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Culture is the experience of channeling truth to dispel myth. Panic strikes powerful people of corrupt systems when a threat makes itself felt. Establishing an authentic articulation of that threat Theodore A. Harris sculpts a three dimensional image of our life in a perpetual state of war. The artists’ practiced hand builds a superstructure of present time. This contextual paradigm anchors the observer’s perspective in reality. Propaganda and hype are exposed and truth displaces myth.
The piece reads. It is an essential communication. The branding loop incessantly running in our heads is interrupted by the work’s visual acuity. Bullet holes erupt on the substrate. They fuse a brain-eye connection that makes a collective consciousness flow like lava. Time, that subjective thought based realm of past and future ceases to exist and we recognize the objective NOW.
The work is about Shirley Chisholm’s struggle to expose and defeat the imperial war of capital on the country of Viet Nam. The subject’s time frame is the 1970’s. The images are assembled to illuminate that history as a memory of and foundation for heroic struggle. The work transcends the sentimentality nostalgia evokes and spells out an exposition on the world of today. Confronted in this manner, courage finds fertile ground to grow and this history (our reserve) carries weight. People, experienced and disciplined find inspiration to participate. We act as the fulcrum for leveraging a new world. We are in the picture and we are the collage.
The images of soldiers that infiltrate this space decapitate the symbols of oppressors. A helicopter separates the sculpture of ‘Freedom’ from the dome of the Capitol and a soldier’s weapon crosses ‘Freedom’s’ neck symbolically negating the upside-down ideology that erected (from the top down) the edifice.
Pretenders observe the triptych as a chaotic mix of disturbing images, graffiti unworthy of aesthetic appreciation, a distortion of their reality. These are the assassins of culture. Forever they demand “realistic” and sentimental portrayals of ideal human existence. The arts are diversions from any effort intensive activity. Art’s purpose for the bourgeois is to channel myth to dispel truth, developing propaganda to serve injustice and exploitation.
The symbols are rife and loaded with import. Cash appears in bits and pieces with pregnant tokens of meaning. A scrap of a dead president from a dollar bill, his eye encircled with blood pollutes a black background. Next to this, another dead president’s fractured face appears ripped from the bill against the white background. A mutilated shard of the dead president’s face on the bill is turned upside-down. A fine red spray splatters it and forms a cancellation mark implying postage, a message paid for with blood, the seal authenticating the maiming of an ideology.
In the center of the middle panel, framed with a White House plate, is the translucent emblem of capital’s commitment to higher education. The skull and bones fraternity boasts a pedigree of unmatched brutality. The gilded Bald Eagle, bird of carrion leaks through the empty cranium of the skull, its body fig-leafed with a shield of gold. An inverted military, branded Chaplin by a black cross on his helmet grips an automatic weapon to his chest. Next to him, right side-up, a physically powerful fist points a revolver ready to add its ammunition to the fight. This well used image from the Harris arsenal sports folds and creases that only add to the potent forcefulness of its graphic simplicity. An Easter seal crucifix-bible image burning through a solid black foreground pays homage to the scruple less use of religion to cover the crimes of capital.
Tonal variations abound with potent effect. The artist confidently asserts a complex balance employing a color scheme that uses a mix of reds and yellows with pure black and white. By design, metaphors and symbolic associations move in and out of these aesthetic devices. Muted yellows blur the images with a gaseous consequence. The reds saturate the medium and evoke a dangerous and heavy focus. As thick blood, it oozes out of the bullet holes. Then with a cardiac pumping effect it spays across the canvas suggesting fresh, wound breaking immediacy. This kinetic application of colors and tones moves the observer to take affirmative action. We stand recruited to the fight to end the war and vanquish the foe. From left to right the mustard yellow saturates the atmosphere, It is a caustic, choking infusion bent on denying the oxygen of peoples’ resistance; perspective. The origin of this chemical attack becomes evident in the image of the Capitol building, clearly painted with the same pigment.
Collage infuses every aspect of the work and each part has its appropriate weight. Nothing floats unattached, purposeful placement and design are a metaphoric component of the work. The random and accidental allure of modernist excess born of Pollock and Warhol is liquidated by this forceful assertion of will in the service of ethic, aesthetic in the service of truth. The artist makes no bones about employing propaganda to enhance the understanding of his message. Harris manipulates his tools deftly, accepting the most rigorous challenges to attack problems of real consequence, graphically and thematically.
Here “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”* It is to the legions of workers that this artist labors to supply with tools and change the world.
*Brecht