Culture

Should This Donald Trump Graffiti Be Considered Art? A Brief Investigation

Activists Demonstrate Against Recent Rhetoric Against Muslims And Refugees Near Trump Tower
Getty Image

Ever since Donald Trump said “our country is in serious trouble” at his campaign announcement in June, the New York real estate mogul-turned-Republican presidential frontrunner has been a primary target for comedians and pundits alike. Yet the best, and most underappreciated response to the Donald’s political ambitions is graffiti. A quick Google search for “Trump” and “graffiti” scores more than two million hits in 0.45 seconds, and almost every top image result includes visual references to Nazis, Adolf Hitler, poop or all three.

Yes, a pre-Late Show Stephen Colbert created a parody of Trump’s announcement on his YouTube page, and thanks to Sarah Palin’s recent endorsementSNL alum Tina Fey brought back her caricature of the former Alaska governor to the long-running sketch comedy show. The Republican candidate has also been the preferred punching bag of establishment politicians and protesters unhappy with his many off-color comments. Their demonstrations have mostly been conveyed via the pages of The New York Times, or in countless protests at debates and rallies guaranteed to happen wherever Trump is present — with his media entourage in tow.

What about the rising tide of graffitied campaign signs, banners and buildings? Or the rampant use of sidewalks, bridges and other public spaces often associated with graffiti? It’d be easy to write it all off as destruction of property, and much of it is, but the quantity and quality of related incidents suggests something more. Writing articles against a candidate or setting their posters on fire is pretty straightforward, but crafting Trump-as-Hitler prints designed for concrete barriers and stop signs?

After all, street artist Shepard Fairey hit the national spotlight with his iconic (and heavily litigated) “HOPE” poster during Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. So, maybe the next Fairey is out there now, giving the “New York values” presidential hopeful a pencil-thin mustache.

Star No More

All graffiti must start somewhere. Most initial attempts are small and quick, but a subject as grand as the Donald necessitates a bigger canvas from the get-to. Hence why one of the earliest, and simplest reported defacings concerned what happened to Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September. And to answer your question, the answer is yes. Trump received his star for his work on NBC’s The Apprentice in 2007, making him the 2,327th person to earn the distinction.

The graffiti itself wasn’t too involved, as the assailant had only spray-painted a yellow “X” across the star. In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter at the time, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Leron Gubler said they “regret that someone would deface a historic landmark” and that “people who have a disagreement with Donald Trump should not take it out on the Walk of Fame.”

The Inevitable Phalluses and Nazi/Hitler References

Months later, a similarly abrupt attempt to turn the Donald’s political ephemera into some form of protest occurred in Littleton, Massachusetts. Sometime on the night of Jan. 8, someone (or several someones) vandalized the Trump campaign’s headquarters with at least two colors of spray paint, a crude drawing of a penis and several offensive words and phrases, according to CBS Boston.

“People have a right to express their views and disagreements,” Police Chief Matthew King said in a statement, “but the line is drawn at criminal behavior and vandalism.”

Like the “X” painted onto Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame, the figures and letters spray-painted onto the building in Littleton were performed with much haste and little care. However, the choice to use more than one color and combine symbols and words was a partial step in a more artful direction.

Trump Hates… Puppies?

Another step involved humor, or attempts to engage a multitude of reactions from admirers and detractors alike. Visually complex and multicolored pieces of graffiti are better equipped to accomplish this, but they’re not required. Take what happened to an abandoned house in Rock Hill, South Carolina, about 20 miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina. Numerous quips were written onto the exterior walls of the building, dubbed “Trump’s White House,” with red spray paint.

The Herald reported back in December that the house was owned by the Porter family, and that James Porter had re-appropriated it for an art project. “We are all in this together in America, and the rest of the world is making fun of Trump,” he told the paper. “Trump is a bigot and he is dividing America. It is time to stand up against Trump.”

To do this, the 21-year-old Picasso thought spray-painting “Donald Trump Hates Puppies” on the side of his family-owned property would do the trick. It obviously didn’t work, but compared to the graffiti that had come before, Porter’s work was thankfully void of any and all references to World War II-era Germans and male genitalia.

From a Big Ol’ Pile of Crap…

It wasn’t until practicing street artists took charge of the anti-Trump graffiti movement that the jokes became wittier and the designs more original. Perhaps the closest the 2016 election has ever come to its own Shepard Fairey was what New York City practitioner “Hanksy” created back in August. Playfully dubbed “Tronald Dump” by onlookers, social media personalities and bloggers, the cartoonish mural featured the Donald’s likeness transformed into a giant pile of sh*t.

According to Gothamist, the painting was located on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side at the time, though whether or not Hanksy’s work remained more than a few days is unknown. Not that it matters, however, as the artist’s own social media, countless news sites and blogs, and any passerby with a Twitter or Instagram account had already immortalized the piece before the paint was dry.

…to a Sophisticated Print (Still with Nazis, Though)

Of course, the original references were bound to come back at some point. For no matter how good Trump graffiti got (or gets), the Republican front-runner’s dissidents would never be able to let go of the Nazi and Hitler comparisons. Why? Well, aside from the fact that he isn’t doing anything to curb this particular line of criticism, both are easily recognizable symbols for evil in the modern political arena.

Hence why an unknown person or persons decorated northeast Atlanta’s Buford Connector with a rather interesting piece of graffiti in December. “Interesting,” because it visually said what the vandals in Littleton tried to accomplish with two colors of paint, a crude phallus and some words. According to WSB-TV, they did so with a cartoonish painting of Trump, complete with a Hitler mustache, surrounded by the infamous Nazi Party swastika and colors.

Is any of this graffiti art-with-a-capital-T? Answering that question in a single blog post isn’t as simple as saying yes or no, but the existence of increasingly more sophisticated painted scrawls against the potential Republican nominee is too big a thing to ignore. Paintings, drawing and written screeds like these — be they published in papers of record, or written on the wall beneath an underpass — have always played a central role in politics.

Besides, the unofficial donkey and elephant mascots of the Democratic and Republican parties weren’t officially sanctioned artifices. As the Smithsonian rightfully points out, these came from political cartoons in the 1800s, yet both have shaped their respective party’s image in the 20th and 21st centuries. And being that Shepard Fairey’s “HOPE” image won’t be going away anytime soon, maybe “Tronald Dump” or some yet-undiscovered or preconceived idea for a new piece of graffiti will come to dominate the 2016 election and further elections to come.

Let’s be honest, though. Politics aside, it’d be great if the next “HOPE”-esque art piece were a big pile of sh*t that looked like Donald Trump.

(Via the Boston Globe, MediaiteCBS Boston, The HeraldGothamist and WSB-TV)

×