Burned Books: Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (2013)
Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is an international effort by artists and poets in response to the tragic bombing on March 5, 2007 of what had for centuries been the intellectual and literary hub of Baghdad in the form of a long, winding street of booksellers. The attack killed over thirty people and injured over one hundred. Bearing witness to this tragedy, over three hundred artists from twenty-four countries have created book objects, letter press poetry on broadsides, and a book of poetry and prose entitled Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. A complete set of works is traveling internationally; one edition will reside permanently in the National Library of Iraq in Baghdad.
Responding to an invitation to join the project, I ceased my work with shattered plaster and started burning books—ultimately altering eight books in five languages, reflecting the true contents of al-Mutanabbi Street bookstalls on the day they were bombed. Then I "buried" each book in a coffin lined not with satin but with open sky, a suggestion of future and possibility. When partially closed, the boxes bring to mind the shape of a new book. Un-shrouded, the mute books become corpses requiring protection and commemoration. Unable to read them any longer, we honor them with labels marking the day of their demise.
Each object is unique, containing one burned paperback book preserved with PVA, enhanced with oil. Boxes are hand-made by Mary McCarthy, lined with archival pigment prints scanned from snapshots taken by the artist in Wyoming, printed on Rag Photographique, 210gsm, and covered in Brown Umber Asahi Book Cloth over Davey board. Text design for bookplate by Shawn Semmes.
Bas Reliefs (2010-2012)
The latest series to emerge from my 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship, these plaster "monocasts" combine found and made detritus with occasional painted passages to embody the viscerality of violence rather than depict or represent it.
Paintings on Hydrocal (2003-2007)
These paintings were inspired by found sources of news reportage the world over, spanning and combining bits of imagery from conflagrations in Iraq, Vietnam, Beirut, Afghanistan, Madrid, Shanksville, and Auschwitz. They are all made using a special casting process involving pigment, plastic and Hydrocal.
Paintings on Mylar: Tracings from the World (2009-2010)
This series of work from 2009 and 2010 repurposes imagery from the newspaper and the internet. With oil and other media on front and back, images float centrally on translucent matte mylar, suspended above darkly painted sheets of metal.
These paintings are part of an ongoing project. Using old master techniques, they are meant to allude to 17th century still life painting, and will eventually be framed in large, dark Dutch frames. Each painting is based on a tiny fraction of a documentary photograph from the scene of a bombed home in a zone of conflict or war, and is recomposed via cropping to create a counterfactual sense of perfect order. As part of an installation that will be activated periodically by interruptions of sound and light, the paintings will be transformed through the process of being watched rather than looked at.
War Drawings (2005-2010)
During the summer of 2005 I began a series of drawings, which were a cumulative response to daily news reports of events around the world. Violence seemed ubiquitous — in Iraq, Madrid, London, Russia, and Israel — and as it filled the world and the newspaper, so did it fill my consciousness.
The first drawings I did were inspired directly from daily photographs in the New York Times. Then I began to hunt out war imagery wherever I could find it. I sought images that captured a magnitude of violence regardless of which specific conflicts they portrayed, the use of brutality superseding the specifics of politics and geography. Later, I posed my own models in the studio and worked from constructed imagery, or made things up entirely. Ironically, newspaper sources often resulted in more abstract drawings whereas those that came from constructed imagery or were wholly invented felt more real. This suited me. For although I realize that by lifting my subjects out of the context of their documentary sources (decontextualing them) I forfeit their concrete power to make pointed moral commentary about specific situations, my deepest goal is to provoke horror, and empathy for any victim brutalized by the resort to political violence.
By responding subjectively to journalistic facts with inks, charcoal, smudges, rubbings, and erasures on heavy drawing paper, I mean to evoke a visceral sensation of violence. By doing so esthetically, I am trying to entice the viewer into taking a longer look at things we normally find repugnant. Beauty is the bait that can keep us looking at things from which we'd rather look away.
All drawings are approximately 11 x 15".