Ross School - Senior Projects 2010

Student: Joseph Saunders

Mentor: Alexandra Cromwell




For my senior project I chose to do a conceptual project addressing the term “AMERICAN LOVE” through a collection of portraits and different subject matters that I would draw as realistically as possible. I came up with the idea to do AMERICAN LOVE for a number of reasons. In the past few years I have become increasingly interested in the philosophy of the counterculture movement of the 1960s that had love and peace as the major foundation. I have also become more patriotic recently, and I felt it would be very appropriate to try to develop these personal beliefs through the Senior Project. I wrote poetry at the bottom of each piece to compliment the work. I experimented with different styles of writing, speaking to the subject in one piece and speaking for the subject in another. I chose a variety of subjects from the blues musician John Lee Hooker to the World Trade Center buildings.  


Images (JLHooker.jpg, PandaBear.jpg, WTCenter.jpg, Jimi Hendrix.jpg)

PowerPoint Presentation


This collection of drawings, accompanied by poems, reflects my interpretation of the phrase “American Love.” This project grew from ideas I have had over for the past year or so. Some of these beliefs I am sure I will hold dear for my entire life; however, other components of this project were spontaneous, based on ephemeral and enigmatic images and memories.

During this time I have become increasingly interested in the philosophy and the arts of the 1960s counter-culture movement. The enlightened lyrics of The Beatles inspired me to believe in the true power of love and peace. They were the voice of an entire generation that believed in the same ideas I am supporting in this project. The words of the political activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also have taught me the power of compassion.

The patriotic aspect of this project came mainly from the author Richard Brautigan. In his writing he often reminisces on his childhood spent in the great wilderness of the American North West. He seems to be a hybrid of the sentimental romantic and the rough masculine hunter. Brautigan often speaks passionately about the wild United States and all of its various faces. His writing taught me to love the majesty of the American spirit. The 9/11 attacks also have recently consumed my private thoughts. Although I was alive when this historic tragedy occurred, I am only now beginning to feel the great loss that our country experienced and has attempted to overcome.

There are many other images that came to me when I was thinking about this project, such as the cowboy culture, Woodstock ’69, The Beatles coming to the United States, Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the Civil Rights movement, the dream-like paintings of Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and the story of Huckleberry Finn.

When I was choosing subjects to depict, I selected figures that I believe helped promote peace and love, i.e. Jimi Hendrix and Richard Brautigan, but also people who give me reason to love the United States of America and to be proud to be an American, such as the musicians Panda Bear and John Lee Hooker.     

Through my poetry I tried to emulate the style of the poets of Ancient Greece, like Sappho, whose poems were written on papyrus thousands of years ago, and now exist only as fragments of the original. Another influence was the vernacular style of Richard Brautigan. I have always found this style of writing appealing, because of its sincerity.

I like to think that my art is a continuation of realist work with poetic yet abstract meanings and designs interacting with the subject, instead of a straightforward study in classical illusionistic drawing. My main influence is the Austrian Secessionist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). I have always been amazed by the strikingly realistic figures Klimt drew and painted, but also by the beautiful and intricate patterns that surround his subjects. These abstractions were Klimt’s own creative input into an otherwise traditional portrait. A more contemporary influence is the work of Kehinde Wiley, whose work I admire for many of the same reasons.

I do not feel that this project can ever be completed, because it is a growing and expanding idea that I will carry for the rest of my life. If I were to repeat this project one year from now I suspect that I would choose five different subjects. Through these drawings and poems I hope to convey some of the beliefs and thoughts that I have been conjuring for the past year. These drawings are the result of my own experiences and meditations. I would like to believe that everyone will acknowledge their own heroes, memories, and beliefs in the collective category known as American Love. 

Works Consulted

Animal Collective. Merriweather Post Pavillion. Compact Disc. Domino Records, 2009.

Brautigan, Richard. The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings. New York: Mariner Books, 1999.

Dead Man. Dir. Jim Jarmusch. DVD. Miramax Films, 1995.

Dreams. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. DVD. Warner Bros., 1990.

Easy Rider. Dir. Dennis Hopper. DVD. Columbia Pictures, 1969.

Kerouac, Jack. Dharma Bums. New York: Penguin Classics, Deluaxe Edition. 2006.

Panda Bear. Person Pitch. Compact Disc. Paw Tracks, 2007.

Reps, Paul and Nyogen Sezaki. Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. North Claredon: Tuttle Publishing. 1998.

Community Member (Details)

John Alexander, Painter.