If you fly into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in the next few weeks, keep your window shade up. You just might see a gigantic portrait of former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke staring back up at you. His profile stretches across about two acres of farmland in rural Texas, just three miles north of the airport. It’s the handiwork of the artist Stan Herd, who Dan Rather once deemed the “Father of Crop Art.”
Herd has been making large-scale earthworks for four decades, incorporating his knowledge and appreciation of agriculture, architecture, and fine art to use the landscape as his canvas. Now, he’s using these skills to pay tribute to the latest entry into the 2020 US presidential race.
For his part, Beto knows a thing or two about art. During his early 20s, when he was living in New York, he worked briefly as an art handler.
Herd told artnet News by email that he was first inspired to make a more political earth artwork after watching O’Rourke’s narrow race against Ted Cruz. Bearing in mind the old political trope that “as goes Texas, so goes the nation,” he wanted to capitalize on the prospective momentum of a “blue wave” sweeping across the state.
After searching around Austin to find the ideal location, Joan Havard, a sixth-generation Texan resident, offered a tract of land at Carson Creek Ranch, close enough to the airport to be seen by incoming and outgoing planes. Herd spent the next two weeks using the native grasses and soil as his medium, plowing and mowing his design, based on a detailed scale drawing. He used stone, gravel, and sand to create the highlights and shadows in the portrait, accentuating O’Rourke’s dark hair and the planes of his face.
Just two days before the work was completed, Beto threw his hat into the 2020 presidential race. Herd confirms that representatives from the campaign have come to see the work in situ, though he financed and organized the entire project himself.
Most of Herd’s previous earthworks have been focused on drawing attention to local treasures—he was commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art to recreate van Gogh’s Olive Trees, a painting in the museum’s collection—but he has dipped his toe into politics before. Almost 10 years ago, he created a small-scale portrait of Barack Obama in Dallas ahead of his primary run against Hillary Clinton. And we all know how that turned out.
The work will be on view for about two weeks. See more pictures below: