A blue bird flies into the gaping mouth of a large man wearing a red power tie, accompanied by a group of flag-toting rebels.
That man is Donald Trump. The scene is titled “Goodbye,” a painting by inspired by the Capitol riot.
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the insurrection.
The tragic event motivated artist Kim Klabe, 57, of Rehoboth Beach, to immortalize it through a series of illustrations featuring her uncanny art style of freely spilling beer and paint onto a canvas.
“I was pretty wrecked by that whole insurrection thing,” she said. “It just tore me up.”
Klabe saw the riot while at work. It brought her to tears.
“I think I cried for two days after that. I just couldn’t believe that anything like that could happen in our country,” an emotional Klabe told The News Journal / Delaware Online. “And I still get upset if I see images of it.”
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Whether it was a Trump supporter at the riot wearing a hoodie with the words “God, Guns, Trump,” or someone carrying a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, or another person holding a sign that read “Stop the Steal” – all of those people relied on art to tell at least part of their story.
The power of symbols
Kristen Matulewicz, curator of community and academic programs for the Biggs Museum of American Art, said people are naturally drawn to using symbols.
“Around the world and throughout time, symbols have been used to rapidly disseminate information and ideas in an easily digestible way,” Matulewicz said.
“Building off that, we have the idea that people want to create communities and identities, so these symbols, images and colors become a unifying representation of a type.”
Molly Giordano, executive director for Delaware Art Museum, said slogans, clothing and posters speak to the cultural moments in which they were created, along with “stereotypes and blind spots” that might exist from that messaging, too.
“Art has the power to transcend language, communicate symbolically and evoke emotion,” Giordano said.
Pouring out libations
While the anxiety Klabe felt about the state of the country peaked after the Capitol riot, she said her grief started back in 2016, right after Trump won the presidential election.
In 2017, then-president Trump gave Klabe something to wine about. That year she channeled her sorrow into fresh political artwork she created, first by pouring wine and beer onto watercolor paper.
She then uses a marker to rein in “the happy chaos of the pour,” Klabe said.
Her style encourages her to believe she can’t make any mistakes because she creates pieces based on random and odd shapes formed from splattered libations, she explained.
There are times, however, when she pours one out and it forms into a shape that seems like it manifested from a spiritual world.
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An example is Trump’s face that appeared to her in her piece “Goodbye,” which shows the billionaire with a round nose and attempting to gobble up the iconic Twitter logo, a blue bird.
“I look at it as divine intervention sometimes. I mean with his [side] profile, even though it’s a little bit of a stretch,” she said, adding that Trump somewhat resembles a character from Dr. Seuss’ Whoville in that illustration.
“I was following the lines of the pour. But it was close enough that it obviously was him, just an exaggerated version.”
Rioters inspired other works
The chaos of the pour didn’t end with the former President.
The insurrection inspired Klabe to create additional pieces, such as a pair titled “Democracys Demise 3 & 4.”
“Demise 3” features a collage of notable insurrectionists, including Jake Angeli, who wore a fur hat and horns. Above the center of the piece is Trump looming over a toppled Capitol building with blood spilling out.
On the bottom is an illustration of Laurel man Kevin Seefried, strutting around with a Confederate flag. Seefried went viral on social media after being photographed with that flag in the Capitol building.
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The News Journal reported in April that Seefried and his son, Hunter, were indicted on counts of obstruction, entering restricted property, disorderly conduct and picketing in a capitol building.
“Did it surprise me? Not really,” said Klabe, who lives in the same rural county as Seefried.
“Unfortunately, in Sussex you still see the Confederate flag flying on some of the flag poles and some of those houses out there. And it’s just gross.”
Her piece “Demise 4” depicts a bigger version of the Capitol Building toppled over, with an image of a Trump supporter marching with a flag.
Both “Democracys Demise” pieces sold quickly.
The reason “Goodbye” hasn’t sold yet, Klabe explained, is because Trump fills up most of that image. “His face is so prominent in this one. A lot of the feedback I get when people see this pour is, ‘I don’t want him hanging in my house.’”
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Does art keep history alive?
The relationship between art and history is a long-standing one.
From illustrations of dinosaurs, to paintings of George Washington crossing the Delaware, all the way to photos that capture life in the COVID-19 pandemic – art has played a sizable role in society’s understanding of history.
Giordano explained that’s why museums are so important.
“As holders of authentic objects and art from our past, museums are one of the very most trusted sources of information for Americans,” she said. “That’s why the Delaware Art Museum is committed to looking critically at whose stories are told, and whose are missing.”
When historic events are immortalized through art, Matulewicz said, they transform from a moment into a metaphor or a symbol.
When it comes to the insurrection, the way it was depicted was mainly through photos and video taken on the scene by many different people at the riot.
“Because there were so many untrained individual artists with their own unique missions capturing moments, the message became muddied,” The Biggs Museum curator said.
What was left behind captured the chaos of a specific moment in history, she added, “but without the time or separation to digest and reflect on these events to create a singular concept, which is what you typically see in art related to historic events.”
In Klabe’s eyes, art is necessary for preserving history — even if the event that inspires that art breaks the artist’s heart, like the Capitol insurrection did hers.
“There are certain things you don’t ever want to forget, you know, like 9/11 and Pearl Harbor,” she said.
“I look at this insurrection as the — in recent history — the worst thing that our country has experienced since 9/11.”
Andre Lamar is the features/lifestyle reporter. If you have an interesting story idea, email Andre Lamar at [email protected].