The story behind Swamp Trump, the Gowanus Canal’s newest resident

October 31, 2019 Scott Enman
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A statue of President Donald Trump floating in the Gowanus Canal has created quite the stir in Brooklyn and beyond.

Phil Gable, the Park Slope artist behind the viral project, snuck the effigy into the waterway two weeks ago. In the days that followed, he stood nearby, silently listening to people react to his work.

“It’s the most realistic representation of him, because he is this nasty little troll who thrives on filth,” Gable told the Brooklyn Eagle in an interview last Friday. “It was cathartic to make a representation of him actually being a creature of the swamp. He thrives on toxicity.”

The statue depicts Trump inside a tire with orange hands and green eyes. It has been floating in the 1.8-mile federal Superfund site since the night of Oct. 18, and it will likely be there for some time given the thorough way in which Gable got the sculpture into the water.

Related: Trump is still stuck in the toxic Gowanus Canal. The neighbors plan to leave him there.

Phil Gable. Photo courtesy of CYC-EYE Portrait Studio

The artist lowered the president into the canal using a wench mechanism and high-strength wire to get him moored. Gable said he is in fact anchored, but with enough room to roam on both sides of the Carroll Street Bridge. Pressed for specifics, he was quick not to divulge his secrets.

“I don’t want to go into too much detail about the anchoring part, but he’s got a little leash underneath,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a leash on the real one. That would be nice. The real one is unhinged and has no anchor to reality.”

After Gable lowered the statue under the cover of darkness into the murky waters of the canal, he returned a few hours later, lingering in the crowd to observe how people reacted.

Drunken patrons of Gowanus’ bars took photos and called strangers over to see it.

One family going for a morning canoe ride in the gonorrhea-infested waterway took the chance to smack the effigy with their paddles.

“Even from a distance hearing people reacting, laughing and enjoying — it was nice,” Gable said. “It’s the same kind of gratification of comedy. It feels good to do something that people are actively enjoying and finding humorous.”

A look at how Gable constructed the statue. Photo courtesy of the artist

The artist said it was particularly satisfying to hear parents explain the different metaphors to their children. One kid, for example, asked, “Why does he have balls for hands?” His mom replied, “Oh, those are his clenched fists because he’s always upset.”

Gable said that having serpents for tentacles was a nod to the president privately considering creating a moat on the U.S.-Mexico border filled with snakes or alligators.

As for his orange hands? Gable said he wanted it to match the president’s skin tone — and hair.

This is not the first time that Gable has used Trump to spur creativity. Last October, he constructed a statuette of the 45th president sitting on AstroTurf with a bright yellow sticker asking dogs — or perhaps their owners — to “pee on me.”

“Political satire has always been one of my favorite things,” Gable admitted. “It’s a piece of comedic group therapy for the neighborhood, and I thought being close to Halloween would be good timing.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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