Presidential Art

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Students in summer studio art course pay homage to Billy Greer with public art project

By Leona Baker | June 25, 2014

Presidential ArtWhile former U.S. President George W. Bush recently made headlines with his newfound love of painting, a group of Virginia Wesleyan students this summer took “presidential art” in a different direction all together.

As part of Associate Professor of Art John Rudel’s three-week “Intro to Studio Art” course, Joshua Begley ’15, Mindy Bertram ’15, Kadija Corinaldi ’16 and Shauncey Maver ’17, created a three-foot by five-foot poster likeness of Virginia Wesleyan College President Billy Greer.

The image, which is temporarily adhered to the brick wall on the exterior of Bray Village on campus, was created by digitally manipulating a photograph of President Greer (originally taken by well-known local photographer Glen McClure), printing enlarged sections of the photo and then gluing the sections together on the wall with wheat paste, a mixture of flour or starch and water.

The aesthetic look of the piece, which uses planes of color to represent different values, is based on artist Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster featuring then presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008. The class got the idea for the poster after studying public art and watching the documentary film Exit through the Gift Shop (2010) by street artist Bansky.

“We began the class talking about the Rubber Duck that recently appeared in The Hague at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk and this idea of art as spectacle and playing with the idea of celebrity as well,” says Rudel. “In this kind of art, the reaction to the work is part of it, to be part of the buzz – the feedback loop of popular culture.”

In choosing Greer as their subject matter, the students wanted to reflect a current topic on campus as well as pay tribute to the College’s leader, who recently announced he would retire in 2015 after more than 20 years as president.

“He has been so good to this school,” says student Mindy Bertram. “We wanted to show that we all really admire him and the work that he has done for Virginia Wesleyan. We wanted him to know that people stand behind him and just to say thank you for everything.”

The image includes the name “Billy” in large letters along the bottom, a nod to the president’s personable nature with students and preference for being called by the informal version of his first name.

The poster is not the first of its type to adorn the walls outside of Village I, which Rudel has unofficially dubbed VWC’s “Arts Plaza.” Students have created several other public art projects under Rudel’s direction in recent years, two as part of “First-Year Experience” courses and another during Winter Session, a special three-week academic term held each January at the College.

“You would wake up in the morning and walk outside and there would be Gandhi or MLK plastered outside of Village I,” remembers Bertram.

Images used for wheat paste posters have ranged from great leaders and classic paintings to animated figures and film icons such as the Minions from Despicable Me and the characters from The Wizard of Oz.

Also, in fall 2012, incoming students created paintings on the interior walls of their residence halls as part of a campus initiative called “Embrace Your Space.” These projects create experiential learning opportunities for students concerning not only the nature of public art but how they can interact in a meaningful way with the spaces and places in which they live and work.