♢ EDITORIAL by Sal McIntyre, New York ♢
In just 11 days are the US elections and what with all the conversation happening on so many topics that are important to what is maybe one of the most philosophically diverse nations in the world, there is predicted to be a record turnout of the voting public. In these times of significant growth, looking back at what some of our most politically vocal artists had to say ignites the spirit of voting and encourages a healthy atmosphere of critical commentary and optimistic fervor, calling us to action and to participation in this powerful nation which has such great global influence— whether one has the facility of US voting or simply an observer’s voice.
In this legendary piece by Roy Lichtenstein, a paramount message is made into a pop art masterpiece, revealing a laughably simple concept as brilliant visual pun. Jobs Not Cheese! Moffett for Senator is a signed print from 1982, and although referencing a specific senatorial race as well as the infamous Ronald Reagan statement, “Let them eat cheese,” referring to his position on welfare recipients, it seems somehow universally relevant.
And in what convey stunningly on-key gestures, political caricature works from a mysterious and forgotten yet brilliant pen and ink artist from Madison, Wisconsin named Max Schweber herald scenes and messages so familiar it is a wonder they fell into obscurity at all. New Year Baby references George Orwell’s dystopian novel of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and propaganda which has received a popular renaissance of late, and Alice Buying Wonderland rings too many bells list. Presenting Bills & Taxes and High Horse strike further awe, not to mention the beautiful linework and extravagant compositions that draw us effortlessly through the narratives, all stone lithographs printed by Graphic Masters of Wisconsin.
For a piece that was the start of Robert Indiana's long tradition of American Flag redesigns, New Glory Banner I was originally concepted as a protest against the Vietnam War and America's foreign policy at the time, a felt banner from 1963. The star pattern is purposefully reminiscent of the Pentagon and features a 51st star to symbolize America's imperialistic aspirations. This silkscreen is a 1997 release as part of Indiana’s extensive portfolio and book entitled “The American Dream”, which is abundant with searingly critical images and text that both cut straight to the core and inspire wry laughter— one more of which is this silkscreen The Figure Five.
And for the politically and morally impassioned Lithuanian American artist Ben Shahn, whose incising and spirited work maintained a distinct social activism throughout his career from the early 1920s through until his death in 1969, works on the topic of voting were a natural fit. A stone lithograph Portrait of Abraham Lincoln which needs no text, and a signed 1964 silkscreen calling to Vote Johnson feature Shahn’s compelling and distinctive ink lines, and in the beautiful and moving designs from World War II years Register to Vote, Inflation Means Depression and Break Reaction's Grip he makes real these all-too-recognizable themes that continually resurface.
Italian artist Enrico Baj— associated with surrealism, dada and the 1948-1951 European avant-garde movement CoBrA, a name coined from the initials of the members' home cities: Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br), Amsterdam (A)— is probably most known for his series of “Generals”, absurd characters made from found objects such as belts or medals. These signed stone lithographs of Les Hommes De Guerre reflect a wealth of commentary on the frequently visited subject of nuclear war.
And in another Indiana piece made for The Mother of Us All, an opera by Virgil Thomson with a libretto text by Gertrude Stein, attention is called to the history of women’s right to vote, something that was not legal in this country until the shockingly recent year of 1920, a date whose hundredth anniversary we are swiftly approaching. The story follows Susan B. Anthony, the American social reformer and women's rights activist who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement— born into a Quaker family committed to social equality, she collected anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17 and in 1856 became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. This 1977 silkscreen is the gleaming culmination of a series of big names in various creative fields, a visual testament to the collective power that can result from the sway of collaborative effort — much like what can emerge from the utilization of the agency to vote itself, something that the art world’s most activist artists wield with great communicative prowess.