Amid the throngs of anti-Bush musicians, painters, actors and other creative types expected to descend on the Big Apple to protest the upcoming Republican National Convention, New York City artist and activist Scott LoBaido concedes he’ll likely stick out like a sore thumb.
“I’m probably the only on-my-sleeve-wearing, proud Republican, flag-waving New York City artist,” he says, noting the city’s disproportionately Democratic orientation.
That said, he’s probably also the only one to have been arrested eight times for stunts ranging from throwing horse manure at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (due to his displeasure with the exhibition of a painting of the Virgin Mary adorned with elephant dung) to duct taping two giant U.S. flags on the French consulate building on Fifth Avenue in reaction against that government’s perceived wartime anti-Americanism — a move that netted the 39-year-old Staten Island native a year of probation.
But LoBaido’s latest undertaking, an unabashedly pro-Republican art exhibit, “Hail to the Chief,” aimed to coincide with the GOP confab, may prove his most iconoclastic yet.
Spurred by a desire to welcome the party the maverick artist believes will best ensure “the safety of [his] country and [his] community and [his] family,” LoBaido set about creating works that celebrate American strength and Republican leadership and deride liberals and critics of the Bush administration.
“I’m going to have protesters, I know that,” he says. “But I’m standing with my convictions and something’s going to come out of it.
“There’s just so much hypocrisy in the art world,” he continues, referring to the predominantly negative responses his conservatively-themed work has received from New York galleries. “Art is supposed to provoke thought.”
After six months of unsuccessfully shopping his “Hail to the Chief” idea around town, LoBaido walked into Tribute: Celebrating New York City — an exhibit and gallery space located in the former Standard Oil Building just south of the World Trade Center site — and finally met with a more receptive audience.
“Tears were in my eyes because I couldn’t believe this was happening to me — a New York City gallery is allowing me to express myself,” he says.
In existence less than a year, Tribute bills itself as a space dedicated to showcasing the “diversity of New York” and, among other things, features an ongoing video tribute to the city and Sept. 11, 2001.
“My true interest in putting him in there was to exhibit that diversity,” says the gallery’s self-described “apolitical” co-owner, David Niles. “Even in a very Democratic town there’s one place that will give a voice to everyone.”
Still, Niles says he drew the line when it came to providing a venue for LoBaido’s “Kerry-bashing” works, and declined to include “two to three pieces.”
“To knock a candidate turns it into a political thing,” says Niles, who also owns a high-definition production company and counts leftist filmmaker Michael Moore, a target of at least one of LoBaido’s paintings, among his former clients.
With less than two weeks until the unveiling, LoBaido is working feverishly to put the finishing touches on the last few works, including “Peace Through Strength,” a gigantic, 7-foot-by-10-foot oil painting of an American flag and a “fully loaded” F-16 fighter jet juxtaposed with the dove of peace. That work will take its place alongside images of President Ronald Reagan, NASCAR, the heroes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and even “one anti-[Massachusetts Sen. Edward] Kennedy” painting that LoBaido prefers to keep hush-hush.
The show, a mix of oil and acrylic paintings as well as sculpture, will feature a few previously shown works, including one of Bush on horseback holding Osama bin Laden’s severed head. That painting, LoBaido says, caused a well-known photographer “to go ballistic” at its initial viewing earlier this year.
“My message is very simple: Why are Americans anti-American?” says LoBaido, who over the years has peppered Staten Island with dozens of Old Glory murals. Indeed, once the presidential election concludes, LoBaido — who once painted an American flag on an Upper West Side school building after the local board declined to enforce a citywide Board of Education policy requiring daily Pledge of Allegiance ceremonies — says he will likely step up lobbying efforts for a constitutional amendment banning the burning of the U.S. flag.
As to whether members of the GOP glitterati will venture from Madison Square Garden during the quadrennial nominating convention to take in his works, LoBaido says that remains to be seen.
“There are a lot of big Republicans that love my work but can’t take a photo with me because I … got arrested for putting flags on the French consulate,” he says.
Still, the self-proclaimed champion of the “working class” is optimistic.
“I know there’s a lot of closet, creative Republicans,” LoBaido says, adding that he expects “his good friend” Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) to make an appearance at the exhibit’s Aug. 26 opening and considers former Rep. Guy Molinari (R-N.Y.) “a fan.”
Ultimately, LoBaido, who claims he’s suffered financial loss and has been blacklisted in the art world for his conservative beliefs, contends he’d be more than satisfied if his detractors turned their attention to critiquing his brushstrokes rather than his politics.
“I’m labeled as a Republican artist or a conservative or a patriotic artist,” he says. “They don’t call the guy who put Christ in a jar of urine a liberal artist, they call him an artist — I just want that title.”
“Hail to the Chief” will be on display from Aug. 26 to Sept. 20 at Tribute: Celebrating New York City, located at 24 Broadway, New York City. For more information, call (212) 952-1000.