Art As Witness: A Chat with Steve Brodner

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Art As Witness: A Chat with Steve Brodner

Trump, Political Satire and Advice for Young Illustrators
In 1947, the School of Visual Arts in New York City was founded as a trade school for cartoonists and illustrators. Today, in a time where political satire is center stage, the school opens a new exhibit which pays tribute to its roots, while looking to the future. Art as Witness: Political Graphics 2016-18, co-curated by Steve Brodner, features over 200 political artworks, graphic design and illustrations opening October 6 and running until November 3, 2018 at the SVA Chelsea Gallery in New York.
Together Brodner and the school’s galleries director Francis Di Tommaso put together an exhibit that features works from over 50 artists and designers, including Art Spiegelman, Milton Glaser and Roz Chast. There’s works like Nancy Burson’s July 2018 Time magazine cover, showing President Trump’s face superimposed on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s, as well as Barry Blitt’s recent New Yorker cover on the Trump administration’s family-separation policy.
With this signal moment in American politics—and the upcoming midterm elections, the school felt it was a good time to do something with images. HOW spoke to Brodner about Trump, political satire and advice to young illustrators.
Nicole Licht, “Not Yours,” 2016, Courtesy the artist
HOW: Why did you want to do this exhibition?
Steve Brodner: The thrust of the show is finding the finest work that’s been done over last two years, people who are moving and shaking in political illustration. This field, graphic design and illustration, narrative art, has not diminished at all in power with great changes in media. Print has been diminished, but the art is going through a golden age.
What are the themes in this exhibit?
There is a room devoted to #MeToo, there is a Russian section, immigration, separation of children at the border wall and Donald Trump. He is a transformative figure, different of what the Republican party once stood for, he has replaced that with the image of himself. Even if it changes moment to moment, he has trained his party to follow him like a dog. It changes how the world sees the U.S. For better or worse, this was not a legitimate election.
Christoph Niemann, “Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War,” 2017, The New Yorker, 03/06/2017, Art Director: Nicholas Blechman, Courtesy the artist
Rob Rogers, who was recently fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after 25 years for his sharp critiques of Trump, is in the show. Why?
We are showing his censored artworks that never made it to print. He was fired from his job by the newspaper’s management. They decided it was no longer appropriate to have him criticize the president, which is his job.
Do you ever get backlash for your political satire cartoons?
People get your email address and I’ve been attacked, it’s the usual thing, it’s a machine. The internet strips away any pretense that used to be there. Now, people will attack you and you have to not care. You invite it. To exist today in the graphic arts is to exist online with social media. That’s always a food fight. People want the action. This isn’t for the faint of heart. You don’t do this if you’re horrified of someone not liking you. It’s nothing to be afraid of.
Milton Glaser, Space Force, 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek (digital), July 27, 2018, Courtesy of the artist
You did one image with Trump putting his toupee over a swastika, was that going too far?
I do get some pushback. It was the first time I used a swastika in an illustration in 63 years. That’s an infrequent use of that. That image is not in the exhibit. I have a lot of work in the show, which includes most famous illustrators in the U.S. and newer illustrators.
Olimpia Zagnoli, “Stress and Pregnancy,” 2014, The New York Times, March 10, 2014, Art Director: Alexandra Zsigmond, Courtesy the artist
One piece in the show features Trump on a sinking ship before a confederate flag and a burning white house, what’s that piece about?
Victor Juhasz is a caricaturist working today, who works for Rolling Stone. This was parody of the ‘Washington Crosses the Delaware’ painting by Emanuel Leutze in 1851. Here, Trump is twice the size of anyone in the boat, he is patriotically Tweeting, as boat rides through wreckage of all kinds in front of a burning White House. Viktor is an old-fashioned boy. He draws with pencil and paint on paper. That’s quaint today. He has been a master of it for 40 years.
Tim O’Brien, “TrumPutin, 2017,” Publication: Der Spiegel, 4/3/17 Art Director: Svenja Kruse, Courtesy the artist
What is your opinion on the current state of American politics?
This is a constitutional crisis we’re in the middle of. It’s moving slowly but ultimately there are severe violations that have taken place in law, constitutional democracy. We’re going to have to suss this all out. This show is one way we start to do that.
What is the market like for illustrators like now? Has political turmoil refueled the medium?
The market right now is tough. Some fear they are using too much Trump, some say ‘we’re trumped out.’ There is a lot of this at the beginning and now the media is in a wait and see mode. Midterms point to different ballgame, 2020 begins November 7. I’m expecting a tremendous avalanche of new work. There is always a feeling of fear on mainstream media to say anything too strong with work.
Roz Chast, “Trump’s Africa,” 2018, The New Yorker, October 16, 2017 (Original B&W Version, 2017), Editor: Emma Allen, Courtesy the artist
Last year, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore called on an ‘Army of satire’ to bring Trump down, has it had a reverse effect?
Satire is a powerful tool, paying attention to Trump or ignoring him, it’s the job of artists to be responsible to their own reactions of what art is, their own experience of others. In this case, satire is not going to bring Trump down. Our choice is either to make art or not make art. It’s everybody’s choice to react in a strenuous way, or remain silent. That’s the real question, when fascism raises its head, do we meet it with silence or we say hell no? This is occupying the silence, with graphic design, animation, character. You show up, look them in the eye and tell the truth. If we all did that as citizens, we wouldn’t have Donald Trump in the first place.
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