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.
[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.
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]
Seven days, working 10am-6pm.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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?
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
[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.
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.
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.
And now, a tutorial:
Learn more about Illma Gore on her website.
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