Donald Trump, the Muse: How 6 Artists Are Capturing the GOP Candidate

Eric Yahnker, Pierced Piety and Precious Patriotism.

Though he reputedly never voted, Andy Warhol was a liberal Democrat who gave his assistants days off from the studio during elections if they promised to cast a ballot for Democrats. But after some nudging from actress Brooke Hayward and writer Jean Stein, Warhol entered into the political fray during the 1972 election with a poster for George McGovern. “I wanted to do something clever, so I got the bright idea to do a green face of Nixon with ‘Vote McGovern’ under it,” Warhol wrote in his diaries on November 3, 1983. “And that’s when the IRS got so interested in me.” In fact, every year after Nixon took office, up until Warhol’s death, the artist’s business was audited. Warhol remarked that he “hated” Hayward for urging him to make the poster, but the work endures as one of the more iconic pieces of visual political speech in modern history.

Warhol’s Nixon poster is part of a long history of prominent artists who have mocked conservative politicians. (For a number of reasons — especially the prevailing politics of the art world and the cultural leanings of most artists — there aren’t many examples of well-regarded art created in support of the GOP.) Peter Saul’s toxic neon depictions of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and Jonathan Yeo’s porn collage of Sarah Palin both enjoyed a great deal of attention. Not surprisingly, Donald J. Trump has already inspired a lot of art.

Carrie Mae Weems, Paul Chan, and Richard Prince have all responded to Trump in their world — as have the six artists below. From a 2004 pastel and watercolor send-up of the Donald as a Vegas Elvis, which the nominee apparently owned (and may still), to the less-than-flattering Trump nude that got artist Illma Gore beaten up on the street, these works suggest that if the divisive real-estate tycoon wins the White House, the art world should expect plenty of exciting new work.


In 2004, I was working on really big oil paintings, influenced by American Pop Art. I started to combine the style of James Rosenquist and David Salle with these painters in the street who do portraits of people in pastel and charcoal. They always have pictures in their stands or booths in Times Square — Rocky and Michael Jackson and Johnny Depp. I also used paintings of Las Vegas for my backgrounds. The neon lights giving this sense of something very dirty, but also very emotional. I saw a picture of Trump when I was painting these Vegas backgrounds and I thought, He’s like the new version of Elvis. He symbolizes all these things — the American Dream, the beauty-queen contest, all this illusion of Vegas with money, power, the private jet. I really like gold, so when a collector of mine moved to Trump Tower I did a lot of pictures there. Trump Tower is brilliant — so powerful, very much like the palace of Saddam Hussein and many Arab dictators. Next to these images of Rocky, Michael Jackson, Madonna, I thought it was good to create this icon and call it Donald, almost like I was a friend of his. The white suit and Donald Trump just worked so perfectly together for me. I wanted to make it intimate, but at the same time it’s out there and in your face.

In 2006, I had a show at Jack Shainman with some works on paper but didn’t put Donald in the show. At the opening I met an Israeli real-estate guy who came with one of Trump’s lawyers. He really liked my works and bought the picture for Donald Trump. A month after, I got a letter from Donald Trump. It said something like, “Dear Mr. Hod, Though I don’t see myself as Elvis, I do appreciate the sense of humor and I enjoy it.” He’s an icon, and you cannot ignore it.

I like it when life imitates art. When it happens, this is one of the best things about art, and one of the most difficult things about life. I think we live in a very problematic time, and if you asked me ten years ago it would sound so surreal that he would be a presidential candidate. It’s what I would call the Right Mistake — something that’s so wrong but also somehow right. The world is crazy.

ILLMA GOREMake America Great Again

The piece was inspired by trying to blatantly make my friends see the prejudice we unconsciously hold about genitals and the idea of masculinity. The idea came to me after seeing a friend’s body who has a similar build to Donald Trump. I transplanted Trump’s head onto this other body, and all of a sudden Trump — as both potential leader and racist idiot — seemed defined by his penis size.

I am proud of what the painting has resulted in, even if it has ended up with someone physically assaulting me. At noon on April 29, I left my house to go to the art store. Had I known about the protests happening nearby, I probably would have stayed home. As I walked along Alvira Street, near La Cienega, a car full of young people pulled up beside me, yelling slurs at me as I walked by. The only thing I heard clearly was “TRUMP 2016!” Over the past few months, I have become accustomed to being recognized, and Trump supporters and protesters alike have approached me in public spaces.

I messaged my partner to tell her what was happening, and I continued to ignore them, keeping my head down, looking at my phone, taking deep breaths. I heard the passenger-side door open. I looked up, and a slender man got out of the car and punched me in the face as the group began to laugh and cheer him on. “TRUMP 2016!” he yelled. The man who had attacked me fled as the group laughed. I went straight to LAPD on Wilshire. There has been a lot of violence through this campaign, and it is indicative of the time we are in, really.

I try never to be defined by the success or failures of any art piece, or any one instance. It’s sort of like that Andy Warhol quote: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it is good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” I would paint the piece again, even if it meant another black eye.

Abe Lincorn & Pierced Piety

ERIC YAHNKERPierced Piety and Precious Patriotism

I’ve made several Donald Trump–related images over the past year. Obviously, the satirist in me is attracted to the bottomless pit of Cheeto-hued turds Trump provides, but, in all honesty, his ascension from tycoon caricature to viable presidential candidate sends very real chills up my spine. I still have considerable faith in my fellow Americans, but the whole thing is beyond dangerous.

For my show “Noah’s Yacht,” at Zevitas Marcus earlier this year, I actually made two Trump-related images: Pierced Piety features a profile of the man himself, and the other, Precious Patriotism, offers a window into the soul of his supporters. Pierced Piety is actually part of a diptych alongside a drawing titled Abe Lincorn, featuring Abraham Lincoln in cornrows. I installed the two images facing one another as bookends: the noble beginning and presumably the explosive end of the GOP as we know it. With Pierced Piety, I wanted to reflect on the notion of a snake-oil salesman willing to tack on any symbol or stance in order to collect votes and victories. In this case, I gave Trump with an ear full of gleaming gold crosses — a nod to the candidate’s attempts to rack up the family-values vote. With Precious Patriotism, I wanted to contrast Trump’s Pied Piper–like rhetoric with Sméagol’s in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I truly intended it as an empathic image. I actually very much want to give Trump supporters some benefit of the doubt that they are mostly good, kindhearted folks who have been temporarily blinded by all-too-human temptations and desires, but will ultimately find themselves corrupted by the power of a force they don’t fully comprehend. For my exhibitions, I try to create images that engage the viewer’s internal biases, making them more a test or mirror reflection, rather than just reflective of my own personal politics. Nevertheless, I’m not immune to wearing my politics on my sleeve on occasion!

ROB PRUITTStudio Lunch Tables

The Trump drawings that I have recently posted on Instagram are a part of a larger, ongoing project call “Studio Lunch Tables.” The drawings are made with Sharpies and pens during our lunch break, in a spirit of anonymity, like graffiti you might encounter in a public-bathroom stall. However, since in this case we are dealing with the specific subject of Donald Trump and the specter of his presidency, it seems appropriate to break our silence.

The first drawing of Trump we posted was done by Akira Horikawa (one of my studio assistants, who does not have an Instagram account of his own — God only knows why). He said his original drawing was inspired by a mental image of Trump pushing a breast-feeding baby aside to steal the mother’s breast milk straight from the teat. It’s clearly meant to be symbolic, and could be offensive to some, but there’s undoubtedly something important in the underlying suggestion — that this monstrous man would take food from the mouth of a baby. The first drawing inspired a succession of others, sort of like a meme created within the culture of the lunch-table drawings.

JIM TOROKDonald Trump

I did the painting a couple of months ago, but it was not until after the recent art fairs in New York that I asked Pierogi Gallery to show it. I feel as though this coming election is very important, yet I have not seen much, if anything, about it in the art world. What inspired me to make the painting was listening to news on the radio one day while I was painting. It was some NPR weekly news roundup show. They were all talking about the election and how nobody seems to know what is going on with Trump’s popularity, and I was thinking he is going to win because he is channeling other people’s anger, giving it false targets, like Muslims and immigrants. But no one asked why he himself is so angry. I wanted to capture that anger as opposed to doing a more representational painting.

WILLIAM POWHIDA, Some Names for Drumpf

Somebody mentioned to me that Drumpf is his original family name and that the Trump thing is the Americanized version. I get asked to donate drawings to these benefit auctions all the time, and I always feel it’s a chance to take a shot at somebody like Trump, who is such a noxious figure, so awful. It’s kind of an inside joke, but when I do benefit drawings I like to throw in something political. I did one with John McCain, but nothing this specific for a while. I always find artists give gentle, nice things. But I made this specifically for the Smack MellonTrump is such a cartoon character with all of his facial expressions, and each one I painted just to give the shape and color, kind of giving him the time and attention I felt his portraits all deserve, so it’s all just basically blobs and little awful paintings with his particular palette of orange that represents his emotional range of bluster (there’s not a big range).

I did another drawing that was a Venn diagram of Bernie and Hillary, and the title was Which Democrat Am I Voting For? and Trump sort of found his way into the part where both candidates are Not Trump. I’m doing a sequel to that drawing where the issues are gone, it’s only accusations, and the point in the Venn diagram where they overlap is the Not Trump portion, this black hole.

Donald Trump, Captured 6 Ways