,” he said. But the Internet gave the movement a powerful method of distribution. “What’s new is the means of disseminating an image.”
Most Obama art tends to idolize the now president-elect, noted Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke University who studies behavioral economics. In these dark economic times, “people need a hero,” he said. And because the public isn’t fully acquainted with Obama, they tend to project their hopes and expectations onto him. “When you don’t know a lot about a person, you have an easier time painting them any way you want.”
Hence works that depict Obama as Uncle Sam, Obama as the farmer in Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and even Obama as Obi-Wan Kenobi of “Star Wars.” Many have drawn Obama as Superman, tearing off his shirt to reveal a chiseled chest bearing the letter “O.”
But such glowing imagery has stoked a backlash, including a series of parodies of the Fairey print. Instead of “HOPE” the spoof posters read “NOPE” or “DOPE.”
If the Obama administration founders, that backlash could grow. “These artists are not afraid to say what they think,” said Harmon, who runs the Obama Art Report. “Should Obama not live up to their expectations, I’d expect these artists could very well begin to create pieces about their disappointment.”
Experts expect future Obama artwork to take a more realistic approach, such as the stiffly posed, grim-faced presidential portraits on our currency.
“Sadly enough what happens is that, as we learn things about people, we get disappointed. I think this will be one of Obama’s early challenges. He’s coming into office during a very difficult time,” said Ariely, the Duke professor. The more idealistic Obama artwork will disappear in early 2009, he predicted, when Obama boosters come to terms with the economic and political challenges facing the new administration. “The Superman aspect will disappear when reality sinks in.”