This Phoenix College Art Class Is Taking on Donald Trump

Bobo Yo
Zombie Combover by Bobo Yo.
Politics have long been a popular subject for artists.

Here in Phoenix, that's included art inspired by controversial political figures — from former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to President Donald Trump. Now, there's an art show on view in downtown Phoenix that's entirely devoted to skewering Trump.

Featuring pieces by Phoenix College students, "Trump All Over You" opened on Friday, September 1, at art boutique hotel Found:RE. The hotel exhibits work throughout its common areas and in individual guest rooms. Several Trump-inspired artworks already dot one wall near the hotel's entrance.

Those were created by Bobo Yo, the alter ego for Tempe-based artist John Randall Nelson.

Nelson has taught classes at Phoenix College for several years. A group of painters who take his Wednesday night class call themselves Paint Co-Lab. Every semester, the class makes art addressing a different theme.

click to enlarge Bakasana Trump by Chris Manzanares. - CHRIS MANZANARES
Bakasana Trump by Chris Manzanares.
Chris Manzanares
Last semester, following the presidential election, politics was the obvious choice. Nelson's students chose to focus on Trump.

Each work in the show reflects opposition rather than support, although Nelson was open to other perspectives.

"The emphasis was on collecting a variety of viewpoints," Nelson says. "Each artist interpreted the subject according to their personal impressions and experiences."

The show includes work by 13 artists, including Bobo Yo, Lee Brown, Stephanie Castillo, Edgar Fernandez, Linda FitzGerald, Patty Gannon, Susan Hamilton, Ed Kocner, Leslie Barton, Kris Manzanares, Hilary Morgon, Jose Rodriguez, and Louis Goirdano.

"They're all sarcastic, weird versions of Donald Trump or his wife, or in a few cases, Ivanka," Nelson says of the work. Ivanka is one Trump's adult children, and one of his official White House staffers.

Nelson, the show's curator, says the artwork in the show verges on political illustration. "There isn't a single straight piece, and it's almost all sardonic," Nelson says. "These paintings hover between graffiti and calligraphy."

It's not just the controversy surrounding Trump's political views that captured these artists' attention.

"Quite apart from the politics, the bombast of the character is fertile ground for caricature," Nelson says. "That exaggerated, oversized red tie that points directly to Trump's crotch is just to obvious not to comment on. To an artist, it's like waving a red flag at a bull."

Other physical characteristics captured students' imaginations as well.

click to enlarge LLimud by Ed Kocner. - ED KOCNER
LLimud by Ed Kocner.
Ed Kocner
"The bouffant hairdo, the spray tan, and the golden 'Trump' name pasted on the planes and hotels are just such rich visual stimulants," Nelson says.

This isn't the first time Found:RE has shown provocative works of art. A portrait of nearly-nude Burt Reynolds, with a Britney Spears twist, hangs above the front desk where guests check in. Painted by Phoenix artist Randy Slack, the painting is a riff on a 1992 Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold.

Lobby art also includes a trio of large-scale mixed-media puppet sculptures created by Nelson.

"I don't seek out controversial artwork, but I don't shy away from it," Found:RE cultural curator Michael Oleskow says of his curatorial approach.

The Trump show came together after Nelson showed Oleskow a few of his Trump-inspired Bobo Yo works. Another exhibition planned for September fell through, and Oleskow decided the Trump show would be an intriguing alternative.

"It's especially relevant now, in the aftermath of Trump's recent visit to Phoenix, and his decision to pardon Sheriff Joe," Oleskow says.

Several other artists have created or shown Trump-related works in the Valley. Phoenix artist Abe Zucca, who has a gallery on Grand Avenue, has painted and exhibited a small portrait of Trump with a Hitler-style mustache.

In March, new Trump-related images were installed on a Grand Avenue billboard that towers over downtown Phoenix. Beatrice Moore, an arts and historic preservation advocate, commissioned California artist Karen Fiorito to create the work. One side features Trump flanked by hybrids of dollar signs with Nazi swastikas. The other has five hands spelling out U-N-I-T-Y in sign language.

click to enlarge Build The Sugar Wall by Leslie Barton. - LESLIE BARTON
Build The Sugar Wall by Leslie Barton.
Leslie Barton
One of Five15 Arts' 2016 exhibits included an image that shifted between wild-eyed images of then-presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Trump. Now it's got a "Politically Charged" group show inside a gallery at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Last October, five artists curated a "Nasty Women" art show at Grand ArtHaus, which included several works addressing Trump policies on women's reproductive health. In November, Fine Art Complex 1101 in Tempe was vandalized while exhibiting politically charged works, including several with anti-Trump themes.

During March and April, Lisa Sette Gallery addressed turbulent times in contemporary America with a group exhibition called "Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why (Why Can't We Live Together?)." In June, three women artists from outside Arizona installed anti-racist and anti-sexist street art in Phoenix as part of their When Women Disrupt tour through the Southwest.

"People have extreme emotions in regard to this president," Nelson says. Hence, he's not expecting the show to alter anyone's perspective. "I doubt if any minds will be changed one way or another."

"Trump All Over You" continues through Saturday, September 30, at Found:RE Phoenix. Third Friday hours on September 15 are 6 to 10 p.m., which includes an artist reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For weekend availability, check with the hotel's front desk.