As Adolf Hitler served as a muse for German artist John Heartfield, Donald J. Trump has been one for me.
President Barack Obama was making great strides towards bringing people together after he was elected, although the deep seeds of hate for civil debate of opposing views still very much existed.
In 2009, Dr. George Tiller, the medical director of Women’s Health Care Services, was fatally shot at his church in Wichita, KS. A friend of mine worked with Dr. Tiller and went to Kansas to help console his family and friends. Outside of his clinic, a protestor left a canvas that read “Murderer Not A Martyr.” My friend took it and gave the sign to me, asking if I’d transform it into something else, which I did after several months of contemplation about the sign and the enormity of the situation.
After completion of the piece, the 2012 U.S. Presidential campaigns were ramping up with racist propaganda. I decided to purchase some of the items and alter them as I had done with the Tiller piece. The Making Lemonade series consists of appropriated items that were transformed into contrary messaging from the original.
Barack Obama Is…#1, #2, #3, oil on gelatin silver prints, 16”x20″, 2014
When the 2016 U.S. Presidential election rolled around, I again collected items but found the majority of propaganda had shifted from racism to sexism. I was creatively exhausted from surrounding myself with visual rubbish and I had to take a break from the work. That break did not last long.
It should be no surprise that a washed-up businessman and television personality would be painfully out of his capacity to serve our highest office without any trace of ethics, intelligence, or integrity. The daily bombardment of mind-blowing decisions, inflammatory comments, and the continued degradation of civil discourse under President Trump led to the (un)Making America series. This body of work, through a balance of humor and gravity, seeks to shine a light on the multitude of reasons why Donald J. Trump is not fit for office and how he has abused his power while holding the most important elected position in our country.
In early 2018 I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher and one of his guests referred to Trump’s approach as a “straw man argument.” I immediately envisioned a life-size sculpture of Trump made out of straw. I tried to shake off the image, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this vapid figure leading our country, a figure lacking in critical thought and capable of going up in flames at the slightest spark of criticism. After months of this mental invasion, I decided to make Straw Man in an attempt to purge him from my mind.
Straw Man, mixed media, 6’11” x 2’ x 2’, 2018
Before I could even complete him, other characters soon crept into my subconscious. Stone Thrower is a personification of some of the hypocritical and ugly propaganda items that I purchased off the official Donald J. Trump for President 2016 campaign website. #MePredatorToo is based on Trump’s rumored sexual indiscretions and how he managed to still get elected after the release of the Access Hollywood tape.
The Me Too movement called out predators like Trump, who has somehow been given a pass when others have lost their careers over sexual assault allegations.
Stone Thrower, mixed media, 5’4” x 4’ x 7’6”, 2018
#MePredatorToo, mixed media, 2’6” x 2’6” x 6’4”, 2018
I thought I was done. However, I’d see a news story or string of Sunday morning Twitter tirades and a new character would worm his way into my brain. Narcissist was probably the easiest to conceptualize due to Trump’s shallow persona. It is important for me to incorporate as much symbolism into each piece as possible – from the types of flowers used, references to historical figures, moments in Trump’s life to the name of the color of paint used.
Mini Me & Friend began as just inspirational characters but has developed into a freak show of items found on Trump’s campaign website, some of which are slightly altered.
Narcissist, mixed media, 3’4” x 3’4” x 7’1”, 2019
Self-Portrait with Mini Me & Friend, mixed media, 2’ x 4’ x 6’, 2019
Fossil Fool was made in reaction to Trump’s total disregard for the environment, the sophomoric plastic straws found on his campaign website, and the shameful attacks on environmentalists who just want a healthy planet, like Greta Thunberg. False Profit started out as another character and morphed into a piece that questions why so many Christians support the total antithesis of the teachings of Christ through Trump’s documented words and actions.
Fossil Fool, mixed media, 2’2” x 2’10” x 7’, 2019
False Profit, mixed media, 2’ x 4’ x 6’5”, 2020
I thought I was done. Then, COVID-19 hit. People were hoarding toilet paper and refusing to wear masks. Trump gloated when only 15 people had died, claimed he shut it down from coming in via China, and publicly wondered why doctors couldn’t use disinfectants to cleanse people from within. King Covid was the inevitable embodiment of Trump’s lack of compassion, intellect, and leadership.
King Covid, mixed media, 6’4” x 6’2” x 8’5”, 2020
In the midst of this pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests emerged all over the country for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other African-Americans who needlessly died, or were brutally injured from police violence. And there he stood, just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, in the midst of so much loss, chaos and turmoil. Trump has continued to promote and continue a history of violence and hate in America. Li’l Cracker invaded my thoughts while I was still wrapping King Covid in his fourteen-and-a-half rolls of toilet paper. It is my hope that Li’l Cracker is the final character in the (un)Making America series.
Li’l Cracker, mixed media, 2’ x 7’ x 8’, 2020
John Heartfield had a slogan: “use photography as a weapon.” His courage to vehemently stand up to a brutal dictator, even through great personal and professional loss, has been an inspiration to me as an artist.
America of 2020 is not the Germany of 1938, although we share the same historic fate of having an egomaniacal leader who elicits violence and wears xenophobia and nationalism like a caped crusader. Which side of history will you stand on? Please vote in November.