Obama and the Audacity of Hope

Taymaz Valley

Obama won, hooray! Four more years of the same. No seriously. Nothing in American political structure changed this week. The Senate stayed with the Democrats; Republicans kept the House of Representatives and Obama stayed at the top of the food chain presiding over an unfriendly, uncooperative system thanks to the conservatives who have vowed to stop every single bill he puts forward.

So we are back to where we started four years ago, but not as hopeful and exhilarated because let’s face it, Obama didn’t do an extraordinary job as President. Soldiers are still dying overseas; the economy is predicted to fall into another recession; unemployment hasn’t bounced back; Guantanamo Bay is still operating; the Health System hasn’t been reformed and it is still run by the insurance companies; and al-Qaeda seems to be getting stronger even without bin Laden.

In short, all the promises of “hope” and “change” have now turned into “we can still turn it around together” with a hint of uncertainty. Nevertheless most Americans agreed that Obama is better than Mitt Romney and they are allowing him another four years in the office. One couldn’t help being reminded of all the excitement and euphoric celebrations that occurred this same time four years ago. Most countries breathed a sigh of relief at the re-election of President Obama, well apart from Israel and Pakistan.

The fact is that Obama has a quality to him that allows people to relax and not think about packing and moving to a bomb shelter like they felt with George Bush. Obama has managed to inspire many artists with his honest to goodness, intellectual talk, liberal views, and family man approach. Painters, photographers, illustrators and sculptors from all over the world have depicted him in a favorable light. He has an aura of sophistication that comes naturally to him and which makes him an ideal candidate for art.

Legendary artist and illustrator Shepard Fairey who started that whole Obey label scene, made Obama into art accessible to the masses. His “Hope Poster” could be seen everywhere four years ago, on T-shirts, hats, mugs, mouse pads, bags, and I even saw people getting it as a tattoo. The image became so iconic and popular that the Obama Campaign gave direct permission for distribution of it through various platforms. The mixed-media painting done later by Fairey was acquired in 2009 by Smithsonian Institution for its National Portrait Gallery.

The image was a genius take on the President and brought fame to Fairey who now sells pieces for thousands of dollars, and has gone on to sign contracts with fashion houses and superstores who are looking to cash in just by putting his name on their products. The “Hope Poster” however brought a bittersweet ending for the artist, as it turned out the image which was used had been taken by the freelance photographer Mannie Garcia and belonged to the Associated Press.

The Associated Press took Fairey to court for illegally using a copyrighted image and actually won this September. The court has found the artist guilty and has sentenced him to two years of probation and 300 hours of community service. The AP’s CEO and President Gary Pruitt commented: “After spending a great amount of time, energy and legal effort, all of us at the Associated Press are glad this matter is finally behind us. We hope this case will serve as a clear reminder to all of the importance of fair compensation for those who gather and produce original news content.”

Another artist who deserves a mention here is the British painter Lizzy Watson whose portrait of Obama manages to convey a truly contemporary feel to the art of portraiture. Lizzy Watson studied at the University of East Anglia and is one the college’s most versatile artists. Her Obama brings a contemplative expression to the features of the President, making him complicated and likable at the same time. Her method of drip painting manages to open up the image and make it more inviting to the viewer. It is a unique modern take on a traditional genre.

I couldn’t end this article without adding my own take on the great man, and as I work mainly with digital images, I have here presented a lighthearted work which I think paints the President as a cool character who can also indulge in some fun: “Obama Bill”.

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