X marks the spot in local artist’s election project

Four years ago, Cos Cob artist Ann Redmond began a project called “Dear Mr. President,” where she asked potential voters to use paint to declare which issues were most important to them. Now, with Election Day less than a week away, the project is back.

For the past several weeks, Ms. Redmond, as she did in 2008, has been journeying to New York City with canvases and paint and brushes in hand to talk to people about what the issues are that drive their interests. The concept seems simple on the surface, but delves into the minds of those headed to the polls on Tuesday. Ms. Redmond asks people to mark her canvas with a “X” with one of the 12 colors she has available to signify which issues they care about most, like the economy, health care and foreign policy. And when they feel concerned about multiple issues, they can make a line on the X one color and the other line a different one or even dot the X with dots of a different color, as some of the respondents have done.

“I wanted to do this again because of the issues,” Ms. Redmond told the Post in an interview last week. “I wanted to see how people felt over what occurred in the last four years and what didn’t occur. We’ve had some big things change over the last four years. Some people play them down but they did occur. We’re not in Iraq anymore and things have evolved. There’s a lot of friction and discontent out there and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next. Certainly a lot of jobs have been lost since 2008 and I wanted to see how people feel about that.”

And four years after the last presidential election, Ms. Redmond said, she has seen firsthand how the priorities have changed in just that short time.

“The issues, I think, changed,” Ms. Redmond said. “As you’ve seen in all the discussions about the campaign, people are very concerned about the economy. Four years ago that wasn’t even on the list. This year it’s very important. I’ve also noticed that people are more concerned with veterans issues this time around. That was on the bottom of the list in October 2008. What was important then was health care. That’s still important, but four years ago that was right in the front, along with education. And obviously the concerns that were there four years ago about the war in Iraq are now about the war in Afghanistan.”

The issues have changed, and so has Ms. Redmond’s view of her own work, which has developed over the last four years. She said when she first did this project it was more about her and now it’s more about the people and how they react to the issues of today.

“I think I really understand the process now,” Ms. Redmond said. “Whenever you do a project like this, you have to ask yourself, What am I doing here? and I think I see that better this time around. I spoke to an older woman and she said to me, ‘Oh, I don’t paint,’ and I convinced her to give it a try and she picked her issue and then told me, ‘This is very good.’ So I can better see what this does for people because it allows them to express themselves in a very unique way that’s not very confrontational. There are so many political fights these days and everyone is angry at everyone else, and this is a way for people to say what’s important to them in a different form without all that. I encourage people to be creative with their Xs and this woman told me that she loved that she had the chance to slow down and think about it before she did it without someone confronting me about my opinion. I saw that four years ago, but now I really feel it.”

This is not meant to be a partisan project. In making the Xs, people are not being asked to state their preference for incumbent President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Ms. Redmond said she is less concerned with who voters are supporting than she is with the issues they care about. She says she makes it clear that she’s not confronting people about their views and that this is not a Democrat or a Republican project, but simply an American one as we near Election Day.

“They’re putting down what they want and they’re enjoying it,” Ms. Redmond said. “I love the interaction in this project. I’m a painter, and from the beginning of my art I’ve been doing it to interact with another person. I want the response back. Even as a child, I was always the one drawing the hopscotch with chalk on the ground. It gives me a lot of reward to have that interaction. As an artist it makes you feel like you’re part of the environment that’s going on and obviously what’s going on is this election.”

In 2008, Ms. Redmond was able to fill 12 canvases with Xs and after she was finished she sent some examples of the work to the Obama family as well as the Clinton family and the Kennedy family. This time around she’s again hoping to fill 12 canvases, and so far she’s been able to get a good response as she’s gone out over the past three weeks.

As she did four years ago, Ms. Redmond has been traveling to New York City to collect her Xs. She said she considered going to places in Greenwich like Bruce Park, but she wanted to get a lot of different perspectives and she was concerned if she only concentrated locally she would get only a particular point of view. When she visits New York for this project, she typically sets up during the afternoon in Washington Square or different areas of Central Park. She’s even let people sign the work with their X in the train station when they’ve asked to.

“When you hit Washington Square you’re going to get all kinds of people,” Ms. Redmond said. “And I’ve been a little surprised by how eager people have been to do this. People have stepped up and wanted to work on this and young people are particularly enthused. They think it’s a great idea. They love that this is a positive interaction and not on the negative side. They see this as a fun way to get involved. In New York I’m able to meet people from different states and different countries. It’s very multi-cultural. I get people coming in from all five boroughs in New York showing me how they feel. I’ve even seen some of the same people I saw four years ago and they remember me and this project.”

She will be doing this right up through this weekend, the final one before the election. And after that she wants to focus in a new direction and move this into a software program. Ms. Redmond said what she’s hoping to do is take her idea and move it to another level in future years by having it be used as a way to see what public opinion is. She said it can be used by political campaigns to gauge the moods of the voters and also by companies to get customer feedback about how they’re doing in a non-confrontational and creative way. She said they can even make it like a game to encourage people to participate and it could provide a nice alternative to dull surveys.

“There’s not one X that’s the same and I think you can learn a lot about people from this project,” Ms. Redmond said.

 

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