• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

George Zimmerman, Eric Holder’s favorite whipping boy, has turned artist … and most critics are not amused.

One of the most recognizable names this side of the planet, Zimmerman was acquitted of murder but has continued to bungle things up on a smaller scale. Yet in the midst of all things notorious, he’s now found a creative outlet as a painter.

This all came to light when Zimmerman offered a painting on eBay, which eventually brought in a $110,000 offer.

Reactions to the unveiling of Zimmerman’s rather innocuous art drew disproportionate reactions from all sides. The higher the bidding, the more consternation and shock expressed from many media types, including art critics Tommy Christopher and Jerry Saltz.

New York Magazine’s Saltz ripped Zimmerman’s work in an emotionally driven outburst on CNN’s “New Day.” Calling the piece “a travesty, a placard, a poster, something you might see in protest,” Saltz was highly agitated and visibly angry.

“I think it’s a bit psychotic … insipid,”he said of the painting of an American flag with lettering.

Moderator Chris Cuomo asked, “Is that because you really feel that way about the art, or can’t you divorce yourself from your feelings about the case?”

Saltz’ emotional bias was quite clear as he tap-danced between his personal contempt for Zimmerman and the qualities of the painting.

"America" painting by George Zimmerman

It’s not so technically bad Mr. Saltz, and you know it. You are probably sincere when you say you can barely look at the thing because of your disgust for its creator. Humans will always be swayed by our bias, our loves and hates, and it’s impossible to remove emotional investment. But at what point does that conflict our interest and professionalism?

Zimmerman’s painting has a color scheme, a composition and a coherent style, which is more than can be said for some. Many paintings now start with purloined photographs, which was another accusation lobbed at the controversial new painter (an American flag photo from Shutterstock). Saltz wasn’t apoplectic over Shepard Fairey’s theft of an AP photo because it was all in the service of the Almighty (Obama).
Zimmerman’s “America” also has a theme, and that’s what set Saltz off on his tirade – the patriotic theme in conjunction with the words straight from the Pledge of Allegiance: “God, One Nation, with Liberty and Justice for All.”

“It’s talking about liberty, justice for all,” Saltz fumed, “like none of this ever happened.”

Marking Zimmerman’s “cause” as travesty, a crime and unjust, he abruptly changed directions claiming, “There’s no thought in it.”

Cuomo noted that the theme resonates with the American people though.

Unmoved, Saltz deemed it “silly-not art,” something art critics virtually never say as that implies they can define art in and out of existence merely by their preferences.

Whether Saltz’ display of righteous indignation is sincere or feigned, he alone knows. But if he is pandering for political points with the administration and friends, a critic of his stature has the clout to make an artist’s life much more difficult.

Zimmerman’s eBay sales blurb gives a different motivation: “I found a creative way to express myself, my emotions and the symbols that represent my experiences. My art work allows me to reflect, providing a therapeutic outlet and allows me to remain indoors.”

Tommy Christopher’s desultory description of Zimmerman’s painting meanders from snarky remarks to obscure art references. Noting the “homage to 20th century art” a la Warhol as a clever “conceit,” Christopher then bemoans turning the symbol of American culture into a “cheap object of commerce.” Never mind that the same could be said of Jasper Johns and his myriad American flag paintings, which continue to be sold for millions of dollars in commercial exchanges. Perhaps he doesn’t know.

Additionally irrelevant comments by Christopher include allusion to Picasso’s “Blue Period,” merely because of the chroma, and allusions to pictograms of Salvador Dali. But I assume he is mocking Zimmerman here as art elitist to a neophyte.

Los Angeles art blogger Alexis Hyde was very even handed in her analysis, sticking to the artwork alone and avoiding controversies over Zimmerman. She notes passion in “bleeding stars and brash brush strokes” and urgency about the written text. Hyde speculates that the message about the Constitution with a deep blue flag implies darkness or secrets.

“While being borderline propaganda, the piece isn’t entirely without merit,” Hyde declares.

Beyond artistic quality or lack thereof, the really big question was posed by Cuomo to Saltz: “Assuming you believe the worst about George Zimmerman, how could someone ever want art from someone like this?”

It’s a fair question because no (non-celebrity) budding artist rakes in $110,000 on their first rough offering on eBay. Controversy and the stain of possible guilt in the public eye drives up value for a certain type of collector.

Saltz compared interest in Zimmerman’s art to the fans of Charles Manson and Wayne Gacy’s work, both convicted mass murderers. If anything can be discerned about a man’s soul by his art, though, the comparison ends there.

Manson uses Satanic logos and goat horns everywhere, and his pieces are also unfinished and depressingly ugly. Gacy’s fiendish clowns with marks of injury and distress are bandaged and ominous. A terrible hat appears to be topped with huge, blood-soaked cotton balls. Both homicidal “artists” leave the viewer feeling assaulted and ill at ease. Psychotic violence and fascination with gore is clearly expressed in all their work, but especially Gacy.

Art by Charles Manson (left), Wayne Gacy (right)

Ebay removed an incendiary attack painting “Hoodie” by Michael D’Antuono on Dec. 21, 2013. Even for leftists the obfuscation and visual slander was way over the top. Surely there is some decency in that camp? Still looking.

Trayvon Martin appears about five years old and a few feet tall in the piece. A towering Zimmerman in a KKK hood blasts away at Martin’s face. No one is even touching, contradicting witnesses and injuries. The artist adds a Confederate flag background in a touch of spite.

"Hoodies" by Michael D'Antuono, removed from eBay

Michael D’Antuono, if you think you have a strong case against someone, stick to the facts you know to be true. But this is a sick personal fantasy, like a deranged Norman Rockwell.

Scott Kaufmann laments the removal of D’Antuono’s “anti-racist painting.” That rather depends upon which race you are, though doesn’t it?

Results of the trial led to chaos, injuries, death and threats of retaliation. “Hoodie” is aggravated assault on the intelligence of any viewer, but perhaps D’Antuono hopes to influence the unintelligent – or set off a few more riots.

According to Rawstory, eBay claimed that the painting was nixed because it promotes or glorifies either “hatred, violence, or racial and religious intolerance.” Specifically they dissed the KKK thing.

D’Antuono was flabbergasted that eBay mistook his “criticism of a hate-group … for a promotion.”

My first thoughts on the gnashing of teeth and indignation over this sale were apparently shared by a few others. Some artists are or have been criminals – of the worst sort. If we weeded out all the scandals, addicts, wife beaters, polygamists, deadbeats, child abusers, Nazis and even killers, the number would be sizeable – similar to any other profession.

But now things are different. PC cultural controls are strict but volatile because of an instant media. Artists and others can be quickly shamed or hounded into obscurity for either good or evil motives.

I have no idea if justice prevailed in Sanford, Fla., last July. After hearing the evidence, a jury couldn’t be certain George Zimmerman was guilty of the charges, and God alone knows the rest of the story.

Today Zimmerman has the right to paint, verbally defend himself and speak his mind. But those points may feel like stabs to those still in mourning. Add millions of indignant citizens whipped into a media inspired frenzy, and his life is a public minefield. Anything could set things off.

His lawyer claims Zimmerman owes a $2.5 million debt in legal fees, and it must be tempting to use the glaring public spotlight and make it pay.

“I needed to put these visions onto the blank canvas as soon as possible,” Zimmerman recently said, and normally art is a healthy and wholesome enterprise.

But if I were being personally stalked by the attorney general of the United States – who apparently respects few laws himself – I’d worry about my money last.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.