Art books

Two book covers are better than one with artist Gwenn Seemel

Book cover of the work “The Future we Need” on the cover by Gwen Seemel

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Gwen Seemel portrait of Donald Trump
“Larry Jacobs”Democracy under fireThe book features illustrations by Gwenn Seemel on the cover. “Trump Tiki Torch was painted immediately after the former president’s infamous statement ‘great people on both sides’,” Seemel said.

When Oxford University Press requested New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel’s 2017 portrait of Donald Trump, The Light of the Right (Donald Trump as a Tiki Torch) for Lawerance R. Jacob’s deep dive into the American political system , Democracy on Fire: Donald Trump and the Breakdown of American Historyshe was pleasantly surprised.

Shortly after The Light of the Right (Donald Trump as Tiki Torch) landed with Jacob, Seemel was asked to paint portraits by her friend Erica Smiley. It was for the cover of Smiley’s upcoming non-fiction, co-written by Sarita Gupta, The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the 21st Century. Contrary to Democracy on fireSeemel was very involved with the interview subjects for Smiley’s book.

Suddenly, Seemel’s portraits wrapped the covers of two unpublished books describing the future of American politics and labor.

“The Democracy on fire was a total surprise right in my inbox. Oxford University Press was looking for a cover for the book and somehow discovered the painting,” Seemel said. “I don’t know much about editing, but I imagine there are teams involved in image research. So, I never got an answer as to why it was me, but I was really happy the piece was chosen.

The artist from Lambertville has been depicting people since she was a child, sometimes to make fun of them, as with the high school teachers she ruthlessly caricatured; other times to raise them, such as the residents she volunteered to care for as a teenager in a nursing home. Today, these opposing forces in his work are exposed in a very publicized way.

The non-fiction book describes the historical forces behind Donald Trump’s presidency, as well as how America’s two-party system is becoming increasingly polarized, with more extreme candidates and growing racial inequality.

Jacob said Seemel’s portrait of the former president is a “fiery painting [that] powerfully conveys my book.

Smiley and Gupta The future we need is still political, but the tone of the art is entirely different. Seemel gives faces to the workers whose stories appear in the text. Gupta and Smiley describe the modern labor movement by integrating the stories of working people and how the power of collective bargaining influences a stable democracy for a working America.

Gwenn’s portraits were important to the book because workers, especially working women, are not usually depicted in portraits; it is generally the wealthy who are painted. There’s justice and history culminating in a portrait, something that opens nonfiction with fierce empathy.

“[Furthermore], they are not anonymous strangers,” Smiley said. “Gwenn’s paintings remind us that the people who share their stories and opinions on the movement’s strategy are human beings who could be our aunts, our sisters, our neighbors. This really mattered to us when putting together this compilation of strategies for the labor movement.

Balancing the powerful extremes of portraiture is one of what Seemel does best, having spent nearly 20 years as a professional artist creating political imagery. She did this while supporting herself primarily through the creation of custom portraits. Navigating her way to her vision of a better world and getting paid isn’t an easy needle to thread, but most of the time, Seemel likes a challenge.

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