Much has been promised and proven about young people’s involvement in the Obama campaign–from kids going door-to-door to voter registration drives on college campuses. Far away from that, though, there has been another outpouring of political participation on walls, abandoned buildings, scaffolding, posters, stickers and subway trains around the country.
Brooklyn-based Clark Clark, as he likes to be called, has spent the entirety of 2008 following one word around the country: “VOTE.” He paints it the way Robert Indiana painted “LOVE” four decades ago, a square box of letters that turned into as indelible a representation as any for the movement of that time. Clark has adjusted the sixties optimism of “LOVE” for a new generation–one that he feel has a candidate to believe in. While he started out nonpartisan, Clark began to incorporate a pro-Obama message into some of his work. After all, the very act of encouraging political participation with spray paint, of glorifying something so mainstream with a renegade art form, has been a phenomenon unique to the Obama candidacy.
Branching out from New York City, which he saturated with thousands of stencils, Clark spent his summer on a road trip. Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Colorado, Florida–these swing states were among the twenty-seven that Clark hit with his pen and message. “VOTE” is on farms in Nebraska and brick walls in East St. Louis. Clark also had 200,000 stickers printed with his motto shipped to friends all over the country. But he is just one of many who have decided to turn their paint toward the November election. (Clark’s work can be seen online.)
“I can’t think of another period in time where a candidate has inspired people to create so much positive graffiti,” Clark said. “In Denver, at the conventions, the number of young artists that came out for Obama was out of this world.”
In Denver, artists took over an empty warehouse and 10,000 people stopped by to view a completely different perspective on how and why people support Barack Obama. Titled “Manifest Hope,” the event brought out graffiti legends, including CRO–a Chicago artist who set up the website gotellmama.org (“I’m for Obama” is the implied end of the phrase). CRO has also been on the move, covering 20,000 miles behind his work, which ranges from detailed renderings of Obama’s face to the image of the official campaign slogan dropping through a basketball net. “Nothin’ but Next,” reads the caption. His very personal brand of political expression has generated 50,000 Youtube views.
“This art is a fuel for the grassroots movement,” Clark emphasized, surrounded by his own work. “People see it over and over again and they can say, ‘this is ours.’ It’s all continuing the public conversation.”
That grassroots power has historically been relegated to images of bold, broad dissent. Perhaps no image exemplifies this better than the most famous piece from Shepard Fairey: a menacing, glaring face with the word “Obey” written under it, like some terrifying combination of Big Brother and Orson Welles in his later years. It is a clever, well-crafted symbol of what graffiti has represented–anti-establishment, angry, against. Yet in 2008, to his own surprise, Fairey became the man behind one of the most indelible images in modern campaign history.