Gun ownership is inevitably in the news again. For most who defend its increase in the wake of the carnage it creates, it is a power fantasy. In a country where the long term trend is downward in crime, and where terrorism hasn’t gotten the foothold it has in Europe and other places, the actual need for firearms is quite low, and the fetish of gun ownership is mostly about a male cowboy/crime fiction fantasy scenario where problems (including psychotic rage) are easily solved with the correct ordnance.
The proven fact that the opposite is the actual result of unlimited ownership of weaponry- the society becomes less secure, more regimented, less just- hasn’t intruded in any meaningful way into the NRA-sponsored fantasy. Where did it come from?
Westering: When I got the invitation to show with other ASL instructors at the state capitol, I thought immediately of this piece, which is older, but has been seen only in a couple of small shows. It is ostensibly a landscape, one of many, I’m sure, that have hung under Colorado’s golden dome, but its theme is much more complex, as it alludes to the American push westward. Though the print hasn’t been a centerpiece in my exhibition history, I’d like to explicate the thinking behind it which holds a very central place in my landscape years, roughly 1999-2009.
The association in the American spirit/mind of heading west with individual freedom and opportunity dates back to the Puritans. It is now expressed in xenophobic ultra right wing politics of survivalists and gun fetishists, but other subcultures, such as environmentalists have also drawn inspiration from the American move westward. Artists such as Moran, Twain and Bierstadt have made both poetry and cash from selling this vision back to the populace. And the Arcadian/Rousseau myth of humans at peace in nature’s solitude relates in a complex way with the gun totin’ loner.These Right and Left fantasies are inextricably linked. I myself left my decaying Great Lakes region rust belt childhood home to escape the decay and drug fueled lassitude there as a teen, and spent time in transcendently beautiful and stubbornly racist Wyoming,
I’m quite vocal about my politics elsewhere, but in my artwork, this is about as political as it often gets. One of the last elements added to the print was the small enclosure next to the windowless structure, symbolizing isolation, aggressive aquisitiveness and the closed mind of the typical “home on the range”, now a fortified compound in many minds. This bunker mentality has had a big effect on American politics of late, and certainly is intrinsic to the gun fantasy.
This isn’t a criticism of rural living per se, or even gun ownership. We could all use a little dialogue with our neighbors, and our poisonous politics proves how the urge to ‘head west’, rather than learn to live with each other, is one of the country’s greatest threats. It derives from the Puritan notion of the individual’s right to ‘treat with God’ in his own way. It reaches horrifying apotheosis in the ‘lone wolf’- style shooting spree, one against the hordes.
In an age where ‘compromise’ is a dirty word (sometimes on both sides of the aisle), an understanding of this complex psychological, and very American impulse can get lost. I was always very satisfied with what I was able to say in this picture, and now through December, I’ll have my ‘say’ in the halls of government. If only the majority wishing for an end to carnage had theirs.
Carrying a Torch: While I’m glorying in the exhibition, I’ll mention that I’ve had work hanging in both the state and nation’s capitol complexes. This print, entitled “Man with Torch” hung in Senator Bennet’s office in DC for a year as part of a juried program to showcase Colorado’s artists. Many also consider this one pretty political, and while I don’t argue with the obvious ecological interpretation, it was actually concieved of as a commentary upon memory and our human urge to destroy and remake the past constantly, in the process endangering our future relations. I quickly realized how apropos it was to the environment, but that’s not how my mind was working as I made it, as a reaction to an earlier smaller piece, “Woman With Torch”, which really isn’t political or even existential commentary at all, but as often happens with early, smaller pieces of mine, made simply as a compelling image. But a picture’s allusive qualities often creates great appeal for the viewer, I’ve learned, through many conversations in my booth at the Summer Art Market.
There’s always more than the surface intention to the story of a work’s creation of course, but I try to honestly convey what I was thinking at the time, for what it’s worth. The viewer often gives me a -valuable- different story. John Lennon always maintained that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by the innocent words of his five year old son, but most of us who lived through its popularity always considered it a song about hallucinogens. It’s disingenuous to believe Lennon was unaware of this, and art creates a meaning of its own. The artist is often not in control of this process.
Please comment with your own take if you have seen “Westering”.