The painting, entitled "Make America Great Again," is the work of Illma Gore, a gender-fluid artist based in Los Angeles. Since she first posted it onto her Facebook artist page on February 10, it has garnered over 260,000 shares. Beyond that, if other metrics are to be believed, it's been seen over 50 million more times on Imgur and Reddit. The piece has slipstreamed into web virality.
The added exposure has brought with it predictable harassment and threats, from both Trump supporters and (possible) members of his active legal team. In response to the pleas to remove the art, Gore has decided to cause a bigger ruckus and put the painting up for auction on eBay. In advance of the auction, we talked to Gore about the inspiration behind the painting, the pitfalls of the viral boom market, the confusing nudity rules on social media, and why she's auctioning off the piece.
BROADLY: Where did this painting come from?
Illma Gore: A lot of my artwork is based on the significance that's placed on our physical selves. We have a transgender movement right now, really a gender revolution is beginning, and it intrigued me how transgender people are always asked about what's in their pants. It's the first thing. "Do you still have your…?" And I thought it would be interesting if we used someone prolific and controversial like Donald Trump, and put his face on the body of someone I thought was beautiful, but also with a micro-penis. It was to evoke a reaction. I just don't think people should be defined by their genitals. You can be a big prick despite what's in your pants.
How long did the process take?
I finished painting it on the tenth of February. It took 40 hours, total. I had to stop at his face for a little while, because I had to think about my life choices [laughs]. It was really important to me for people to identify who he was. His face is actually really quite small. It can fit into the size of your palm. His eyes are quite small. I wanted to make sure you couldn't mistake who it was.
And the body?
It's another person I know, as well as a bit of my artistic imagination. You could argue that since I'm generally attracted to women I just haven't seen a penis in a long time.
How did the painting "go viral?"
I posted it to my Facebook artist page, and on Reddit, and it blew up. It was on the Reddit front page within an hour. The art moderators were like, "We don't know what to say here, good luck everyone!" Internet viral stuff is so odd. I did an art piece last year that went viral [Gore's "Human Canvas" project, in which over 1,000 people chose words or names for Gore to tattoo her body, she has 400 more to go ]. That would go super viral, then die out, and then go viral again because somewhere else picked it up. It was so weird. I was also doing constant press for it. This was different. [The Trump micro-penis painting] was getting 15,000 downloads an hour for an average of three or four days, and it's still going strong. I'm getting at least 50,000 visits to my page a day and 5,000 downloads. That's a lot. George Takai posted about it the other day, so it picked back up again. But, there's not really a story with it yet. It's just kind of the artwork.
Has the response frightened you at all?
I've been getting a lot of death threats, mostly on my Facebook. They're pretty violent threats. Some told me I've been raped by my father, etc., stuff like that. Things you'd kind of expect, which I provoked, so whatever. I'm not phased by it. A group of Trump supporters have made it their mission to try to get me reported for obscenity, they've been saying children can view it and it's sexual harassment to Donald Trump. So, Facebook has been deleting it.
Facebook has contacted you about removing it?
Yeah, it's weird. The print is free to download on my website, or you can buy a print, which I only just started because people were having trouble printing it up. In New York, a place told someone that they wouldn't print it out unless they had Donald Trump's permission. A couple people were having that issue, so I made it available to purchase. But every time I'd post something about selling the piece, Facebook would ban me for 24 hours. But they won't take down my artwork. Also, my Twitter randomly started changing its setting by itself to cover the image.
What? You posted the image on Twitter and somehow your settings were changed?
It was so weird. I had my friend watch me do it, and posted the image again, and a couple days would go by, and my settings would automatically change so you couldn't see the nudity.
Have you received a phone call from Trump's legal team?
Last Wednesday, I got contacted by someone saying they were from Trump's legal team, and I hung up on them. They said I need to talk to a lawyer about a recent issue with the artwork. The lawyer I'm talking to said if anything I'll probably get a cease and desist letter, but I haven't received anything yet.
Were you planning on holding the auction before you received the call?
I'm kind of a facetious little shit. If someone tells me not to do something, I do it. People told me not to do it, so I put it up for free and made the print version. And now, I'm doing the auction. A lot of the money from my work goes towards a homeless youth foundation called Safe Place for Youth. I was homeless when I was a teenager, and through 2011 I was sleeping on the street. They don't get funding from the government and I try to give them my support.
How much are you hoping to get for the piece?
At least 99 cents.