The Art Itself: Politics and Esthetics

If you read my post of April 19, 2016 (“Terrible Beauty”), you know I deplore the notion that art should, by definition, be safe. The assumption that it should always cheer us up has a paradoxical implication: 1) that art is sheer escapism; it’s irrelevant, and big subjects like injustice and human suffering are just a waste of paint 2) that art is too powerful to trust: It’s dangerous.

As much as I want to dismiss these extremes, I must acknowledge that, In a loose sense, Tunson’s work does both. The sheer beauty of his abstracts invites us to escape the horror in the objective world; his political work can be interpreted as a call to action, an invitation to disturb the universe.

Besides the content itself, one element of the political work that intrigues me is the variety of esthetic approaches Tunson applies to his subject. Instances abound, including in these series: Raw Deal, Endangered, Remix, Universal Bunnies. But nowhere is his versatility clearer than in these two works:

Still Angry   acrylic/canvas   48 x 60 inches   2006

Let’s Talk about Race  acrylic/canvas72 x 48 inches   2014

In his non-objective painting Still Angry, the title and the palette say it all. In “Let’s Talk about Race,” each image is a story in itself, and when you mix old magazine ads, Boondocks cartoons, and a scene Tunson witnessed on January 20, 1992, in Denver, when the KKK protested the celebration Dr. King’s birthday, you get a world that has never been safe for some folks.

When, then, Tunson illuminates the hazards that some people on this troubled planet confront every single day, he does so with esthetic approaches as complex and varied as the injustices that send him to the studio.

This youtube video documents the Denver event: