Veteran Political Artist Robbie Conal Says a Trump Presidency Calls for Good Art
A photo of Robbie Conal from his GoFundMe page
Courtesy Robbie Conal
Back in early June, artist Robbie Conal and 180 of his friends (and friends of friends, and strangers who'd gotten word on the internet) gathered at 11 p.m. at Canter's Deli to make some mischief. Armed with wheat paste and paintbrushes, the volunteer crew of amateur guerrilla street artists put up hundreds of Conal's two-sided "Bully culprit/Can't even" Trump posters in a single night throughout L.A.
After raising upward of $12,000 via GoFundMe, Conal also took the postering campaign to New York City, Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; and Oakland, all places where Trump lost, even though the alt-right juggernaut ultimately couldn't be stopped.
When I spoke with Conal by phone from his home in Los Osos last week, the longtime Angeleno was, like many of us, still coming to terms with a reality in which Donald Trump — a xenophobic billionaire reality-TV star — is president-elect. "I said to my wife, Debbie, last night, 'I’m in relatively good health, but I don’t want to die while that creep is president,'" the 72-year-old says. "It seemed deep to me. I felt that way."
But once the fog of despair has lifted, Conal, like many other artists of his ilk, will get to work. "When I get mad — and I’m mad right now — I go to my room, close the door and play with my crayons."
Courtesy Robbie Conal
Conal began making political art in 1986, during Ronald Reagan's presidency. "I didn’t want to do that — it's not like it was my dream vocation," he says. "I was just compelled to do it; Reagan made me do it." Conal says he thinks it's a natural compulsion for creative people to express themselves during times of political upset or upheaval. "What I think about situations like this is, if you’re motivated and upset about something, apply whatever talents you have to it. With me, the only two things I could ever do were draw and play baseball, and baseball’s out."
I ask him whether he gets the impression that we need art more now than ever. "I think we always need art," he clarifies. "We need art to address certain issues more than ever." In fact, if there's a silver lining to the current situation, it's that so many artists have already been compelled to channel their anger and anxiety into their art. "Art is good for some things," he says. "You can make good art about any subject. Of course, you can make bad art about any subject too, but, you know, try to make good art about issues that you really care about, whatever they are. In this instance, it happened, too. More artists who don’t necessarily address political issues directly made art about the issues in this election than ever before."
Conal says his wife has suggested that he make positive, inspirational art, similar to the work he did in response to 9/11. He can't yet say for sure what he's going to produce, but he can't stop now: "I don’t know what I’m going to do — I’m going to go into my room, close the door and play with my crayons, and come out firing."
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