Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Art and Politics Collide at Geekhouse Bikes

By Erika Templeton

ALLSTON— In Barcelona, Jorge Rodriquez-Gerada’s sculpted sand portrait of presidential candidate Barack Obama is visible from satellites in space. In Michigan, John Hart’s “nanobama” portraits can barely be seen without the help of a magnifying lens. In Allston, Marty Walsh’s “ObamaBike” may be average in scale, but it has an equal impact on the rising trend of unique campaign art.

“Artists always have this sense of what’s going to happen, a sense of the greater stuff that’s going on,” said Walsh, founder of Geekhouse Bikes in Allston. “I think this is a really different time.”

In an election year filled with campaigns focused on change, campaign art has undergone a transformation of its own. Independent art is replacing traditional candidate posters, and with it has come a whole new range of creative possibilities.

The ObamaBike’s combination of art, recreation and political activism is the brainchild of blogger and political activist Bucky Turco. He contacted Walsh and Dan Funderburgh, a New York-based wallpaper design artist, to collaborate on the project. Neither Walsh nor Funderburgh had been politically active before, but they said this year’s election was different.

“I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for Bucky,” Walsh said. “But I also wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for Obama.”

Funderburgh, who never contributed to a political campaign before, began selling his designs this year, and raised more than $1,000 for campaign contributions. Many of them were inspired by Obama’s speeches. “He’s a remarkable dude,” Funderburgh said.

The ObamaBike focuses on the concept of unity, from its multitude of patterns to its blended color scheme. A torn pattern represents the struggle of farmers, while a pixilated patch stands for industry and innovation. “It’s like one America, trying to make one design made of many different designs,” Funderburgh said. “There’s also a gradient between red and blue. We’re not red states blue and blue states, like Obama said.”

On October 22, the bicycle was sold on eBay for $1,425. All proceeds will go to the Barack Obama victory fund,

Larry Brooks, the 58-year-old auction winner from California, is a life-time Democrat. “I wanted to max out my donations to Obama,” he said. “I've been a bike racer for more than 20 years, so this bike will be used for it's intended use—track racing. It'll also function as wall jewelry.”

Walsh, Turco and Funderburgh are just a small sample of the growing field of political art. “There’s some amazing things out there,” Walsh said.

Funderburgh cited the work of Shepard Fairey, whose “Obey” posters gained national attention. “It’s amazingly ubiquitous,” he said of the propaganda-style Obama portraits. “You see bad McCain and Palin T-shirts trying to get in on it and falling short.”

Campaign managers have often shied away from independent art, said Wired Magazine’s creative director, Scott Dadich, in an interview with the Obama’s campaign was different, he said, because it was willing and able to incorporate independent artists’ work.

“It really is something that speaks more to tapping in of the movement,” Dadich said. “And I think that’s evidence of something much wider and much more deeply felt.”

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