A recently released painting of President Barack Obama holding a burning copy of the U.S. Constitution has seemingly set the political world on fire as well.
Jon McNaughton's picture, titled "One Nation Under Socialism" shows the president with a furrowed brow and hardened face and appearing decidedly unfazed by the flames licking closely to him as the Constitution is torched.
The 44-year-old Provo artist released the work last week and said it easily has been the most polarizing print he has ever tried to market.
"I didn't expect to sell many of those because it's not a very happy painting," McNaughton said. "But people seem to like it because it represents how they feel about things."
It is not McNaughton's first brush with controversy.
He began political paintings in 2008 when he said he was troubled by John McCain's bid for the presidency against Obama. That's when he started working on a painting titled "One Nation Under God" that features Jesus holding the U.S. Constitution while a small boy stands and points at it. Jesus and the Constitution are surrounded by former presidents, soldiers, teachers and others representing different facets of America.
But that was relatively benign compared to what McNaughton unleashed next a painting of Obama stomping on the Constitution while President Bill Clinton claps, dispirited Founding Fathers look on in horror and a defeated-looking man on a bench can barely watch.
That one was yanked last year from the Brigham Young University bookstore a place he had worked for five years. He subsequently pulled all of his work from the store.
Prior to his political works, McNaughton was largely doing tranquil landscapes. He even offers an option for people to have their family portrait feature Jesus in their midst. The package "Paint Your Family with the Savior" tops out at $7,200 for one person and Jesus. Additional people are $1,000 each.
However, it is his latest offering, McNaughton said, that has resulted in hundreds of calls not all of them supportive.
"People have said it's this offensive," McNaughton said. "My reaction is I'm offended I even had to paint that picture. But I'm using my First Amendment rights to express how I feel. I'm not mocking him or trying to make him look funny. It is dark, but I just wanted to get the message across as clearly as I could."
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said he defends McNaughton's right to produce paintings like "One Nation Under Socialism," but said it also points to a larger problem where civility has exited daily political discourse.
Dabakis said he frequently disagreed with President George W. Bush and, locally, Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and outgoing Senate President Michael Waddoups.
But it wouldn't occur to him to disrespect any of the offices they held.
"We don't really agree, but I would never question their patriotism and never question their loyalty to the country or to the state and, when it gets down to this base level, it really calls into question the ability of our country to solve problems."
McNaughton, who said he will support whoever the Republican nominee is for president, said he just wants Obama out of office and this is the way he can contribute to voicing fears people have about the current leadership in the White House.
He also said he doesn't expect to stop doing political paintings even if Republicans capture the White House in November.
"There are plenty of messages I still want to present things to do with social issues and racism in America," McNaughton said. "Things that mean a lot to people."
"One Nation Under Socialism" video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtHQE2zNpwc