The dust settles, the only sound heard is the creaking of the burnt trees. Suddenly, Bigfoot roars as it leaps from the rubble… only to be met with a hail of bullets from Teddy Roosevelt’s machinegun. This is but one of the presidential scenes painter James Heuser creates as he smashes United States history together with the reckless bravado of early 1990s action movies. The Creators Project spoke to Heuser from his California studio about his inspirations, the origins of his work, and how he’d draw the four major frontrunners of this presidential season. Think you’re “feeling the Bern” now? Just wait.
Heuser, who now sells prints of his work, first began down this weird road of presidential paintings while working as a security guard, “I had all kinds of time to kill there, so I’d sit at my desk and bring my laptop in and just draw. I was drawing stuff I thought people wanted to see, but it wasn’t selling, so I thought ‘Oh, screw it, I’ll just draw what I want to draw for a few months.’” That was about five years ago, and he’s been making presidential paintings ever since.
Heuser’s process involves completely absorbing all the information he can about a president as he works on a piece: “I find every documentary I can on whoever I’m painting, so as I’m drawing I’m also learning more about them, and the repository in my brain of history keeps growing. I combine everything I like, I like history but I also like action movies. I’m combining everything I think is cool into a digital painting and in the process trying to become a better artist.”
So is Heuser (whose favorite president is Teddy Roosevelt) trying to make a specific political statement in his works? He says he gets asked that question all the time, but “for the most part I’m pretty neutral most of the time. I don’t care about party lines, and in all of my paintings I like to put hints of the character, good and bad. I’m not trying to push my beliefs on anybody, I’m trying to make people laugh.”
When asked how he would paint the four frontrunners (Sanders, Cruz, Trump, and Clinton) in the 2016 election cycle, Heuser breaks it down. He’s planning a painting with Trump “riding on a golden tank, or like a Rolls Royce-style tank, smashing through a big wall.” He imagines Sanders sitting atop“a fire-breathing triceratops, he’s of course got a flamethrower.” He sees Clinton, “in a WWII-era bonds poster like ‘buy bonds’ and she’s got a flaming sword and her crazy eyes.” As for Cruz, “everytime I see him, I think he’s a Bond villain. So I want to paint him like Dr. Evil with a giant laser... but the laser doesn’t qualify as torture.”
To see more of his work and order prints, visit Jason Heuser’s shop, Sharpwriter.