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Political Portraits

2008 is a defining year in political history with the culmination of months of campaigning, rhetoric and staging by the three final contenders for the next President of the United States: John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But which candidates truly mastered the art of portrayal? Their official campaign merchandise is a telling visual portrait of how they wish to be represented.

mccain-logo1.pngBeginning with McCain, he expresses his strong military background and personal heritage through his logo and with merchandise including a nautical lapel pin and Irish buttons. McCain also appeals to coalitions and branches of the armed forces through a variety of apparel. Perhaps the most noticeable difference from the other candidates is that McCain chooses to employ few images of himself. Clinton and Obama both have artists’ renderings of themselves for posters. McCain only uses unaltered photographs of himself on merchandise.

Next up is Clinton with her surprising portrait with “rising sun” found in the accessories section of her official campaign Web site’s online store. According to the site, this original Hillary Clinton print, designed by Hollywood screenwriter Tony Puryear (”Eraser”), is an exclusive to The posters (there are two versions) are “Union printed in USA using 100% wind power and vegetable-based inks.”

“Senator Clinton is a beautiful, strong and inspiring woman, and I wanted to make a poster that reflected that. Rather than putting a slogan on the poster, I chose to put her name, because she is surely the only leader at this level with whom we are all on a first-name basis, and to me, that reflects her personal warmth and connection with ordinary Americans.” – Tony Puryear

One can’t help but reference the resemblance to Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist party in China, and his popular depiction in front of a “rising sun.”

Clinton assumes first name recognition with most of her campaign design and merchandise, including her logo of “Hillary for President,” noting her cause, above a strip of the American flag. Her merchandise varies from simple yard signs to the more peculiar “Hillary Cares” piggy banks and goldtone glitter pins.

obama.jpgFinally, Obama, noted in the press for consistent campaign design and use of Gotham typeface, doesn’t shy away from the man in the mirror. His logo features an “O” (Did somebody say “O”prah?) or circle, a horizon, flag and his name and the year 2008. Obama is the only candidate to include the year ’08 in his logo. Perhaps the others are planning to run again.

Obama also features an “Artists for Obama” gallery where art and merchandise donated to the campaign by artists are for sale. Most striking is the limited edition Obama “CHANGE” portrait created by contemporary artist Shepard Fairey. Obama’s Web site says to stay tuned for additional prints in the days ahead.

Again, one can’t help but recognize some strange similarity to the popular depiction of communist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. I’m not saying Clinton or Obama should be compared to the likes of Mao or Che in character or governing style, but perhaps there’s a connection in the artistic depiction of power and authority that strikes the same chord.

After the election is over, the president is selected, and the years pass, it will be interesting to see what visual portrait of the 44th U.S. president history paints. For a look back on past presidents, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., holds the record in its permanent exhibition America’s Presidents. You may even find Hillary’s portrait around the corner.

Filed under: Current Events, Design, Marketing

10 Responses to “Political Portraits”

  • avatar
    Tara Says:

    Noelle, thanks for the Puryear background. I’ve been wondering who? and why? and it was really buggin’ me! Between the Hillary and Obama poster, I’d say the difference is that Fairey very intentionally (and skillfully) sampled an historical style; Puryear seems to have subconciously sampled one from his memory, producing comical results.

    The Chairman is dead. Long live the Chairman!

  • avatar
    Eric B. Says:

    As a former Presidential candidate, I understand the importance of the art/commerce aspect of a successful campaign. You want to make sure that you create a memorable image, one that can stand the test of time. We tried to relay quite a bit of information about what my campaign stood for, yet in a subtle way. For example, I decided to include my running mate (he’s the one that nominated me for President) in the campaign art, as a way to show party unity. We were more than just politicians running for elected office; we were the leaders of a movement in what we perceived as somewhat of a “golden age” (hence, the gold font). The track suits were stylish, yet substantive. Our business acumen was portrayed by the images of the almighty dollar (2008: it ain’t what it used to be :^{( ). Sure, we were wealthy, but it was a direct result of our hard work (blood red font). Our opponents attacked us for what they saw as a “materialistic” image. We scoffed at that thought! We were proud of the fruits of our labor, and the jewelery represented that. It says, “If you want it, you can have it.” It shows our patriotism (eagle on medallion). Additionally, the gold represents the motherland, and out willingness to exploit it for the better of American greed (it WAS the ’80s, after all). Our campaign manager, Marley Marl, insisted that we looked confident, yet dead serious. All in all, I think he did a great job. When we got back the proofs, he made us, made us clap to this.
    Unfortunately, the campaign ultimately failed, as we ran for the Oval Office in 1986. Heads weren’t ready.

    In case you missed it, here is our Political Portrait:–Rakim-Paid-In-Full-289451.jpg


    Eric B. For President 1986

  • avatar
    inFidel Cashflo Says:

    i think the Che reference is on point. Fairey is saying Obama is more than simply a change agent. The thought of Barack Obama as President of OUR country is so revolutionary, that it will scare the status quo. and that might be exactly what we need in our current state in the international scene. It’s a way to lead by example, learn from our own mistakes. the reason that Che Guevara is such an iconic figure is that he was fighting the oppression of his people despite incredible odds. If you overlook the guerrilla warfare tactics, that is. While Barack Obama is aiming for a much broader audience, the imagery works on multiple levels. just glad McCain didn’t do anything w/ a guy known for “OBEY”

  • avatar

    Obama’s posters I think are the most catchy and iconic of any presidential campaigner’s propaganda. The fact that it is so well designed and ties in with his website, logo, etc. shows what a well run campaign he has.

  • avatar
    Bob Says:

    Hillary as Chairman Mao? ROTFLMAO! Give the Republicans even more ammunition, why don’t you?

  • avatar
    emit flesti Says:

    they have already started to make these a little more acurate

  • avatar

    I like Shepard’s Change/Hope, but the effect can be done just by clicking the posterization button on Photoshop. On the other hand Tony Puryear’s “Hillary” is fantastic. And like Hillary, there more to this poster than meets the eye. He uses the classic sunrise, btw used for decades in Americana Heartland imagery (ala a peach crate), to act as a backdrop for one of history’s most iconic figures. It’s subtle but the effect gives her an old school Madonna-like glow. Maybe because she’s a woman it lends itself to the religious aura rays of light given by artists for centuries to saints. The image of Hillary was shot by rocker Bryan Adams (“Have you Ever Really Loved A Woman?”). It was taken for a breast cancer book called “American Woman.” Hillary’s “man to the moon” goal for 08′ was to eradicate breast cancer in our lifetime. Mostly, I love that Puryear uses the candidates green initiatives and policies: union workers, wind power and vegetable dyes, to make it. The final composition is a layered commentary on a historic subject. Everything about the poster has meaning…And it’s pretty.

  • avatar

    Lastly, I think the images in all the campaign art posters say more about how the artists see their candidates than about how the candidate see themselves. And thusly they have conjured an “ideal” visual representation of that heroine/hero. For that reason all these images will endure.

  • avatar
    shoffs Says:

    Presidential campaigns always produce a new influx of artwork but the surge of art that has come from this campaign and election has surpassed any that I can recall in recent history. Sure there are those iconic Fairey posters that no one will ever forget but more than that, there are emotional and deeply profound works of art created by artists that we have never heard of that we may never hear from again. There are pieces that we haven’t seen yet and may never see. I have seen incredibly deep and touching artworks that capture Obama and everything he stands for and I have seen the most memorable and popular Obama posters that the rest of the world has seen. I love them all.

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