Half A Utopia Will Do
Before the world went medieval, I was looking a lot at the paintings of Brueghel and Bosch. I love the cautionary parables and moral lessons of their work.
Lo, and behold, in 2016, a reality TV star became President. You could see this coming from a long way off social media’s culture of complaint and misinformation emerged, along with popular culture’s preoccupation with manufactured crises, particularly in “reality” TV shows.
Times ain’t what they used to be. The last six years have brought a cluster of calamities to our lives. Lies and misinformation have been foisted on the public from the top of the government right down to conspiracy theorists operating as agents of chaos in our midst. Those of us who are older have lived through a fair amount of turmoil in our time: Vietnam, Nixon/Watergate, and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. While I can say things are definitely “not normal,” I feel a sense of responsibility and have decided to report on some of what’s happening in my work. I whistle through the graveyard, but in the words of Bob Dylan: “I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it. And I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”
Even if I am speaking to myself, some things need explaining: from Txxxp’s words on Mexican rapists to separating families at the southern border, to stating that COVID-19 was a hoax, the attempted coup of the 6 January insurrection. We see the work of an immoral a-hole.
I hope people can see the humor in my work and my reaction to policy’s absurdity. This is not normal. As Phillip Guston said about his series of paintings and drawings on Nixon: “What kind of artist am I if all I do is change a blue to a red?”
Time has passed since the election of 2020. I find myself editing, painting out much of it . . . how much can we stand to see? Still, there are alterations to “The Only One” images showing his truer self: a slug, a fly, half there, a benign turd.
Our parents lived through the Depression and fought in World War II. It is up to us to answer the call. I am guided at times by painters like Max Beckmann, who was really up against it: losing his professorship in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, escaping to Amsterdam for the duration of WWII. He persisted and the stories he told in his paintings!
It is uphill these days, but the view is better. I wish the wheels of justice were swifter, but I still believe in democracy. The only way forward is not going back.
We Are One
Dystopia or Utopia? We choose to focus on peace, choice, creative expression, freedom, and hope. We live an authentic, honest, and relatively peaceful life. We present kindness and compassion in what we create. The painting When the Bell Tolls is about a child ringing the bell—time to wake up humanity from its chilling slumber. When the Bell Tolls speaks to the urgency of our times.
The second painting/collage, Dawn—The Life of Tree, is about personal inner integration. Our splintering into pieces was caused by the polarization of the psyche from trauma. We have integrated and worked hard at keeping inner peace and open communication between all inner aspects of self. The United States reflects a similar makeup—one out of many (“E pluribus unum”). We are One. We acknowledge the for inner peace. In the Dawn—the Life of Tree, we reveal all integrated representations of aspects, as well as including the essential self, the tree. We focus on We are One. That’s the Utopia of it. For everyone to realize We are One—as simply complex as that is.
As Things Fall Apart: Dystopia or Utopia?
Painting is an act of self-determination and liberation. As things fall apart, painting puts them together as marks, colors, and compositions, creating a visual tone for viewers to experience, to view and listen to their thoughts.
My abstract and constructed landscapes work is visually inspired by the environment surrounding my home, Harpswell Sound: sea, sky, wind, and birds. It alludes to their movements and changes as metaphors for the turbulence in our world, as well as its beauty and struggles for survival—both the dystopian and the utopian.
Image at top: Matt Blackwell, What’s Next?, oil on paper, 32 x 40 in., 2020 (photo: Mike Garden).