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.

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