I’ve been making little books full of drawings, thoughts, and paintings since the ’80s. The first one was a handmade book of xeroxes about a trip across the country, with some watercolor splashed around. Now, I have different tools to gather up various kinds of art and stack them in a book. It provides the pleasure of compaction, like moving into a small apartment. An artist’s book production can be scooping up the artifacts of a period of life—the rusty sculpture hanging in the garage, the paintings that never attracted enough attention to get framed, stacks of mumbling journals—gathering it all in a squeeze machine and spitting out a tidy little book.
These paintings were done before COVID and before Black Lives Matter was so powerful. The point of the work was to express some rage, frustration, and sadness at the assault on the weakest in our society. Now the work is even more to the point, even more excruciating. And yet, how do you go out and join the incensed crowds in the streets if your body won’t do it anymore? How do you protect your old partner and still stand up and resist? How do you watch your friends or strangers fall for the paranoid tales of Fox? The forest fires around here, the heat wave, the virus, the police brutality. I’m holding my breath.
These paintings were made as posters, designed for a project called Plaster the Walls.
The Plaster the Walls project was a collaboration of artists from around the country who designed political posters about the urgency of resistance to the attacks on the environment, immigrants, and the poor. It provided free posters and digital designs to people willing to plaster their nearby walls.
Some have clarifying text, some not, describing one person’s response to the endless offenses from our government, the cruelty and racism perpetrated by the current administration. My painting and artist book work for the last many decades have been in this direction. Posters from the “plaster” project eventually were published as Clowns Dancing on a Tank. The intro to the book is as follows:
AN ELDER HIDES IN HIS STUDIO
FOR A WHILE THERE LIFE JUST MEANDERS ALONG for the old artist in a docile way, slightly inspired, slightly sluggish, when all of a sudden the fates grab him by the chin and wrench his head to the right and scream look at this. Things (historical, economic, social, political, racial—you name it!) have come to a head. He suffocates under feelings battling with each other. His routine is the same every morning, reading through the news from three different alternative presses. That starts off his day, every day, with a good punch to the gut. Then he does the only thing that might bring him some measure of comfort and solidity. He paints, following on a lifetime of painting, searching for answers to questions not yet formed.
In a few days the artist makes a little protest sign that seems so wonderfully subtle. The march is four miles long. He can’t go more than three blocks with his knee the way it is. The wonderfully subtle sign goes unnoticed.
Image at top: Hank Brusselback, Empire, acrylic on paper, 9 x 12 in.
Hank Brusselback grew up in St. Louis and started his art there designing furniture. In the ’70s and ’80s, he lived and worked in Midcoast Maine, where he studied and taught sculpture, painting, and drawing. Then in Boulder, Colorado, he got an MFA in sculpture. His political activism has led to travels and related art at the Seabrook Nuclear Plant, Nevada Test Site, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and recently to Iran. In many of his diverse art forms, his work often reflects the harsh and urgent style of the German expressionists of the twenties, which suits his subject matter, which ranges from illegal wars to the small stories of attitudinal changes in his own life.
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