Satirical Election Posters Remain America's Great Equalizer

From the 1960s to the present, the Center for the Study of Political Graphics presents political art for each election cycle.

by Catherine Chapman
Aug 9 2016, 6:50pm

Bernie So Punk. ABCNT. 2015-2016. Los Angeles, CA. Image courtesy of: CSPG

With every election comes promises and some nasty campaign rhetoric, as candidates hit the road, making their cases to become the next President of the United States. Commentating on the social and political issues that arise with each Presidential hopeful, the Center for the Study of Political Graphics has compiled 60 political posters, ranging from the Lyndon Johnson administration to the Republican and Democratic nominees of today, in an exhibit at ARENA 1, an LA-based gallery. Providing both a critical and entertaining look at Presidential policies, domestic and international, the artistically driven posters aim to spur second thoughts in voters ahead of election day.

“There is no such thing as a perfect candidate,” says Carol Wells, founder of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), a non-for-profit archive of political and socially influential posters from around the world. “In order to make the best decision we really need to have our eyes open and be as objective as possible to what’s going on. What a political poster does is try to get you to challenge the way that the corporate culture tries to get us to behave.”


Hillary Clinton Wall Street. Jos Sances. 2016. California. Image courtesy of: CSPG

Using art as a form of communication and protest, international and US-based artists create satirical assessments of the previous and potential leaders of the free world, presenting alternative views of a variety of issues the candidate stand for. Whether topics surrounding climate change, war or campaign financing, these posters seek to inform, advocate, and change attitudes.


Dough Nation. Robbie Conal. 1997. Los Angeles, CA. Image courtesy of: CSPG

“When they say an image is worth 1,000 words, it’s true,” says Wells, who has held this exhibit every 4 years since CSPG’s 1989 opening. “You can talk up and down about specific candidates but when you show someone an image focusing on either their good or their bad points, it really sticks in peoples’ heads. It’s a lot easier to ignore a statement than it is an image.”

Photo montages and clever taglines appear in the posters throughout the decades, to which, Wells tells The Creators Project, saw sophisticated graphics and easier distribution following the introduction and mass use of computers. “You’ll get anything from a street art aesthetic versus a fine art aesthetic versus someone who’s in a social movement and doesn’t really have art training,” explains Wells. The use of popular culture, mainly film, is also used to engage audiences.


Gulf Wars Episode II. Arie Kaplan, Scott Sonneborn, Mad Magazine. 2002. New York. Image courtesy of: CSPG

“It’s a very effective way of attracting attention,” explains Wells. “We are surrounded by images. One of the things that political posters have to do is break through that image overload. One of the techniques used to do that is by tweaking a familiar image in an unfamiliar way, which forces you to do a double take.


The Fascist Gun in the West. Vic Dinnerstein. 1980. Los Angeles, CA. Image courtesy of: CSPG

On whether a poster can change the world, Wells says, “art is the most powerful tool we have for communication,” citing a picture taken during the My Lai Masscre, which became plastered on posters everywhere and helped change the popular opinion towards the war in Vietnam.


History. Chaz Maviyane Davis. 2016. Image courtesy of: CSPG

Presented by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Presidential Rogues Gallery: Satirical Posters 1960s-Present runs at LA’s ARENA 1 Gallery until 20 August 2016. See more here.


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