Evan Rachel Wood Talks To Illma Gore About That Trump Art

You know the one

Photos by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images + courtesy of Illma gore

Besides being quintessentially cool, Evan Rachel Wood holds many titles: Bona fide movie star, musician, singer, mother, activist, Beatles lover, writer...and now, we are excited to announce that she can officially add NYLON editor to her expansive list of credentials.

Illma Gore, an artist who identifies as a gender-fluid futurist, recently rose from the niche world of politically charged artwork and exploded onto everyone's radar with a now-viral pastel rendering called "Make America Great Again," featuring a very nude Donald Trump with—notably—a very small penis. Provocative on multiple levels, the art challenges how we think about the connection between genitals and power, and how we define masculinity, all using Trump's body as a jumping-off point. In the wake of the image going viral, Gore has received death threats on social media, and threats of legal action from Trump himself. So, who better to talk to Gore about this whole experience than our newest editor (and friend of Gore) Evan Rachel Wood? Read their conversation, below. 

First of all, I love the video you made to get the word out about your situation. You are so charming and adorable, scraping your feet on the ground, chipping paint off a wall, but at the same time dropping these truth bombs to show a really unique perspective on the subject.
I knew everyone was going to take the wrong idea from it and that was kind of the point. Now, I’m getting sued and they’re all going to know what the point is. So I’m just going to stand here and pick a wall and tell the truth.

When did you first get into painting and sketching? When did it click?
My mom is an artist. It runs in my mother's side of the family. So ever since I was a kid. But you know, I’ve always been getting kicked out of things. The first lesson I learned was not to draw on the walls but all I saw was a big blank canvas. I think that's why I always loved street art. I like the idea of this expression of freedom, people seeing it whether they liked it or not. Sometimes I got in trouble at school for drawing creepy portraits of a teacher, so they would call my mom to the office and say, “This is not okay, but off the record it's really well done and you should nurture this.” [Laughs] Like, your kid's an asshole, but this is really good.

I think that's the perfect place to be as an artist. Doing things that make people go, “... I’m not sure how I feel.” And that means you’re feeling something new and you’re thinking in a way that you haven't before. Breaking away from your conditioning.
Take a knife to the box. Don’t just think outside of it. Crush it to begin with.

Did you think the painting would get this big of a reaction?
I had an idea because it's provocative. You can’t draw a nude of someone so in the limelight and expect not to get a reaction. It was made to evoke a reaction. Good or bad. But I would have been happy if it was only one person or just myself. I actually get personally upset when people react the way they did because it's an extension of myself. Which is kind of a weird thing to say because it's a "Donald Trump" nude, but it is. It's also sad to actually see people say “Oh this is awesome!” but they’re just reacting to “penis,” and it's like, well you’re missing the point too. Or people saying, “This is body-shaming.” Well, you aren’t even reading the meaning. And I get upset because the misinterpretation is worse than I thought.

It's almost like claiming that it's “body-shaming” IS body-shaming because it's saying there is something wrong with having a small penis.
Exactly, because I didn’t say the small penis was bad. All I did was drop the image and say, “Here it is.” And for them to assume that it’s negative is their own judgment.

I was looking up the laws for freedom of expression and using a public figure’s image, and found that for there to be a case, “actual malice” would have to be proven. Actual malice in the United States law is a condition required to establish libel against public officials or public figures, and is defined as "knowledge that the information was false" or that it was published "with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” So I am not sure how you prove actual malice when the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Since it's art.
Right.

Do you think that Trump will lose votes from small-peened men if he continues to sue you, alienate you, and give the impression that having a small penis is a bad thing? I think he may be shooting himself in the foot.
[Laughs] Exactly! I actually got an e-mail from a man that said, “Please make sure this gets to ILLMA. First of all, I’m a family man, and second of all, I have a small penis.” And I thought, "Oh my god and you’re still a good man. It doesn’t have to mean anything. Trust me, I love you, and I love that you have a small penis! That's beautiful!”

Yeah, Trump could have spun that around and used it to his advantage.
If he took it or even ignored it completely, it would have just gone away. Or maybe not, but...

Kids are taught this in elementary school on the playground: If you give your attention or energy to something negative or something “perceived” as negative, you only fuel the fire. I am sure more people are more aware of the painting now that they have tried to basically ban it from the Internet.
Since Facebook and eBay censored it, more people are sharing it, more people are getting involved, more people are saying, “Fuck that! Don't silence this.”

Did they give you a reason why they banned it? And why they kicked you off Facebook, possibly for forever?
I still have screen shots of all the posts. One thing [posted] was a status saying you could download the image on my website because I was giving it away for free. I don’t want people to have to pay for it. If they want it, I want them to have it. If I needed to make money, I could sell prints or the original but it really doesn’t fucking matter. Then I got a call from Trump’s team and they told me to take it down, and Facebook banned me without much of a reason. It's happened a few times, but this last time they said: “It's going to be more permanent.” And that I had to “upload my ID.”

Jesus.
I also got a DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] violation which has to be filed by a third party and is going to court because I am being sued. So, fuck no, I’m not uploading my ID.

Yeah. That seems so extreme.
I don’t know when I am going to have access to my Facebook again. It's so shit because I can’t tell anyone what's going on. So then I tried to auction the painting off on eBay. I was going to give the money to a homeless youth shelter because it's really important to me—I volunteer there every Thursday. eBay removed it.

That really pissed me off.
Yeah, they got up to $5,000 dollars within a day. I called eBay beforehand because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be removed so I asked what I could do. They said I needed to “put it in the adult-only section.” And I was like: “I’m not going to put it next to anal beads and leather. No.” Only Canada and America can see the image anyway. So I said, “What if I censor it? If I cover up the penis [in the posting] then it's not a nude.” And they said, “fine.” I have it recorded and everything. They still took it down. I thought, “Are you kidding me?” So I put it up again, they removed it again, and now I’m banned from eBay.

I feel like I want to take you to a square full of people, put the painting on an easel, and just auction it off there with a megaphone and a gavel. Just fuck it all. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] It's hilarious because outside of the U.S., like in the U.K. for example, there are galleries that are trying to get it and will happily take it. Donald would be happy that it was out of the country.

Someone should get a giant back tattoo of it, cause what are they going to do then? Kill that person?
Yeah exactly.

It's really scary to me anytime there is an effort to censor art. I think it's such a slippery slope and a dangerous path. I hate being a part of this cliché, comparing some of Trump’s tactics to the ones used in Nazi Germany, and saying, “That's what the Nazis did," but THAT IS WHAT THE NAZIS DID! They burned Picassos, Dalís, they burned books written by Albert Einstein. They labeled it “degenerate art,” and that made sense to people at the time. Today these artists are seen as some of the most important minds and influential artists of our time. Now I feel like we are slipping backwards and you ILLMA are being considered a “degenerate artist.” It's truly a terrifying thought. Because where does it stop? Where do you draw the line? If you don’t want to be compared to Hitler, stop doing Nazi stuff.
I spoke to a lawyer and the painting falls under the category of “political satire” so I am safe. I will be fine. But I also don’t have the money to fight him. That's the problem.

It's a bullying tactic to scare and intimidate you, and drain your bank accounts.
Exactly. But this great firm said they would do it pro bono and Pussy Riot's people have reached out to me.

That’s so funny! When this started happening I thought, “She needs to be friends with Pussy Riot."
Could you imagine us going karaoking with them?!

Oh man! That makes me so happy, though.
They reached out and it was amazing, so a lot of people are willing to help.

That's awesome.
Another scary part is, you can separate Donald Trump from his celebrity persona and his candidate persona—they don’t really mix. But if he sues as his candidate persona—which most political people won't, they’ll leave it alone—then that says so much about where he would take our country.

Absolutely.
The First Amendment. If the President of the United States is willing to sue an artist for freedom of speech and freedom of expression... It's scary.

So scary. Also, if the President were to be that petty, easily shaken, and can’t rise above something like “political satire” then what the hell are we going to do when the real issues come up?
I knew Trump was the perfect subject for this because you can tell he puts a lot of value on his physical image.

And a lot of people don’t realize that their reactions are part of the art piece. The meaning they place on it. Think: Duchamp and his famous urinal, or Salvador Dalí wearing a loaf of bread as a hat. It's the reactions it insights that make it art.
Exactly.

Feels like it shouldn’t be that easy to push his buttons.
He even mentioned it in a debate!

Dude! When you showed me the painting for the first time, I think we even joked about it then saying, "Watch, $100 says he is going to feel compelled to come forward and argue that there is nothing to worry about in regards to his genitals." And he fucking DID! When I saw that debate I couldn’t help but think my friend ILLMA had a little something to do with it. No pun intended.
I am pretty humble with this shit, but I know for a fact that's why he said something, 100 percent. A lot of people think the painting was done after the debate. But it was definitely before. [Laughs.]

Now when you were sketching the actual penis in question, what was that like?
The amount of time I spent shading that thing is embarrassing. [Laughs.]

What were you feeling when you had to... go there? And did you use a reference?
It was impossible to get him to stand still for so long, I swear to god.

[Laughs.]
No. Actually, to one chick I said, “You could argue that I just haven't seen one in a long time.”

You could. Although now I am just picturing you and Trump like in that scene in Titanic. “ILLMA... I want you to sketch me.”
“Wearing this creepy necklace.” If I dream of that tonight, I’m blaming you.

It's a hard thing to unsee. Again, no pun intended. I feel like so many artists aspire to do what you have done. It's almost a compliment that there have been so many attempts to shut you down. Your expression has scared and confused people enough, including Donald Trump himself.
I always have that.

What I love about you is, that on top of it all, you have this wit and intelligence to back it up. You have a vision, a point, a reason. I don’t know what he expects to achieve by suing you but I think it may be more than he bargained for. You aren’t just some tattooed punk. You’re a real artist, who makes a very good argument. I wouldn’t underestimate you.
It’s not worrying me in the least. I laugh about it and think it's so crazy this has caused such a stir but at the same time it makes me so deeply sad.

It’s sad how proud people are of being hateful. At least, before they were passive-aggressive. Now it's considered cool to just want to “beat the crap” out of someone.
Yes, someone is saying it confidently, so those people feel like they can come out of their muddy little holes.

Once something becomes cool, that mob mentality will do the work for you. People’s longing to belong, connect, have a purpose, and fit in, in this case, will actually propitiate division and violence, it seems. And isn’t it ironic?
I went to the grocery store in a carrot costume once, because I wanted to look at the carrots, and an employee came up to me and asked, “Why the carrot costume?” and I was like, “Why not? Why the Trader Joe’s costume?” Nothing means anything.

I love one of Bowie’s answers to the famous Proust questionnaire: They asked “What is your motto?" and he answered, “What, IS my motto.”
Brilliant.

I think we need people like you, and your voice and your art.
I truly believe, to see the cage is to be free of it. If you are aware of what is going on, then you’re free of that burden to work on it and try to fix it. The censorship stuff hurts me so much because I’m not anyone. I’m like a blip on Facebook’s radar, but there are KKK pages and hate groups because if you have enough followers you can say whatever you want. I don’t have much; let me have my little group of followers and fans on Facebook. Let me tell them what's going on. I can’t even access my messages. People are wondering where I am. eBay said that my artwork isn’t defined as "fine art." They consider vintage pinups and Michelangelo nudes to be more appropriate. Why does the time period define what fine art is? Why is that your policy?

Well, the Sistine Chapel always makes me laugh my ass off because I remember when I looked at it and actually saw it for the first time, while someone educated me on what everything meant and pointed things out I had never seen, and I was blown away. It's one of the most graphic and wild pieces of art, and it's always hailed as this pure, beautiful, godly thing. Michelangelo painted god in the corner MOONING EVERYONE! Literally! It's there! There’s skinned flesh and snakes eating genitals. It's fucking nuts. But no one talks about it. We are always shown the image of the fingers touching and that's it. Michelangelo was angry because he was forced to paint that. Even by today’s standards, that painting has some fucked up shit. So it's really amazing what we choose to see and the things we’re fed that we never question.
Instead of teaching kids what to think, art and creativity teach them how to think.

Big difference. Progress is made by asking questions, with healthy debate. If someone didn’t stand up and say, “hang on a minute,” we would still think the world was flat.
This philosopher named Bruno was banished from France and laughed at for saying exactly that, and he was fucking right! They ended up executing him.

They did?!
They took it to court and said, “ You must say we are all god's divine creation.” And he said no. So they killed him.

That frightens a lot of people I think. I know I am guilty of not standing up for things, as much as I could, because I could get physically hurt, killed, or tortured for the rest of my life. And that holds a lot of people back. We are being beaten into submission—sometimes quite literally. People are going to have to start really putting themselves on the line. I wish it didn’t have to come to that. 
We try to hold onto these social ideas and then we get scared. You can’t threaten a chicken to give you his eggs, but you can threaten a farmer; the chicken has no idea. I would never even have come out as gay if someone hadn’t told me that's what I was or what it was called. That's why it was so badass when you tweeted about the painting and shared it on Facebook.

Well because then ban me. I don’t want to be in your book if that's how it's going to be. And if you do, I’ll get on my megaphone and use whatever voice I have to draw attention to how fucked up, unfair, and frankly, un-American it really is.
Yes. You should see the death threats I am getting on Facebook.

Are those people being banned as well?
No.

See? Bullshit.
I’m like, “You know people can see you and your name right?” People were saying things like they wanted to "drag me out into the town square” and “rape and kill me.”

What is this a western? Is this 1885?
These people are still living back there in a way.

Apparently, if they think they can just string you up from a bell tower somewhere and shoot their guns in the air.
I’m so open to being wrong, but give me something to think about. Give me a valid argument instead of threats.

So what is the next step? When do you go to court?
I get paperwork sometime this week, which will tell me who the “third party” is, but I already know it's him because he’s the only one who could file the complaint as the copyright owner.

Doesn’t he have the campaign to worry about?
Right. So that's happening this week.

At the end of the day, this whole thing is terrifying but fucking hilarious. Also, I would really really love to see him try and prove [the case]. I mean how do you prove in court that: 1). This was done with malice and 2). He doesn’t have a small penis? I mean is exhibit A, Donald Trump’s dick in a box? Is this an episode of Black Mirror?
[Laughs.]

How amazing would it be if Trump was this evil genius, Banksy type artist, and all of this was just one big art installation, and when he gets elected, he’ll just rip his wig off, have a British accent, and say, “I just wanted to show you what people are capable of. Here’s a big fat mirror. Take a look.” Drops the mic and walks out.
I’d be like, “Holy shit... Do I like Donald Trump now?”