Illustrator and portrait painter Tim O’Brien has a knack for pop culture, often infusing it into artistic visions that simultaneously reveal its strangeness and familiarity. This week, he was inspired by the now infamous image of Kellyanne Conway casually sitting on an Oval Office couch during a February 27 meeting of leaders of historically black colleges. What he decided to do was create one of the best contributions to a viral meme.
The Brooklyn-based artist inserted Conway into Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” (1948), one of the most popular US paintings of the mid-20th century. The image went viral, but I have to admit, at one point I wasn’t sure how to understand this unusual juxtaposition that seemed oddly natural. Was this a critique or an homage? I asked O’Brien via email about his thinking behind the image.
“Kellyanne Conway has made peculiar decisions since entering the public sphere this fall,” he told Hyperallergic. “After the election and [then after] joining the Trump White House, she’s said and done alarming things: dressed in a hyper-patriotic inaugural outfit, created a catchphrase, ‘alternative facts,’ and sat in this odd way before a collection of distinguished black college presidents.
“When I saw her sit like that, I thought about it that day and after hearing that the Trump White House withdrew from the voting rights case in Texas, a decision that would make it harder for people of color to vote in that state. The contrast of seeing her gleefully tweet this meeting, a signing of an executive action to make traditional black colleges a priority, with ZERO dollars allocated, I saw right through it.
“I think sitting on the couch like that was not dignified, not a way to comport oneself in the Oval Office. I thought of this odd pose, how it was like Christina in ‘Christina’s World’ by Andrew Wyeth. We’re all living in Kellyanne’s World now, and I added the White House to complete the image. It is silly, a mockery of the pose and the teen-like tweeting.”
Did it bother him that social media users shared his image without attribution?
“I’d like credit for the Photoshop work, but these are not assignments. They’re more like political cartoons mixed with graffiti,” he said. “The intention is to provide a universal point of understanding of some complex feelings many have about what is going on. For my illustration works, which are assignments I’m paid for, I own the copyrights and expect attribution. I have at times asserted in threads that I have created an image when the person posting it is getting high fives for the creation. I’m gentle about it — I usually just write, ‘Thanks for posting my image!'”
And what’s it like being an illustrator during the first weeks of the Trump administration?
“I’m like the majority of voters in this country, unbelievably upset with the most unprepared person to ever take that oath. From the grab-the-p*ssy moment to the lies to the inelegance to the Russian influence, it’s been upsetting,” he said. “I was quiet for several weeks after Election Day, but woke up in January, ready to make all that is going on more clear, more understood, and rightfully ridiculed.”