by Rachel Swan
It was a tough call, but after much quibbling and hand-wringing, a distinguished jury from the East Bay Express art department plucked one winner from more than a dozen "Best of the East Bay" cover design submissions. The honor went to 24 year-old Ben Peck, whose portrait combined elements of Emanuel Leutze's iconic 1851 oil painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, with familiar tropes from East Bay culture. Instead of showing a famed general and several mariners braced for their surprise ambush on the Hessians, Peck drew an aged Hells Angel (or East Bay Rat), an A's fan, a barrista, a protester, a cop, a guy with giant headphones, and a few other contemporary local archetypes.
Explaining how he conceived the idea, Peck said that this year's theme, "revolution," sent him straight to the Leutze painting — for perhaps obvious reasons. "Everyone [in the painting] is either gazing hopefully across the water or looking at the presidential figure," he said, adding that East Bay residents should feel the same way opening their local newspaper. "They're looking for things in their city, and looking to explore the new stuff they haven't tried."
Moreover, Peck said, the story expressed in the Delaware paining — about exodus, triumph, and movement — coincides with a modern narrative of San Francisco residents fleeing across the Bay to escape the high real estate prices in San Francisco. Peck works as a programmer at San Francisco gaming company Double Fine, but says he's happily settled in down Oakland, where the rents are more affordable and the local infrastructure appears to be growing organically. The characters in his picture aren't gazing toward a scrim of sunlight over Trenton, New Jersey, as were Washington and his army. Nor are they lurching toward the new housing developments in SOMA. Rather, a paddler at the bow appears to be steering starboard, toward the cranes in West Oakland. Either that, or he's trying to fork a giant pink puffy thing in the water.