Paul Endres Jr. has war and apocalypse on the brain. He shares his thoughts—about the destruction of America and its transformation into a disjointed nation of villains, superheroes, and victims locked in battle with supernatural forces—in his ongoing “American Burden” series (begun 2009). Selected oil-on-panel paintings from this epic visual narrative, which plays out from panel to panel, are currently enlivening the walls at Childs Gallery, in “THEATER OF WAR: Paul Endres Jr.’s Tales of the American Burden.” Taken together, and accompanied by text that extends the tale, the paintings form an intentionally absurd, mythologized, pseudo-historical record of Endres’ imagined post-apocalyptic world. Viewers should think twice, however, before brushing them off as fiction. Through this project, the artist reveals that even the history we know to be true is a creative construction, marked by embellishments and narrative license, like his own work.
It all began when Endres awoke to the inaccuracies in Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851). As the artist explains: “That painting is so famous it has become how we all view the actual event. But it’s all wrong. Washington shouldn’t be standing, there are too many people in the boat, and the flag design didn’t exist until two years later. As a kid, I was so miffed that it wasn’t correct. Then later in my own work, I decided to absorb the absurdity of historical inaccuracies in artwork and actually make that a key element.” This intention animates each one of the paintings in his series, including Fiction, perfectly arranged into history, remained a delicacy to the astute strategist, but then again, so was any prudent atrocity (2013). Here two generals of a sort clink coffee cups over a table littered with half-fallen chess pieces, among which are cowboys, Indians, and possibly the Pope, as if toasting a shaky agreement about how the history of their war will be told. In Magnus Thrax: Keeper of the Halls (2014), a multi-armed human mutant guards the hallowed hall of a museum, hung salon-style with mini versions of canonical genre, religious, and history paintings. Unlike the generals, he serves to preserve the historical record, so riddled with errors, that is displayed in these paintings.
“THEATER OF WAR: Paul Endres Jr.’s Tales of the American Burden” is on view at Childs Gallery April 7-June 14, 2014.