“What Putin did in invading a sovereign country is obviously horrible,” he explained. “I definitely feel for the Ukrainian people, but on the other hand the west and Ukraine and NATO have been poking the bear for years now.”
He’s done sketches of both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But, in a reflection of the internal conflict he feels about the war, he had bigger artistic aspirations for the latter.
“I had an idea for a Putin painting where I was going to have him gripping a dove with an olive branch in one hand almost squeezing the death out of it, and then holding a human skull in the other hand and he has this kind of look that he has a black eye and he’s wondering what he wants to do,” McNaughton explained.
With creative impulses like these, it’s no surprise McNaughton has been hit with a torrent of criticism over the years. Stephen Colbert pointed out that on McNaughton’s website you could scroll across one famous painting to find figures called the “Liberal News Reporter,” “Satan” and “Mr. Hollywood.” Art critic Jerry Saltz called his pieces “visually dead as a doornail” and “typical propaganda art, drop-dead obvious in message.”
Befitting the era of polarization, however, McNaughton has also become celebrated and revered on the right. While he doesn’t take commissions, he said luminaries in the conservative media world sometimes approach him with ideas, including a producer for Hannity and D’Souza. This January, he said, he had a “somewhat private conversation” with Trump at a fundraiser in Texas.
“He didn’t know I was coming at the time but when I walked into the room and told him who I was, he lit up and he was happy to see me and we had a good conversation,” he recalled. “We talked a lot about [the art].”