Hi folks. I’m finally up and running again in my new adopted country of Cambodia. If you don’t know already, I choose to live in SE Asia in order to keep my cost of living down so that I can continue to make art. When I worked 40 hours a week in the States, with a 2 hour commute, I had precious little time to do more than just stay in touch with art. Here I can survive working part time. I also teach English, which is more fulfilling and meaningful than office work.
As some of you may know, I just moved here from Thailand (because of how much more difficult their visa policies have become, but that’s another story). Before I could get back to work on art I needed to take care of the essentials: find a place to live; get a desk; get a decent sized monitor; and find work so I could have some security. All of that happened sooner than I had hoped for.
So now you see me starting to put this piece, which was a fully realized B&W image, into color, after which I’ll make it into a digital impasto painting like my other recent work. Right now I’m experimenting with color schemes and whatnot, and it seems to be evolving into a night scene, with the robot becoming more metallic.
Yes, you are right, this piece is gruesome and you probably don’t want it hanging in your dining room. That’s fine. That’s a lot of my favorite all time work. Art to be hung in the living room is the visual equivalent of elevator music. I’m not a fan of elevator music, and nobody is going to play “Working Class Hero” or “Masters of War” or “War Pigs” or really any music I get into at an event where the music is supposed to be ambient aural texture, and not listened to.
Don’t blame me for the age we live in with on-the-spot executions flowering everywhere. An artist who never reflects the turmoil of the time they live in is a bit boring for me, sidestepping the struggle of humanity for easy decoration or cerebrally abstract experiments in media (see Matisse, and as opposed to Picasso). This piece is called EUOF (Excessive Use of Force), and was directly inspired by the shooting of Michael Brown, and the trail of horrors ISIS is responsible for.
I’m not a big fan of overtly polemical, didactic, politically correct art, either. That kind of work puts the politics before the art, and I see art as having its own intrinsic virtue. In other words, I don’t go to art to study politics or sociology, as I can do that much more directly and effectively through reading articles, and even watching videos. It’s always going to be hard to say what I go to art for, because what I go to art for is the unexpected and the inexpressible. If I knew what that was before encountering it, I wouldn’t need to search for it.
But since this piece does address politics, I thought I’d just hammer out my take on the issue. At the core, what I find disturbing is the unnecessary and peremptory executions of people. It’s a sad, sad reflection on the current state of our social evolution as a species that we see such a flagrant disregard of other people’s lives. You can call me an optimist because I think we should be beyond that, and we are certainly capable of not succumbing to the desire to eradicate anything and anyone that we perceive as a threat.
In the case of Michael Brown the thing that most bothers me is simply that it was not necessary to execute him. How many people are going to continue to put up resistance after they’ve already been shot once or even twice? Brown was shot 6 times, including twice in the head. This is not an attempt on the officer’s part to protect himself from danger – of course the police have a very difficult job and are exposed to a daily level of risk that they are not adequately compensated or appreciated for – but a voluntary decision to take it upon himself to execute a person. This is NOT his right! I can accept that an officer may need to shoot in his or her own self defense, especially as they may encounter armed criminals who will attempt to kill them (it’s part of the job), but if it is not in self defense, they should not be permitted to finish anyone off.
I don’t even support capital punishment. I have a few good reasons for this. One is that I think the government should set the best example, and if it shows itself to be above killing people when there is no immediate need to do so, than the populace is less likely to find their own excuses to kill people. The second is that mistakes are made and innocent people are put to death for crimes they didn’t commit. That may seem acceptable as long as we don’t have the compassion to imagine the horrific circumstances of being in the shoes of the person who was falsely accused. What a cruel world that individual has to swim in, where he (or even she) will be vilified and excruciatingly murdered by society, without even having done the crime in question. Three is I don’t necessarily trust the government to make the right decision, and I don’t like government having that kind of power over its citizens. After all, the government is just made up of people, and people are fallible. If we don’t like that Kim Jong-un can executive people on a whim, or that ISIS uses their paradigm as justification to slaughter anyone in their path who doesn’t join their ranks, how can we be sure that the people who happen to occupy the seats of power in our own countries are beyond corruption, or mere human error?
It seems a fallibility in human nature that when we get power we get a sense of entitlement, lose compassion and identification with the powerless, lose perspective, and act out of self interest. When the self interest of the few takes precedence over the lives of the many, mass suffering results. When we’ve already impeached one president for corruption, and Bush and Cheney are seen as “war criminals” by the “International Criminal Court in The Hague”, can we really be so trusting in our leaders that they won’t misuse the power to exterminate citizens? So, certainly if I don’t think a government need or can be trusted with the power to kill its own citizens, I don’t think it should be left to the on-the-spot judgment call of an officer in the line of duty. Note that Norway has the highest standard of living in the world (according to the Human Development Index), and no capital punishment. Maybe we should start looking at countries like Norway to see what they are doing right [free public healthcare; lowest divide between CEO and worker salary; free education]. Guess what works?
But beyond all that is just the cruelty and lack of appreciation for the lives of others, which is a critical inability to fathom the value of life itself. It is only easy to kill when one doesn’t appreciate life, except from a selfish and egoistic standpoint. It is a kind of stupidity, and how tragic it is that inferior thought in the mind has such powerful real world physical results.
In my piece the robot represents the compassionless, unimaginative, enforcer of rules = power. The victim here is the perceived cretin, inhuman other, who is only a menace. He is malformed, diseased, and “other”. But the brutality and suffering are front and center, and bring us back from projecting otherness and evil onto the victim, and to seeing his humanity. This is a nightmare future scenario of the robot soldiers of an elite oligarchic class (like the 1%) coolly eradicating the poor, desperate, and diseased remnants of the mass of humanity (99%). But it reflects many social situations we see now, including drone strikes, terrorist attacks, abuses of power, and any conflicts in which either side perceives/vilifies the other as inherently inhuman and unworthy of living.
2 replies on “Back to work, putting this piece in color”
I like the ‘go to art’ expression. Never come across that before. Yours?
Ha, I recently bought a self-help book about the 1% and low pay. It name-drops someone I’m sure you’re a fan of: Donald Trump. I’m going to review it soonish along with some other self-help. Are you going to write about the presidential race, incidentally? Maybe about political art? You touch a lot here on the level of cruelty worldwide, yet it seems to me that there’s not much art that addresses it or offers alternative views – most of it seems to be out-of-reach oligarch trinkets that are supposed to be democratic when they’re viewable in an exhibition for $20.
I really enjoyed your recent interview stuff. It’d help restore a lot of people’s faith in life to see more art and artists who have something to offer outside blue-chip blockbusters that allow the world’s powerbrokers to look tolerant of criticism while carrying on regardless.
I’m working on another interview with another artist. I had to wait until I got a bigger monitor, because looking at my laptop wrecks my vision.
Trump is an amazing specimen of delusional privilege. I find him sort of fascinating, and admit to studying his hair for how it is produced. He is certainly a master of the artful sweep. I made a caricature of him the other day, though what the hell did I do with it?
The blue chip artists who would address issues of violence and abuse of power would do it in an overtly polemical way from a politically correct standpoint, and the author should have street credibility as a person of color. Look for performance art by the black lives matter movement. They are getting tons of attention.
As for artists dealing with that kind of content in primarily visual art – as in traditionally image-based work –that’s not going to get any attention unless it can be established as part of particular platform that is considered relevant. It would depend on WHO made the work, and what context that person fit into. If a white male made it, it’s pretty much not worth whatever it is painted or printed on.
Glad you like my “go to art” thing. I don’t know if I made it up or not. I’m sure tons of people must have uttered those same words. But, when I want to go to art, I usually go to music. Music for me is a much richer medium these days, and doesn’t suffer from conceptual fashion. People treat music like they do food. If it sounds good they consume it. And few are fooled by musical bullshit because, well, you can’t just like it intellectually for what it is, everyone understands you actually have to sit down and listen to it.