Having been raised in the 1960’s my conscious awareness of world events was profoundly impacted by news clips of the Vietnam War. I remember thinking that we should “drop the bomb” on
them. I was cognizant of nuclear annihilation; the sirens would warn every Tuesday noon. This is the America I was born into.
My father was a sergeant during the Korean War. We still have his uniform. He became an English professor at a small community college in Massachusetts. He gifted me with Melville’s Moby Dick and Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. I was raised with a strong sense of social justice and transcendental consciousness as aesthetic forms united.
My deceased brother Kevin was in the Navy at the end of the Vietnam War. He was a double shellback meaning he crossed the equator twice kissing Poseidon’s belly both ways. My older cousin Johnny Greenwood was conscripted and sent into the Vietnamese jungles. He was a medic who did two tours and saw too much horror. He never really returned but disappeared into the nightmare in his own head suffering for years from PTSD. Though Johnny is still alive and recovered, he’s white-haired and lives in Albuquerque, he doesn’t talk about the war. He has been my most personal ghost of war.
In my time as an American there has always been warfare perpetuated and substantiated by media, education and a growing National Security State. I’ve seen the promotion of war and the celebration of war. Simultaneously we are overwhelmed by its negative impact economically and morally, and the perpetuation of foreign wars in the guise of national security or patriotism. I wonder what role art, and specifically painting, has to play in this paradigm? War is a deeply embedded system of social control. The message of “freedom ringing” is the slogan and cause for murder. It brings with it constant fear, dread and unresolved awareness of unnatural death.
As an imperative I relate these personal narratives to deal with larger darker forces in the global culture. I believe we are all more than products resulting from the inferno of capitalism. Painting then must be an aesthetic act for healing the traumas produced by failed economic and ecological systems and the resulting forms of mental/spiritual illness. Joseph Beuys defines aesthetic as to “to wake up.” Painting can be a mode of resistance and transformation, a means to treat spiritually the collective traumas of perpetual warfare as an economic system.
In my latest project I juxtapose soldiers with modernist iconic paintings to critically enliven painting from a unified point of view, like an embrace. True art carries moral power that uplifts consciousness towards a greater good. While fine art is largely viewed as investment commodity, each piece conveys deeper meaning that has made it so valuable. This is the why of art production. To confront the fears that drive us to destroy one another- to push back against the graves in all of us and release the “mystic chords…the better angels of our nature…”
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