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Political Artists Awakening in Unprecedented Numbers
Published on Thursday, October 14, 2004 by the Associated Press
Political Artists Awakening in Unprecedented Numbers
by Paul Chavez

President Bush has unwittingly become a muse for a growing number of artists inspired by the war in Iraq and the upcoming presidential election to make political statements through their craft.

Painters, sculptors, graffiti artists, guerrilla poster makers and aspiring artisans have been showing an unprecedented level of political outrage, said Carol Wells, director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles.

A poster by artist Mere One hangs on a wall during a political art exhibition held at Track 15 gallery in Santa Monica, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 1.
AP photo
Guerrilla poster artist Robbie Conal, who has been plastering Los Angeles and other cities with political posters for 18 years, said a younger generation of artists has been turned on by politics. Political street posters this year have been "popping up four times as much as anytime since I’ve been doing it in L.A.," the 60-year-old Conal said.

"I really think the Bush administration’s atrocities have really inspired this layer of the creative community to express themselves," he said. "And I guess we should thank him for that."

Nothing to date has been created on the scale of Pablo Picasso’s 1937 apocalyptic mural Guernica," considered one of the most powerful anti-war statements in modern art. But the amount of political art being produced recently has been unprecedented, even exceeding the anti-administration views displayed during the Vietnam War, Wells said.

The movement has spread to the Internet, where a recent posting on bulletin boards in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Portland, Ore., urged artists to participate Oct. 13 in a day of protest by displaying political art in public spaces.

Sculptor Richard Serra also has turned to the Internet. He illustrated a poster titled "Stop Bush" that features a haunting drawing of a hooded prisoner from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Another poster injects Bush’s head in the macabre Francisco de Goya painting, "Saturn Devouring His Children."

Serra, a minimalist considered one of the world’s greatest living sculptors, has placed the images at and encourages their download.

Dozens of politically inspired posters, bumper stickers, decals and postcards were featured recently at an art exhibition at Track 16 Gallery in the politically liberal beach city of Santa Monica, Calif. The more than 350 people who showed up Oct. 1 packed the gallery and snatched up artwork created by Conal and other artists.

Political art, most relying on turns of phrase, lined the walls of the gallery during the "Put Up or Shut Up" exhibition and a long line stretched from a booth where the artwork was given away.

Artists displayed, or handed out, fliers, stickers and posters that read: "Iraq Is Not Vietnam, It’s Worse," "Vote No To: Greedom & Demockery," "Fear Is Our Gross National Product" and "Elect A Madman, You Get Madness."

New York City artist Nino Rodriguez had a poster at the exhibit, pulled from the Internet, that had the heading, "No Child Left Behind," a reference to the Bush administration’s educational reform act. The poster’s photograph showed a tearful young boy at a funeral next to a woman holding a folded U.S. flag.

Andrea LaHue, a Los Angeles-based artist, said she generally paints "flowers and beautiful things because that’s what I like to surround myself with."

LaHue, 39, departed from her norm while watching coverage of the 2003 bombing of Baghdad and created paintings that led to the "CNN Series." The paintings, framed in black to evoke a television, became postcards. One image from the 19-piece series shows the nighttime bombing of the Iraqi capital as it was broadcast in green ultraviolet light.

"I was overcome with how beautiful it was," La Hue said. "It looked like green Christmas lights going off over Baghdad, when in fact it was very much the opposite."

The "CNN Series" is a facetious look at "how we’re just inundated with images and we’re just supposed to swallow them up and not look any deeper," she said.

Conal, who co-hosted the political art exhibit, recently joined the Post Gen art collective and collaborated with other underground artists to create anti-Bush posters. He said his poster started with a black-and-white oil painting of Bush with text of "Read My Apocalips." The phrase is a "built-in punning reference" to the broken promise made by President Bush’s father not to raise taxes, Conal said.

"As for the apocalypse, that is what I feel he is leading us toward," Conal said. "The image behind him is taken from a TV image of the bombing of Baghdad."

Conal was joined in the poster project by Shepard Fairey, who has had a long-running street campaign featuring an image of Andre the Giant and the word "obey." Fairey’s poster shows Bush cradling a bomb and thinking, "Or Was It Hug Babies And Drop Bombs?"

The third poster in the joint project was created by graffiti artist Mear One. It’s called "Let’s Play Armageddon" and depicts a joyous Bush holding a paper airplane made of the Bill of Rights with a mushroom cloud in the background. On the Net:

Please Vote:

Post Gen:

Andrea LaHue:

Track 16 Gallery:

Center for the Study of Political Graphics:

Make No Mistake:

© Copyright 2004 Associated Press


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