Presidential Portraits

Originally printed in 1961, The Golden Home and High School Encyclopedia was designed for frequent use. The paper is thick and durable and the volumes are rich with illustrations on a variety of subjects. Beginning with George Washington and ending with John Fitzgerald Kennedy, throughout the set there are entries on each former U.S. President. The entries include a shoddy reproduction of an official presidential portrait originally rendered in oil paint for each individual president. Richard Nixon also appears, via a black and white photograph, as a young politician who had served as a senator and vice-president at the time of publication. The works in the Presidential Portraits series were created upon the actual encyclopedia pages with the portraits serving as primary imagery. Enamel paint was applied directly to the page and built up in layers. The face of each individual remains untreated and isolated amidst a field of color and graphic details.

As an artist executing the series, the guiding principle behind my process was the idea that I embody the mindset of a high school student. My goal was to become like a half-awake adolescent who sits at his desk doodling while his history teacher delivers a lesson on a given president. The kid hears only a small portion of content with random thoughts and facts ending up on paper as stylized text and drawings. Chester A. Arthur is depicted as a mermaid. A distorted Richard Nixon displays his signature double-handed peace sign and James Monroe is shown with two women crudely drawn. The likeness of Grover Cleveland appears sunken by candy red enamel and a giant blue ball hovers over his head. Many of the presidents wear wigs. Andrew Johnson shares a composition with Lyndon B. Johnson. The former wears a bright yellow wig and LBJ wears a giant blue wig shaped like a papal hat.

Lets face it, political discourse is often degraded and conflict is commonplace. The Presidential Portraits series can be seen as an atypical demonstration of this fact.