Cuomo’s 2020 Vision: Turbulent Waters and So Many Octopuses 1

ALBANY, N.Y. — A rainbow-colored Arc of the Moral Universe. The Burr-Hamilton duel. An octopus called Intolerance.

Anyone wondering what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2020 agenda looks like — really looks like — need gaze no further than a commemorative poster that Mr. Cuomo unveiled at a private reception on Wednesday night after his annual State of the State address, which aimed to outline the same ideas. Minus the sea monsters.

The designer of the poster was also a surprise: The governor himself, who has spent four decades in New York politics but very little time in the state’s art scene.

Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said he designed the mixed-media piece, sketching rough elements of it — a schooner atop a turbulent sea, the sturdy Statue of Liberty, some sort of winged demon representing Ethnocentrism — while mulling similar themes in the speech.

“A ship of state on the sea of division,” said Mr. Cuomo, describing his artistic and political vision. “That’s what my speech was all about.”

The poster was more precisely limned by the artist Rusty Zimmerman, who also did two previous pieces in Mr. Cuomo’s emerging triptych; he called the experience of working with the governor “an adventure.” The poster was paid for using campaign funds, Mr. Cuomo’s office said, though its final cost had not yet been determined.

One previous poster was from his first campaign for governor, in 2010, and the other piece, from 2012, features a man on a motorcycle (the governor’s preferred ride), a large striped bass (emblematic of Mr. Cuomo’s affection for angling) and a Ghidorah-like monster whose three heads represent corruption, bureaucracy and apathy.

Like that surreal tableau, this year’s version was inspired in part by the famed campaign ad employed in 1900 by another Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, in his run for the White House. (He was beaten by President William McKinley.)

Mr. Cuomo gave a nod to Mr. Bryan’s influence: In Mr. Bryan’s poster, Lady Liberty wields an ax to corporate greed, represented by an octopus. The governor has Mr. Bryan’s name grace what appears to be a barrel, in the grasp of a second octopus. (A squid labeled Government Incompetence completes the cephalopod trifecta.)

If Mr. Bryan’s poster is heavy with symbolism, Mr. Cuomo’s is positively overrun with it. In addition to the Ship of State (trailing a pair of small flags representing the Legislature), the frame is also populated by puffing faces of Anger and fearsome Reefs of Anger and Squalls of Hate.

There’s also a palisade of Progress, listing accomplishments from his nine-plus years in office, such as election reform, minimum wage increases and paid family leave.

“This is how I see us,” Mr. Cuomo said in an interview in his office on Thursday, noting his administration’s achievements. “We’re in the middle of that and we’re navigating through that.”

Curiously, the palisade portion of the poster also includes a tiny depiction of the 1804 duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, which occurred in Weehawken, which is … in New Jersey. (Mr. Cuomo admitted this was not geographically accurate, but seems well within artistic license.)

The ship also has a flag reading “52-56,” an apparent reference to Mr. Cuomo’s father, Mario M. Cuomo (who served as the state’s 52nd governor) and Mr. Cuomo himself (who is No. 56), whose portrait tops the frame with the label: “Fighter for the People.”

The governor said he had also been deeply inspired by a lyric from the Leonard Cohen song “Democracy,” which refers to just such a ship in similar straits. (He also sang a snippet from the singer’s “Hallelujah,” which he called “a beaut” of a tune.)

Surrounded by elegant political memorabilia of Democratic political icons (a re-election poster for Franklin D. Roosevelt, a bust of Robert F. Kennedy), Mr. Cuomo spoke passionately about the poster, noting that similar endeavors were once a common way of expressing a politician’s values and plans.

Mr. Cuomo said he had worked on the design for two months, even as he planned his annual address. And, like any artist, he said he had grappled with how to get so many big ideas — the state of the world, the state of civic society and, yes, the state of the state — down on a little canvas.

“How do I make them fit together, because I see them as all parts, all elements of the same picture, all elements of the same speech,” Mr. Cuomo said. “But then you say, How do you communicate all this?”