Art and Propaganda


By Madge Slack


Everyone studies art at some point. Sometimes it leads to the knowledge of Picasso’s greatness or abstract ideas concerning how Leonardo Da Vinci was important. Most people know that Van Gogh cut off one of his ears, but hardly anybody can say which one or even pronounce his name correctly.

Art is everywhere. Most commonly, we encounter it in the form of graphic design. Apps, logos, the layout on your Facebook page and Instagram are just a steady stream of visual art. Art doesn’t just merely exist, however, and many pieces are more than just pretty faces.

Trump’s face is not particularly pretty as he screams his defiance for all the world to see.

When Kevin Champeny first created “Defiant,” it wasn’t meant for an audience. “I built these for myself,” he said. “I had the idea very early on as I was watching and I made them.” Champeny, like many Americans, felt confused and overwhelmed watching the 2016 presidential race.  

“It was a strange experience for me to watch the election and how oddly divisive it became,” Champeny said It was, so much so, that I wanted to create some kind of commentary on it.”

The irony is that Champeny’s commentary isn’t in his direct comments about Trump. He was convinced to display this piece, which he did, for five days in a glass truck that he drove around New York City.

Champeny performs this type of work a lot. “All my pieces I just put out there,” he said. “I give them a title, usually ambiguous, and I let the viewer create the story. My experiences are different. I don’t want to force that on them. I don’t want to take away their experience.”  

It’s important to Champeny, as an artist, that people see his work from their own perspective. “Defiant” is no different. “’Defiant’ is meant to be something,” he explained, “[That] people can look at and like for totally different reasons. It was really interesting to get feedback depending on which portrait they saw first.”

One side of the truck displayed the word ‘defiant’ while the other read ‘defiance’. Each viewer of Champeny’s piece could decide which word was more true for each candidate. In the midst of the most controversial election in history, everyone can find something to like in this political artwork.

More ironically, when one gets close to either of the portraits in “Defiant,” their message is not necessarily friendly. Both portraits are made of hundreds of tiny little hands flipping the bird. Champeny casts each individual hand sculpture and then compiles them into each portrait. He also designed the graphics on the truck and put together the shipping crates for the sculptures, just for good measure. Perhaps the work is so impactful because Champeny was in it from start to finish. Even his original images are either photographs that he’s taken himself or paintings that he created based off of available images.

“It forces you to go up close and to walk away,” Champeny said. “It forces you to see two different perspectives. You can’t see both at the same time, like a classic optical illusion. It forces you to physically move, and then figure out what that conversation is.” This division comes from the larger portrait presented by the artwork and the tiny sculptures which compose it. You can also listen to a compilation of thirty-second sound bytes that accompany the visual work. They play on a loop from both Hillary and Trump. Champeny was struck by the sound clips when he first heard them: “It all seemed so angry. It just felt like months of just yelling against each other. The sound bites weren’t even in sequence, but it doesn’t matter.”

Champeny named the piece “Defiant” because he primarily wanted to explore the current political climate. “I think who each party put up was unique,” he said. “This is a little bit outside what is typical. Donald Trump is from New York and known separately from politics. I had never seen a businessman run in a presidential race. Getting to that point [Hillary’s nomination] was very telling, and so I thought defiance sort of examined all of that. For those who voted for [Trump] to say no and say ‘I want something different.’ In my eyes, it felt very defiant against the status.” Champeny saw the 2016 election as a challenge to the status quo.

Since Trump’s election, the population has continued to challenge the status quo on all sides. Whether that’s concerning immigration, Kavanaugh or tariffs, American voices have never been louder. America has always been defiant as a country, and increasingly we are becoming more defiant as individuals. The final idea that Champeny offered was “The other curious thing about [the sculptures] is whoever buys it defines it.” In other words, the owner of the pieces will decide which party they favors and who is defying whom. Who owns your defiance?

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