By Ana Gabriela García
Within each one of Michael Sanford’s sculptures there is a story (though hyperbolic and extremely satirical) about our current political culture. The figurehead of his stories is our commander-in-chief, Donald J. Trump.
His art invites the audience to look at a subject who is often linked with hate and intense sentiment through a humorous, sincere lens. So that the ideas of ego, of taking command, chauvinism, disrespect and the “stupid American” are brought forth in a way that welcomes laughs, reasoned dialogue, thought and honesty.
Currently in exhibition at the Biennial Studio Art Faculty Exhibition, in Gallery 406, Arts West, these sculptures are a breath of fresh air in a political crap-storm. This exhibition will last until October 20.
“Each satirically comments upon and challenges our assumptions about a world where fear becomes a weapon of the powerful and propaganda abounds.”
– Michael Sanford describing his sculptures in an excerpt on the wall of Gallery 406, Arts West.
Sanford’s goal is not to make a sculpture that everyone loves. What he considers as a true achievement is creating a sculpture that best presents the message he is trying to share with his audience. “I look back at my work and ask myself , did it successfully convey the ideas that I had mind?
Part of answering that question is based on audience response, so when I’m talking to people or people are talking to me about the work, and they give me a certain kind of feedback, then that helps me determine whether the message that I wanted to convey was coming through or whether there are things that other people see that I had not even thought about.” Sanford explains.
Sculptures, according to the artist, are about “exploring space with form.” Yet Sanford’s work makes it evident that a sculpture can also be about conveying an idea through story-telling. In these sculptures, the ideas seem to be: What would Trump look like if we transformed all his hate-speak and selfish demeanor into physical attributes? And: What kind of situations would these faults get him into?
To answer these questions, Sanford has created a world in which personality traits determine a person’s physique. Trump’s ego and his temperament have disfigured his entire body. In the sculpture, “An Inflated Sense of Self,” the president’s body is, literally, inflated, and his gorging cheeks and pout make his lips look like the circular, protruding tip of a balloon.
When explaining his decision to inflate Trump’s body and paint it all over in a gaudy gold color, Sanford said: “If I have an inflated sense of self, I think that I am more important than everyone. I don’t (referring to himself), but if I think that I’m more important, then my ideas are more valuable. My approach to problem solving is always right.”
“So there’s a kind of preciousness and value to who I am, that no one can approach. And a way to symbolize that is for me to be golden.”
– Michael Sanford, explaining why he painted Trump’s disfigured body bright gold, in his sculpture “Inflated Sense of Self.”
The idea that Trump is an egotist is not the only one that is presented in the sculpture, “Inflated Sense of Self.” This sculpture also subtly insinuates that Trump’s dominant and aggressive behavior stems from lack of self-esteem or compensation for some flaw.
When referring to this sculpture, Michael Sanford says, “If you look really closely, he’s not wearing any pants. You have to bend over and look. And his genitals are really, really tiny. There’s a theory that men are patriarchal, dominant and aggressive because they feel that they are diminished in ‘some way’. So that’s a symbolic way of suggesting that. It’s a playful way to suggest that.”
The narratives that Sanford has added to his sculptures are as whimsical as they are hard-hitting. Prompting the question of art’s role in today’s political situation. When asked what role he thinks art should play in today’s political spectrum, he said:
“First of all, art is not a singularly focused term, art can be many different things. There’s art that seeks to educate and inform. There’s art that is made as protest. There’s art that is made to document the historical facts. So art can serve all these purposes and one of the many things that art can do is that it communicates in a variety of languages.
So if you think of the language of form and color and texture. Or if you think of the language of tempo and music– that’s more word-based. Or if you think of dance, which can express so much through movement and gesture it the human body. ”
“Through all those languages art has an opportunity to reach people in ways that journalism and editorialism and video documentary cannot.”
– Sanford, talking about art’s role in today’s political culture.
Sanford’s engaging storytelling fills his sculptures with life and the exhibit with laughter. But he does not just attribute his sculptures for this reaction, Sanford credits his titles for helping make his stories interesting.
“One of the things that I would say about my work is that the titles play an important role. They serve as a way of provoking thought or creating associations or creating humorous dimensions to the work. It’s also an essential aspect of the satire. It’s not just the sculpture, it’s the interplay between text and visual image.” Sanford said.