SIU alumnus addresses Trump presidency in University Museum exhibit
February 1, 2021
During former President Donald Trump’s term, print media editor/political cartoonist/painter Tim Atseff became inspired. Atseff picked up on the constant controversy over the way Mr. Trump ran the United States and depicted seven traits he saw in Trump in his “7 Deadly Sins: A Trump Dystopian Heptalogy” series.
The 7 Deadly Sins series is on display as a part of a larger exhibition of Atseff’s work, ranging from his days at SIU to his latest work.
Atseff, an SIU graduate of 1970 with a degree in fine art, applied to the University Museum to have his work displayed in 2019. In November 2020, an exhibit featuring over 50 years of Atseff’s work opened at the museum.
While at SIU, Atseff worked at the Daily Egyptian as a cartoonist, then went on to provide cartoons for the New York Times and Washington Post.
“To have my work on display anywhere is an honor, but having it at SIU 50 years after graduating is really something,” Atseff said. “The 7 Deadly Sins project started almost five years ago, when Trump was elected. The paintings didn’t start then but the seeds were planted.”
Atseff said he watched the world around him and saw loss, confusion and urgency.
“How do we get to a point in this country, the wealthiest country in the world where garbage bags were used by nurses in ICU’s as sterile gowns to take care of COVID patients,” Atseff said.
Recalling September 11, 2001 and the saying “if you see something, say something,” Atseff in 2017 had seen enough and started painting.
“None of this has to do with Trump being Republican, but he became this messianic cult leader,” Atseff said. “That became the embodiment of the 7 Deadly Sins series, I created a painting for each sin: pride, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath, envy, and sloth.”
Showcasing artwork during a pandemic was a challenge, said Atseff. While the work was on display at ArtRage Gallery in Atseff’s home base of Syracuse, Ny., Atseff created a video explaining his work from previous years as well as the 7 Deadly Sins series.
While on display in Syracuse, Atseff’s work was reviewed by Carl Mellor, a Syracuse-based art reviewer. In the review, Mellor describes Atseff’s stylistic elements as well as points of interest in some of the pieces.
“It’s visually and topically interesting, provocative and visceral,” Mellor wrote. “In creating the “7 Deadly Sins” series, Atseff moved into crowded territory; a variety of artists working in various disciplines have addressed the Trump presidency. Yet, the current show at ArtRage has its own identity and plenty of visual appeal.”
Weston Stoerger, the curator of the SIU art museum, shared the response to the exhibition as well as why Atseff was chosen.
“We’ve had a number of people come into the exhibition, and the response has been positive,” Stoerger said. “We’ve had a number of people come back and bring new people with them each time.
The exhibit will continue through March 27, Stoerger said.
“We do know that the current political environment is heated, so we want visitors to know that this exhibition might have controversial material,” Stoerger said. “But the point of it is to start a conversation.”
This is a retrospective show, meaning it showcases the evolution of Atseff’s work, starting with some of his earlier pieces, Stoerger said. One can see a clear and present style consistently.
“Both his earliest works and his newest series underpin a dark dystopian style, where he draws on his own emotions to create these dreamscapes,” Stoerger said. “His work showcases not only current topical issues like the state massacre, but his attempt to process violence and things that he sees.”
Stoerger said Atseff was chosen for both the quality of his work and the strong connections he has to SIU.
“In the gallery, we have one of the pieces (Closer to the Truth) from his senior thesis show in 1970, it was originally displayed in this museum and now it’s back,” Stoerger said.
Stoerger said showcasing previous graduates’ work is not anything new to the University Museum.
“Last semester we had three Paula Cuvaric, Richard Cox, and of course Mr. Atseff, in the entire north hall, we have Willaim Theelian,” Atseff said.
Artists apply to have their work displayed and applications are open to anyone who wants to have their art featured, Stoerger said.
“We keep it available for a couple of months and advertise it through our social media platforms. We’ve gotten applications from all over the US but the farthest application we’ve gotten was from the Ukraine.”
More information on Tim Atseff and his work can be found here.
For hours and information on how to see Atseff’s exhibition, visit SIU’s Museum’s website here.
Staff reporter Sara Wangler can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @sara_Wangler. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.