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“The World’s Most Unprecedented Surgical Procedure” by Helen “Hellie” Blythe depicts President Barack Obama and his former secretary of state, Democractic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, exchanging brains. Sarah Linn

“Make America Again” by Ethel “Tink” Landers is one of the artworks featured in the group show “Oh My God We Are All in This Together,” running Nov. 4 through Dec. 3 at the GALA Center Gallery in San Luis Obispo. Courtesy photo

“Trump-O-Matic” by Mark Bryan depicts Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Courtesy photo

‘Trump-O-Matic’ and ‘Despots’ teapots: SLO County artists get political in exhibit

November 6, 2016 - The Tribune, F1

By Sarah Linn

This summer, Los Osos artist Robbie Conal and his volunteers blanketed bare surfaces in San Luis Obispo County with black-and-white images of two Donald Trumps: one smug and smirking, the other enraged with his face contorted in a silent shout.

Conal said he created the posters as a form of playful protest against the Republican presidential nominee.

Conal, considered by many the godfather of guerrilla street art, is one of more than a dozen Central Coast residents turning to art to express their feelings about the 2016 election. Their artworks range from witty to whimsical.

The exhibition “Oh My God We Are All in This Together,” which runs through Dec. 3 at the GALA Center Gallery in San Luis Obispo, features about 25 pieces by 12 local artists. Gallery curator Ethel “Tink” Landers said she put together the thought-provoking group show as part of her ongoing mission “to unite the community and have a good time together.”

“I’m a fan of political art,” Landers said. “I’ve always been a fan of using the paint brush or any other medium to get the message out there.”

Among the works on display are Nipomo artist Cindy Moreno’s ceramic “Two-Faced People” and a series of porcelain “Despots” — teapots featuring the likenesses of Adolph Hitler, Vladimir Putin and others — by Jan Dungan, who divides her time between Arroyo Grande and Australia.

Landers, who lives in Nipomo, painted portraits of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as well as a hopeful take on the American flag, “Make America Again.”

San Luis Obispo resident Pauline Wickam, an early childhood educator and self-described “diehard Bernie Sanders fan,” declares her affection for the Vermont senator with works that include a pair of paintings mimicking Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art masterpieces and a life-size cardboard replica of Sanders.

“I put him in my car. I had him looking at the rearview mirror because I believe Bernie has my back,” Wickham explained. She’s even had the piece, titled “Bernie My Co-Pilot,” “wave” at people as she drove past them.

“I wanted to get involved” in Sanders’ bid for president, Wickham explained, but she couldn’t afford to donate to his campaign. “Art is the way I can get my voice out there.”

Helen “Hellie” Blythe of Paso Robles is also using art to make her voice heard.

Her “Pistachicrow Tableaux” series, which features scenes of anthropomorphic crows made out of pistachio shells, includes “The World’s Most Unprecedented Surgical Procedure” depicting “Hilary C.” and “Barack O.” swapping brains.

“Both brains were identical,” the comical caption reads. “Each was devoid of crucial gray matter, and what tissue remained was extremely inflamed resulting from an exposure to early brainwashing plus too many loose screws.

Blythe, a lifelong conservative, said the piece represents “my antipathy toward the present (presidential) administration,” including President Barack Obama and Clinton, his former secretary of state.

“I’m definitely voting for Trump because I would not vote for someone who lies and cheats quite publicly,” she said.

Although Blythe doubts “The World’s Most Unprecedented Surgical Procedure” will change viewers’ minds — “I don’t think it (my art) can talk anybody into anything if they don’t want to be talked into it. I’m the same,” she said — she hopes it will make them think.

San Luis Obispo artist Mark Bryan agreed.

“Most people already have their beliefs (in place). They’re not going to change very easily,” said the painter, known nationwide for his politically charged works.

“People that really like (my work) say, ‘Thanks for making a picture to show how I feel,’ ” Bryan said. “To know that there are other people out there who see what they’re seeing, feel what they’re feeling, it bucks them up and gives them strength and makes them not feel alone.”

Bryan created two oil paintings to reflect his attitude toward Trump: “The Trumpanzee,” featuring an angry chimpanzee holding a Trump mask, and “The Trump-O-Matic,” which depicts the Republican candidate as a diapered baby operating a machine replica of himself. He pushes buttons labeled “hate,” “bully” and “brag” as he stands on a stool that doubles as a jail for Muslims and Mexicans.

“If you put the right buttons, people get emotionally attracted to a person,” Bryan explained. “There couldn’t be, to me, a more transparently unqualified, disgusting person (as Trump). …”

When sharing his feelings, Bryan decided to be creative. “I try to make the work funny, and I think that’s actually more effective than a picture of Trump in a Hitler mustache,” he said.

Conal takes a similar approach to his posters, which pair satirical slogans with warts-and-all portraits of politicians, businessmen and other public figures.

“This particular election has really — ‘inspired’ is not the right word — horrified enough artists to address the subject,” Conal said, including those who wouldn’t normally delve into party politics. “That’s been what my public art has been about since 1986.”

For his anti-Trump posters, Conal chose two capital-lettered captions: “Bully Culprit,” a play on former President Theodore Roosevelt’s description of the White House as a “bully pulpit,” and “Can’t Even,” a phrase he picked up from his college-age assistant.

On June 3, 150 people put up 900 of Conal’s anti-Trump posters throughout Los Angeles. Last month, Conal distributed more posters in Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area before heading east to poster New York City, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

Conal said he has two goals for his art: “One is to express myself in public about issues I care about. The other is to tickle people into thinking with me about those issues.”

“Personally I think it’s hubris to make any kind of public art with the intention of changing people’s minds about something they care about,” Conal said. “That would be propaganda.”

Instead of “hitting (viewers) on the head with a ball-peen hammer,” Conal said, “I want to have a little fun with them, to tickle them.”

“If you disagree with me,” the artist added, “There’s plenty of room. Put your poster up next to mine."