Saturday, February 4, 2012

Exposing the Naughty Grain of History

Exposing the Naughty Grain of History
By Tom Wachunas

“History is our simmering, crusty cauldron of Hunters Stew, hung above the fire of hindsight. We spice it up to suit prevailing palates of the day. So even as the main ingredients remain constant, it never seems to taste the same way twice.” - June Godwit, from “Post-structuralism: Flacid, yet absurd?” –

“Here every man may be master and owner of his owne labour and land…If he have nothing but his hands, he may…by industrie quickly grow rich.” - John Smith -

“…I incorporate these different modes of narrative to mimic the way history functions: as collected bodies of knowledge – some skewed, distorted or biased – false histories that behave in a manner similar to true history…” - Chad Hansen, from his statement for his exhibit, “Revisionist Histories: America Retold” at Translations Art Gallery

In many ways, the splendid exhibit of drawings by Chad Hansen at Translations Art Gallery (formerly Anderson Creative) in downtown Canton has all the feel of a 19th century one-room school house. The artist has uniformly faux-painted the walls to resemble knotty wood planks upon which are hung dozens of his images drawn in Walnut ink – highly suggestive of illustrations from period American history books, and at times reminiscent of Harper’s Weekly political cartoons.

This is a compressed allegorical narrative of American history that begins with the arrival of English explorer John Smith (who established the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607), ensuing westward expansion, and climaxing with America’s deification of power mongers in their relentless march to corporate entity-hood. The unframed images are arranged in thematic “suites” comprised of one large drawing and several adjacent smaller drawings.

Be sure to pick up the accompanying hand-out, printed on imitation parchment, that identifies the 17 characters that populate the scenes in this fascinating re-telling of how America came to be what it is. Can’t see the show without a program, as it were. And be prepared to see this melting pot of personalities – drawn from ‘real’ history and conjoined with others from folkloric myth - in a new if not somewhat jarring light. Included among them: Ceasar, a “proponent of hostile take overs”; “real estate developers” James K. Polk, King George of England, and Thomas Jefferson; “Star Warrior” Ronald Reagan; and business man Carlo Ponzi (yes, THAT Ponzi). This is surely not a conventional history lesson.

“The Calling Suite” sets the tone, wherein we see a dragon-like creature called Money Monster placing Ceasar’s crown on the head of John Smith. From there, Hansen’s scenarios are an unfolding of unchecked imperialism, political and moral turpitude, and the apotheosis of greed. Speaking of which, Money Monster makes frequent appearances, usually rendered in green and with remarkably lavish linear detail that brings to mind the heraldic look of our meticulously engraved paper money.

Indeed, Hansen’s pictorial style in all of his drawings is saturated with remarkable embellishments of pattern and detail that suggests a kinship with lovingly embroidered antique story quilts. Yet for all of what might initially appear to be their charming “primitivism,” they collectively present an eminently modern and sobering vision. Forward, into the past.

Photos: Top – “Arriving in America Suite": Middle – “The Calling Suite" (detail): Bottom: “Industry Suite” by Chad Hansen. On view THROUGH FEBRUARY 25 at Translations Art Gallery, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Wednesdays through Saturdays, Noon to 5 p.m.

No comments: