Art by I M Pi


I create portrait paintings depicting various world leaders silhouetted against images of their own national flags. The paintings are greatly simplified and obsessively stylized. In addition, I alter the flags intended symbolism. The images are broken down into 3 or 4 absolute colors so that they can be easily transferred to silk screen, stencils or paste-ups. Since these paintings are political statements, I thought that they should exist in a format that lends itself to reproduction. In these paintings I attempt to create symbolically meaningful and politically charged images about these incredibly dynamic and important figures, and then to create paintings and street art focused on each one.

The first painting I created in this series was Vladimir Putin. In my painting Putin is seen staring out, head tilted high, chin broad and strong, and his eyes fixed and cold. This is how I believe Putin sees himself; strong, unforgiving and resolute. Behind Putin is the red flag of the former Soviet Union, which I believe is fitting for a Russian president who has orchestrated military incursions into the former Soviet state of Georgia, and who has pushed through a revisionist version of history whitewashing over many of the crimes of his predecessor Stalin. With the flag I am saying that Putin seeks to extend Russia’s power beyond its traditional borders, and he is happy to use violence to do so. I see Putin as being comfortable in front of a soviet flag, as well as being comfortable when compared with a soviet legacy.

In the street art campaign that followed the painting, I created a three color stencil of the painting. I have been putting these images all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. I then created supporting images in the form of “paste-ups”. During this time I had become aware of Putin releasing a series of propaganda photos. There are photos of him shirtless on a horse and fishing without a shirt. There is even one with Putin doing a little kung fu; images obviously meant to show Putin as strong and viral. What struck me about these images besides their obvious lack of modesty was how I saw women reacting to them. Here is Putin, a caretaker of a soviet mythology displaying an overtly masculine, and even theatrical sexuality. I wanted to point out where this confidence comes from, and what it ultimately has lead to. To do this I juxtaposed images of the exhibitionist Putin with images of the female reporters and human rights activists; outspoken critics of Putin’s regime, who were then subsequently murdered in brutal and violent ways. I tried to draw a correlation between Putin’s dominate male sexual identity and the murders of the women who opposed him in life.

For each new painting I create, I create a unique campaign. For Hu Jintao for instance, I am producing posters to distribute to the Fu Lin Gong, and the Tibetan protesters here in New York. I want my work to influence not unlike the media/political conglomerates I seek to subvert. I look to street art to have a democratizing effect over media, and I believe art is more vital when it is available to a larger section of the community.