Interview: L.A. Street Artist Behind the Ted Cruz Bad Boy Posters Speaks Out
Last weekend mysterious posters of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) appeared in various locations around Beverly Hills. The posters featured an image of Cruz’s head — complete with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth — photoshopped onto a heavily inked torso. The headline on the posters read, “Beverly Hilton: Ted Cruz’s So-Cal 'Blacklisted and Loving It’ Tour.” Cruz was in California last weekend to speak at the Claremont Institute’s Churchill dinner.
The story went viral, appearing in media outlets as diverse as Drudge, Breitbart, Time, and Huffington Post. Most of them applauded Cruz’s sense of humor when he tweeted: “Saw this, but noticed an error. So I wanted to make one thing clear: I don't smoke cigarettes." Cruz later signed a poster that turned up in his dressing room before the Churchill dinner with "The fight for liberty never ends."
By Saturday morning the Twitterverse was demanding to know who was behind the posters — where could people buy them and would there be t-shirts?
We now have answers to these questions and in an exclusive interview with PJ Media, Sabo, the artist who created the Ted Cruz bad boy posters, tells the story behind them and talks about using street art as a way to take political messages to those who won't traditionally listen to the Right.
Sabo, an articulate and in-your-face 46-year-old street artist, former Marine, and self-professed Hollywood Republican, grew up in Texas and Louisiana. His Twitter profile says, "I am not a Left-Wing-Zombie-Artist. I am on the edge, the only true rebel artist in LA.” According to his website, UNSAVORYAGENTS (where he's currently selling Cruz posters), Sabo believes the Right has a great message, but he is frustrated that the Republicans refuse to counter attacks from the Left. He thinks those on the Right are not very well-educated or equipped in fighting back. "A lot of times we simply can’t because they own so many platforms. I find that frustrating," said Sabo.
He is aiming to change that, one poster at a time.
After attending art school, Sabo worked in advertising but didn't find the work to be a good fit. When George W. Bush became president, Sabo says life became difficult for Republicans in Hollywood. He was frustrated by the onslaught of messages from the left. “Where were the voices on my side? I just felt like the left was defining who I was. I didn’t see anyone on the right setting them straight,” Sabo said. “I just said, screw it, man. I’m going to do my part."
“My aim as an artist is to be as dirty, ground level, and mean as any Liberal artist out there, more so if I can,” he boasts on his website. “Use their tactics, their methods, appeal to their audience, the young, urban, street urchins with a message they never hear in a style they own.”
Sabo’s work is controversial, intended to shock and provoke thought. "Politically incorrect" does not begin to describe it: Nazi flags with the Obama symbol. "Hillary 2016" on a flying monkey from The Wizard of Oz. Beyonce with a burka. A sign that says, “Fags the New Nig**rs.”
Just to be clear, this kind of street art is illegal and it can be dangerous. It involves slapping up posters in the dead of night in places where they don't belong — only to have them disappear in the morning. Sabo said he takes his life in his hands when he scales a billboard to put up a poster. There are also competing street artists (some of them not friendly) and the police to contend with, though authorities sometimes look the other way. “Actually, a cop pulled up right behind me when I was doing one of these Ted Cruz posters,” Sabo said. “And the guy’s like, 'Dude, they’re only gonna buff it the next morning, so why don’t you move along?'”
Sabo, who said he is not involved with the Cruz campaign, explained that he came up with the idea to create the inked version of the Texas senator while visiting the shop of a friend on Venice Beach who does posters of Marilyn Monroe with tattoos. He thought, “You know, this guy’s a maverick of sorts, let’s see what that looks like." He admitted, "I know very little about him outside of him taking stands against RINOs from time to time and in Washington these days that's enough to get him the right kind of attention. That for me was enough to do this image in his support." He drew an image of what he envisioned for the poster but received lukewarm responses. Nevertheless, he proceeded. “I’m not the kind of person who’s going to sit around in an office and wait for a committee,” Sabo said, “So I figured I’ll just do it myself and $100 later I had everything I needed.”
The Cruz posters are made from nine 11"×17" pieces of bond paper taped together. “Everything I do is pretty much by hand. I’ll go to Kinkos and make prints but there are times when I can’t even afford food or to pay my rent or anything else,” he confided. “The most I can really get out of a run is twenty-five. I’ll usually make twenty-five and by the end of the run I don’t even have a poster for myself.”
The Cruz poster features a large eagle inked across the chest of a muscled model. The right arm boasts a Churchill tattoo, there’s an American flag on the left arm, and a pair of revolvers are ... um ... aimed at where the beltline should be. One of Sabo's crew members thought there should be no tattoos on the neck since it’s obvious that in real life Cruz’s neck is ink-free. Sabo didn’t think there was a need to be so literal. Plus, he said, “As far as I’m concerned, that woman on his neck is Sarah Palin.” He added that it was a “a fluke that the Cruz campaign jumped on it the way that they did.”
He also noted that although no one from the Cruz campaign has “personally” called him, he did receive a poster signed by the senator. He says he understands, given the nature of the left wing, why a campaign would not want to be associated with him. “My attitude is, I never asked for Ted Cruz’s permission or his blessing. I’m happy with the poster. I’m happy to have you sign it. I hope he does well with his campaign and that’s the end of that story.”
He said he has received mostly good feedback from his posters. One exception is a blog post from former Mediaite correspondent Tommy Christopher, who called Sabo a “racist, misogynist wingnut”and a bigot (Sabo fervently denies those accusations). In particular, Christopher took issue with the Hillary flying monkey piece. Sabo defends it, saying, “The wicked witch had her flying monkeys and flying monkeys are spreading the word. The bi**h is coming back. Spreading the word."
Christopher also has a problem with a controversial poster called “Fag the New Nig**er 2012.” Sabo said that he first heard the slogan when he was attending a rally against California’s Prop 8 (he’s a strong supporter of gay rights and supports gay marriage). “These two young men were making picket signs,” Sabo said. “And I heard one of them say, ‘We fags are the new nig**ers.’ And that really blew my hair back.” They explained that they were disappointed that the black community backed Obama for president but not their fight against Prop 8. “So in a sense, we’re as discriminated against as black people were,” they told him. Sabo added the Obama 2012 face and label to the slogan because “it was a political football. Obama was kind of flip-flopping on the whole gay issue and I think it’s sad.” He added, “What people with causes generally don’t understand is that when the cause becomes a political football it never gets fixed because why fix it when that’s how you get people’s votes?”
Sabo said that most of the responses to Christopher’s blog post supported his work and his free speech rights but that Christopher deleted many of the comments. He said that through this experience he is beginning to get a clearer picture of how those on the left operate. “It’s not even about me anymore, it’s about making Cruz look bad because I had done a poster for him,” said Sabo. “These people know nothing about me. But it doesn't matter. It's not about truth. It's about making Cruz look bad." He said to those trying to tie him to Cruz, "It’s not like Ted Cruz jumped on my fuc**ing portfolio and looked at everything I’ve done in the past twenty years."
So what’s next for Sabo now that he’s had a viral poster and his name has been splattered across the news? He said he hasn’t really thought about it too much. “I can see the top of the hill or I can see just where I’m at right now.” He plans to eventually make posters of Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and Dr. Ben Carson (“I love that guy!"). He has a full campaign in mind, eventually.
“I plan on doing this, hopefully, until I’m in my 70s, if I live that long.” He would like to think that twenty years from now kids will say that he was a “badass” who knew how corrupt Obama was and who did something about it. "There’s a difference between creating a piece and having it on your computer versus having a piece and sticking it in people’s faces where they don’t have a choice but to see it.” He clearly prefers the latter.
Sabo’s challenge to his artist friends on the Left? “The rebels that were championing the message that you’re championing, they’re the establishment now, so what are you rebelling against?”