The Israeli Painter Obsessed With Donald Trump

Iddo Markus couldn't stop painting Donald Trump. Now he deals with people reacting with anger and disgust to his work

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A portrait of President Donald Trump from Iddo Markus' painting series 'The Apprentice.'
A portrait of President Donald Trump from Iddo Markus' painting series 'The Apprentice.'Credit: Iddo Markus / Livi Kessel
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

Painter Iddo Markus of Haifa has painted over 100 portraits of outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump since 2016. In recent months, the pace has sped up considerably.

Like his other subjects, he paints Trump with robust brushstrokes, blurring most of his facial features and emphasizing his movements and gestures. The Trump portraits are unnamed, but the series is called “The Apprentice,” after the reality show that Trump hosted.

'Trump's defeat turned him into a tragic figure, and accordingly more interesting and complex'

Markus, who was born in the United States, immigrated to Israel as a baby. “As a U.S. citizen, the connection between what happens there and here reverberates in my mind in terror,” he says.

A portrait of President Donald Trump from Iddo Markus' painting series 'The Apprentice.'Credit: Iddo Markus / Livi Kessel

“The works are built more as destruction than as building a portrait. I painted him for the first time when he was running for president. Something amused me at the time and I thought this was a temporary episode, both the character and his painting. I saw him as an icon from the start. Once every two months I came across him on a TV screen or in a newspaper and I painted him, amazed by the fact that this personality was still with us, and by his behavior all along the way.”

Trump is the first politician that Markus has painted. “I don’t deal with politicians, and usually my range is between the homey and the realms of the internet or private photos, personal family photos or some that I find in the marketplace.”

A painting of Trump by Israeli artist Iddo Markus.Credit: Iddo Markus / Livi Kessel

But to him, Trump’s image is a celebration. “Trump is so picturesque. His features serve as an intriguing landscape for me to paint,” he says.

Even though the portraits show no clear facial features, Markus resists describing them as minimalistic. “I’m not a minimalist and neither is Trump. You could say that the man himself is a horrifying caricature, and I never thought of painting him or distorting him on purpose. I don’t come from illustration or from comics. I arrived at his image because of the colorful orange of his face and the impossible yellow of his hair, they preceded his personality and the feelings he aroused in me.”

Israeli painter Iddo Markus arranges his paintings of former US president Donald Trump, at his studio in the northern port city of Haifa, on January 22, 2021.Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP

Of his creative process, Markus says he started with Google image searches – “the most banal and clichéd images” – and then moved onto paparazzi photos, rather than staged ones. He also painted from screenshots: “Sometimes on video I caught a certain moment that stills photography doesn’t transmit, and with it a movement or an expression, a moment that shouldn’t have been frozen and wasn’t meant to be. These are places where the photo becomes an important tool for what the eye doesn’t see or sometimes misses.”

'There’s a broad range of reactions; people react emotionally, because the figure of Trump arouses a broad range of emotions'

And what does he think of him, after working on the series? “Trump, as president and as a human being, arouses a variety of emotions in me, ranging from repulsion to total shock. His coarse behavior clashes with his heavy, human and clumsy image.

A portrait of President Donald Trump from Iddo Markus' painting series 'The Apprentice.'Credit: Iddo Markus / Livi Kessel

“For me, his defeat turned him into a tragic figure, and accordingly more interesting and complex. He changed, for me, from an icon into a human figure who doesn’t want to lose and is fighting up to the last moment. Suddenly there’s also empathy towards him. The series of works about him, which for years was originally created as a curio, has suddenly been gathered into a serious, heavy and dark mass due to his defeat and the events of recent weeks.”

How have people responded to the series? “There’s a broad range of reactions; people react emotionally, because the figure of Trump arouses a broad range of emotions. Some people relate to his absurdity as a character and find the paintings amusing, while some truly react in authentic anger or disgust. And there are those who want to hang it on the wall in their homes. People don’t remain indifferent to the works.”

A portrait of President Donald Trump from Iddo Markus' painting series 'The Apprentice.'Credit: Iddo Markus / Livi Kessel

Although Markus prefers to sell his works after he’s exhibited them as a full series, there has already been demand: “Some people have shown an interest, of course, and I’ve sold individual units from the series to the insistent and to collectors, but I try not to dismantle it before displaying in full as a total placement of all the works together.

“I intend and want to display this series in the United States, and as in the case of other past series, I would be happy to sell it as a single unit to a museum or a collector who will preserve the range and the placement as a long-term project.”

A painting of Trump by Israeli artist Iddo Markus. Credit: Iddo Markus / Livi Kessel

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