XENIA — Hands wave — cameras snap to eye-level. Hats fly — state signs bounce in the air — and at the podium, behind the microphone, a presidential candidate pauses.
You might recognize this as Norman Rockwell’s “A Time for Greatness” — the iconic painting depicting a 1960 John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles as he accepts the nomination for presidency.
In Greene County, the painting once published in a 1964 “Look Magazine” issue is re-emerging, in a sense — but this time, with a fresh palette of colors and more, it looks a little different.
“I saw this and thought, ‘What would it look like today?’” Xenia artist Gary Blevins said, holding Rockwell’s print in his living room.
In a glimpse, the shapes are the same.
Beyond that, the new painting becomes its own.
A few white hands turn shades darker.
Thirty-five millimeter film cameras become cellphones.
Round hats morph into red and white ball-caps.
A Texas sign becomes Ohio.
Faces disappear behind the podium, a line of flags appear, the microphone shrinks, and the presidential candidate becomes Donald J. Trump.
“I wasn’t doing it to make a political statement or anything,” Blevins said of his painting of Cleveland’s 2016 Republican National Convention.
Out of his home, Blevins has been working on a series depicting Rockwell “before he paints.” Rockwell showing his models how to pose for a photographer. Rockwell sketching. Rockwell deep in thought, paintbrush in hand.
Soon, he’ll take this series of 11 to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
He’ll also tote along his convention painting, which is the first product born from a new idea: updating Rockwell’s paintings to the modern era.
“My whole idea was to go back, look at Rockwell’s work, and find some of his paintings that I can update to today’s look,” Blevins said. “Just from going through the book with all his paintings I ran across this one and said ‘I wonder if I can update this to 2016’.”
As he sketched, he used a stack of photos of the latest Republican National Convention — focusing on the stage and podium, the RNC logo and Trump-Pence signs, the Make America Great Again hats and of course, the now-president.
“I always start with the face, because if the face isn’t right, you might as well not even do it,” the artist said. “I start with the eyes. If the eyes aren’t right, you might as well forget it. And I just build up from there.”
Blevins said it took him about a week to complete the painting, which has gotten feedback from the community on social media and at the Greene County Republican Party Headquarters. Blevins said he plans to get prints made of the portrait to be sold at the downtown Xenia headquarters. The original may even get a brief stay there on Main Street.
“I just want people to see it. I think it’s fun,” he said. “It’s definitely a conversation piece.”
The next step for Blevins’ re-imagined-Rockwell painting is to take it to the museum in Stockbridge.
“Being able to walk into the Norman Rockwell Museum with my paintings and have everybody look at them — that’s all I want — that’s just the coolest thing I could imagine,” he said. “It doesn’t get any cooler than that for an artist.”
But when it all comes down to it, the artist said the presidential painting — now in an antique gold and black, appropriately “stately” frame — isn’t political. He did it out of his love for Rockwell.
And although it’s sitting in his living room right now, he hopes it will do a little more traveling soon.
Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498 or follow @annadbolton on Facebook.
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