No one knows how Donald Trump's administration will be remembered in the years to come, but Sharon Bond Brown's satirical pop-art portraits capture the shock and awe that seem to arise from the country's top most officials every hour.
“People can buy them and use them as dart boards, I suppose," says local artist and archivist Brown of her "Trumped" series.
Over the past two years, Brown documented 36 past and current members of the Trump cabinet and family, creating striking portraits of the billionaires and conservatives steering the bureaucratic engines that move the country's environmental oversight, education system, the courts, commerce and more. Brown painted them all as she sees them — with pursed lips and arched eyebrows, as though caught in the midst of crafting a lie.
“It’s more about exposing the corruption and the incredibly dangerous blows to our democracy that all of these people are doing. I’m exposing corrupt, horrible people," says Brown. "Rage is certainly part of this. I think what has been therapeutic about it is the sense that I’m doing something.”
For more than three decades, Brown, a portrait artist by trade, has earned a reputation for capturing the beauty in the ordinary, from celebrating the nearly forgotten life of Virginia Allen to highlighting America's most wanted faces in a series of paintings dubbed Damage.
While she exercises her eye for the awkward in Trumped II: Teasin' Treason, there is no beauty in Melania Trump's bronzed jowls, nor is there any hidden meaning to be understood in Donald Jr.'s stony eyes. Brown's clowns are equal measures of horrific and humorous, subtly sporting swastikas on their cuffs and neckties.
“I’m a portrait painter, so I’m fascinated by faces. Even from my juvenilia, when I could hold a crayon, it was always people,” says Brown, who studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art before graduating with a degree in sociology from Case Western Reserve University in 1968.
A founding member of the RiNo Arts District, Brown opened the Pattern Shop Studio with her husband, Rex, in 1991. Since then, the couple has opened their home to the art community.
Throughout the twentieth century, however, the company Silver Engineering Works used that same warehouse to construct "life-sized wooden patterns of machine parts that were then converted to iron and steel products in the foundry next door." It is therefore fitting that this former industrial shop is now turning out portraits of the Grand Old Party during a period that has been marked as an existential crisis for the Democrats, once hailed as the party of the working class.
“We don’t come out and fight Trump in Trump’s game, but this is my small little contribution to the voice of sanity, I hope," Brown reflects. "I also wanted to celebrate a Blue Wave. I really think it’s going to happen. I pray it’s going to happen November 6.”
With Brown's signature oil worked over acrylic under-painting, each image is simple and bold. Like the headlines surrounding the White House, each portrait seems shocking at first glance, and then upon further study is hardly surprising at all.
“Ultimately I love to paint, so I’m doing something I love even though I hate the person," Brown says. She became absorbed in the process and did not overthink the men under her brush. Upon staring into the Trump void, the void did not stare back.
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"You’re sort of observing in the technical aspect; it’s not like Trump is getting into my soul. I think people who interview are always more disappointed that I’m not more emotionally connected in that sense," she laughs.
When the first installment of Trumped premiered last year, Brown estimates, 400 people visited the studio to see the series.
“This year I’ve made overlays of prison bars, so you can put the overlay over it and imprison anyone you want, and it makes you feel so much better. I’ve got this real snarky one of Trump, and I've got these prison bars on top of him, and it gives you such hope,” Brown laughs. “Hope and humor! A lot of people are laughing; you've got to laugh or you’ll cry.”
Celebrate election night at Trumped II: Teasin' Treason, which will be on display from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, November 6, at the Pattern Shop Studio, 3349 Blake Street. Afterward, groups can visit the gallery through December by making an appointment at 303-297-9831.