UNITED STATES / DETROIT
L'OFFICIEL ART: What triggered your interest in President Obama? ROBERT PRUITT: After two insufferable terms of Bush, Obama seemed like a miracle and I was a very enthusiastic and involved supporter of his campaign. Once he was elected, the idea to paint an image of him every day was a way of channeling the energy of the campaign into a different kind of outlet, and I made a commitment to the consistent documentation of what was to follow the euphoria of victory, no matter what was to come.
How does it feel on a daily basis to have to produce a 2x2 feetpainting (0.6 meters) on such a symbolic figure, so affected by the daily news?
“THE OBAMA PAINTINGS AND THE LINCOLN MONUMENT”, MAY 15 – AUGUST 2, MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART DETROIT(MOCAD), 4454 Woodward Ave Detroit MI, 48201, mocadetroit.org
ROB PRUITT BEGAN THE OBAMA PAINTINGS AS A MEANS OF TRACKING PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY SINCE OBAMA’S INAUGURATION ON JANUARY 20, 2009. THESE PAINTINGS ARE A MONUMENT TO THE FULL SWEEP OF OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY, WITH EVERY CANVAS SERVING AS AN INTEGRAL ELEMENT OF A BIGGER PICTURE. THE LINCOLN MONUMENT USES THE MOST UBIQUITOUS FORM OF PRESIDENTIAL ICONOGRAPHY - THE COPPER PENNY - AS RAW MATERIAL. THE WORK IS MADE UP OF 200,000 PENNIES FILLING THREE STACKED COPPER PAINTED TRUCK TIRES. THE PAINTINGS AND THE MONUMENT WILL BE PRESENTED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN AN EXHIBITION AT THE MOCAD, DETROIT. I've always been comfortable having multiple ongoing projects and tending to them daily. I maintain two eBay stores (www.robpruittsfleamarket.com, www.robpruittsbookclub.com) where I post one new item and one new book from my own home every day. At the studio we all draw on the lunch table after lunch each day and convert these giant tabletops into paintings and sculptures. Also, Instagram is a great outlet for projects like pictures of our studio calendar and the art world/celebrity look-alikes that involve posting on a daily basis. There's something exciting about not knowing what the end result will be, and the kind of unexpected directions that an endurance project can lead to.
Did you, for example, gather some documentation about the President (internal and international politics)?
It's essentially a visual project. The references to politics are unavoidable, but that's never guided the project. The priority is to select the most exciting image from the previous day's news cycle.
How does this work (The Obama Paintings) interact with The Lincoln Monument?
There are a number of obvious ways to look into the pairing of these projects through a historical lens, but that always struck me as common knowledge, so I was never interested in using that to inform my approach to these two pieces. In the case of The Lincoln Monument, I was inspired by “Take-A-Penny/ Leave-A-Penny” trays with their everyday flow of currency, and how a penny in your pocket, however small and overlooked, is still a monument to Lincoln. I grew up in Washington DC, where the influence of America's historical figures is unavoidable. Every other street is named after a president, and the city's greatest public spaces are bracketed by grand monuments, so it's safe to say the environment made an impression on me during those formative years. If I had grown up in Kansas City, it may not have entered my brain to make a monument to a newly elected living president. Robert Pruitt, detail of The Obama Paintings, 2009-present.