Illustrators vote Obama
Obama’s support of illustration has brought it back to the forefront of the political arena.
Who can forget Shepard Fairey’s image of Obama taking over social media sites and becoming the key image of the president’s campaign in 2008? Illustrations have seen a rebirth in the political arena mainly due to their extensive use in American politics and specifically from the Obama terrain.
Shepard Fairey’s stencil portrait of Obama in red, blue, and white with the word Hope across the bottom has become an iconic image in the world of modern politics and beyond. Fairey originally produced 350 copies that sold out immediately (with the word progress) after which it was picked up by the Obama campaign becoming its visual core. The circulation of the image was rapid from posters, to stickers, to mugs and t-shirts, while its presence online went viral. But why did this image become so quickly so iconic (apart from the handsomeness of its sitter)? It provided a different outlook on Obama imagery, which up to then was heavily based on photographs, while at the same time it continued a tradition of politically charged art. The poster aesthetically shares common elements with socialist realism in its glorifying and emotive effect with a populist overtone. Fairey’s style is very current, he has played a seminal role in street and graffiti arts, and it engaged the demographic that the Obama campaign was targeting (which is the demographic that can make images or stories become viral). Attesting to its importance the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery acquired Fairey’s hand-finished collage in stencil and acrylic on paper with the word hope. Fairey’s success gave a new breath to political illustration and opened a new creative door for the Obama campaign. Fairey was further commissioned to create a similar version of his image for The Times 2008 person of the year.
Illustrations have become key in the Obama communications strategy with grassroots programmes like Design for Obama dedicating a whole website to artists who wanted to be involved in the political process (it has become one of the biggest websites dedicated to illustrations of a single political figure); Obama has always been the pro art & culture candidate so it makes sense that artists would flock to his cause. Working on this project is award winning visual designer from Greece, Charis Tsevis, who has used his mosaic style to highlight the core values of the democrats’ administration via the face of its leader: change, peace, hope, unity, liberty, democracy, citizenship, the American colours and flag. Of a similar nature is his illustration for Democrats Abroad where with custom techniques and scripts he has collated images of real supporters of Obama to make up the president’s portrait – now that is a real political message that reaches at the heart of politics, the voters. In another grassroots project, The Obama Portrait Project, Marion Bolognesi New York based watercolour illustrator takes a more romantic route to Obama’s personality along with different perspectives from other illustrators.
Illustrations of Obama have graced numerous magazine covers with Steve Wilson for Pride, Dylan Roscover for Time magazine, and Craig Redman of Craig & Karl for New York Magazine quickly becoming one of the most talked about political illustrations; it does help that Obama is an inspirational leader. Following Obama’s support for gay marriage Pride commissioned Steve Wilson to create an illustration of the president. There was no need for taglines to communicate the message just an image where colour and visual blend clearly translates into the right message. Roscover’s image for Time entitled “Burdened” focuses on a different dimension on the presidency and puts across the many problems that the Obama administration is facing. The illustration includes 12,680 characters and uses the typefaces from the Obama campaign and branding. After Obama’s recent re-election New York Magazine commissioned Craig Redman to create in his own pattern style an illustration that celebrated the win and highlighted the progressive and positive outlook for the future seen through the colour choice and facial expression of the two times president.
Throughout the ages art has been used as means of communicating a message and has become a very powerful tool in politics. Politics and art have always shared a special bond and illustration, through the Obama campaign, seems to have found its political voice in the 21st century. We are not claiming that illustrations elected Obama but maybe if his opposition used them more it would have fared better!