Print Politics

More Obama Artwork, Brought to You By Upper Playground

Portraits, print ads, what's the difference?

The tagline is not meant to be facetious. The essence of good marketing, and good election campaigning, is a blurring of the line between art and advertising, and between entertaining an audience and 'selling' the voter-consumer. A perfect example off this is found in the efforts of Upper Playground and their artistic collaborators, who offer a series of prints on their site that are both campaign print designs and serious works of portraiture in support of Barack Obama.

The series begins with this piece by Coachella Valley artists The Date Farmers. They created the poster for campaigning in Texas prior to the primary there. As you can see, this image draws on the history of political and radical postering in both Mexico and the U.S. Obama's style of dress, the turn of his mouth and the furrow in his brow, recall famous images of revolutionaries pasted on street corners the world over.

Still, though, there is nothing dated about this image. The Date Farmers bring their own very stylish, very modern sense of how we communicate to the traditional framework of the design, which is what these guys do best.

Si se puede!

The next image comes from graf artist The Mac. You've probably seen this one up on the streets as it is being used heavily pre-primary in many states. The design is a soon-to-be; not reminiscent of traditional election campaign postering, but of the trendy new school that is thusfar the exclusive property of the Obama campaign.

The Mac's line-painting style works perfectly here, suggesting depth and texture of experience beyond what you would generally expect from a candidate – the opposite of the ultra-slick smooth talker. However, as in Mac's other, similarly styled pieces, the lines also seem to suggest an enigma. By bringing to mind both a maze and a puzzle, the portrait asks, “who is this person, really?”

By creating an image that draws the eye to question, Mac took this design beyond advertising into the realm of art. Portraying a candidate as a puzzle may break the PR rulebook, but from an artist's perspective, it shows fearlessness, and a capacity to accept uncertainty and imperfection, rather than pretending it doesn't exist.

More recently, Upper Playground featured the work of the incomparable Sam Flores. Flores' design, like Mac's, features the Obama keyword, Hope, but that's where the similarities to traditional campaign print design end.

Like the work of Christopher Cox, Flores' rendering of Obama captures his humanity, and – dare I say it – frailty. Like the concept of 'Hope' itself, this depiction of Obama is both powerful and vulnerable. His huge hands open a drawer into himself, from which emerges doves and butterflies – themselves ephemeral symbols of the world's tenuous capacity for good.

The winged symbols, like the crowd flocking around Obama, will be immediately recognizable to any Flores fan as characters pulled from his other works. With heads always bowed and eyes cast downwards, Flores' creations seem almost afraid to look out at the beauty all around them, lest it shatter. This makes them the perfect audience to Obama's campaign, which in the fabulousness of its momentum, in the 'audacity of its hope,' can also be terrifying.

(And do I detect a tongue-in-cheek dig at the hero-worshippers, hands clasped in prayer, here? Hmm…)

Released at the same time as the Flores print, this unusual offering from Munk One is probably my favorite original portrait of Obama from this campaign season. Munk One is best known for bringing out the truly scary in his subject matter, so predictably, in his rendering of Obama, there are no traces of the candidate's softer side.

Munk One brings us the other Obama, the fierce, dauntless fighter. He's not scary in this image, at least not in Munk One's usual Night of the Living Dead sense, but this is definitely the side of Obama that strikes terror into the hearts of his opponents. And in the roughly scratched out word – HOPE – at the bottom of the image, we see nothing tenuous or ephemeral, but something solid and unavoidable – the writing on the proverbial wall.

I can see why this image is being distributed heavily on billboards and bus shelters throughout Pennsylvania. It is truly badass.

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