Heskin Contemporary is pleased to present Joe Wardwell Untied We Stand, opening September 8th and running through October 22nd 2011. A reception will be held for the artist from 6 -9 pm on Thursday, September 8th.
Untied We Stand is a lyric taken from the Weedeater song God Luck and Good Speed. Living in the United States in 2011, ten years after September 11th, eight years of the Bush presidency, two ongoing wars, the debt crisis, and the rise of the Tea Party, these words “Untied We Stand” strike a specific chord with the artist Joseph Wardwell. This phrase accurately describes the massive historical crossroads that the United States is currently facing. In his paintings the artist uses the visual impact of the “typo” like phrase combined with a Hudson River School type sunset image underneath. For a moment the painting reads as a patriotic image, reminiscent of the popular “these colors won’t run” posters so common after the world trade center attacks, but as the text is read closer it becomes clear the image has more provocative intentions.
Wardwell’s interest in how landscape painting and our understanding of landscape has been historically linked to a defining of national identity in the United States. From the early imperial advocates of Manifest Destiny adopting the great pictures of the Hudson River School to today’s “true” American advertising of beer and truck ads with a snowy cap on every beer can or a rugged terrain in every commercial, landscape and the American brand go hand and hand.
Yet also, just as with Church’s “Twilight in the Wilderness” or Beirstadts’ “The Last Buffalo” which in the late 1860’s warned of the plundering of our great land. today’s landscape can also represent the end or irrevocable change to nature as we know it. It is impossible not see an image of a glacier today and think not only of the sublime but also of its almost certain demise and the havoc its demise will reap on mankind as a result of our heavy footprints.
Wardwell’s paintings assimilate the formal compositions of advertising or propaganda. Most of the texts used in the paintings are fragments of lyrics from rock songs. Some are drawn from obscure sources such as the Weedeater lyric while others are common such as Black Sabbath, the Doors, and Pink Floyd. Their music is woven into the cultural history as succinctly as the landscape images underneath. The letters and paint that create them function as not only text but as abstract shapes and compositions on the canvases.
Joe Wardwell was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and raised in Seattle Washington. He is a professor of painting and drawing at Brandeis University in Waltham Ma. and lives with his wife and two children in Boston. This is Mr. Wardwell’s second exhibition at Heskin Contemporary.