Exhibit Reveals What the Candidates Are Made Of

Posted September 25, 2008 at 4:02pm

With the elections just a few weeks away, everyone is trying to figure out what presidential candidates Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are really made of.

Israeli artist Hanoch Piven figures they’re made of golf balls, skateboards and marbles.

Piven, in a commission from Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, has applied his unique method of using found items to create caricatures to illustrate the 2008 presidential candidates.

The two caricatures are featured in Piven’s exhibit “What Candidates Are Really Made of & Other Famous Faces” on display through Nov. 13 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

Although both of Piven’s caricatures present the candidates in suits and incorporate American flag patterns, each design also includes objects specific to McCain and Obama.

McCain, for instance, sports one eyebrow made from a miniature gun and another made from a horse and carriage figurine. His left eye is a marble and his right a bullet, while an American-flag-patterned golf ball marks the spot where his mouth would be. He wears a “Proud American” red, white and blue pin on his lapel.

Obama, on the other hand, has eyebrows made from miniature microphones and eyes made from American flag patterned stars. A toy skateboard creates his nose while his mouth is a sideways Greek column, and he is balancing a miniature basketball on one finger.

Both of the candidate’s caricatures are on display with 15 prints of Piven’s previous designs, including a portrait of former President Bill Clinton made from marshmallows and one of Barbra Streisand (with a microphone for a nose) that won the Society of Illustrators Editorial Gold Medal in 1994.

Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, but raised in Israel, Piven also included three portraits of Israeli politicians David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin in the exhibit.

Although he has been making caricatures for his friends since childhood, Piven was always frustrated with his poor craftsmanship and never imagined he would be a professional artist. He originally attended college at Hebrew University, where he studied mathematics and computers, but switched tracks after one year and moved to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts. It was there, right before the first Gulf War, that Piven first had the idea to use found materials and objects in his art.

“I was working on a caricature of Saddam Hussein when I saw some matches,” Piven said in a telephone interview. “I realized I didn’t need to draw a moustache. … I could use the matches to make the moustache.”

Since then, Piven has made a name for himself by incorporating unusual materials in his caricatures.

One of his most creative designs is his portrait of former President Richard Nixon, where he used a child’s tape recorder to create Nixon’s face.

To decide which materials will best illustrate his subject, Piven relies mostly on trial and error.

“Objects go in, objects go out. … I also read and make sketches,” Piven said. “The more time I spend with it, the better it becomes.”

Piven is also adventurous in selecting his materials, deeming nothing too strange.

“I used chicken fat for the eyes of a lawyer,” Piven said. “And I used chicken liver for the mouth of Ozzy Osborne.”

Piven also used bologna to construct Boris Yeltsin’s face and about 4.5 pounds of salmon to create the skin of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Since meat and fish require refrigeration and cannot be glued, using them in art is no easy feat.

“There is no glue for bacon so it’s difficult,” Piven said. “Usually these items are not glued. I put them on top of the paper, I take the picture … and then I give them to the cat or whatever.”

At age 45, Piven has published five children’s books in the United States, although he currently lives in Barcelona, Spain. Time magazine labeled one of his books, “What Presidents Are Made Of,” one of the 10 best children’s books of 2004. Several of its illustrations are displayed in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.

The presidential candidates’ portraits are the most recent additions to Piven’s portfolio. Creating them was a challenge, he said. “It was difficult to do two portraits with the same amount of satire in them. Obama was more difficult to try to make a definite comment — he represents something that is more complex.”

And while Piven is not an American citizen and can’t vote in the upcoming elections, he couldn’t resist giving his two cents on who he thinks should inherit the White House. “I hope Obama gets elected for the benefit of the American people,” he said.

“What Candidates Are Really Made of & Other Famous Faces” is on display in the social hall at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW. Viewing hours are Monday through Thursday and the first Sunday of the month from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Additional hours can be scheduled by calling 202-408-3100. Admission is free and the Obama and McCain originals, as well as prints of Piven’s previous works, are available for purchase.