PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As thousands crowd the streets and parks of Philadelphia in heated protest outside the Democratic National Convention, Andrew Purchin swapped a picket sign for an easel.
Purchin, an artist and psychotherapist from Santa Cruz, set up shop in Philadelphia this week, inviting convention-goers to find alternative outlets for political expression. On a 144-foot scroll, made of old canvases he pieced together, he’s urging people to express their passions through painting.
“I’m going to encourage people to open their eyes to look outside, we can imagine the conventions and all the people out there, and just notice you know, what do I judge? What do I like, what don’t I like? Really, judgment is everything and creativity is everything,”
Purchin first asked people to pick up a paintbrush at the Republican National Convention, where his water and oil paints served as an oasis amid the heat and chaos on the streets of Cleveland.
“It was great. It was just something — a little pit stop on the way to all the commercialization and the politics,” participant Jill Glauber said after contributing to Purchin’s art project. “Just a nice relaxing moment.”
Purchin, 54, has painted since he was 16, but his passion for politics was stirred decades later when, in 2009, Barack Obama became America’s first black president.
“It was Obama’s audacious act of being a black man and running for president that made me think ‘what’s my act of audacity?'” Purchin explained, standing under the paintings from the inauguration. “I thought when he was elected, I’m going to bring my supplies, in the cold in the chaos, and paint at his inauguration.”
He uses oil pastels to capture very impressionistic yet impactful images of the emotion and humanity at events with many conflicting views, like the 2012 National Conventions, where he noted the beauty in the demonstrators.
“You do not have to agree with someone’s politics to find their gestures and their actions beautiful.passion is one of the only things we have in common” Purchin said. “I was sort of the creative witness to this event. It wasn’t journalism, but something like that. I talked to people from both sides, I went to both sides and I had time to reflect and create based off of what I saw.”
As with his paintings from the Obama’s inauguration, Purchin hasn’t sold the pieces from the conventions because hasn’t quite determined how he wants to use them.
In preparation for the 2016 conventions, Purchin decided the best way to be a creative witness to the event was not to paint the people, but rather to have the people paint.
His message, ultimately, is to encourage younger people that passion — especially in politics — can be a source of good, and finding creative ways to express that passion is a means for building bridges.
“We can express ourselves peacefully and still be heard,” Purchin said. “(My art) is all about becoming less furious and more curious.”
Associated Press writer Mike Hill contributed to this story from Ohio.