Art Politics

Two artists - Scott Jacobs (left) and Jacob Brest (right) - realized they may alienate parts of the Carmel audience by making overtures to political figures, but did it anyway.

When an art gallery puts a painting in the window, it’s meant to entice people to come in. But when Kerri Landry, manager of Carmel’s Brest Studio and Gallery, put one of the namesake artist’s paintings front and center two months ago, she says, “I’ve had people threatening to turn the artist in to the authorities. It’s quite a controversial painting. People love it too.”

The painting, by Jacob Brest, is titled “Trumpa Lisa” and it’s a sit-down portrait of Donald Trump in the pose of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” It’s done in Brest’s abstract expressionist style, so the face is patently orange, the hair is starkly yellow, the mouth downturned like a bulldog, and the fingers on the hands (crossed like Mona Lisa’s) are tiny. Also, the neck seems to be dripping with blood.

“People took it as [Brest] threatening the president,” Landry says. But Landry says the trails of dripping paint – which she says are orange, not red – are an homage to Jackson Pollock. In fact, Brest is a Trump supporter.

“I don’t know what I like about Donald Trump,” Brest writes in a text. “I paint what I think of. The president seems to be a popular topic.”

Landry says that Brest, a reclusive artist who is currently working on a book, meant the work as a tribute. But earlier this week, a youngish couple peeked in at the portrait and chuckled; later a band of older folks saw it and walked away grumbling.

“He’s honest and honorable,” Landry says of Brest. “It’s sad that anyone thinks [the painting] is a mockery.”

Scott Jacobs is another painter who has his own namesake Carmel gallery (Scott Jacobs Gallery), is in his 30s as is Brest, and has featured a portrait of a U.S. president at his gallery. Jacobs’ subject, however, was Barack Obama. And he says reaction to it was “across the board.”

“I have some people who love it, and it becomes the main reason people walk into the gallery,” he says. “Occasionally I’ll have a somewhat derogatory comment, and it’s a main reason they don’t walk into my gallery. I still display them.”

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He shows them because it’s an opportunity to express himself, come what may.

But in a town where seascapes, still lifes, landscapes and abstracts dominate, it’s refreshing to see direct engagement with the politics of the times. For Brest Gallery, there is a limit. Landry says that if the Trump portrait causes much more controversy, they’ll pull it. And that seems like a timely art metaphor.

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