Art of war - Exhibit offers views of 9/11, Iraq
By Cara O'Brien
A common visual thread ties the artists in a new exhibit at the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art. From the horizon of each painting rises a luminous figure: a golden mosque, a grief-ravaged Iraqi woman, a winged spirit, a sunrise.
“In this life: Reflections on War and Politics” paints a portrait both stark and lovely of a world upheaved. The white space of the gallery holds just a relatively few paintings from three artists — Kumiko McKee, Felipe Echevarria and Miguel Tio — each with their own message about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the war in Iraq or war in general.
Each painting is framed in metal, meant to resemble the metal girders that protruded from the wreckage of the World Trade Center like the legs of dead steel spiders.
“People in Iraq feel lost,” McKee said. “People in the States have no solution now.”
McKee’s paintings are awash in symbolism. In her first, “Power on the Earth,” standing guard at the entrance to the exhibit, a figure wearing blue work clothes and a scarf on his head stands proud under an American flag.
The figure could be Soviet propaganda or a World War II “I want you” poster, but a closer look shows newspaper clippings bleeding through the stars; reveals a veiny network of branches rooting in the stripes.
“It’s kind of like cracking, it’s getting weak,” McKee said. “America is holding the influence over so many countries, nobody denies that, whether the economy is good or bad.”
In another painting, the skull and crossbones symbol of the Skull and Bones Society pulls on the collar of a downtrodden President George W. Bush. Osama Bin Laden and two U.S. soldiers look out from the same painting.
Soldiers seem to speak to McKee, a Japanese native, uprooted to the west by her husband, Craig McKee.
“Some people think Americans are murderers, but that’s not true. Sometimes soldiers don’t have a choice,” McKee said. “American soldiers are also a victim of this war.”
Echevarria’s work in this show also depicts war. But his paintings have no people.
Instead he focuses on the visual dichotomies of war: a clear blue sky raining bombs; a sunrise looming over a crumbling city; smoke obscuring the sky behind a golden-domed mosque.
“I like to have the beauty and horror of war all in one instant,” Echevarria said.
“Even after the smoke disappears,” he added, “the hope and the beautiful is always there.”
He said he likes to imagine himself a visitor on this planet, an objective observer of the colors and the shapes without knowledge of their meaning.
Miguel Tio’s paintings, on the other hand, swell with meaning.
His first painting in the exhibit, “8:30 a.m.,” shows angels gathering around the World Trade Center towers, still intact. The tension in this painting is breathtaking and startling.
The color is muted, like watching film, but the figures are three-dimensional, fairly climbing out of the painting.
But Tio’s paintings come back inexorably to peace. Seeing “8:30 a.m.” one is comforted, thinking maybe the wingless souls who fell from the towers were not alone. And in his last painting in the show, “Peace, peace, peace,” nude figures actually glow purple, assembled peacefully, surreally in the frame.
Tio, from New York City, was unable to paint for months after the attacks on Sept. 11. And now that he can paint, he chooses to focus on the sacred and the soulful, rather than the violent or the political.
The kaleidoscope of views in this show manages jarring and soothing simultaneously. And the images presented, while sometimes politicized, are also universal, leaving their meanings to the viewer. Visitors might find themselves inspired or disgusted, they could walk away hopeful or helpless.
In one painting, tucked away in the middle of the gallery, an ambiguous face, neither Iraqi nor Caucasian, male nor female gazes sorrowfully at a sepia sky.
And looking at it, one realizes, that figure could be anyone.
“In this life: Reflections on War and Politics”
What: A new show at the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art
When: Opening reception 6-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5. Gallery talk with the artists 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6. The show continues through Dec. 8
Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, 201 S. College Ave., Fort Collins, 482-2787.
How much: $2 for adults, free for children under 18 and students