The Leader stands almost upon the mountain pinnacle. He has planted his nation’s standard on the rocks ahead. Grasping the flag pole for support, he reaches behind him; arm and hand outstretched to clasp the hand of another man following him to the top.
Almost kneeling the man has obviously stumbled, but it is clear that with the Leader’s support he will reach the summit safely as well. It is just as well, for upon that second man’s shoulders sits a small girl clutching a dangling teddy bear. On the slopes below, three other figures, another man and two women have nearly finished their ascent. The scene is illuminated by what could be a sunrise or sunset. It is lit by glory. On the furthest rock, surveying the scene, sits an imperious eagle.
These others, the picture implies have made it to the top without harm. They have been led to this sunlit upland by the standard bearer. They are simply dressed – unlike the Leader who is gloriously bedecked.
Let’s have a look at that Leader again...
“Gloriously bedecked” might be stretching a point. He is in fact wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and his red tie is fluttering in the mountain-top breezes. His golden hair is flowing in the same direction. Despite the fact that it is not the best rendering one has seen. It is clear who it is.
It is Donald Trump. The flag is the Stars and Stripes.
Anyone who follows the social media output of the wider ‘Team Trump’ will have been struck by the proliferation of online memes; depicting Trump as warrior, saint, crusader, hero, king or saviour.
They come in a variety of styles. Some are clearly painted and others are digitally rendered, all with varying degrees of skill. They are largely anonymous, as if for the greater good they have been donated to ‘the cause’ - to Make America Great Again.
All are propaganda and all are - and there is no getting away from it - kitsch in the extreme. It is as if the only way forward is to retreat into a glorious romanticised, almost pre-Raphaelite past of pseudo religious and mythological imagery.
So, we see Trump depicted as an Arthurian king sat upon his throne, as an armoured crusader bathed in holy golden light, as Thor, as Perseus holding aloft the head of Hillary as Medusa, as a highly decorated Victorian general, as St. George standing atop the corpse of the dragon (with Hillary’s face naturally).
There’s also room for some modern imagery, but still harking back to that kitsch style, where Trump is seen in conjunction with heavy weaponry and explosions; standing proud and square jawed.
These memes are strongly reminiscent of another strain of artwork…
Ironically, given the present US incumbent’s cavalier approach to free enterprise, they nod in the direction of Socialist Realism from the Soviet Union, Maoist China and are contemporary with current visions of Kim Jong Un in North Korea.
These regimes all have the same current running through, one man (it’s always a man) embodies all that is good, kind and strong about the country and its people. The more tyrannical they are – the more benign they appear. Stalin always looked particularly avuncular.
Is there an enemy to be fought?
There is the leader, right in the forefront of the struggle – not tucked away at home. Being bathed in a golden light seems particularly important in most of these despotic depictions. Trump gets the golden light treatment a lot...
The golden light could be a key to the origins of the Trumpiana.
Aside from the nods to Greek and Norse mythology, there can be little doubt that Donald has God on his side. A very large section of his support comes from evangelical Christians. One such evangelist, Mary Colbert is quite explicit,
“It’s not that Donald Trump is all that perfect a guy. We all know he’s not. And we know that he’s not necessarily perfect in every way that we would like. That’s not how God works. He works through the ones he chooses. We don’t choose them.”
“All we have to do is recognize them and when you recognize a chosen one and you have the discernment to know that they’ve been chosen and know that that’s the will of God, then your life will be blessed. “
Mary Colbert is also quite explicit that opposing the ‘chosen one’ brings curses upon your head. Mary Colbert is one of many.
Another Trump supporting social media account proclaims
“Blessed #MAGA walks amongst us – long may he reign”
Maybe then – these anonymous memes which by and large have a strong Christian thrust and born of an electronic age that can disseminate them easily to massive numbers; actually could be seen to hark back to a much earlier time.
That time when a large number of people received their ‘education’ and public discourse through stained glass and frescoes and illustrated pamphlets. In many ways, consuming these present day images through a smart phone or tablet is a loud echo of that historical public art.
Social media savvy evangelicals understand that power. They also understand that they have a readily made audience for the material, which shares and spreads their non-verbal gospel without coercion. This, they believe is their moment and Trump is their man; and they’re not about to forget it or miss their opportunity. They have enemies and demons to vanquish...
It might be unfair to saddle Donald Trump with any allegations of encouraging this strange deification and idealisation process going on in the US at the moment…
On the other hand in 1989 Donald Trump commissioned an oil painting of himself by artist Ralph Wolfe Cowan. It pictures the future POTUS in tennis whites. His right hand is casually tucked into his trouser pocket, his left hand rests easily on his thigh. The painting is an ‘outside’ scene with indeterminate landscape behind.
And where does this picture modestly entitled ‘The Visionary’ hang?
It is in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago – the ‘Southern White House’, in full view for all visiting dignitaries and Heads of State to see and enjoy and absorb the message contained.
There’s one detail of the painting yet to be mentioned. The sky is dark, but unthreatening; clouds above have parted to allow sunbeams to break through, bathing the scene, and of course the idealised Trump, in that all important golden light.
It’s a simple word – and one to be found in abundance through the centre of Plymouth. In portrait format, the word “HOPE” printed on vinyl strips – black on white, is stuck on lamp-posts, underpass walls, bins and telecoms junction boxes.
The stickers immediately recall for me, the famous sticker art, poster and meme produced by Shepard Fairey for Obama’s 2008 election campaign. The design started off as ‘Progress’ when Fairey decided to put his weight behind the campaign as both private individual and artist. It proved so popular that he adapted it for the official campaign. ‘Hope’ became a thing. One million stickers and 500,000 posters were produced, endless copies made and shared online.
I digress about Obama – because in the days of steam powered internet (1998 to be precise) – I first became aware online of Fairey and his guerrilla stickers and poster art utilising an image of Andre the Giant, and the accompanying ‘Obey’ message. I fell in love with sticker art both as background visual imagery in an urban setting and as little acts of rebellion. It appeals to the ageing punk in me; annoys the hell out of local authorities.
In Plymouth sticker art is not really a big thing. It has small eruptions from time to time – but they don’t last long – that’s the nature of it. Sometimes you really have to search. Inspired by HOPE, I went to see what’s currently on offer.
It’s an eclectic range – from straight advertising, through graffiti style tags, political and personal messaging and on to highly individual little artworks.
Where will I find Lucianino’s Barbershop? Promoting themselves with barely concealed machismo - bearded man flanked by two open cut-throat razors; they have ‘a crew’. Another group who seen quite prolific on the lamp-posts of Plymouth are the ones who proudly proclaim “We fuck goats” – with a silhouette / rock-carving graphic showing the act. (Thanks for sharing)
At the top end of Union Street – clubland of old and once the scene of off-duty military antics the Royal Dutch Navy are competing for space with British submariners. The submariners win. A skull and crossbones with headphones announces – “You’ve been pillaged by The Scallywags”. The Dutch Navy are just very understated and laid back. As you would expect.
The repeated names, DJ stickers and casual drug references are an expected nod to club culture and – if you are looking, as I was – they become a repeated mantra…found poems.
Bomberman – Black Sheep - Nomad Life
Beat Bandit - Mr Skillmatic
Haacht – Jesper - Boo
At the end of my admittedly short quest I come upon my personal highlight. A screaming face in black and white, photocopied, cut out and stuck on a junction box. No words – just an image (with a graffiti tag afterthought) . Redolent of Berlin Dada – it brings my search to a nice conclusion.
‘Hope’ started a small journey from Obama through to the ‘here and now’ of Trumpworld, a frozen forlorn scream of despair- in inkjet and wheat-paste.