Margaret Sutherland’s nude Stephen Harper painting on display at Kingston library

Stephen Harper Nude
Stephen Harper Nude

Stephen Harper often gets stripped down for his policies, but a Kingston-based artist has taken that idea to literal heights.

As the Kingston Whig-Standard reports, Margaret Sutherland has achieved a procession of popping eyeballs over her portrait of our Prime Minister reclining in the altogether, gaze both wan and provocative, as a headless woman in a power suit hands him a cup of Timmy's coffee on a silver platter.

Endowed with the title "Emperor Haute Couture," the nude was submitted to the Kingston Arts Council's 11th Annual Juried Art Salon.

It now hangs on display at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library's central branch in a room used for meetings and the occasional children's recital — although the portrait does get removed before any tiny fingers hit those piano keys.

Sutherland said her painting is a satirical take on Edouard Manet's iconic Olympia, the French impressionist's 1863 masterpiece of a nude Venus-like woman attended to by a slave.

"It's a political satire of a contemporary political figure," she told QMI Agency. "A classic pose using a contemporary figure."

This is far from the first time Sutherland has dabbled in nudes, but perhaps the first time her work keeps getting reshuffled for the sake of public decency.

Chief librarian Patricia Enbright told the Whig-Standard she faced a difficult decision when it came to balancing artistic expression and parental concern.

"[I]t was trying to balance the needs of many stakeholders in terms of the room. And yes, while we do support kind of intellectual freedom, we were also kind of in a very difficult position because of the multi-use of the room," she said.

A paltry excuse, complained a "ticked off" Sutherland on the Kingstonist website.

"I've now provided them with a cloth to cover the painting to lessen the chances they will damage it taking it down and putting it who knows where to sit who knows how long. However, with this kind of behaviour I have little confidence they will actually use it," Sutherland wrote in a comment underneath a story about the show.

Neither paper reached Harper to ask his impressions of the piece, but this sort of artistic licence featuring political privates didn't go over very well last March, when NOW magazine stuck Toronto mayor Rob Ford's head on a portly, bare-chested, boxer-clad body.

The Star notes that City Hall demanded all issues be "removed and disposed" immediately, ensuring, of course, that the cover would go down in Toronto media history.

So far, the Harper camp hasn't exhibited the same squeamishness. Barring the children's recital schedule, the Emperor will remain on display until May 29.

And if you'd like the portrait to adorn your private walls, it can be all yours for a cool $5,000.

(Photo courtesy of Margaret Sutherland)