Call him Andy Claus.
Andrew Young, former U.N. ambassador and former Atlanta mayor, has a new look: red suit, fur-trimmed hat, twinkling smile.
Young is posed as the Jolly Old Elf himself in a new painting by Atlanta portraitist Ross Rossin. The painting harks back to Coca-Cola advertising from the 1930s (Young hoists a bottle of The Real Thing in the picture) and was commissioned in honor of the Rotary Club of Atlanta’s 100th birthday. It was unveiled Monday night at the club’s annual holiday gala.
Rotary member and Atlanta marketing man Bob Hope, who helped stage the gala, approached Coke with the idea of updating Santa for the 21st century. It is Coke, after all, that popularized the defining image of the red-suited, white-bearded, plump-bellied Santa through the use of illustrator Haddon Sundblom’s paintings in its holiday advertising.
This new Santa is a departure. “It’s not just a generic image of a kind old man,” said Rossin, 49, of Buckhead, “but rather someone who, indeed, throughout his life of 80-plus years is a messenger of good news, peace, friendship and understanding.
“That’s the new thing,” said Rossin, “that’s the different angle. Not just the fact that he’s an African-American or someone who doesn’t have a beard. The spirit of Santa truly lives in him.”
Investment adviser Robert Balentine, president of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, said, “We thought it would be a great way to share a great holiday message and have fun with it as well.”
The 6-by-7-foot portrait was being revealed during festivities at the Buckhead Theatre, owned by Rotary Club member Charles Loudermilk. Only a few members of the club knew the identity of the “New Santa” ahead of time, and Balentine was expecting some interesting reactions when they pulled the cover off. “It will be fun to see the expressions on people’s faces,” he said Monday afternoon.
Young himself is apprehensive about filling those big, black, shiny boots.
Being jolly, is no problem, he said, and he’s the proud caretaker of a belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly. But it is unnerving to be portrayed as the most powerful and benevolent being on Earth. “This scares the daylights out of me,” he said Monday. “This was a Rotary idea, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rotaries worldwide and especially in Atlanta. I would try to do anything they suggested to me, because of my confidence in them. But I have not yet developed the sense of deserving.”
Yet Young takes the honor seriously. “What I think of this season is that it’s a season of giving, and what I have tried to do all my life is pass on the blessings that I have been given. And I think that’s the purpose of life.”
Unlike Sundblom’s gestural technique, Rossin’s oil paintings are often photo-realist in style and grand in scale. Several are in the National Gallery, including another portrait of Young that he completed in 2009.
Santa’s new personality is “not about necessarily overthrowing the existing image,” said Rossin. “It’s more than that. We’re sending a certain message: That Santa’s spirit is alive.”