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With Vote Mitt Romney, Phillips joins Fairey as presidential candidate portraitist

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By The Editors

October 04, 2012   

Richard Phillips became the second artist in recent history to create a portrait of a presidential candidate.

The Marblehead, Mass.-born, New York City-based artist today debuted his painting "Vote Mitt Romney" at the 04 Project Space in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

In 2008, street artist Shepard Fairey created a print based a photograph of then candidate Barack Obama for the now iconic, if not notorious, "Hope" poster that the Institute of Contemporary Art later exhibited. Both artists worked from an Associated Press photograph, although unlike Fairey, Phillips obtained the rights prior to making the work.

Phillips' latest solo show, featuring paintings of actresses Lindsay Lohan and Sasha Grey, is up just a few blocks away at Gagosian Gallery, but has suffered unflattering reviews. Phillips' reputation, however, may get a bump from the Romney work, which he created specifically for the Rauschenberg Foundation's inaugural exhibition, titled "We the People."

The 14 by eight-and-a-half-foot work is likely to be well-received in the typically liberal art world, which is worried about the Republican presidential candidate's promise to axe funding for the NEA. Phillips' lush oils make Mr. Romney appear plastic, playing into liberal caricatures of the politician. Postmasters Gallery owner and director Magdalena Sawon tweeted, "'We the People' at Rauschenberg foundation… is great. It includes PARTIAL redemption of Richard Phillips via his Romney portrait." Ironically, Larry Gagosian, whose gallery represents Phillips, is a Romney supporter (PDF).

Phillips's works are not typically political in nature, but he claims to vote democratic (he doesn't paint democrats either, according to GalleristNY). Fairey made a name for himself posterizing famous images of celebrities and politicians, including his image of President George W. Bush decked out with bloody fangs, which Big Red & Shiny contributor Ben Sloat wrote about during Bush's run for a second term in 2004. Phillips, whose hyper-real paintings would seem less suited for such overt satirical imagery, painted a fatuously grinning President Bush in 2001 flanked by two wide pink strips.

The artist also joins New Hampshire painter Richard Whitney among artists who have painted portraits of Mr. Romney. Whitney painted the governor's official portrait for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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