Art for Obama’s Sake

Posted September 28, 2009 at 6:26pm

The “Barack appeal— that swept across America during the historic 2008 presidential election inspired contemporary artists from around the globe to put their brushes in motion.

Self-proclaimed “street artist— Shepard Fairey is no exception. Along with co-editor Jennifer Gross, Fairey has assembled “Art for Obama: Designing Manifest Hope and the Campaign for Change,— a collection of artwork from more than 100 artists who

found inspiration in the unprecedented grass-roots effort in support of a presidential candidate.

In a phone interview, Fairey said art and graphic design were instrumental tools of communication in now-President Barack Obama’s landslide victory. Fairey writes in the book: “A lot of artists reacted positively to him because the two things that artists really respond to and relate to — and which should be the essence of art — are authenticity and idealism.—

Although limited in text, the book documents iconic works by artists such as Ron English, who created “Abraham Obama,— a portrait that depicts a morphed image of President Abraham Lincoln that uncannily resembles Obama.

In addition to work by English, the book presents a spray paint and acrylic mural titled “Unity, 2008— by street artist El Mac. The mural is an impressive portrayal of a black hand clasped with a white hand in greeting, symbolizing unity.

It is interesting to note the range of artistic expression represented in the book. Margaret Cusack’s quilted portrait of Obama is an extraordinary masterpiece. Even an Etch A Sketch rendition of Obama landed a spot.

Amid all the artistic talent on display during the elections, it was Fairey’s “Hope— portrait that became the face of Obama’s campaign and an image of controversy. Fairey is in litigation with the Associated Press over charges of plagiarism infringement.

Fairey mentions this account in the book as well as candidly in a phone interview. According to Fairey, he used an AP photo as a reference but thinks his piece was transformative enough to stand on its own. He also added the need for artists to be free to make art of leaders. Fairey noted that not every artist will be granted the opportunity to meet important figures face to face and obtain photographs to use as references for their own art.

“It would be a very bad day for expression and for communication in general if the AP wins their case,— Fairey said.

But on a more positive note, Fairey said he thinks the book’s release is perfect timing because most of the voices in the media have been in angry opposition to Obama’s health care reform. The book, he said, will remind readers and art aficionados of how one man inspired a nation to paint its convictions and express its support in a very vivid way.

While Fairey took the initiative to document the cumulative artwork of many talented artists in such an influential way, he doesn’t view himself as the vanguard of Obama art but said he simply “sees himself as one piece of a powerful mosaic.—

Proceeds from the book will be donated to Americans for the Arts.