“We all need to find ways to cope with the daily assault of the Trump regime. I am fortunate that I have not been gripped by the sort of despair that I’ve seen others succumb to. Making the signs, and using them in street actions of various sorts has done a great deal to buoy my spirits. They make me feel as though I am doing something to combat Trump’s rapidly accelerating fascism.”
– Robert Ayers
You can call it grassroots activism. You may consider it an ongoing conceptual art project begun on November 9, 2016, which was the day Robert Ayers began making signs..
“I made the first ‘sign’ (just photocopied on to typing paper and then pasted around Brooklyn) the morning after Trump’s illegitimate election, Ayers recalls. “It said HE IS NOT MY PRESIDENT.”
Four days later, Robert was at his first anti-Trump march with his first pair of portable signs, “HE IS NOT MY PRESIDENT” and “WE ARE THE POPULAR VOTE.” But that was only the beginning…
The UK native spent most of his career as a performance artist, so going graphic was a change, but not entirely new. His pieces featuring his dogs were featured in the Berkshire Edge from 2015-2016. “I’m not sure why I started using the sort of outline font that I have used ever since,” said the artist. “Maybe it was because I had been drawing the Lulu ’n’ Hershey cartoons, and when I drew signs in the cartoons I used that outline style.”
By 2010 marriage, a move to Seattle and other life changes led Robert to take a break from performing. It’s from that perspective that he was able to make the connection of art to activism. “It was only when one of my old performance art friends in England proposed a photo-essay in a publication about politically engaged performance that it occurred to me that the signs and the protests and vigils and marches that they are a part of are actually a continuation of my performance art activity… totally different to anything I’d done before of course, but utilizing much the same energy.”
In almost 3 years, Robert’s sign art has certainly evolved in both form and function, and found an audience. ”The signs have got better, I think. Almost from the outset I have used the same foam board/acrylic paint/heavy duty packing tape combination that means they are tough, entirely weatherproof, and can be used over and over again. One or two of them have been to maybe twenty protests,” he said “Also because I have a routine worked out for drawing and painting them, they are better in terms of design and draftsmanship… I am fortunate enough to have made the acquaintanceship of a number of great activist-photographers and video makers and they have helped me understand what makes a good sign from their perspective…Hence all the red and yellow and the black outlines.” And it’s working, the signs, their message and their maker have been featured on most local news channels, Fox News and MSNBC, and also appeared in Newsweek, The Guardian and the New York Times.
Which, he explains, is a critical factor in making an impact. “Maybe 100 people see a sign at a protest. If they appear online in the Times, or Guardian, or Newsweek, or on television, many thousands more people see them. So they do their job much more effectively.” And while Robert is engaged now as an American citizen as of 2017 and voted for the first time in the landmark 2018 elections, it’s not patriotism that drives his work and activism, which he says “comes from a sense of justice and human decency.”
And there are many people who enthusiastically agree and want to share the message, which led him to create Signs of Resistance, a website where people can acquire merchandise bearing Robert’s art with 50% donated for whoever is the Democratic nominee. Robert told us you can even commission work to feature your own pet. “I’m not sure where the DOGS (and CATS and FISH) AGAINST TRUMP idea came from, but it really took off.”
Currently Ayers is actively searching for a venue where he can exhibit and sell original signs to benefit the campaign. “I am confident that we will eventually get our country back,” said Robert, “and that’s what this all about.”