Dudley, 48, lives in Severn, Md., with her husband and three of their four children. Her oeuvre is not typically activist; it’s steampunk style in bold, bright colors. She’s ensconced now in a tarot card series she hopes will be acquired by a museum.
Some paintings are politically inspired and are like bolts of fire. Dudley believes life begins at conception and opposes abortion. (Americans are divided on the issue; half identify as “pro-life” and half as “pro-choice,” according to Gallup.) “Safe Space” is her pink abortion painting, which depicts a baby floating in a glass bottle. “I want to stimulate debate about issues important to me, and I know this painting will do so,” she says.
Around the time she finished the painting in 2017, two assistant art professors at Howard Community College in neighboring Howard County, Thomas Engleman and Steven Silberg, were developing an exhibit on ideas tied to political leanings. “I wanted to look at different points of view through the vehicle of art,” says Engleman. “I was seeing a lot of anti-Trump exhibitions around the country, and I thought: What if we played it on both ends? What if we examined both sides and had an open dialogue?”
They put out an invitation to submit artwork for an exhibit titled “A House Divided.” “The art world is pretty left. When you tell people you’re looking for conservative-leaning artists, it’s hard to find them,” says Engleman. Dudley was intrigued when she read the callout on an online art site she follows and wondered if her work would be accepted.
In addition to the callout, Engelman contacted Joe Fish, 43, a sculptor in Fairfax, Va., and founder of the Artists for Trump Coalition (now Artists for Tucker Carlson) to encourage him and members in his group to submit pieces. “I was suspicious at first because I believed not only was there a blanket dismissal of conservative artists by the art community, but that this callout could be a disingenuous attempt at inclusion,” Fish remembers.
His small sculptures are made of laser-cut stainless steel, sometimes coated with powder. He designs them on his computer, sends sheets of metal and steel to laser-cutting companies and finishes the pieces in his studio.
Engleman and Silberg received submissions from all over the country and selected 28 pieces representing artists across the political spectrum. The works included Dudley’s “Safe Space” and Fish’s sculpture “Cherub of Warsaw” (2018), displayed in a vitrine. “I was pleasantly surprised that Professor Engelman had the chutzpah to accept my painting,” Dudley recalls.
“A House Divided” was presented in a gallery of the community college’s Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center in spring 2018. “We hung the pieces so they’d talk to each other and express opposing viewpoints,” Engelman recalls. “Art can be a vehicle for discussion regardless if at the end of the day you go home to your arena and stay in your corner of beliefs. We wanted to provoke thinking, talking and feeling.”
Julian Raven, 50, an artist and contractor, lives with his wife, son and two daughters in Springfield, Va. His studio in Alexandria is tucked behind a small row of shops. The 2,400-square-foot space has a concrete floor, partially wood-paneled walls and exposed ceiling pipes. Dozens of plastic ketchup bottles filled with paint sit on a tarp. Oversize canvases depict the Jefferson Memorial and U.S. Capitol suffused with pink, white and red cherry blossoms.
His aim is to capture the essence, the feelings that these dramatic images invoke, he says. “This series I’m calling ‘A New Season’ reflects the creator who made nature, who made the flowers and the beauty and history expressed through the monuments. I’m a conservative Christian Republican Trump supporter. Some of my present work is political but also neutral and hopeful. It’s a response to a gap I see in the political art world that seems to say political art has to be ugly and vicious.”
Raven says he has been vilified for a giant 7-by-15-foot portrait of Trump he painted in the summer of 2015 and has shown at political rallies and in gallery shows. “But Yosi Sergant got it,” he says. Sergant commissioned the Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. “We don’t agree on issues,” Raven says. “He’s hardcore liberal, but we have a respectful relationship.”
Sergant invited Raven to exhibit his Trump portrait at the political convention Politicon 2016. “While I don’t personally agree with the subject matter nor necessarily the aesthetic of Julian’s work, I have nothing but respect for him using the tools of creativity to challenge us to consider his perspective,” Sergant says. “I stood in front of his painting for quite some time at that show, and it did just that. I, for one, believe we could use even more artistry in our discourse to challenge us to engage in a deeper and more creative conversation than politics often affords us.”
“Why are liberals allowed to paint positive pictures of their candidates that aren’t considered propaganda, but we conservative artists aren’t? My Trump portrait is a vision of hope,” Raven says. “We’ve lost the ability to debate opposing ideas and then go down to the pub together. We need to get it back.”
Audrey Hoffer is a writer in Washington.