Smearing Power With Wheat Paste: Robbie Conal's Portraits

At 66, Robbie Conal is the grand old dude of wheat-paste-poster snipping. His searing "adversarial portraits" have targeted the makers of folly from Irangate to Afghanistan. Recently, he snipped two new posters trashing John Boehner's debt-ceiling obstructionism as "Wealth Care" and Rupert Murdoch's bugging scandal, titled "Bugger Off." These are the first two posters he's made since taking a hiatus. Conal, a political junkie, explains: "[T]he Karmic residue of painting portraits of bad guys for 24 years had become scar tissue that dulled my right hand's will to practice my peculiar, minor form of pictorial character assassination. I took some time off."

Wealth Care_HELLER.jpg  Bugger Off jpeg HELLER.jpg

The intense feelings recently returned, however, and with a vengeance. Conal notes his inspiration "can be found in a charming German word: Backpfeifengesicht (a face badly in need of a fist or slap)," adding "there are many of them."

Conal's compulsion to slap sense into the powerful is an obsessive ailment. "It's chronic," he says. "For a moment, it seemed like it was in remission. Well, It's baaaack! My doctor, if I could afford one, might call it the metastasized biochemical residue of 24 years of literally and figuratively ducking and dodging capitalism's so-called 'values.'"

And what, Mr. Conal, are those values? "How about the fact that our culture measures the qualitative value of every relationship every individual has with anybody and everything -- including the planet -- quantitatively," he rants.

For a more precise diagnosis, Conal cites "an ineffably talented pediatric psychiatrist," who calls this disease "another consequence of the molecular biology of capitalism."

"My point, if I have one," the self-described cantankerous, wise-cracking street clown says with a sly grin, "is that even though the truly toxic combination of greed and hypocrisy -- exemplified by big mortgage and investment bankers' total indifference to their borrowers' lives -- is still horrifically lodged at the top of the economic and social self-profit pyramid, now it is transparent. There's something about 'transparent hypocrisy' that turns me on."

Although Conal thought his cure came around the time Barack Obama was elected, or, as he puts it, "when we were afforded the momentarily crystal clear vision of the absolute purity of the bad guys' value system, which only includes us as prey," little has really changed. He adds, "my perspective returned and I got mad as hell."

Images: Robbie Conal.

Presented by

Steven Heller is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts, and the co-founder of its MFA Design Criticism program.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.


Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise


A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.


Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In