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'Make America Paint Again': Skepticism Marks Artist Ira Hill's Visit To Kentucky

J. Tyler Franklin

In the E-18 lot of the Kentucky Expo Center -- closer to the highway than the fairgrounds -- Ira Hill pulls his white Chevy pickup truck into a spot and parks his latest art installation.

“American Expressions” is an 8-by-16-foot American flag made of fabricated steel. Down the side in hot-red paint are the words “Make America Paint Again.” The whole thing -- truck included -- takes up about two parking spaces.

Hill is pulling the sculpture from border-to-border and coast-to-coast on a flatbed trailer.  He started the journey on July 4 and hopes to finish it by Election Day.

So far, Hill has made his way up the East Coast from Atlanta to Brooklyn. This week, he’s crossed through Kentucky, and he rolled into Louisville on Wednesday night. In each city he visits, Hill invites people to write what America means to them on the flag.

He repaints the stripes in each new city and has been cataloging his travels on a blog.

“It occurred to me after listening to my friends complain and me complain [about the state of the country] that I needed to do something about it,” Hill says. “As an artist and a sculptor, I have idealism within my toolkit, and I felt like this would be the best way get to let everybody get their gripes out, share their feelings, and then we can come together and be a better country.”

The answers from city to city have varied drastically.

“Each community has its attitude,” Hill says. “They are similar and diverse all at the same time.”

For example, when Hill parked his exhibition in Grafton, West Va., there were a lot of responses that indicated pride in God and country.

“Whereas when I was in Manhattan, most of the contributions to the flag I can’t say on the radio,” Hill says.

In Louisville, the response has been light. On Wednesday night, while parked in front of Garage Bar in NuLu, Hill said a man approached him and asked what political candidate he was working for. He says he actually hasn't gotten that one very often.

“I told him I was working for liberty and justice for all,” Hill says. “People, in a lot of ways, don’t believe that I’m just doing this for an idealistic end.”

The writings on the flag Hill has gotten in Louisville range widely. There are more serious things like "Speak Less. Listen More," and "I don't make enough $$$ to pay off my $60,000 in student debt."

But there are other less thoughtful answers, like unicorn sketches and indiscernible scrawls.

On Thursday at the fair, the only people who approached “American Expressions” were three security guards in golf carts. They instructed Hill to leave but didn't tell him why.

When I reached out to Amanda Storment, vice president of communications for the Kentucky State Fair, she was unaware of the incident but said it was most likely due to the fact that Hill did not have a permit to exhibit.

Hill isn’t too upset -- although he regrets not getting funnel cake. He says he will set up shop in NuLu again tomorrow before driving out to find his next exhibition.

You can get more information about the “American Expressions” project, and follow Hill’s travels, here.

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