Art doesn’t have to reflect the times, but some of the most interesting art does. If you aren’t sure whether angry white men have been a part of the tumultuous recent past, I’d say you haven’t been paying attention.
These are angry times.
Everyone seems a little angry. But anger has not been on display in recent memory as it was with the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally in August 2017. It was a Canadian artist, however, who caused a brouhaha with a recent Seattle gallery show titled Angry White Men.
We found ourselves in the city for the final day of the exhibit of work by David Haughton at Gallery 110.
Confronted with a quote from Benjamin Franklin just inside the door, it wasn’t completely clear what we were getting into, or how it had gone.
Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame, Franklin told us. It was one of many texts hanging between the portraits, some from psychology books and one from an Economist article.
These weren’t from white supremacist gatherings in the artist’s home city of Vancouver. Haughton was present and told us the images were compiled from news photos. “These two guys were never together,” he said as he pointed two a painting. One was in the U.S., the other in the U.K.
The quality of the work is exceptional, and the subject interesting. Haughton did not strike me as angry, more likely his inspiration came from being disturbed by the anger.
The subject matter makes the purpose of these paintings more for statement than for sale. And, as we learned, the statement had gotten a few people pretty upset.
Many of the paintings showed groups on skin-head looking individuals, but there was one recognizable face staring out at us. It was a face I associated with evil but didn’t immediately connect to a name or event. It wasn’t one of the more interesting works in the show, and so I didn’t think about it long.
Leaving the exhibit and reading the article, this seems to be the painting that was the cause of the most controversy. The face was Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white supremacist who murdered nine African Americans during a prayer service in Charleston. The work’s title is Fellow Christian.
I can see how this portrait with a price tag, could be irritating. Especially so if you didn’t take the time to take in what the show was about. Which, in my perception, was exploring the roots of the anger.
We mentioned the protesters that came to our own neighborhood when the city of Dallas was in the process of removing the monument of Robert E. Lee by Canadian artist Alexander Phimster Proctor. I never saw people at this event get that overheated (though there was some yelling). Yet Charlottesville was fresh on our minds, so we knew it could get out of hand.
(And IMO public safety was a good justification for removing this monument).
Yet, like Haughton’s work, the monument in Dallas is a good piece of art. Unfortunately, with anger as the zeitgeist, many hardly have the cause or opportunity to see that.