Few, if any, American presidents have inspired entire artistic movements, but Manifest Hope:DC is evidence of the critical part art plays in generating and influencing social energy in today’s modern political arena. The art exhibition opened on January 17th, offering more than seventy well-known and not-so-well-known artists a chance to present their political minds to thousands of tourists and Washingtonians in the days leading up to the Inauguration of America’s 44th president, Barack H. Obama. Hundreds of national and international representations of Obama, and what his campaign is believed to stand for, covered the walls of two floors in the building. There were stained glass pieces, paintings, posters, sculptures, statues, and video focused on themes of voting, healthcare reform, worker’s rights and a green economy.
Upon entering the gallery, guests were greeted by a group of enthusiastic hostesses and handed a variety of commemorative postcards, magazines and buttons. Free sports drinks flowed while a duo of disc jockeys mixed up a most appropriate combination of politically charged rock and soul tunes from the past and present. The Washington gallery and several organizations, including MoveOne.org, VoteLatino, and the Service Employees International Union, worked with a variety of artists across the nation to, “mark this monumental achievement in our nation’s history and [encourage] artists and activists to maintain the momentum to bring about true change in the United States” (manifesthope.com).
Justin Hampton’s painting garnered the attention of camera crews and newspaper reporters as guests lined the walls of the gallery to get pictures by his and some other artist’s pieces. When asked why he chose to paint what he did, the young painter’s response was quick and straight off the cuff. “Why not!”
Laughing, the young artist from Portland, Oregon began to tell his story. “You know this election definitely motivated me early on and I had this idea in my head for a while and I finally got the time.” Obama’s campaign motivated Hampton to create a screen print in support of the campaign which he began promoting. “A portion of the profits from this print went to the campaign’s final push over the last weekend before the election to help get the vote out,” says Hampton.
Once-presidential-hopeful John McCain also had a little something to do with motivating Hampton’s most recent project. “In the 2008 Presidential Debate, Senator John McCain capped off a night of dismissive behavior toward his opponent by referring to Senator Barack Obama, not by name or title, but simply… 'That One.’ John McCain used the term in a contemptuous sense: I use it in a total admiration and respect,” he explains. “There is a little bit of a tie-in for me personally. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated the year I was born and so in 2008, 40 yrs. later, for me, it has a certain meaning to it. We are now at this point where we have an African-American president. It’s kind of like full circle for me, like my own little triumph, but it’s just an amazing thing to be a part of.”
“I’ve always been very politically minded and I come from a family of very liberal folks and I’ve been doing stuff for a while,” the artist explains. What started out as a small screen print was later acclaimed by Yosi Sergent, the publicist for the man whose “Hope” print is becoming one of the most famous pieces of American campaign art, Shepard Fairey. “I had to bust my hump for about two weeks to get it done. Just barely got it done in time but I did it and it’s definitely a piece of pride for me,” Hampton says.
It may come as a surprise to many that Hampton has only done a handful of paintings. “…the majority of what I do is actually rock posters, screeprints. I’ve done some magazine work for Rollingstone. I’ve been doing artwork – screen prints and working for magazines for about fifteen years – paintings since 2000 off and on. I’m about to get more seriously into it – this is like a real good launching point right here. The response has been good.”
As stated in the Manifest Hope:DC vision, “Art plays a pivotal role in creating cultural momentum.” The art exhibition was an effort to highlight this truth, bringing attention to a host of artists and disc jockeys that banded together to “amplify and motivate the grassroots movement that carried President-Elect Barack Obama to victory” (manifesthope.com).