Golden Shower Heads, Bloody Paintings: Meet the Artists Fighting Trump

Indecline, Illma Gore and other underground artists working hard to show the new president that he's not going to take away our rights easily

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Golden Shower Heads, Bloody Paintings: Meet the Artists Fighting Trump

From the moment Donald Trump announced his campaign for president in June 2015, protest art in various forms began popping up around the world. From "Dump Trump" street signs to a mezcal company's "Donald eres un pendejo" advertisements, the country was abuzz with colorful, comical and controversial anti-Trump artistic statements. Now, with Trump assuming his position in the White House, activist artists are gearing up for a busy four years.

If the past year offers a hint at the kind of tone artists will have in skewering our new president, we can expect plenty of grotesque shock and awe. But for Illma Gore, whose drawing of naked Trump was the first viral work to present a viscerally repulsive vision of Trump, that was completely unintentional. In early 2016, the 24-year-old Los-Angeles-based artist was briefly banned from Facebook after posting her nude Donald Trump with marginal genitalia. In Gore's work, Trump, leaning forward on a propped-up knee, sneers underneath his you're-not-fooling-anyone hair. Then, peeking out just south of a respectable beer gut: his angry inch. The image went viral, the original drawing was assessed a value of approximately $1.4 million, and Gore says she was threatened with a lawsuit by the Trump team. Then, while walking down an L.A. street, she says a Trump supporter punched her in the face.

But Gore viewed her risqué portrait as more a commentary on our cultural obsession with penis size than a political protest. She told Rolling Stone in an interview last summer that the entire body in the piece is an artistic rendering of a close friend of hers, one who, when fully clothed, is often perceived as a very macho, masculine guy. She also said that, like many at that point in the campaign, she wasn't taking Trump seriously as a candidate. "The painting would mean the same thing if I did it with a massive cock," Gore said. "He's still a racist bigot. He's still Donald Trump."

Come spring, as Trump's primary wins multiplied, and barely a day went by without him either saying or tweeting something antagonistic or repugnant, protest artists grew equally fiery – though with a far more robust sense of humor than the Donald's.

In October 2015, Brooklyn-based artist Mary Mihelic and Philadelphia-based David Gleeson combined forces to become the collective t.Rutt, purchasing a party bus in Des Moines, Iowa – stripper pole included – that had been briefly rented and branded by the Trump campaign the previous summer. "I was just starting to feel like some stuff was about to start happening even though [Trump] was such a long shot," Gleeson says.

Together, the two artists crisscrossed the country in the bus over the course of the campaign season, conspicuously altering the vehicle's exterior several times. The gaudy "TRUMP" lettering suddenly read "T.RUMP." On its siding they added a hash-tagged phrase, "Women Trump Trump," and then replaced it with a playful reference to Trump's suggestion that Megyn Kelly was menstruating while hosting the first GOP debate: "Make Fruit Punch Great Again!" Mihelic and Gleeson then offered Trump protesters they met on the road a chance to toss pints of fruit punch at the bus. As Trump's rhetoric amped up, so did t.Rutt's efforts. In December 2015, after Trump said Muslims should be barred from entering the U.S. for an indeterminate amount of time, Mihelic and Gleeson scrawled "Make America Great Again!" across the bus's rear in Arabic. When Trump said he supported the waterboarding technique in interrogating terrorists in February 2015, t.Rutt tossed ropes around the bus at the New Hampshire primary stop and threw a giant black cloth on the windshield to represent a hooded prisoner. They scaled the top of the bus and dumped buckets of water down its front while asking it questions.

Last June, Illma Gore visited a patch of the Mexican border in Arizona to voice her opinion on Trump's declaration that he will "build a wall" to keep immigrants out of the U.S. She propped up a white picket fence with a FOR SALE sign on it, hocking "the American Dream." Then, in response to the infamous tape of Trump telling the Today show host Billy Bush that women will welcome men with certain levels of star power to grab their crotches without warning, Gore painted a giant boxing-gloved vagina knocking Trump out in a ring, à la Muhammad Ali in his second match with Sonny Liston.

Then, last August, inspired in part by Gore's original Trump portrait, a Las-Vegas-based anarchist art collective called Indecline displayed five statues of a naked Trump, each in a different U.S. city. They called the project The Emperor Has No Balls. It drew the ire of some and tickled the funny bone of many.

As Trump's swearing in approached, Indecline, Gore, t.Rutt and other protest artists looked to re-enter the cultural consciousness, preparing more thought-provoking pieces – or, as Gore put it, "be his biggest pain in the ass."

On the Sunday before the inauguration, at L.A.'s Samuel Freeman gallery, Gore and Indecline unveiled "Rise Up Thy Young Blood," a 10-by-15-foot update of Henry Mosler's 1911 painting, "Birth of the Flag." Inspired by a group of Cuban punk rock enthusiasts, Los Frikis – who in the late 1980s injected themselves with HIV-infected blood in an act of solidarity with quarantined AIDS patients – Gore and Indecline felt a painting made of numerous blood donations would provide the jumping-off point of a powerful discourse, without compromising their respective reputations for delivering striking artwork.

"We wanted to have something that would be the catalyst for bigger movements and bigger art pieces throughout the year as [Trump's] presidency starts to unfold," a representative for Indecline said of the collaboration. "It's going to be a long four years [and] we wanted to step up and say, 'This is what you're dealing with, we're going to give it everything we've got.'"

While Mosler's work depicts Betsy Ross and three helpers sewing the first American flag, the Gore-Indecline effort features seven characters, each representing a different cultural faction of America interacting with a contemporary, 50-starred flag. A working-class white male with a "Make America Great Again!" hat stands between a Native American woman and a white-collared black male kneeling near a police officer. On opposing ends of the flag are a young Latina female and a Muslim couple.

"We all put a little part into the country, whether we disagree with each other or not," Gore says of the painting's message. "We're all creating and defining the United States of America. We all hold a part of the flag."

Meanwhile, Mihelic and Gleeson have been coordinating a t.Rutt trip to Washington, D.C. for both the inauguration and the Woman's March. They will display "Desecration," an American flag they embroidered with some of Trump's quotes from the leaked Billy Bush tape. They'll also bring with them a second flag they've altered by making the stripes look like jail cell bars, with the embroidered words from Trump's November tweet stating that if anyone burns an American flag they should be penalized with a year in prison.

"We use art as a prop to engage people," Mihelic says of her work with Gleeson, "so you can actually have a discussion of opposing views that's much less divisive. What the art of the absurdity does is it engages both sides in a lighter, humorous way, and you can [more easily] find some common ground."

For their post-inauguration bus trips, t.Rutt has painted two gold-colored teardrops near the front, in reference to the alleged videotape of Trump instructing prostitutes to urinate on a bed President Obama once shared with his wife on a trip to Russia. The artists say they are seeking urine donations – preferably from celebrities who've publicly denounced Trump, like Rosie O'Donnell, Megyn Kelly and Meryl Streep – so they can give their bus a golden shower. So far, only friends have donated to the cause, but Mihelic and Gleeson say they will make a more public call next month.

Another Los-Angeles-based protest artist, Plastic Jesus, has already served up some commentary on Trump's most recent large-scale controversy. The Polystyrene One is best known for building a miniature wall around the President-elect's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – compelling scores of people to stop in their tracks, laugh, and pose for a picture next to it. He recently drew up price tags in the style of those at Home Depot reading "Trump Golden Shower Head," costing $99.98 each. The British expat affixed the signage underneath polished brass shower heads on sale in three of the chain's Los Angeles locations, showing off the guerrilla art installation on Instagram. "It was easy to do; it gave people a laugh," Plastic Jesus says of the piece.

Since late 2015, the artist has also been selling $100 bills with Trump's face on them, but he's just released a limited edition collection of the bills, specially stamped with the date of the inauguration. "Hopefully Trump will commend me on my commercialism," Plastic Jesus says. He printed the first set of bills prior to Trump earning the GOP presidential nomination. To him, they represented a harrowing look into a possible future with Trump in the White House, "but to the surprise of most people," Plastic Jesus observes, "we're now there."

Brooklyn-based painter and sculptor Crys Yin also designed protest-march signage, available for download on her website and, like Plastic Jesus, she takes a "comical and absurd" approach to her art. "Humor has always been my coping mechanism," she says, "and sort of my path to staying sane."

Yin, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, crafted 12 black-and-white "missing" posters. Some make general statements about the gender wage gap – "MISSING: 20 cents of every dollar earned by women in America!" – while others blatantly bash the President-elect – "MISSING: Drain for swamp. Any info? Call Donald Trump."

"It started off as just a way for me to put some of the things I was feeling, post-election, on paper," Yin says. "After I posted them on social media, a handful of friends asked for copies and I realized this shouldn't just be something I do for myself."

"Found" signs are also offered on her site, with text reading: "FOUND: A powerful, unwavering resistance!!!" and, specially drawn for the Women's March, "FOUND: The Power of Sisterhood!!!" The latter sign, she says, "has been shared and downloaded a ton."

The contribution to the Trump discussion from the New-York-based street artist Hanksy was his massive Trump turd mural that resembled the poop emoji, with flies encircling it. It appeared on a building in Manhattan in August 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy. Hanksy seemingly fits right in with the anti-Trump artist community, however, he doesn't anticipate going to the same well again anytime soon. "I want to focus that energy that I devoted to Trump last year to build up rather than tear down," Hanksy says, via email. "The election cycle was incredibly tiresome, and while I'll continue to act and create art in efforts that will aid the resistance, going directly after Trump is not part of the immediate plan." He feels Trump-centric art, when done properly, has a "tremendous ability to go viral ... but doing more of the same won't generate change." Hanksy explained that he shared that sentiment with several artist friends of his, and they all agreed: "low-hanging fruit is nice, but it tends to turn damn quick."

On the other side of the spectrum, speaking on behalf of herself and the protest artists eager to put themselves in the line of fire during the Trump administration, Illma Gore says she's going to continue making art that directly addresses the new commander in chief. "We'll keep painting and pissing off that orange motherfucker," she says. "I think just shedding light and showing that we're here and that we're not going anywhere is more important than anything else."