CLEVELAND — “Art creates conversation,” Julian Raven, a painter from upstate New York tells me. Raven, an alternate delegate and true Donald Trump believer, drove the print of the original 8' x 16' painting from his Elmira studio which apparently has a 25-foot Trump banner hanging outside of it. He’s standing on a Civil War memorial in the middle of Cleveland’s Public Square on Tuesday afternoon among a handful of protesters, dozens of cops, and Univision’s Jorge Ramos interviewing a white supremacist.
This isn’t the painting’s (titled Unafraid and Unashamed) first trip into campaigning. Raven says he “drove all over Iowa during the caucuses with a twenty-foot truck,” and did the same at Politicon. He’s passionate about painting, politics, and Jesus and says that Unafraid and Unashamed is a marriage of the three. “It’s a prophetic painting,” he said, adding that the six hundred hours he spent on the painting, “changed my life.”
“When I finished, I began campaigning as a grassroots campaigner for Trump.” Though usually an abstract painter, Raven has been inspired by politics. Before painting Trump he painted a portrait of Alan Henning, the British cab driver turned humanitarian who was killed by ISIS in 2014.
But Raven sees the painting as a chance to talk about Jesus Christ and tells me that he’s been a follower for 20 years. When I asked him about Trump and Christianity he acknowledges that Trump “isn’t a great Christian,” but adds that Trump has “Christian values.” He offers an interesting analogy from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament.
“Think of Isaiah,” Raven says referring to the story of Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia and deliverer of the Jews. “It’s a story about how God chooses somebody of the stature of Donald J. Trump.”
“Even though [Cyrus] doesn’t even acknowledge [God], twice, he anointed [Cyrus] and called him Christ. If God can call this man and anoint him and call him Christ, the only other place in scripture where [someone is called that] other than Jesus.”
For Raven, then, Trump doesn’t need to be religious; like Cyrus, he’s a shepherd of God’s will. There’s a bit of irony in the analogy, as Cyrus was noted for his enlightened approach to civil rights.
Raven was part of the spectacle of religion at Public Square. During the interview, a woman was standing on the speaker’s platform lecturing anyone in earshot about whores and fallen men and the redemption of Christ. Another man was carrying a large homemade wooden cross, and a handful of children, roughly five or six-years-old, gave me a “gift bag.” Inside were the New Testament books of John and Romans bound in a book titled How to Get to Heaven From the RNC. Another pamphlet reiterated the Christian roots of the Founding Fathers: “Nations rise and nations fall, and great is their destruction. The truth is also illustrated in the Holy Bible.”
Public Square in the middle of the Republican National Convention seems like an odd place to win souls or converts; that everlasting life might reside somewhere between the guys selling Trump whoopie cushions, television cameras, and a bro with a “Socialism Sucks” sign. But maybe it’s as good of a place as any.