There’s something disconcerting about a presidential candidate whose wife has been photographed in the nude, who has himself been painted in the nude (albeit critically). A single election cycle ago, naked selfies of a political spouse would have doomed a candidate. However, one can’t be embarrassed if one feels no shame. Since that’s how many of us live today, perhaps that makes the Donald the candidate of our time.
The Guardian recently ran a series of portraits of Donald Trump. Among the many peculiarities of the Donald’s candidacy has been the enthusiasm of outsider artists in memorializing him, reminiscent in some ways of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and its iconic Shepard Fairey poster.
Among these items are a golden bust of the candidate that travels around with the candidate, and a bronze counterpart done by fan Keith Allen Johnson that sits in Trump’s Georgia state campaign headquarters.
While reminiscent of the busts of Caesar of ancient Rome or the Hitler images of the Third Reich, these busts have less to do with organized propaganda than with naïve enthusiasm. Still, it’s safe to say that it’s highly unusual to see a candidate immortalized in sculpture, at least in the United States.
Ralph Wolfe Cowan’s portrait of Trump hangs on the wall of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. Cowan is the self-proclaimed “greatest American portrait painter of the 20th century.” Living in West Palm Beach, he shamelessly produces caricatures of the uber-wealthy ultra-chic, at least one of which is in the National Portrait Gallery (as a gift of the artist).
Cowan painted Trump as an impossibly-jacked Adonis clad in tennis whites, in front of a turbulent sky with breaking crepuscular rays. Such skies are usually associated with moments of revelation or great men on horseback, as in Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. That Trump acquired it says much about both his self-image and his susceptibility to flattery.
Amazingly, Ilma Gore’s Make America Great Again was drawn a month before Trump’s famous exchange about his dangly bits with Marco Rubio (also a first in American politics). “Your genitals do not define your gender, your power, or your status,” the self-described Gender Fluid Futurist wrote. The work is small—11X14—and done in pastel pencil. Gore’s drawing skill and ability to put herself in the mind of an elderly, male billionaire make her a young artist to watch.
Alex Krasky is another self-defined famous portrait painter, this time from Las Vegas. His interest in painting Trump verges on obsession. The Portrait of our next President Donald Trump and future First Lady Melania Trump was painted from this photograph. Whether Krasky was being consciously or subconsciously decorous, he reduced Melania’s décolletage. In a backhanded way, he points out Melania’s major claim to fame. She would be the first First Lady in history to lead from her silicone implants.