Over the course of former President Barack Obama’s presidency, artist Rob Pruitt took it upon himself to paint a portrait of the politician within the context of a significant event that transpired that day, every day for eight years while he was in office.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of President Obama’s first inauguration, an exhibit at the Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago displays a series of "Obama Paintings"—a total of 2,922 portraits to be exact.
“At the end of a presidency, everybody scurries about trying to figure out what that president’s legacy will be. I did not want to highlight big moments – moments like the signing of the Affordable Care Act, the Iran Nuclear Deal, or the capture of Osama bin Laden – I wanted to depict a very measured, intellectual, capable statesman who showed up to work everyday and led; a leader with a long list of accomplishments we, as a nation, would be proud of.”– Rob Pruitt
The quote above is highlighted in large lettering, front and center inside the exhibit.
The artist said the idea was first sparked 10 years ago when Obama was just a candidate. Pruitt said although he doesn’t consider himself a “political junkie,” he was so moved and inspired by Obama’s message that he began to sign up for community events near where he resides in lower Manhattan.
“It was such a thrill when Obama was elected and I thought to myself, ‘what am I going to do with all of this energy from the campaign that I still had?’” Pruitt explained. “It felt to me, like the first time in my life…that I really connected with a politician.”
The background of each painting is based on a gradient fade of the American flags’ colors and Pruitt said each portrait is meant to showcase “a dedicated, public servant who showed up to work every day and made important decisions to make sure that all of our health and safety was protected.”
Pruitt made sure to capture not just the moments while in office, but also the regular, friendly, everyday family man.
The "Obama Paintings" debuted Thursday and the new Chicago exhibit is scheduled to run through August 25, 2019. Stony Island Arts Bank is set to host programming in conjunction with the exhibition, according to a statement released, including an artist's talk, workshops, and special performances exploring the relationship between art and civic engagement. All events are free and open to the public.
Pruitt said the end goal is not so much about the sale of the paintings but rather preserving the art in a safe space and more importantly, that young individuals and students are able to learn and understand Obama's time in office.
“I hope that it just reminds each of us of the importance of the presidency and what it means even in our own lives to wake up every morning, to do a good job,” he said.