I can't remember any other politician in recent memory who has inspired artists as much as Barack Obama. From the moment I saw the Shepard Fairey "Hope" poster, I knew that Hillary Clinton's presidential bid was toast. Just as she had inspired t-shirts eight years ago that gave an indication she was gaining enough buzz to enable her to win the Senate seat, I knew that Obama had captured the imagination of the general public when his visage turned into iconography. But for all the artists who have been jumping on the Obama bandwagon of late, there's one artist who has been dedicating his time to making art about the politician long before it was trendy. Ray Noland, aka Cro (Creative Rescue Organization), presented a blink-and-you'll-miss-it show at the HVW8 Gallery last weekend. Tag along as I take you on a quick-run through the inspiring exhibition.
The Chicago-based artist began his Obama pieces in 2006 when he was bed-bound after a severe biking accident. Moved after reading Obama's first book, Dreams of My Father, Noland set about making the works that comprise his Go Tell Mama! project. Since then, he's traveled around the country hitting up primary campaign spots with his multimedia/multiplatform installations. Obama himself even came down to his Raleigh exhibition. Says Noland: "He came to the Raleigh show with David Axelrod and Michelle Obama," he said. "They stayed for a while. They seemed overwhelmed. There were 20 cameras and paparazzi and they were looking at a show of Barack Obama-inspired work. They mentioned stuff they got a kick out of—like, the Michelle Obama piece. They really loved it." Here's the artist himself, Ray Noland (middle).
It is not a proper art opening without a DJ and a bucket of free beer.
The show offered just a taste of his work. The most memorable of the portraits features Obama looking straight ahead, as if he's looking right into your eyes. It's bright and colorful, and incorporates the campaign's own official insignia in the letter O.
The graphics are clear and eye-catching, and some of the language on the pieces read like slogans—so it's not surprising to learn that Noland spent some time working in the advertising world, as well as cutting his teeth designing rave and hip-hop flyers in the 90s. Now that Obama has moved into the general election, Noland is calling his roving art project the "Got Next!" campaign. It's filled with basketball metaphors and imagery (a tip to Obama's love of the sport). The show at the HVW8 Gallery on Spaulding spanned several formats, including animated video (a collaboration with Rebecca Berdel), his own photography, and dramatic, black stencil art burned into the walls.
It should be mentioned that 10 percent of the proceeds are donated to the campaign; the rest of the funds keep Noland's traveling show going. Sadly, this was just a two-day affair that's already left town as you are reading this. However, if you are headed to the DNC in Denver this month, you can see him at a giant collective Obama art show, Manifest Hope. Bonus: Here's an interview with the artist as a young man.