I was inspired to draw this piece by two things. First, I am an enthusiast of the artist, Banksy. His 2010 documentary about street art, Exit through the Gift Shop, was a revelation. Between seeing the documentary and checking out the Shepard Fairey and the Mr. Brainwash shows in town, I felt the need to create my own street art piece. I’d create my personal grand homage to street artists. I had some ideas, but my resume was thin. Other than tagging “Jester” some as a youth in fat marker and spray paint, I have never done anything approaching street art. I grew up in the same building as Chris Pape, aka Freedom; does that count for anything? And frankly, “Jester” was not an inspired idea; I didn’t go out “bombing” but a couple of times as a teenager and I never created any fantastic graffiti pieces on trains, walls or in tunnels. Street artists, I imagine, are energized by the thrill factor, perhaps the threat of being caught is a meaningful part of their motivation, but I was flat-out chicken shit. Still, now, as a middle-aged man, I intended to create a stencil piece — something to spray paint on the bases of lampposts. Something to do Banksy and Fairey and Chris Pape and all the great street artists proud.
The second inspiration was Gay Pride, not exactly street artist material. In 2010, with Gay Pride looming, I came up with my idea for the stencil, the kiss between George Washington en femme and a manly Thomas Jefferson, a quarter and a nickel. It seemed like a wonderfully irreverent image with a juicy pun. I’d reverse President Washington’s profile so that he would face President Jefferson. George’s sweeping neckline loaned itself to the subtle feminizations I softened him with, before I moved him into position for a nice, romantic kiss with Thomas. Sorry, but a tongue-lagging, sloppy spit-swap seemed like overkill.
The CHANGE piece started out as a stencil a la Banksy and some of the other street art masters, but the honest truth of the matter was I wasn’t up to the task. I had chosen to replicate an intricate design having never worked in stencil before and not using any computer program for assistance. The image was too complicated for me, especially with a deadline and a full-time job. I was overmatched and frustrated, and Gay Pride came and went. Fast forward a year later, with Gay Pride again approaching; it weighed on me that I never did do anything with the CHANGE image. It was still just as irreverent and juicy — a great idea going to waste. I set back to work on it with a little more than a week to go before the parade. My immediate insight was to abort it as a stencil in favor of getting it done. It would be a sticker, it would be rushed and incomplete, but it would be in hand by the Gay Pride parade. I used elements of the George Washington one dollar bill as well, including the font for the word CHANGE, which is Chevalier, a close cousin of the tender’s font. George’s earing is based on the pyramid, of course, with its 13 levels, as well as 13 tiny teardrops dangling from it.
The superlative part of the story is that I picked up 10,000 stickers from Kinko’s earlier the same evening NY State passed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New York State and the governor signed it into law. Veronica and I headed off to Sheridan Square and handed out thousands that night at the impromptu party that erupted in the streets, and had thousands more on hand for the parade later that weekend. The entire parade route was decorated so thoroughly with my stickers that I am still reeling from the joy, and the pride. Timing couldn’t have been better, CHANGE had finally come.
In 2012 I reapplied myself to the design and created the finished rainbow flag color version. The words “LIBERTY” and “UNITED” appear on the front of a quarter, potent concepts which speak to the civil rights and status of all citizens of these United States. The civil rights of homosexual Americans remains occluded, just as these powerful words appear occluded and faded in the background of my piece; reminders of the inequality, injustice and oppression of the GLBT community. But as truth speaks to power the hearts and minds of Americans thankfully continues to CHANGE for the better on the subject; and I’d still prefer to believe that good triumphs over evil and justice prevails.