Oliver Wasow Turns Donald Trump and His Cronies Into a Creepy Gallery of Rogues
The project needs surprisingly little Photoshop magic to achieve its creepy ends.
As he approaches the hundred-day mark of his fledgling administration, President Donald Trump has surrounded himself with a colorful, often-controversial cast of characters. The much-maligned leader’s top advisors have proved ripe with inspiration for New York-based artist Oliver Wasow, who has created a haunting portrait series that recasts the likes of Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Rex Tillerson as unsettling, rather sickly looking versions of themselves.
To create the subtly disturbing images, Wasow has worked with images sourced from the Internet, digitally manipulating each portrait in Photoshop, adjusting the backdrop and lighting and sometimes distorting physical features to draw out the subject’s creepy side. First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, for instance, have had their brown eyes swapped out for Vladimir Putin’s baby blues, in a commentary on the Russian government’s possible influences on the administration.
The series, titled “Rogue’s Gallery,” is the subject of an exhibition opening next month at New York’s Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects. Although the images were created to be shared on social media, rather than displayed physically, Wasow is selling 12-by-16-inch prints of each portrait for $100 each, or the full set of 14 for $1,000. A poster of the series is priced at $200. All proceeds will benefit the ACLU.
If the project seems like a natural fit given the subject matter, the artist isn’t surprised. “The truth is they’re pretty ghouly looking people to begin with,” Wasow told artnet News. “Most of them wear their souls on their faces.”
“The work was born really out of being numb after the election and unable to get much done in the studio,” said Wasow. “I originally intended it more to be a kind of cathartic process,” a way of using “social media to seek confirmation that I wasn’t alone and that others saw these people through the same lens I did.”
“The urgency of the political situation has definitely caused me to make work that is more overtly political than anything I’ve done before,” Wasow admitted, adding that propaganda and caricature, which he’s avoided in the past, suddenly feel like fair game.
He believes other artists feel similarly. “There’s a lot of us out [there who] are like ‘what the fuck does this mean—why am I bothering to make art for rich people to hang on their walls when the world is falling apart?'” Wasow joked. But that’s not to say he is without hope: “I think all art is political… I think at some point you pick yourself up off the floor and you go on.”
The series includes Trump himself, Vice President Mike Pence, Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, House Speaker Paul Ryan, senator Mitch McConnell, press secretary Sean Spicer, presidential adviser Stephen Miller, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There are two portraits of the latter, one of which features a long Pinocchio nose, in reference to Session’s false testimony to Congress about not being in contact with the Russian government.
While the Sessions nose is an over-the-top Photoshop caricature, for many of the others it’s hard to put your finger on what, exactly, is wrong. As Wasow noted, “I think in some ways the scary thing is how little manipulation the people needed.”
When he decided to show these digital images in a physical setting, it was with the understanding that he wouldn’t make any money off the work. Wasow is hopeful that the project will provide a boost to the ACLU, although he isn’t sure how many prints will actually sell—”I can’t imagine a lot of people wanting to live with these things!”
“Rogues Gallery” is on view at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, 208 Forsyth Street, New York, May 1–7, 2017.
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