Image: The People Listening by Andrew Purchin 2009
This Inauguration Day, Andrew Purchin, artist, psychotherapist, and gay citizen extraordinaire, is throwing an Inaugural Art Party on the National Mall, four years in the making.
Four years ago, Andrew Purchin and his partner Scotty Brookie, traveled from the warm clime of Santa Cruz, California, to stand on the National Mall in 22 degree weather and witness history as Barack Obama was inaugurated. Andrew propped his easel against a tree and painted the crowd, forever immortalizing the feeling of expectation that infected the sea of people surrounding him. He called his painting, “The People Listening.”
“It was the best day of my life.” Andrew told Kirby Scudder of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “While I was painting, I kept thinking, if I ever do this again I want to be surrounded by every artist I know.” Monday, President Obama’s second Inauguration Day, Andrew Purchin will make that dream come true.
Andrew and Scotty have once again journeyed from California to Washington DC, to attend President Obama’s Inauguration, but this time they did not make the journey alone. Traveling across the country by train as a way to commemorate President Lincoln’s train ride to his own second inaugural, the couple was accompanied by their artist friends from California and joined by other artists along the way. Their group will meet on the National Mall tomorrow with artists from all over the country who have answered Andrew’s call, spreading out among the crowd, making sure art is a treasured part of the Inaugural experience.
Andrew, who in addition to being an artist and a visionary is a practicing psychotherapist, used $10,000 of his own money to bring together A Thousand Artists on the Mall during the inaugural ceremonies. “I believe there should be artists everywhere, creating.” Andrew explained his vision. “Since 2009, I have spent the last several years working on organizing 1,000 artists to participate, creating whatever art form they choose at the next inauguration.” The goal of the group is to make art as much a part of American celebratory conventions as music and dancing.
I admit, I am not very knowledgeable about the art world. I know Pollack from his spatters, and from Ed Harris, who was very good in the movie. I know Michelangelo almost went blind from paint dripping in his eyes while creating his four-year masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Intellectually I realize that it is completely unfair, but I hold it against Michelangelo that former NRA President Charlton Heston played him in the movie, The Agony and the Ecstasy. I can recognize a Mark Rothko because he painted the same thing over and over, just in different colors, and because I have three of them (prints) hanging over my sofa. I know Van Gogh from the Starry Starry Night song, and his waterlilies, and that unfortunate episode with his ear. I know Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keefe, Peter Max and Eloise Wilkins, my favorite illustrator of children’s books, and John Breitweiser, newlywed husband of my friend Stuart Wilber. If this were a conversation at a cocktail party, I would slide away to refresh my drink about now, because art-wise at this point I’m down to Charles Shultz and the Ninja Turtles.
However lacking I may be on the specifics, I still consider myself a lover of art. The reason I love it is because I know its secret; I learned it first hand, and once you know it, you know it forever. So when I heard Andrew Purchin was summoning A Thousand Artists to Washington, I understood instinctively his desire to share that same wondrous secret with our beleaguered nation. They could not have arrived at a better time.
So here is the secret, discount it at your own expense: Art has power. Art can change a stubborn mind. Art can lift a shattered spirit. Art can make you laugh through your tears. Art is where buried truths go to escape into the light. Art can comfort, and confront. It can inspire, and incite. Art can thrill the senses and expand the mind. The secret is, art is where society keeps its soul.
When I was in eighth grade, our class made a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts. We were 62 hormone heavy thirteen year olds, shepherded by two nuns and one volunteer mother. As we disembarked the bus and were marched inside, girls in one line, boys in another, the nuns left us alone with the chaperoning mother while they went off in search of the tour guide. It took seconds for the lines to dissolve and the socializing to begin.
The nervous mother herded us into a large echoing marble room, where all the walls were filled with a mural by Mexican-born artist Diego Rivera. The painting depicted Detroit industry in its hay day. At first, no one took notice, as girls and boys scrambled to get next to the person they were “going with” or had a crush on. The students giggled and gossiped, like any eighth grade class since the beginning of formal education. The marble room buzzed with the chatter you would expect from repressed young teens in an unusual social situation with only one inexperienced keeper to rein them in. But then, the magic happened. The “art magic.”
The noise from the thirteen-year-olds in that room should have escalated. The commotion should have increased until the self-appointed lookout picked up the sound of rattling rosaries that presaged the returning nuns and warned us back into decorous quiet. It is a law of nature, or at least of Catholic grade schools. But it didn’t happen that day. Instead of growing, the buzz of conversation receded. The kinetic motion slowed. A hush grew over that room. Not a silence, but a reverent quiet, punctuated by “Ohs” and gasps, and excited whispers and pointing fingers as the students discovered the art around them and instinctively wanted to share their discoveries.
The entire class lost themselves in that amazing mural. It didn’t feel like looking at a painting, it was like we were standing inside it. No matter where we turned there were images of the industrial workers who built the mighty Detroit that once existed. It would have taken days to examine each figure, each scene, and every minute detail the artist had thought to include.
I did not think about it at the time, but a majority those kids would have had fathers who were somehow attached to the auto industry, designing, building, selling, repairing. My own father designed the smelting furnaces that made the steel that mural glorified. Rivera’s painting made us feel that connection to our fathers, who never talked much about their jobs. It made us feel the bond of our roots. Back then, it engendered pride in our city. Viewed today, I imagine it would be accompanied by a profound feeling of loss. It awed us. It amazed us. It was magic. Art magic. And I completely understand Andrew Purchin’s desire to share that spirit-healing secret as our American family begins a new chapter tomorrow.
While others mark the day with song, and dance, and extended periods of elbow bending, the artists who answered Andrew Purchin’s call will be on the Mall tomorrow wearing white jumpsuits and orange hats, sharing their talents as part of the inaugural celebration. If you are attending the Inauguration, look for them and say hello. If you want to follow their exploits, Susie Bright, author of Mother Daughter Sex Advice will be live tweeting the event at @susiebright.
Andrew says he expects tomorrow will surpass the 2009 Inauguration as the best day of his life. I wish that for him too. Today Andrew Purchin, A Thousand Artists, and their contribution to the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, and to our country, are On Our Radar.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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