Oakland artist Jon Proby poses with his painting ‘POTUS and me’.

Oakland artist Jon Proby poses with his painting ‘POTUS’. (Photo: Courtesy of Jon Proby)

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Oakland is a tough place to be a right-wing artist, but Jon Proby lives and works there just the same.

The hell-raising painter incorporates symbols like the Christian cross, the American flag, and Pepe the Frog (a symbol closely associated with the White Supremacist movement) as well as Tarot-card style iconography into his works to send out pull-no-punches political messages about everything from civil rights to Barack Obama.

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Recently, Proby’s canvases were part of the controversial, pro-Trump #DaddyWillSaveUs art exhibition in New York City, where he presented his paintings alongside such attention-grabbing works as provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ performance art stunt involving pig’s blood and a bathtub.

KQED reached out to Proby to find out about the underpinnings of his process and political message, as well as hear about what it’s like to be a right-wing artist in left-leaning Oakland.

You were born and raised in Los Angeles and now live in Oakland.
How has living in the state of California informed your work as a
political artist over the years?

I used to be a liberal because that’s just what happens when you are
raised in a black ghetto in a leftist stronghold. As I’ve grown as an
individual, I’ve drifted further to the right. The intensely leftist nature of California city life has re-enforced my contrarian position.

Tell us about your creative process.

I chose painting because I’m a one man show. It’s the best
and quickest way to communicate my philosophy while showing the world that that the left doesn’t have exclusive rights to the art world.

Jon Proby's painting 'For the Time Being' makes use of Tarot-like symbols. Of this work, the artist says: "Death, the ultimate limitation for the mortal. As we traverse this realm seemingly defined by the material, it is the symbolic which truly defines the mechanisms of Creation. The many faces of Chronos makes his harsh rule known."
Jon Proby’s painting ‘For the Time Being’ makes use of Tarot-like symbols. (Photo: Courtesy of Jon Proby)

My goal is to communicate to the audience through symbolism. Sometimes that means Tarot-like compositions that speak on a specific theme. Sometimes its a portrait that is framed in a way that translates my sentiment about a specific person. I build my own frames and I stretch my own canvas. I prep each canvas with gesso (a substance artists use to prime their canvases before painting on them) and I draw directly on the canvas with Conté crayons before I apply paint. For now, as I grow with the medium, it’s more of an illustrative process than a painterly one. It can take two weeks to two months to finish a piece depending on its complexity.

How did you learn to be an artist? 

I’ve been making art on my own since I’ve been a young child. I
attended Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, spent two years at an arts college and also undertook independent study in private and community college classes focused primarily on figure drawing.

There are lots of symbols in your work, including religious
iconography (e.g. the cross), the American flag, and the scales of
justice. What role do these symbols play?

I view the world as a waking dream that we will one day wake up from on the day of our deaths. As such, the world is a living matrix of
symbols that affect both our conscious and sub-conscious minds.

Jon Proby's portrait of James O'Keefe. Of his subject, the artist states: "The vanguard of undercover journalism and the sword of the new fourth estate."
Jon Proby’s portrait of James O’Keefe. Of his subject, the artist states: “The vanguard of undercover journalism and the sword of the new fourth estate.” (Photo: Courtesy of Jon Proby)

Thus I intentionally imbue my work with the symbols that I see as being most relevant to our place in western civilization, whether the subject matter is dark or light. Symbols are power.

What was your main takeaway from #DaddyWillSaveUs, the
controversial, pro-Trump art show that opened last fall in New York in which you participated?

I was able to mingle and network it a large crowd of like minds, which is something I’d never experienced before. But it was also illuminating as to how biased against the right the media is, because nearly no news outlet that covered the show featured my work or my words; my work would have legitimized the idea that right wing fine art is a reality in America.

You live in a state where Democrats win a lot of elections. To what
extent have you had to deal with enraged feedback? Have you ever felt persecuted?

There is no room in this state for being open about my political and
spiritual beliefs. I’ve lost many friends and I know how much
discrimination there is both within the art world and without in California, so I don’t even bother. My avenues to exposure are exclusively online and on social media.

Does it feel immediately different creating artworks that are in
support of the ruling/winning party, after eight years of having a
clear-cut target in the Obama Administration?

Its only different in the sense that there is finally an administration that I can support for the first time in my life. Other than that, my goals remain the same: communicate the truth through symbols, and no one is above my critique. If Trump drifts too far off course, he will be the subject of heavy artistic criticism just as Obama was.

Who are the artists you most admire and why?

I admire Ben Garrison the cartoonist for his work ethic and commitment to principles even in the face of persecution. He will go down in history as one the most influential political artists of the modern era.

What is your goal as an artist? To what extent are you hoping to
change people’s minds with your work versus rallying those who share your opinions?

My goal is to carve inroads into the fine art world which has been
dominated for decades by leftist Post-Modernists that have sullied a
lauded western tradition of high culture with ugliness and sophistry
and shift the cultural Overton window back into a place where artistic significance will not be exclusively defined by leftist cultural
authoritarians.

Jon Proby's painting titled 'Great Again.'
Jon Proby’s painting titled ‘Great Again.’ (Photo: Courtesy of Jon Proby)

We’re close to 100 days into the Trump presidency. Is there a
painting of yours that you think most effectively captures the spirit
of the past 100 days? Why?

My piece “Great Again” captures the victory that the right has had
with Trump’s ascendancy to power. The painting shows Trump holding up Lady Liberty’s hand and her giving the thumbs up. This is a nice counterbalance to the imagery the mainstream media has littered the public with, such as showing Trump turning Liberty on its head, or in the case of the German publication Der Spiegel, showing Trump beheading Liberty. The presence in the painting of Kek Lord of Chaos and Jesus Christ provides the dualistic spiritual
side of the equation.

What’s next for you? 

I have a couple more major paintings planned. But as I’m a struggling
artist, every piece I do has to come as I am able to afford the
materials. I’ll have to see what happens.

Q.Logo.Break

Pro-Trump Artist Jon Proby Takes a Stand in Oakland 26 April,2017Chloe Veltman

  • microlith

    Looks like he’s gone entirely off the deep end. His art is indicative of the incredibly weak rhetoric and arguments that are utterly bereft of logic that seem to be a hallmark of the 4-chan, alt-right crowd. I guess it’s no surprise he’s a fan of Ben Garrison, who seems to stew in the same pot.

    I’m at a loss as to what he’s on about, other than simply blaming the “left” for all of his problems.

  • Em Pyre

    He rails against postmodernism while painting “Kek Lord” Pepe Frog? Emmmm…

    He complains about sophistry while wearing an InfoWars t-shirt? The same InfoWars behind #pizzagate, mind you. Alex Jones just admitted under oath he’s a performer playing a part, ffs. Sophistry indeed.

    I get that this kid likes symbolism, but symbolism doesn’t have to be pedantic, contrived and obvious. Trump holding the Statue of Liberty’s hand while giving the thumbs up? Tres deep, dudebro. What is this guy, 13 years old?

    And what’s with these Daddy issues Trump fans have? Were these alt-right boys not spanked enough by a big strong man as children? Spanked too much? Why on earth are they seeking a “daddy” to save them? So creepy.

    Finally, James O’Keefe? He’s a white supremacist. What does white supremacy symbolize for a “fine artist” like yourself, Jon? http://www.salon.com/2010/02/03/james_okeefe_white_nationalists/

    • I know O’Keefe personally. He’s not a white supremacist. Do you know what libel is?

      • The Wickerman

        Maybe, maybe not. What he is though, is a creepy, disgusting convicted criminal.
        Did you even read the article, where he’s attending a white nationalist conference?
        You’re probably a white supremacist yourself, dunce.

        • I’m the tea party founder, not a white supremacist. I’m pro Western Culture and American nationalist. Western Culture has done more to elevate humankind than any other philosophy or political ideology. Spare me your commie lectures.

          Also please refrain from libeling me.

          I was led to found the tea party after being viciously persecuted in the
          media and courts by misogynist democrats at city hall in Indianapolis
          for having been a dominatrix. Democrats institutionally slut shamed me in the media, courts and on the internet for 20 long hard months. Republicans embraced me in love and non-judgment.

          In 2007, I won country’s first national tea party prize. I had orchestrated the biggest election upset in Indiana history and the movement culminated in billions in property tax savings to Indiana homeowners, keeping many vulnerable people from losing their homes.

          Two years later when the movement went national all of a sudden some guy none of us ever saw before showed up with a racist sign against Obama at a rally.

          He was a PAID AGITATOR. More like him followed. They were never us. They were, in fact, like the paid agitators James O’Keefe proved in his undercover videos were organized and funded by the DNC to perpetuate violence against Trump supporters.

          I founded the tea party and know its soul. We were people of all races and socio-economic classes. In my book, I wrote about one of our early activists who in fact had been a black panther. He was invaluable to our success fighting city hall.

          Because I had been a dominatrix I worked with many transgender people. The middle of my book (published more than a year before Caitlyn came out) details their struggles and advocates for them by education.

          So please spare us all your condescending lecture, judgment and your moral superiority as you smugly stand on the side of Antifa domestic terrorists who violently oppose the free speech of others.

          All we ever wanted was fiscally responsible accountable government. We don’t care if you want to be a boy today or a girl tomorrow.

          My book is Spanking City Hall and tells the true story of how a Dominatrix founded the Tea Party.

          • The Wickerman

            No, you did not form this fake “movement”. That’s all documented, liar.
            Your shitty “book” is toddler-level drivel, go get spanked or whatever. It’s hilarious that you endorse a party that seeks to end your prostitution lifestyle.

          • The Wickerman

            “Tea Party, an organization with more than 1,000 affiliated groups across the nation that proclaims itself to be the “Official Home of the Tea Party Movement”. Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded by David H. Koch in 2003, and led by Tim Phillips.”

            No, you founded nothing. You’re a liar.
            Besides being a serial liar, you’re nothing but a self-promoting clown with a whip that likes to take credit for things that you had nothing to do with. Your comment regarding “boy today or girl tomorrow” also illustrates that you’re ignorant of transgender issues, as your being a self-proclaimed fan of “pro Western Culture” and American nationalism shows that you indeed are a racist, in spite of your blathering on about not being racist.

            I do understand that the Republican party is chock-full of misogynistic men who seek to be spanked by large women, as it is also full of closeted self-loathing gays. They seem to get arrested every week for toilet sex and paedophilia. Your orange idiot Trump is the misogynist-in-chief, and there is plenty of proof of his abuse of women. But you support him, because Republican. And here you are, in bed with Christian creeps like Pence, who won’t even sit in a room alone with a woman. Great job, “Tea Party”.

            I don’t at all support Antifa, in fact they have gone after several of my friends. I find them as loathsome as I do conservatives. Try to do better with your stereotypes and pigeonholing. And now you also support a sick government ideology that would put you out of business and remove the porn you enjoy. You’re not very smart, clever, or interesting.

          • The Wickerman
          • That’s a psycho I got a job where I’ve worked earning six figures for past 11 years. He couldn’t cut it. I also provided him a place to live and even gave him my car to drive.

            I’m employed earning great money and he’s not. I suppose if I was all those things my employer would have fired me and kept him.

            Funny how things worked out.

            The truth is he was in publishing and went insanely jealous when I became a published author and was in the media for it all the time.

            The picture he used is a copyrighted image belonging to the Indianapolis Star that he stole.

            And yes . . . Republicans did embrace me in love, friendship and non judgment.

            Democrats slut-shamed me and called me every foul misogynistic name there is and did so publicly.

            I forgot about what that psycho wrote about me. But I’m saving your comments and think I’ll call my lawyer about suing him for libeling me.

            I feel for you. It must be horrible living a life full of such hatred for your fellow humans.

            I’ll ask for people to lift you up in prayer. I cannot imagine how miserable your life is.

          • The Wickerman

            “That’s a psycho”
            “I’ll ask for people to lift you up in prayer”
            “I can’t imagine how miserable your life is”

            See anything totally and completely anti-Christian here? If not, you really need to do some soul searching.

            You have some real problems, you should sort them out instead of posting crazy stuff.

          • Yes, the guy was psycho. Anyone who libels another person has serious problems. At the office he was known as Zach-a-Cry-Ah.

            If you read his blog it’s one post after another bitching about people he claims who have wronged him.

            He’s one of those guys whose numerous failures are always the fault of someone else. The reality is, he can’t cut it in the grown up world where a lot is expected to earn six figures.

            To this day, I don’t think my company is serious about hiring my referrals because of that train wreck I stuck my neck out to help.

            You seem just as psycho.

          • Republicans embraces me without judgment and in love.

            Spare me your condescending stereotypes not based in any reality whatsoever.

            You also know nothing of the world of dominance and submission as evidenced by your drive-by interpretation.

            I’ve interviewed over 1000 submissive men and sessioned with over 300.

            I’m what you’d call an expert.

            And you are what I’d called ignorant.

          • The Wickerman

            “Republicans embraces me without judgment and in love.”
            Yes, that sounds quite intelligent. Go play with your cheesy, silly whips grandma.

      • Em Pyre

        Oh, so he just attends White Supremacist gatherings for the hors d’oeuvres?

        • The Wickerman

          They serve a nice blancmange I understand.

    • DatBus

      LOL not too bright are you.

      • Em Pyre

        Is that you, Jon? Catfish.

  • DatBus

    Thank God a challenging voice against this marxist madness. The Bay Area is looking way too Orwellian for anyone with half a brain in their head. But these Leftists are a brainwashed cult, they don’t respond to reason or common sense.

    • The Wickerman

      Ha ha yeah, real “challenging”. I suppose it is in the sense that these are really bad paintings that challenge anyone with a sense of aesthetics.
      If you think that these toddler-level splatterings of “Pepe the frog” and ham-fisted, hilariously inept portraits of Trump will make anyone think twice about “marxist madness”, you’re even more naive than this “artist” is.

      • DatBus

        From the mouth of the beast itself.

        • The Wickerman

          Are you pointing to yourself? Obviously you’re not an “intellectual” as you’re unable to spell “believes”.
          I imagine your squalid living space, festooned with velvet paintings depicting fat-assed Trump as a muscular hero with Jesus watching over him, and lots of poorly-drawn eagles ‘n flags.
          Anyway, thanks for finding value in my completely accurate post by responding to it. This clod really is a terrible garbage “artist”. He should be embarrassed of these laughable trash-can liners.

  • toocooltobecool

    I’m 78% sure this is an elaborate joke. If not, please read this quote to me out loud:

    “my work would have legitimized the idea that right wing fine art is a reality in America.”

    so I can write “died laughing” on my tombstone

  • Dominic Reo

    Artists should be able to create the art they want and political themes and symbolism have been a part of that since the beginning of art. Regarding Mr. Proby’s art, my personal opinion is he’s either a truly politically right amateurish artist who should relocate to a place where the public might like and buy his paintings. Or one who is using the shtick of this ‘contrarian’ gimmick to try and pass off his amateurish work to make money. Because that’s what it’s all about for the right, ‘freedom’ to make money and worship materialism, he just happens to be a painter.

  • The Wickerman

    This is simply bad, amateurish painting. It’s ham-fisted, sloppy and poorly composed.
    That it represents the right wing’s idea of “fine art” makes sense though, seeing how Trump likes cheap imitations of classical art festooning the walls of his Liberace’s Nightmare Palace.

    Why this clown’s grade-school level art deserves an article is beyond me. Maybe this is all a joke?

    • DatBus

      Haterizm.

  • Pepe is not a symbol of white supremacy. Never has been. That was a fake narrative created by leftists. I’m a tea party founder and my grandmother would roll over in her grave if I was a white supremacist or racist.

    It’s highly irresponsible to write that.

    That said, I love the artist and his work. I’ve already purchased my first piece.

    • The Wickerman

      “Pepe” certainly did become a symbol for white supremacists. You’d have to be a complete dunce or liar to say otherwise. But since you want to hang an ugly, amateur white supremacist painting in your own squalid living space, I would assume you go along with the white nationalists. Just say that you are, stop hinting around.

      “Tea party founder”, that’s a laugh. It was created by the Kochs and other corporatist figures, fools like you went along for the ride while granny spins like a top inside her grave, racist.

      https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols/pepe-the-frog

Author

Chloe Veltman

Chloe Veltman covers arts and culture for KQED. Prior to joining the organization, she launched and led the arts bureau at Colorado Public Radio, was the Bay Area’s culture columnist for the New York Times, and was also the founder, host and executive producer of VoiceBox, a national award-winning weekly podcast/radio show and live events series all about the human voice. Chloe is the recipient of numerous prizes, grants and fellowships including both the John S Knight Journalism Fellowship and Humanities Center Fellowship at Stanford University, the Sundance Arts Writing Fellowship and a Library of Congress Research Fellowship. She is the author of the book “On Acting” and a guest lecturer at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She holds a BA in english literature from King’s College, Cambridge, and a Masters in Dramaturgy from the Central School of Speech and Drama/Harvard Institute for Advanced Theater Training.
cveltman@kqed.org
@chloeveltman
www.chloeveltman.com