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Untitled Painting in the Center for Performing Arts

The painting in the Center for Performing Arts was an integral piece of the set design for a production of Hair, a rock musical set in the time of the hippies and the countercultural revolution. The musical follows the story of a nonconformist named Claude that is drafted in the Vietnam War, who eventually conforms to the demands of his country, giving up his individualistic bohemian lifestyle to join the fight. The musical is a testament to the American era of counter cultural revolution, highlighting the desire for peace and love in a time of war. Songs such as “Let the Sunshine In,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and “Hair” engage audience members in the spectacle of the show, allowing them to better connect with the story being presented.

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The painting on stage during Hair (2004)

The painting was created by Gion DeFrancesco for Miami University’s production of Hair for the 2004-2005 theatre season. Gion DeFrancesco has been a theatre professor and scenic designer for Miami University since 2001. For Hair, Francesco acted as the scene painter, Tammy Honesty was the set designer, and Bekka Eaton was the director. The painting hangs in the atrium of the Center for Performing Arts, just outside of the Gates-Abegglen Theatre, waiting to greet anyone who steps in to see a performance. The work can also be seen from outside as the external walls of the building are covered floor to ceiling in windows, allowing anyone in the Art Quad a view of the work.  It is a larger work, spanning about 8 feet by 8 feet. The face of the statue of liberty sits upon a polka-dotted rainbow background in a pop art style reminiscent of modern art trends that were popular during the time period Hair was set in.  The allegorical symbol of liberty’s whiteness is interrupted by loose, swooping brushstrokes of purple, blue and green. Her hair and her crown sit atop her head in a color palette identical to that of the background. The broad use of colors indicative of the need for freedom and love in the sixties and seventies in a radical time of change and revolutions. Juxtaposing these wild colors atop the face of the statue of liberty help convey the themes of the musical- that at in a time of revolt against the establishment, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all rights that can be claimed by any American, no matter their view of the power structures in place.

The untitled painting is a copy of a painting of the Statue of Liberty by Peter Max, a German Pop artist whose career thrived in the late 1960s into the 1980s. Max is an environmentalist, vegan, and human rights activist, making his art perfect to represent the radical bohemian ideas set forth by Hair. Peter Max includes a wide range of colors in all of his representational compositions, playing into the psychedelic hippy craze of the late nineteen-sixties and seventies and tapping into the unbridled color palette of the Fauves of the early twentieth century.  This painting is significant, though, as taking artistic liberties with American icons was extremely taboo; it was offensive to even wear the American Flag on a t-shirt at the time. Max’s series of Statue of Liberty paintings defy the idea of impermissible representation by adding disruptive colors and loud patterns to the allegorical face of our nation, Lady Liberty.

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The Original Painting of the Statue of Liberty by Peter Max