ART, INTERVIEW

Blood, Sweat, and Jeers with Illma Gore

0 Comments 15 March 2017

Australian import Illma Gore talks her bold recent art project and creating the portrait that defined an election.

by Daniel Barron

 

 

Illma Gore makes for a fascinating interview. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise if you read our initial feature on her, in which the Australian artist spoke at length about getting expelled from high school, pissing off her country’s Prime Minister, and her teenage years squatting “with a drug dealer and a murderer.” Sometimes you choose art and sometimes art chooses you, a notion that became clear over the course of a riveting hour-long discussion.

Her magnetism also shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve been following the news anytime over the past couple of years. The Fall of 2014 was a different time for the then-obscure (in the US) Gore. In the period since, she has made mainstream headlines for her “100 Little Stories” performance art project, in which she pledged to tattoo strangers’ names on her body for as little as $10. But the real press dambuster arrived early last year when Gore produced a risqué portrait of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

 

illma gore

You know the one.

For creating an image that achieved global visibility, Gore received masses of death threats, rape threats, and anonymous phone calls. Most shockingly, she was physically attacked by Trump supporters in her home of Echo Park last April. Her illustration not only became closely associated with anti-Trump sentiment, it inspired anarchist art collective INDECLINE to produce their series of naked Trump statues which also dominated the news when they were suddenly unveiled across San Francisco, NYC, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Seattle last summer.
With a white nationalist sex offender in power, there was no way Gore was going to remain silent, and her first major act of artistic defiance occurred at the end of November when she made a cryptic call-to-arms to her followers regarding an upcoming project. This was later revealed to be a collaboration with INDECLINE, in which she painted a mural titled “Rise Up Thy Young Blood”….which was painted almost entirely in real human blood donated by volunteers. The powerful piece, which references an iconic portrait of Betsy Ross, was the result of approximately fifty applicants’ fluids and stands 10-by-15-feet tall.
The piece debuted at the Samuel Freeman Gallery in Mid-City and was open for viewing by the public for a single day. The following interview occurred on-site and proved Gore to be as unpredictable as ever.

 

How does one even go about obtaining so much blood? Do you go on Craigslist? Facebook?
[laughs] INDECLINE has a guy who’s friends with a guy who is a nurse, a licensed medical practitioner, and they came out from Las Vegas. We sent out two anonymous Airbnbs in Los Angeles and held two blood drives and we just put out a call-to-arms on social media, from myself and the group.
 We had some high-profile donors who don’t want to be mentioned. We had hundreds of e-mails but could only draw blood from sixty people. It was awesome. We told people about the art piece, they just wanted to be a part of it.
Did any of these high-profile donors assist in getting the word out?
Mmm-hmm. It’s been interesting. Again, asking people to go to a strange location to give blood- We could probably frame people for murder now. [laughs]

 

Can you talk a bit about who INDECLINE are and what it was like to collaborate with them?
They’re a collective of graffiti artists and activists. Last year I did my Trump piece, and a couple of months later, [INDECLINE] did the nude statues.  They reached out to me on Instagram and said, “Thanks for the inspiration.” So when Trump became the Republican nominee we were like, “Fuck.” I was ready to spend every cent that I had to get every political art piece in motion and they were, too.  We sat down and had coffee, a lot of the other big Donald Trump artists, as well. Plastic Jesus, who made that border around the [Hollywood Walk of Fame] star, was one of them. He wasn’t into this piece, we were supposed to do it as a collaboration. [INDECLINE] came up with the idea to paint with blood, they produced the blood drive, I  conceptualized the image and found the gallery.
Start to finish, how long did this mural take?
Seven days, working 10am-6pm.

 

 

Let’s talk about the concept. I’m seeing a broad cultural spectrum represented.
I tested my own blood first, made a tiny version because I wanted to understand the medium. It’s very similar to water paint. “Fuck it. I have to try, my roommate’s used to it by now.” I actually have a mini version of this piece, just the original.
I was going back and forth on what to do. Even though I didn’t intend it, my Trump sketch became THE most iconic image of Trump. That’s obviously a big “fuck you” to Trump, but this piece couldn’t be that. I didn’t want it to just be a threat.
It needed to be hopeful.
Exactly. I tried to include everyone. So I took this image of Betsy Ross creating the original American flag. We were talking about ideas and I suggested just doing the American flag. Blood is such a strong symbol. You could paint pretty much anything with it and it’d be like, “Holy shit.” The blood would have made it more powerful, but it still wasn’t creative or thought-provoking enough. So I chose to modernize that painting [Betsy Ross 1777 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris]. It was originally done in 1920, and now I’ve incorporated the people that feel most persecuted.
Conceptually, the work is also pretty gross, so to make a shocking image out of blood could have been a layer too thick.
Exactly, doubly offensive! There were a couple of articles that came out about this being created and the comments are like, “This is fucking disgusting!”
Has anyone had a physical response to it, like gagging?
The idea behind the painting was that you look at it and think, “That’s an actual piece of artwork, and the blood comes secondary to that.” You might not be immediately offended but if you look closer you can see the blood.
illma gore blood mural

Finished blood mural.

 

Betsy Ross 1777,

 

When did life really begin to change for you in terms of your visibility as an artist? Was is the Trump drawing going viral? You realize that image will be in textbooks, right? Alongside that “This is fine” illustration [by ].
Yeah. TIME said, “This will be Trump’s Shepard Fairey.” That’s such a sign of how things have gone wrong. How is that a leader?

The night of the election results, you were one of the first people whose feed I looked up. That was back when you were in the middle of your Steve Buscemi illustration series, and you were curiously silent about the state of the world. I assumed then that you were just hit so hard by it that you needed time to process your thoughts, especially after going so hard on Trump all year.
Definitely. After I made that Trump piece I went to London, I got punched in the face. I got kidnapped randomly in an Uber for a couple of hours, just some guy who was a little angry and mentally unstable. He decided to take me on a drive and tell me what’s what. And then I got out. It was weird.
So when Trump got elected I needed a break. People say, “Tell me about the image!” and as much as it means to me, art is a mirror. People see what they want to see, and I got tired of fighting that. Obviously, I have pretty strong feelings about Trump. As soon as he was elected I thought, “I’m going to do these Buscemi’s for a second, because they mean nothing.” [laughs] “I just need to be silly for a second, we all need this!”
It was like an artistic “Sounds of the Rainforest” CD.
[laughs] Exactly. I just decided, “I’m gonna come back and be a fuckin’ PAIN in Trump’s ass.” This is the time when artists are gonna come together and just create fucking beautiful things. As scary as life is now, that sense of community is going to help us overcome everything. That’s why this piece was so important, and it’s message of unifying people.

 

 

 

Do you think the revolution should be defined by outrage or messages of unity?
I think the biggest problem that we have, especially with the two-party system, is that we have leaders who cater so exclusively to their base. With Trump it’s “Fuck women, fuck immigrants, fuck abortion.” With Hillary- . They each have their extremes, there’s no lying about that. There are crazy feminists, the extreme right, everyone just yells at each other and no one’s listening. I always liked to believe, being on the left, that- there was a point when I did think I was better than the right. And that’s not ture. Just because I disagree with them, someone can be a fucking asshole and ridiculous and not believe in abortion. Instead I’ve learned that I need to hear, “You don’t listen” and respond, “Tell us why.” We shunned them and expected them to just go away. Now we don’t feel listened to and they’re doing the exact same thing we did to them. I want to create art that builds bridges as a statement. Galleries have already gotten e-mails and threats from Trump supporters.
So even after being attacked by Trump fanatics you still believe in preaching love and hope? You’ve never had a sort of crisis of faith about that?
Yeah, I mean, I had anxiety for a long time leaving my house, but that never overcame the impulse to…just keep going. I didn’t give [Trump supporters] my time and consideration because of my own privilege. It’s weird…I don’t know how to explain it, it was the best political piece I ever did. It was in 2014 just before I moved out to [Los Angeles], I was just trying to get my shit together here. I had just moved countries, I wasn’t part of the art scene. In Australia we had a gay rights thing- and this is the first example of me being fuckin’ scared out of my mind.
The video of you riding topless? [Gore filmed a video of herself riding a motorcycle topless in support of gay rights that made national news in Australia.]
Yeah, and in Australia that’s a big thing. It doesn’t matter nearly as much in LA. In Australia it’s kind of conservative. They especially don’t like lesbians. Gay major got taken away, we have civil unions. For a second the Prime Minister took it away. They support Trump mainly over there. [dismissive laugh] Stupid Australians.
We’re both from penal colonies, so…
Yeah, well that’s capitalism. The modern man mentality.

You use social media so effectively. When you need people to stand behind you I imagine that’s a lot easier than it’s ever been.
Yeah! In 2014 I couldn’t ask people for their blood. Everyone would say, “What the fuck?” Now I can say, “I need blood, come to a random location for an art project by someone you don’t know.”

So what’s going to happen to this? It won’t be for sale will it? I’m like Indiana Jones: “It belongs in a museum!”
[laughs] The INDECLINE guys put their money into the blood drive I put so much fucking money just into setting this up and getting it up here that we have no plan. It was just, “Finish the painting, get it done, open it up to the public.” So that’s it. It comes down tonight, it’s not going anywhere.
Do you have any new art projects lined up, political or otherwise?
Oh yeah, like I said, I’m going to a fucking pain in [Trump’s] ass. I went through a lot of shit last year. With this painting, in particular, I went, “Well, I’m not stopping. The more you push, this more I’m gonna keep going.” It doesn’t matter if I’m scared shitless. I’m an anxious little weird person. I isolate in my room most of the time. There’s no way that I could be quiet. People can punch me and I won’t stop. This isn’t the time to be quiet. It’s weird watching the press kind of back down now that he’s President.
You grow up kind of expecting to be like your parents that will take care of you. And of course as you grow older you learn your parents are human and fallible. For a full two weeks after the election I was just shell-shocked with violent TV. I would randomly start shaking while watching a movie, free of any specific triggers.
When the election was about to happen I got quiet about it and a lot of my friends were like, “Hillary Hillary Hillary!” They were so sure she was going to win. But I was like, “No, I talk to people outside. I get in Ubers all the time and talk to everyone. It’s five out of ten. Every single time. Even in LA.
My favorite quote is from Tomi Lahren. “Stop being the victim!” We haven’t even fucking admitted there are victims! It’s incredible to me. People are going to say I’m screaming for attention but I’m just going to keep coming back. I can do things to help mobilize and lift people up. And hopefully any fucking ego or any privilege that I have- I can be aware of it. “You’re a fuckin’ asshole.” And I want to respond, “Please, tell me how.”

 

And now, a tutorial:

 

Learn more about Illma Gore on her website.

Follow Illma Gore on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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