Fort America, Step-by-Step

Twelve years ago I made a diagrammatic-esque drawing called “An Island Unto Itself” that represented the USA as a small-minded, fortified and paranoid island during the years right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the country was in a jingoistic and nationalistic ferver under George W. Bush (click on images to enlarge):

Recently, with a new jingoistic and nationalistic era underway with Trump (not to mention mean-spirited, racist, bigoted and misogynist), I remembered the old drawing and felt the need to make a quick, angry version in my sketchbook to match my current mood:

This got me thinking about political art and what artists can do during times of oppression, regression and extreme political stress. Normally I don’t consider myself a political artist, but I’ve been feeling the need to do something in response to the disturbing zeitgeist of Trump’s America. Among other things, I decided I needed to make an updated version of that old drawing. Below are the steps I took:

Step 1:

I put down acrylic washes to delineate the basic structure. At this point it looks and feels very light and “watery.”

Step 2:

I trimmed/shaped the paper and outlined sections with a water-based fountain pen.

Step 3:

I needed a little chaos, as it was looking a tad tame, so I spritzed it with water (which made the pen lines run) and added some yellow-green washes to give a sense of vegetation.

Step 4:


Then it was time to build the fortifications, ramparts and walls, not to mention adding barbed wire, land mines and other militaristic details using fountain pen. As I drew these I was attempting to embody and channel the fear and anger of the people who support the notion of building a wall along the border with Mexico.

Step 5:

Next I attacked the piece with a Sharpie pen using quick, aggressive critical marks and symbols a la an angry and excessively critical athletic coach making diagrams for plays and drills. While I was doing this I imagined Trump sitting at his desk in the Oval Office after his minions have handed him a map of the vast, rich and diverse resources and communities that the country contains for his judgement and approval (or antagonism). His entitled response, of course, is to grab a pen and stab, attack, critique, cut and judge with ruthless and gleeful abandon.

Step 6:


Finally, using acrylic paint and white pencil, I added new layers around, over and between the “critical” Sharpie marks and the underlying fountain pen details. These layers and marks partly represent the resistance to Trump’s attacks, but they also attempt to convey (obviously in an abstract/symbolic manner) a sense of the extremely complex, nuanced and ongoing nature of the intense political, legal and moral battles and struggles of this moment.

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