Illustration students interpret a “culture of calamity”

Whether it be for the New York Times or for an illustration class, “legions of professional and amateur artists are trying their hand at political art right now,” says Illustration Prof. Anthony Freda.

The impetus, whether good or bad: the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump.

Recently, Freda gave his Visual Communication students the same assignment he was given by the New York Times (NYT). It was to illustrate the story “The Perverse Thrill of Chaotic Times,” for the Fashion & Style section.

“Trump Marilyn” by Gina Ienopoli

“The goal was to use Trump as a symbol of the age,” says Freda who doesn’t discuss politics with his students. “That’s not my job,” he says. Instead he shows examples of work with historic context of political art.  Their tools:  irony, parody, homage or satire.

For “Trump Marilyn,” Gina Ienopoli drew on a parody of the Hope Obama poster showing Trump with fly-away hair.  “It sparked the idea of using a recognizable image. I didn’t want it to be political. He’s a celebrity. So Marilyn popped into my head.”

Says Illustration Chair Ed Soyka “The visual communicator often applies an established historic icon, as Gina has done, and alters it to make a new statement and meaning.”

“Magritte Orange,” by Samantha Ferrer

Freda showed students the work of editorial cartoonist, Thomas Nast, whose critiques of the New York politician Boss Tweed helped expose corruption in New York.

“I want students to see illustration as one way we look back to understand a time and place. We can’t simply be anti everything!” says Freda.

“The Near Dystopian Future,” by Ariane Zhang

Ienopoli says that Freda’s NYT’s illustration was “absolutely a good reference point. He had taken an iconic image and replaced it with a modern topic. He showed that you don’t need Trump’s face in order to be on the topic of Trump.  That’s why I added the wig flying off bit, to relate to a memorable past event.”

Ariane Zhang says that “with the havoc Trump has brought, her work [above] is the future that I visualize.”  Zhang used watercolor and gouache for a dreary and faded effect, and outlined the two survivors in white gel pen. She agrees that Freda’s NYT’s piece was “a good starting ground for the assignment with the idea of fear and terror.”

“Cheeto Trump,” by Catherine Choon

“I knew some students were sharing the emotions of fear and loathing that have permeated the zeitgeist,” says Freda. “My hope was that in creating a compelling illustration, the process would help to purge negative emotions.”

Catherine Choon was stumped until she remembered the first time she saw Trump on television. “I was irked at his skin color. Why is he orange? Who is he? I related that to Cheetos.  I think it’s funny.” Choon says she’s not very political but “concerned about the President’s decisions.”

Ienopoli  says she hopes that viewers of her work will see Trump as a businessman and celebrity. “His background will effect the way he does his job as president.”

By Prof. Anthony Freda & Dan Zollinger for the New York Times 

In the NYT’s article that features Freda’s illustration (above), novelist Teddy Wayne says “Trumpian turmoil” makes people “feel as though they are part of something bigger than themselves.”

For Freda, that part of “something bigger” comes from interpreting momentous events. “I knew these talented students would come up with some powerful imagery, and they did.”

Images used with permission.

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