Artists on the Trump Era

15 October, 2020

Note from the Edi­tor: The jour­nal­ist in me always wants to strive for objec­tiv­i­ty, pre­sent­ing two or more per­spec­tives on any par­tic­u­lar sto­ry or indi­vid­ual. In the case of Don­ald Trump, how­ev­er, I con­fess I find it incred­i­bly chal­leng­ing to show any bal­ance in the face of his Mus­lim coun­try ban; sep­a­rat­ing migrant “ille­gals” from their chil­dren and hold­ing them at length in deten­tion camps; describ­ing African and oth­er nations as “shit­hole coun­tries”; embrac­ing and encour­ag­ing white suprema­cists and neo-Nazis as “very fine peo­ple”; and more recent­ly, attempt­ing to dele­git­imize vot­ing by mail and even sug­gest­ing that the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion ought to be delayed, or that if he los­es to Joe Biden, he would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly leave the White House peace­ful­ly. Not to men­tion his con­stant attacks on the free press as “the ene­my of the peo­ple” and “fake news.” This strikes me as the ulti­mate irony, com­ing from the orange man with the fake tan—a fake bil­lion­aire with six bank­rupt­cies to his name, who cheat­ed on his wife (now the First Lady) with high-priced call girls, and has seen over half a dozen of his hench­men con­vict­ed of felonies. Honestly—and it sounds like sac­ri­lege to artic­u­late this—to my mind, Trump seems such a cor­rupt, incom­pe­tent and evil pres­i­dent that I actu­al­ly miss more benign fore­run­ners, such as Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

Now that I’ve vent­ed, let the artists speak for them­selves with their fab­u­lous work, which is pre­sent­ed here by spe­cial arrange­ment with each artist. —Jor­dan Elgrably

Daliah Ammar, Vote!

Artist Daliah Ammar
Artist Dalia Ammar

Our friends at Al Bus­tan Seeds of Cul­ture in Philadel­phia launched an ini­tia­tive they call Sawwit: Engag­ing Artists for Civic Engage­ment. Al Bus­tan com­mis­sioned Pales­tin­ian Amer­i­can artist Dali­ah Ammar to cre­ate this series of bilin­gual posters fea­tur­ing por­traits of diverse peo­ple while high­light­ing the need to par­tic­i­pate in shap­ing the future of our city and coun­try. These posters have been put up in neigh­bor­hoods across Philadel­phia and shared dig­i­tal­ly across the coun­try. Born 1995, Brook­lyn-based artist Dali­ah Ammar grew up between the U.S. and Pales­tine. She will grad­u­ate from the Pratt Insti­tute with MFA in 2021. See more of her art on Insta­gram.

Sandow Birk, Trumpagruel 

We pre­vi­ous­ly had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with artist Sandow Birk in 2015, when he exhib­it­ed a series of works at the Koplin Del Rio Gallery (then locat­ed in Cul­ver City, Cal­i­for­nia) that would be pub­lished the fol­low­ing year as Amer­i­can Qur’an—a beau­ti­ful cof­fee table book that remains an incred­i­ble con­ver­sa­tion piece. Birk went on to cre­ate a series of both black and white and col­or lith­o­graphs he calls Trumpa­gru­el. The col­or images in this series are pen­cil on mylar draw­ings, done while the artist was in res­i­dence at the Ballinglen Arts Foun­da­tion in Ire­land, and they are avail­able from his San Fran­cis­co rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the Catharine Clark Gallery. A black & white Trumpa­gru­el series are are stone lith­o­graphs, done and pub­lished by Auck­land Print Stu­dio, New Zealand, and rep­re­sent­ed by the Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Seattle.

“The project start­ed because I was invit­ed to New Zealand by mas­ter print­er John Pusateri at Auck­land Print Stu­dio. He is actu­al­ly from Pitts­burgh, but he’s been in NZ for a decade or more where he’s been putting togeth­er a stu­dio doing most­ly stone lith­o­g­ra­phy, which I was not too famil­iar with. He’s gath­ered quite a col­lec­tion of some 20 or 30 stones from around the world over the years, includ­ing some real­ly large ones, such as sev­er­al which are around 100cm x 150cm or so. Big and heavy, but also old and gath­ered from Europe and the Amer­i­c­as and dif­fer­ent places he finds them.

Artist (and surfer) Sandow Birk at home in southern California.
Artist (and surfer) Sandow Birk at home in south­ern California.

“I have no train­ing in print mak­ing but I have been work­ing with print­ers on sev­er­al projects over the past 15 years, by invi­ta­tion. In this case, I arrived in Auck­land with not much more than a fold­er of sev­er­al ideas that might be pos­si­ble inspi­ra­tions, and an open mind. We did a test of ran­dom draw­ing marks on one of his stones for me to learn the method of draw­ing direct­ly on the stone with pen­cils and crayons, and he etched and print­ed that so I could see the qual­i­ties of the darks that were pos­si­ble, and the sub­tleties of line and tone.

“From there I did the first draw­ing direct­ly on the stone—it was the image of Trump in his bathrobe with the eel like mon­ster fish. It was also sort of a test, but it came out great. John real­ly knows how to tweak his etch­ing process or his chem­i­cals or what­ev­er it is to get the nuances of the images into the stone. We were both pleased with it and that set off the idea of doing a series of them, based on the desire to com­plete some sort of uni­fied project in the two months we had to work togeth­er in NZ.

“The inspi­ra­tion came from an old copy of The Adven­tures of Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gru­el” that I had found in a local used book­shop here in Los Ange­les more than 15 years ago. I bought it because it is full of the illustrations—more than 200 I’d guess—by Gus­tave Doré. The line work and the loose­ness of them is real­ly amaz­ing, and the use of lights and darks is also real­ly strong in his com­po­si­tions. While I had only read bit of the huge vol­ume of the tales of Gar­gan­tua, the gen­er­al idea that there are two big baby giants traips­ing around the coun­try and lay­ing wreck to every­thing due to their bum­blings and inep­ti­tudes seemed like a per­fect par­al­lel to our ‘pres­i­dent’.”

Jos Sances, Or The Whale


These images are tak­en from The Whale. For eight months artist Jos Sances was able to focus joy­ful­ly and man­i­cal­ly on this very large scratch­board draw­ing that was inspired by Moby Dick and the his­to­ry of whal­ing in Amer­i­ca. The whale’s skin is embed­ded with a his­to­ry of cap­i­tal­ism in America—images of human and envi­ron­men­tal exploita­tion and destruc­tion since 1850. The whale is a metaphor for sur­vival, immor­tal­i­ty and a rea­son for optimism.

Muralist and printmaker Jos Sances.
Mural­ist and print­mak­er Jos Sances.

For over 40 years, Jos Sances has made his liv­ing as a print­mak­er and mural­ist in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area. He is founder of Alliance Graph­ics, a suc­cess­ful, union screen­print shop. As an artist and com­mu­ni­ty col­lab­o­ra­tor for the past 25 years, murals and pub­lic art have been Jos’s pas­sion. In 2015 and 2016 he worked on three screen­print­ed tile murals and work­shops in Todos San­tos, Baja, Mex­i­co and at the Sho­ruq Cul­tur­al Cen­ter in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Pales­tine. In 2010 and 2016 the Library of Con­gress acquired 490 prints from Sances which rep­re­sent­ed a broad overview of his print­mak­ing. His most recent projects grew out of work­shops giv­en with invest­ed com­mu­ni­ty par­tic­i­pants. This aspect of the projects—working with com­mu­ni­ty to help guide and cre­ate the artwork—is of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to Jos. “Build­ing com­mu­ni­ty through artis­tic prac­tice has been some of the most sat­is­fy­ing work I’ve done. Inter­act­ing with peo­ple who will use the facil­i­ties and help­ing them to express their val­ues and expe­ri­ence, has enriched the process. The art­work begins by meet­ing with com­mu­ni­ty stake­hold­ers, ask­ing them to con­tribute images and ideas for the piece. We then use my skills and knowl­edge of ceram­ic and screen print­ing to make these ideas con­crete. I am eager to share what I know with the com­mu­ni­ty through hands-on work­shops. Thus the broad­er com­mu­ni­ty is engaged and con­nect­ed to the art­work we cre­ate together.”

Jos is proud­ly a found­ing and life­long mem­ber of the Great Tor­tilla Conspiracy—a polit­i­cal per­for­mance group that pro­duces satir­i­cal edi­ble art screen­print­ed with choco­late on tor­tillas. He is rep­re­sent­ed by Ves­sel Gallery, Oak­land CA.