On causing revolution
I think art should do something for the viewer. Specifically, I think art should cause revolution—big or small, global or person. Art must be a catalyst for change. That is its value. So-called “art” that doesn’t do this or, worse, doesn’t want to do this is not actually art.
I might be a little conceited. After all, I make art and I think that art should cause revolution. That implies that I think that I have something to share with people that can change their lives. But, if that’s arrogant, at least I’m not the worst of the bunch. To my mind, it’s more self-important to ask someone to take the time to look at your work when you are not offering that person something that can spark a new understanding for her-him.
In a way, I have it easy. In my chosen genre, it’s fairly simple to cause a personal revolution. After all, almost everyone will react strongly to an image of her-him self—love it or hate it (of course, I would prefer to cause only positive personal revolutions and that can be a little tricky). I can guarantee a fascinated audience of at least one for each of my paintings: the key becomes figuring out how to make paintings that cause revolutions for more than just the subject. In that vein, Apple Pie is my most successful series to date. With the concept embedded in the very fabric and composition of each of the pieces, it’s a series that more immediately communicates with anyone who sees the work.
Apple Pie is about what it means to be American. The subjects of the series are mostly immigrants and the children of immigrants, but there are a few others included in order to more fully represent all facets of the American experience. Among others, I asked Chandra to participate. Chandra’s ancestors did not come to the United States by choice but by force: they arrived as part of the African Slave Trade.
Because Chandra’s heritage is, in a sense, opposite to that of the majority of Apple Pie subjects, I wanted to be sure to choose an icon that would honor these differences. The iconic status of the next President (whomever it happens to be) seemed like the strongest statement. All the other icons used in the series are in existence already, even if it’s in a mythical form like Lady Liberty or Superman. Chandra’s icon is a future moment, the next President. It’s hopeful but it also implies a question: will a woman or an African American ever hold the highest office in the United States?
For the portrait of Chandra as the next President, I decided to combine her likeness with elements of the Presidential seal.
In this initial sketch, the eagle seems to be threatening her with the arrows and doing it in an understated sort of way too! It’s as if this bird doesn’t want anyone to notice that he has the President in a vulnerable place.
In this sketch, it looks like the eagle is protecting Chandra. While that’s an improvement over threatening her, it was’t quite what I wanted either.
Here it looks more like Chandra and the eagle are on the same team. I created the final painting based on this sketch.
Another factor in my decision to paint Chandra as the next President is that, unlike most of the other subjects in the series, Chandra qualifies to be President because she was born in the United States.
During our interview, Chandra said that she never gets to be just a person: her sex and race are always a part of the way she is treated. In a way, politicians, and specifically the President, are most able to understand this. Once in office (or even during the electoral race), they don’t get to be just people. They are forced to be—to represent—so much more than themselves.
I included this cotton flower in Chandra’s lapel as a reference to her heritage and to the foundations of our country. The portrait is painted on denim, still the all-American favorite—and a product made from cotton.