Ashley Illma Gore with her infamous portrait
(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)
For the past few months, Los Angeles-based artist Ashley "Illma" Gore has learned the power of posting a painting with a prominent penis on the Internet. After her painting became a news sensation and brought her global notoriety, she now faces difficulties in selling her work, along with serious legal trouble.
The artwork garnering all the attention is Gore's painting of presidential candidate Donald Trump, naked, in a pose that clearly displays his penis, which looks more like a scared turtle than a proud python.
"The body is modeled after someone I know and I think they're beautiful," Gore says of the painting referred to on the Internet as "Donald Trump with a Micropenis."
Gore says she never really intended for the painting to bring her this much attention -- she initially posted the portrait on a secret feminist group on Facebook in early February. But it came to dominate Facebook and Twitter feeds within days, and in less than a month it was shared over 260,000 times.
The backlash was quick and fierce. Within two days of its posting, Facebook took down the picture and banned Gore from posting on the site. Around the same time, someone claiming to represent Trump called her and threatened legal action. Days later, she received a notice from Facebook that reported her for infringement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
And then there's the constant threats online.
"Donald Trump supporters have been sending me a lot of death threats, and I told them that if they didn't stop, I'd draw it even smaller," Gore says.
Gore, 23, freely admits she's a provocative artist. Raised in San Francisco and Australia by a mother from Berkeley, Gore began her career in street art. In recent years, she's become more conceptual in her artwork, undertaking projects like Human Canvas, where she lets others create tattoos for her and plans to display herself nude in galleries every five to ten years. She once also dressed up as a vagina -- "my head was the clitoris" -- and stood outside of a building that supposedly housed a meeting for readers of Return of Kings (a blog for self-proclaimed "heterosexual, masculine men"). The meeting was canceled by its organizers.
With the Trump portrait, the negative reactions to her work have had much greater impact than what she says she was prepared for. Not only has she been banned from Facebook, she was barred from eBay for trying to sell the painting to raise money for a homeless shelter. After the first time the auction was taken down, she announced she would donate $100 to the Bernie Sanders campaign for every additional take-down. This happend two more times before eBay banned her from the site for life.
"I don't have much of a voice, but Trump does," Gore says.
There have been some benefits from posting the portrait. She's been featured in articles in The Guardian,Vice,Hyperallergic and other media outlets. The controversy has even led to a friendship with actress Evan Rachel Wood.
As it stands now, Gore's Facebook page is online but she can't post to it. She's also been connected with the Voice Project, who are helping her with her legal issues. And for those who want a copy of the infamous portrait for themselves, the controversial painting is available as a free download on her website.
But for all the trouble she has gone through, Gore says she still doesn't understand why the backlash has been so vicious.
"If you take away the face and look at the body, that's a stereotypical fine art body study that you would draw in an art class," Gore says. "Then you put this man's face on it, who kind of loves his physical image, and all of a sudden you have a huge statement when it doesn't really matter; your genitals do not define your gender, your power or your status. You can be a president -- a good one or a bad one -- with a little peen."
For arts stories you won't read anywhere else, come to KQED's Arts and Culture desk.