The images are disturbing in artist David A. Haughton’s series of paintings called Angry White Men III: The Puppet Masters.
They show some of the world’s most influential populist right-wing bigots and white supremacists, who whip up the masses to hate their neighbours on the basis of their skin colour, race, or religion.
There’s a realistic image of Jew-hating writer John de Nugent looking upward with a zealous expression on his face. Another features notorious far-right Internet rabble-rouser Charles C. Johnson, staring intently forward.
Then there’s Stephen Miller, the anti-immigration close adviser to President Donald Trump, looking somewhat suspiciously to the left.
So why would Haughton, a former B.C. Children’s Hospital pediatric emergency-room physician, want to showcase these bad guys without any real distortions?
“I fell into the Angry White Men series because Trump was elected, and I was already painting,” Haughton explained to the Straight by phone. “I was finally exploring something I had started thinking about, perhaps in a rather inchoate manner, for 20 years before, which is, ‘Why is there evil? Men are evil. Can you tell it in their faces?’ ”
Moreover, he didn't feel comfortable, as a white man, painting the faces of the victims suffering the consequences of hate.
Haughton also included a nasty-looking Donald Trump, painted in acrylic on hardboard, in the series of 20 images. The artist’s fascination with evil marks an abrupt departure from the landscape paintings that were previously his trademark.
That’s because he felt that when Trump was elected in 2016, the president “enabled people to show off their white supremacist, racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim beliefs in a conspicuous and audacious manner”.
Haughton described one of those audacious racists, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, as a “suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old”. He’s depicted with a bit of a smirk on his face.
“I’m informed by the photographs that are posted on the Internet, either in the Washington Post or New York Times or some other source,” the artist said. “It’s really the proportions and the lighting that informs me—and it’s my own strokes—but it’s probably a matter of luck which ones have good portraits that have enough detail that I can do something with.”
There’s also a painting of radio host and prolific conspiracy theorist Alex Jones looking somewhat demented. Haughton described him as “angry…but also canny”.
“He’s desperately selling stuff at the same time,” Haughton added. “I mean, how could people be fooled by these characters?”
Canadians in the series include white supremacist podcaster Stefan Molyneux.
There are three components to the Angry White Men series. One group of paintings depicts them in the street, intimidating the public with their Nazi tattoos and fascist symbols. Another group shows the “puppets”—those who are sometimes mentally ill, confused, or ignorant and who are driven or recruited to commit gruesome crimes.
Then there are the puppet masters of this latest series, which will be shown at the Visual Space Gallery (3352 Dunbar Street) from October 8 to 21.
When Haughton unveiled his first Angry White Men series at Gallery 110 in Seattle in 2018, it elicited a hostile reaction in some quarters.
These paintings showed Nazis in the street and some horrific mass murderers, including a sinister depiction of Norwegian child killer Anders Behring Breivik.
According to a report in the Stranger, an unnamed Black DJ was particularly upset that Haughton was asking for $5,000 for a painting of Dylann Roof, a U.S. white racist who perpetrated mass murder in a Charleston Black church in 2014.
“I had prices there mainly to plant my flag in the sand to say that these pieces are worthy art,” Haughton said by way of explanation.
However, after a threat to firebomb the gallery, he came to the realization that any proceeds from the sale of Angry White Men paintings should be donated to the Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which are both dedicated to countering hatred, injustice, and racism.
“There are about 70 families that live in studios above the gallery,” Haughton said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’ ”