Huge, visually imposing paintings of President Bush and his
foreign policy team brought tears and jeers from spectators at the
Ann Arbor Art Center yesterday, creating heated political
discourse.

Two local artists are causing such commotions with their moving
exhibit of political paintings, A New American Century, which is
traveling to cities in the Midwest and the South, beginning with
Ann Arbor.

Anthony Wilson, who created the artwork for the exhibit,
displayed six large oil canvases on West Liberty Street, portraying
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfield, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National
Security Advisor Condolezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of Defense
Paul Wolfowitz.

Wilson, working in conjunction with photographer Sam
Hollenshead, is recording viewer reactions on camera and engaging
them in political discourse, in hopes of capturing what he called
“this very unique time.”

Political polarization has led to political discussion among the
like-minded, but no real discussion exists across partisan lines,
he said. “No one wants to be painted as a bad person”
for supporting President Bush or for opposing him, he said.

Hollenshead said by creating an ethnography of the election, he
hopes to help “to understand this country and to understand
the people by speaking one on one and get an emotional
reaction.”

“The ultimate goal is to facilitate an honest
discussion” among the public, he said.

The dialogues about politics that the artwork espoused among Ann
Arbor residents has been mixed but generally positive, the artists
said.

The art “brings people’s emotions to the surface,
usually positive, but some real fury as well,” Wilson
said.

“We are tired of doomsday politicians,” said Odile
Hugonot-Haber, who viewed the exhibit and is the chair of the
Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which
works to achieve conditions for peace, freedom and justice.
“People in the community need to put more pressure on the
politicians. This country has forgotten what war means,” she
said.

Ann Arbor resident Ivan Zamperla said, “My criticism is
that Democrats attack and call people names. It is not good to call
a sitting president dumb, especially when Democrats are concerned
with political correctness.”

Many viewers also commented upon the visual depiction of the
figures. Christina Morales-Hemenway, a filmmaker, said, “The
use of light and dark colors, and shadows allows for the viewer to
make up their mind.”

Sarah Soebbing, a senior at Eastern Michigan University,
described the paintings as amazing and powerful. “Beautiful
and sickening … it exposes their flaws, especially
Bush,” she said.

The exhibit was first displayed in New York City, coinciding
with the Republican National Convention. After passing through Ann
Arbor yesterday, the exhibit is now moving on to Chicago; Crawford,
Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; Selma, Ala.; and finally culminating in
Washington the weekend before Election Day on Nov. 2.

“There were certain logistical places. We wanted to get to
Texas and wanted to go to the Midwest and south,” Wilson
said.

Wilson said he and Hollenshead were trying to get their art into
rural and suburban communities in order to capture the sentiment
that exists there.

He added that he painted the specific figures because they
“represent all the facets of foreign policy” that have
created a shift in the way America interacts with the world.

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