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Lambertville Artist’s Portraits Appear On Covers Of Two New Books
The work of NJ artist Gwenn Seemel, who paints portraits in a “polka-dot cubist” style, appears on two recently published nonfiction books.

Gwenn Seemel stands in front of the 10 portraits she painted to accompany the book “The Future We Need.”
Gwenn Seemel stands in front of the 10 portraits she painted to accompany the book “The Future We Need.” (David Vanadia)
LAMBERTVILLE, NJ — The work of New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel, who paints portraits in a “polka-dot cubist” style, appears on two recently published nonfiction books.

One book covers the history of political reforms and the election of Donald Trump, and the other advocates for the power of collective bargaining in a healthy democracy.

“It is a funny little thing to have these two projects that show the dual nature of portraiture,” Seemel told Patch from her home in Lambertville, where she recently relocated from Ocean County, New Jersey.

This is the first — and second — time the longtime artist has seen her work as a book cover.

Seemel’s painting of former president Donald Trump is the cover of “Democracy Under Fire: Donald Trump and the Breaking of American History” by Larry Jacobs.

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My art on the cover of an upcoming book by @larryrjacobs to be published by Oxford University Press: https://t.co/Rs9McEF1aL #ArtistOnTwitter #illustrationartists #illustrationart #paintings #paintingart #portrait pic.twitter.com/FDH5WreUuJ
— Gwenn Seemel (she) (@gwennpaints) September 27, 2021
The painting shows a tiki torch, with Trump’s hair serving as the fire and his face and collar making up the base. Seemel said she painted it after the 2017 Charlottesville riots.

“I’d been doing the thing that I think a lot of artists and people were feeling about Trump which was not saying anything about him, so as not to give him more air, as it was,” she said. “But I realized you can’t — I couldn’t, at least, stay silent about it.”

Last summer, she said, Oxford University Press contacted her about using the image.

Seemel painted the portraits of 10 workers featured in Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta’s “The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.”

The move to a new town and a new state of mind took a bit longer than expected, but I’m back. New post about my art in a book about collective bargaining published by @CornellPress: https://t.co/CmFPdwJZwc #Lambertville #artist #ArtistOnTwitter #WomensArt #illustrationart pic.twitter.com/Qlf6k3akwe
— Gwenn Seemel (she) (@gwennpaints) March 10, 2022
“I was intensely working on it in 2019, going to meet the subjects and listening to the interviews, asking a few questions but it was mostly the authors doing the interviewing,” she said. “And then I made the paintings pretty quickly in the summer of 2019.”

She said that project was supposed to come out in 2020 but got delayed — so “by happenstance,” both books are coming out around the same time.

Seemel’s colorful style is something “that evolved over many years,” she said in an interview with Patch. An art critic described her work as a “new cubism” once, and as Seemel uses a lot of dots in her work, she thought “polka-dot cubism” fit.

“It’s just something that evolved over many years, starting with print-making,” she said. “Print-making is what made me the artist I am today.”

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(Gwenn Seemel)
Her portraits are often jam-packed — patterns, objects, shapes and words evoke different things in each.

Seemel has been portraying people as a child, including some unflattering caricatures of teachers, she said. She does custom portraits as well as her political art and other projects.

“There’s a responsibility in portraiture,” she said. “It’s a delight to see portraits that have more to say.”

Seemel and her partner have lived in Lambertville for just a month and are enjoying the community, she said.

They lived on Long Beach Island in Ocean County, New Jersey, for some time. Seemel has lived in San Francisco, Oregon and France and was born in Saudi Arabia.

In 2019, one of Seemel’s anti-Trump portraits was removed, and then later reinstalled, at Montclair Public Library.

You can see more of her work here.

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