Santa Monica is not exactly Trump Country.
Back in 2016, only about 7,000 locals voted for then-candidate Donald Trump, not enough to even put him on the City Council. City leaders have denounced the president’s policies on immigration, written letters about climate change and filed briefs to fight Trump’s travel ban.
Yet lately Trump has become one of the most notable faces in the city’s ragtag collection of street performers. If you’ve walked by the Santa Monica Pier over the last few months, chances are you’ve done a double take at the smirking world leader in Palisades Park.
“F**** you, Donald Trump!” yelled one woman as she crossed Colorado Avenue toward the city’s most famous landmark. At the moment, the actor behind the Trump mask was twirling to techno music, his long, red tie flapping in the ocean breeze.
Even locals who’ve grown numb to busking stop to take a second glance at the two masked men dressed as President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, waving at passersby and posing for photos with tourists. They busk most days, all day long, rain or shine.
“I was taken aback,” said a tourist from Washington, D.C. after posing for a photo. “I saw them from across the street and I was like ‘wait, that’s Donald Trump.’”
Besides their enormous size, the faces are incredibly realistic. Some tourists wave, others hurry past, many jump at the photo opportunity.
“It causes an emotional reaction in people. That’s the core of what’s going on here,” said performer Paul Lovelin, who was collecting tips for the actors playing Trump and Jong-un on a cloudy afternoon in Palisades Park.
Lovelin is part of a loose collective of performers across the country using the handcrafted masks to make a profit. The custom costumes are digitally sculpted and hand dyed by artist Landon Meier at his home studio in Denver, Colorado. Meier says his method of pigmenting the silicon, rather than painting, means it absorbs and reflects the light like real skin.
“Ultimately, what it does is maintain that transparency that skin has,” Meier said in an interview with the Daily Press. Every year, Meier debuts new masks at Monsterpalooza in Pasadena. His subjects include world leaders like Trump and Vladimir Putin, icons like Walter White and celebrities like Chris Farley.
“I try to do something that can catch people’s attention,” Meier said. So far he’s made 13 of the Trump masks. Several have gone to the performers who dress up like the president at tourist attractions in Hawaii, Nashville, and The Santa Monica Pier. While he’s tackled several celebrities, Meier says Trump is one of the most difficult people to sculpt.
“I think one of the most complex things about Donald Trump is that hairdo,” Meier said with a laugh. “The hair initially goes forward, like down toward his forehead. Then, he flips it back over on top of itself. I think he does it to add to the thickness.”
In fact, the actors have learned how difficult it is to maintain the coiffed comb-over day after day. After billowing for months in the ocean breeze and morning fog, Santa Monica’s Trump is now sporting a few bobby pins.
Below the signature straw-colored strands, Meier says Trump’s face has its own difficulties. The artist has spent hours studying high-resolution photos of the president. He says no matter how much orange he adds to the silicon, it’s never enough.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that Trump does a spray tan and you can see in photos where he’s just freshly painted himself, he’s kind of an orange-ish ochre color and if you really look you can see where the color has built up around his face and in the wrinkles and what not,” Meier said. “Obviously, he’s wearing goggles when he’s done it and the area around his eyeballs are a pasty white color. And then up above his forehead, you see that same kind of pinkish white tone.”
All of that detailed work means creating Trump can take up to 40 hours. Meier sells a single Trump mask for $7,500.
“It’s important to get all that right because that’s who Trump is,” Meier said. “He’s the emperor with no clothes because everyone is telling him how good he looks but in reality, when you look at him, he looks rather silly.”
To tourists along Ocean Avenue, Meier’s interpretation looks strikingly real. Every few minutes the actors hear someone exclaim “Oh my god!” and seize the opportunity to pose for a photo and ask for a tip – $10 per world leader.
A couple from Australia was walking through the park when they started laughing at the masks. The buskers quickly pounced.
“They looked right at us and I said ‘aww s***. It’s happening,’” said the tourist who declined to give his name.
“We took the photo because she’s Mexican,” he said nudging his girlfriend. “We thought it would be ironic.”