Early in 2014 we reported on what we thought was nothing more than a clever bit of street art satire—a poster featuring a tattooed Sen. Ted Cruz promoting his "Blacklisted & Loving It" tour. At the time we applauded Cruz for running with the joke and saying the only inaccurate part of the poster was the cigarette dangling out of his mouth, and as everyone shared a laugh at the time we figured that was that and we would never see the inked up version of Cruz again. Boy were we mistaken about the entire thing.
It turns out the poster was never intended to be mocking Cruz, in reality it was a cleverly placed bit of propaganda by the right wing artist Sabo. If you head over to Cruz's website you can purchase the poster, as well as a set of buttons designed by the artist, with the proceeds going to fund the senator's presidential campaign. Much in the same way that Shepard Fairey helped President Obama during his campaign by creating the iconic "Hope" poster, Sabo is hoping that he can use his art to help influence the 2016 presidential race.
“I started doing this because I got tired of the left defining who I was,” Sabo told the Independent Journal.“I’m not rich, I’m not racist, I’m not a homophobe, I’m none of those things. Why isn’t there anyone out there setting the story straight?"
When it comes to politics, most of the street art that you see leans to the left. In other words, for every one of Sabo's Ted Cruz posters you've probably seen 1,000 Che stencils spray painted on a wall. This, in a way, makes the message behind his art even more powerful because it not only sticks with you visually, but it forwards a message that you rarely see in street art thus making it far more memorable. On his website Sabo explains why he chose this art form.
"My aim as an artist is to be as dirty, ground level, and mean as any Liberal artist out there, more so if I can," Sabo says. "Use their tactics, their methods, appeal to their audience, the young, urban , street urchins with a message they never hear in a style they own."
Ted Cruz is not the only politician that has gotten a tattoo makeover from the artist, either. Bernie Sanders, the self described Democratic Socialist, has been covered with Soviet-inspired tattoos in another one of Sabo's pieces. It's interesting to take a second to compare the different goals of the tattoos in each poster. In the Cruz poster the artist is clearly trying to portray the senator as a badass, a rebel with a cause so to speak, and the tattoos help create this image. Whereas with the Sanders poster the tattoos are used to show the unsavory beliefs that Sanders has been hiding under his suit. By referencing the Soviet Union and the tattoo tradition found in Russian prisons the point that Sabo is making with this piece is far from subtle. Although, that bear playing the accordion tattoo looks pretty sweet.
Going forward it will be interesting to see how Sabo's Cruz poster ends up being remembered. As Cruz gains momentum after his victory in the Iowa caucuses will their be crowds holding up placards of a tattooed Cruz at all of his rallies? Only time will tell.