On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took office as the 44th president of the United States. And that same morning, artist Rob Pruitt painted his portrait.
First Pruitt projected a photo of the president onto a two-by-two-foot canvas, which was first airbrushed to fade from blue to red in a muted, dreamlike wash. The artist then used white paint to emphasis Obama’s image, resulting in a restrained yet intimate picture, rendered faintly in the colors of the American flag.
Pruitt did the same thing the next morning. And the next. And the next. Using a different Obama image each time, gleaned from news clips and Google image searches, he captured Obama at his desk in the Oval Office, playing basketball, or speaking at a rally. Pruitt continued his ritual of quietly painting the president in red, white and blue every day throughout Obama’s presidency. He has amassed nearly 3,000 paintings in the process.
An exhibition titled “The Obama Paintings,” featuring all of Pruitt’s pieces (there will be 2,922 by the time Obama leaves office), is now on view at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York. The square canvases saturate the gallery space, hung from floor to ceiling on every wall, with more stacked on shelves like library books or records. The serialized images, displayed in no particular order, together constitute a single artwork.
Pruitt embarked upon the project because, like so many Americans, he was inspired by Obama’s energy, resolve, and vision for our country. Although the artist has made a career out of tongue-in-cheek artworks poking fun at celebrity culture and art world hypocrisy, this project is pure love.
Pruitt was originally scheduled to show a different series for his November exhibition at GBE, but following the results of the presidential election, he felt that displaying the Obama paintings was the only fitting choice. In the final months before Trump’s inauguration, the exhibition offers a space for Obama supporters to enter a physical hall of memories.
Source: Black Voices | Priscilla Frank