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Avery Lawrence’s painting of Donald Trump’s hat questions what’s real

June 15, 2016 // by Avery Lawrence

When Avery Lawrence's very recent work appeared in the UNF Gallery at MOCA Jacksonville in September 2015, some visitors were puzzled by one of the paintings. In this essay, the artist explains the process and ideas behind that piece from Avery Lawrence: Live in Jacksonville.

I made a big, blurry oil painting of the MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat at the end of August 2015. At that point, Donald Trump had been wearing his iconic hat for about a month and campaigning for two.

Avery Lawrence Make America Great Again hat painting in gallery b
Avery Lawrence's Make America Great Again painting hangs in the UNF Gallery at MOCA Jacksonville. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

Trump seems to have worn the hat for the first time while touring the United States-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas. In a video of his Laredo news conference, he boasts that “the Hispanics are gonna love Trump, and they already do.” At the very beginning, as he's settling into his pulpit, he invites members of the audience to fly back to New York with him on his private plane. During the nine-minute video, he generalizes, deflects, misconstrues, ignores, offends, interrupts, boasts, refers to his polls, talks about his plane and himself. I took a screenshot when he looks to the side at minute 3:23, right after predicting his winning the Latino vote because “over the years, thousands and thousands of Hispanics” have worked for him. 

In May 2015, I earned a master's degree in art; in July, I took a job with an entertainment design and production firm as a carpenter. My first day on the job, I learned how to build flats. A flat is piece of cheap, thin plywood, reinforced with 1 x 4 wood to make, essentially, a mobile wall. Groups of flats create background scenery on stage and in the movies. Flats are things (accumulations of lumber milled from trees) that represent other things (say, the facade of a building in some dusty, down-on-its-luck pioneer town with nothing but a bank for robbing and a saloon for drowning broken dreams) and hide unsightly things (backstage). Flats are real things turned into fake things designed to create the illusion of a certain type of “realness,” while disguising another. A flat seemed like the fitting surface on which to paint the hat of the reality TV celebrity whose major accomplishment is the Taj Majal in Atlantic City.

Avery Lawrence Make America Great Again painting sequence c
Avery Lawrence took a screenshot of Donald Trump's Laredo, Texas, news conference, removed the background except for a sliver of hair, and created the final painting. Image courtesy of Avery Lawrence.

In August 2015, I started to paint the hat on a flat using a wet-on-wet oil technique made popular by another master self-promoter from the 1980s: Bob Ross. Ross employed the technique to quickly paint realistic representations of imaginary landscapes on canvas during his TV show The Joy of Painting. I used the wet-on-wet technique in order to blur the words “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

In my painting, I removed the background, the people, and most of the Donald from the news conference screenshot (I left a sliver of yellow as an homage to what's obscured by the hat). I noticed that the hat left off the exclamation point from the slogan. Everywhere else it's “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” The loud uppercase letters are punctuated with a few extra decibels at the end. But on the hat, it's just “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” I don't know why. So I put an asterisk in place of the exclamation point.

It's been ten months since I created the MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat painting and twelve months since Trump announced his candidacy. For about six months, starting in November 2015, Trump stopped wearing the hat. In May 2016, his last competitor dropped out. Now, Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, and he's wearing the hat again

Avery Lawrence Make America Great Again hat painting detail a
Avery Lawrence's Make America Great Again painting hangs in the UNF Gallery at MOCA Jacksonville. Image courtesy of Doug Eng.




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