CULTURE & ARTS

The Artist Behind This Election's Most Controversial Image Is Back For Voting Day

"My friend texted me: Holy s**t, did a drawing just influence the election?"

Warning: This post contains NSFW imagery and may not be suitable for work. 

Donald Trump was participating in March’s GOP debate when he alluded to his penis size. He was in the midst of responding to a question that was, well, not about his penis. “He referred to my hands,” Trump said, referencing insults lodged by Senator Marco Rubio. “If they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee it.” 

Trump’s not-so-subtle nod at genitalia in such a professional ― even presidential ― forum shocked the entire nation. But perhaps no one was more surprised than 24-year-old artist Illma Gore. 

Just a month earlier, Gore had posted a drawing to Facebook titled “Make America Great Again,” depicting the former reality TV star completely nude. His penis, as rendered in the drawing, is quite petite. “No matter what is in your pants, you can still be a big prick,” Gore wrote alongside the NSFW piece. 

Gore intended to challenge preconceptions about gender and sexuality through her drawing, illuminating the problems with a culture that equates a small penis with weakness. “It’s about this pseudo-masculinity that this man, I feel, just exudes,” Gore explained in an interview with The Huffington Post. “If I had drawn him with a big penis, you’d associate that with the qualities of a powerful leader. A small penis, you think, ‘Oh, that’s an excuse for why this person is the way he is.’ But that’s wrong.” 

In a statement on Instagram, Gore expanded upon the idea motivating the work: “Society treats effeminacy like it is bad in comparison to the idea of a ‘real man.’” The piece was therefore meant to attack these ingrained preconceptions, not affirm them.

The body depicted in Gore’s drawing belongs, in real life, to one of her friends, who served as her model. “Someone I believe to be masculine and beautiful,” she explained. “All the sudden, with Trump’s head, everything changed.” 

Gore uploaded the image to Facebook with absolutely no idea how much it would blow up. “I never expected it to go as far as it did,” she said. “I lost my voice in there.” The image gained traction on Reddit and various websites around the web, while Gore’s own social media accounts were disabled as a result of the nudity. The original message of the work became overshadowed by the country’s brewing Trump hate. What was initially an attempt to praise unconventional bodies ended up resembling body-shaming. 

And so, when Trump appeared to address the very controversy Gore’s drawing planted a month previous, it felt very surreal. “My friend texted me: Holy shit, did a drawing just influence the election?” 

Not long after her artwork went viral, Gore began receiving phone calls from people claiming to work for Trump’s legal team. She was slapped with a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice demanding she remove the image from her accounts. And then, the death threats started rolling in. Hysteria surrounding Gore’s artwork reached a bizarre peak one day in Los Angeles when the artist was walking through a neighborhood close to a Trump rally.

Having recently appeared in a few televised interviews regarding the piece, she was more recognizable than your average well-known artist. While walking by herself down a side street, a car slowed down alongside Gore and a group of young men started yelling at her, calling her a bitch and cheering for Trump. She allegedly ignored them and kept walking. Eventually one of the men jumped out of the car and punched Gore in the face. The men then, laughing, reportedly sped off screaming, “Trump 2016!” 

“Is it weird to say I’m kind of proud that someone punched me in the face because of one of my drawings?” Gore laughed, clearly overwhelmed by the weirdness of it all. Yet when asked if the experience deterred her from lambasting Trump in future works, she was suddenly quite serious. “I would do it over and over again. When I make something, I mean it.”

Gore is holding true to her word. She’s already created one other glaringly anti-Trump artwork, an image of Trump getting pummeled by a giant vagina in a boxing ring. And she’s far from finished. On Election Day, the artist will create a live, participatory virtual reality artwork titled “Creating a Political Monster LIVE w/ Illma Gore.” Gore will use Google’s Tilt Brush, a new technology that uses VR to allow artists to paint in a 3D digital space. The goal: to show us what a political monster looks like.

What exactly that means is up to the participants, who will suggest objects, qualities and attributes to Gore on Facebook. This might include, Gore muses, a pantsuit, or a toupee, or, yes, a small penis. She’s also willing to illustrate more abstract suggestions, so feel free to get creative. 

“I love being involved in pieces that involve lots of people,” Gore said. “Especially since we’ve been so separated this election. And I love integrating social media and new technology, art is something that should evolve with technology and everything else, I think.”

Gore will draw for two hours, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. EST, and the entire process will be streamed live on Machinima’s Facebook Page. “You’ll be able to see it live while I’m drawing,” Gore said. “You’ll see what I’m painting while I’m painting it.” 

So for anyone looking to participate in a collaborative, political art project while waiting for the big election news, head to Facebook to watch Gore’s process as it unfolds. But first, obviously, make sure to vote. As Gore said: “Voting is easier than moving to Canada.” 

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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