"Obama Drone" Artist: Agents Should Tell Celebs to "Shut the F--- Up"

Gwyneth Paltrow Barack Obama Split - H 2014
AP Images

Gwyneth Paltrow Barack Obama Split - H 2014

Secretive graphic designer SABO tells THR why he's determined to serve as the Republicans' guerrilla street artist in liberal Los Angeles

In a town known for its liberal politics, a mysterious Los Angeles street artist who calls himself "SABO" has managed to give the Republicans a novel foothold in the gritty segment of the visual arts.

In the run-up to Gwyneth Paltrow's fundraiser for President Barack Obama at her Brentwood home Thursday, the secretive artist plastered posters on walls and utility boxes depicting the actress as one of Obama's cultural "drones." But that was only the latest in a series of SABO provocations that is earning him a national reputation as the conservative counterpoint to liberal artists like Shepard Fairey.

SABO's caricature of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi twerking helped launch the conservative website Breitbart California and triggered demands for an apology from a cross section of angry Democratic bigwigs. When Texas lawmaker Wendy Davis came to L.A. to raise money last year, SABO lampooned her as "Abortion Barbie" in a poster campaign that characteristically combined elements of collage with portraiture.

More recently, his "Obama Drones" series, which satirizes entertainment figures he believes enter minds and homes as the president's propaganda drones, earned him an on-air interview with conservative commentator Glenn Beck. (Among those targeted: Samuel L. Jackson, Alec Baldwin and Jon Stewart.)

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So who is this cultural conservative who speaks the visual language of the urban young with such fluency?

Like the English graffiti muralist Banksy, SABO carefully guards his true identity, but in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, a number of interesting biographical details emerged. A self-described "brown man" from the South, SABO says he grew up in a trailer in the woods. He was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy but elected to serve in the Marine Corps as an enlisted man before attending Pasadena's prestigious Art Center College of Design. He has lived in Los Angeles ever since, working for some time as a graphic and web designer.

A lifelong conservative who says he has "loved politics" since he was 6 years old, SABO tells THR he decided to give his art a political bent after reflecting on Banksy's success and what he believed was his Hollywood friends' unfair treatment of George W. Bush.

"When Bush got elected, and 9/11 happened, everyone just got really mean," he says. "I would go to Los Feliz and I would see anti?Bush things, a lot of liberal/progressive books on the bookshelves, and all the conservative ones were like in the back someplace, hidden, and all the liberal ones were in the front. At parties, my girlfriend wouldn't want me to say that I'm a Republican because the second I did I was asked, 'Oh, are you one of those Fox people? Are you a homophobe? Are you a racist, a bigot? You've got brown skin. What do you mean you're a Republican? It doesn't make sense.' I just snapped, man."

So, what about the nom de guerre?

"I was in tanks in the Marines," he tells THR, "and a tank fires five different rounds, and the shortest round — and I'm short, like 5'5" on a good day — is also the hardest and fastest, and it's called the 'sabot' round. I've always kind of thought of my hand as my creative bullet. I'm like, 'OK, I'll just call myself SABO.' That's the way 'sabot' is pronounced, and I just didn't need people calling up going, 'Is Say?bot there?' "

SABO's relationship with Hollywood and celebrities, in fact, has become a focal point of his guerrilla art.

"I think the drone campaign encapsulates how I feel about Hollywood," he says. "You know, it's kind of like a double or triple entendre in that, I mean, if you listen to one of these celebrities go on, they're like, droning on and on and on about how they love Obama or the left or the Democrats, or they drone on about how much Republicans suck, and in a way, much the way an unmanned aircraft flies through the air, these people fly through the airwaves.

"They come through the movie screens, the television screens; they're the rock stars, they're the supermodels, they're basically everything, and they just infiltrate our consciousness — and the time came when I actually just took a step back, and I said, you know, man, usually about one year before an election these people ramp up and they put their little Democrat uniforms on, and they become soldiers for the party, and it's almost like they're their own little Reaper drone, and they're stationed in Hollywood, and whenever the Democrats need something, they just fly out, they go on their mission."

SABO said he was heartened by the negative comments directed at Paltrow in the coverage this week of his drone poster.

"If you look at all the comments, they're all like, 'Gwyneth sucks,' this and that," he said. "They're all negative. Maybe Hollywood execs and producers and agents will look at this and say, 'Hey, you know, maybe I should tell my talent to shut the f— up.' And you know what, I want to see the list, the invitation list for this fundraiser. I will never watch one of their movies again."

SABO told THR that he considered coupling his Paltrow drone poster with an installation of Styrofoam heads along Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood.

"I want to paint these things to look like they look like severed heads and put them up on spikes at that veterans' cemetery right across from the Federal Building in Westwood and have this big ISIS flag that says like, 'ISIS Party at Paltrow's.' But that would be brutal. I would have to take pictures really fast, because I would imagine that's not going to stay up very long," he said.