Flag-Waving Artists | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Flag-Waving Artists

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Vote McGovern Who knew head-in-the-clouds artists with strong patriotic sensibilities were out there? They are -- and they have been for some time. And I’m not just talking about Jasper John’s canvas homage to the red, white and blue. Not quite a founding father, but a powdered wig type all the same, Charles Willson Peale blended soldiering and portraiture during the Revolutionary War. One of the Sons of Liberty, he not only fought in the war, he also documented many of its players, including Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, John Hancock and Alexander Hamilton. George Washington sat more than a half-dozen times for Peale, allowing the artist to create almost 60 portraits of the first president. In World War II, the U.S. Army recruited artists and designers to fight the Nazis with smoke and mirrors. One of the young soldiers was the eventual abstract expressionist Ellsworth Kelly. During his tour, Kelly helped develop prototypes of fake tanks, jeeps and weaponry made out of rubber, burlap and wood. These were set up in strategic places to convince the Germans that the Allies had more soldiers on the ground than they really did. Andy Warhol practically stumped for the Democrats. He made a multi-colored print of Richard Nixon in 1972 with the caption “Vote McGovern" underneath the portrait. If only the print had been stamped on campaigning buttons and posters. Things might have turned out differently for George on Election Day. Nixon was certainly not looking like someone I’d let kiss a baby or shake my hand, not with that desiccated greenish-blue tint to his face. And the beady yellow eyes didn’t help matters. And most subliminal of all, the portrait was set against a background of the political hot-button color of pink (gasp!).

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