Night Journey | Gary Horn.
The title originates from Thomas Wolfe’s colorful characterization of The Great Colony of Lost Americans, depicted in his book You Can’t Go Home Again. Wolfe describes this “lost colony” as follows:
They belonged to that great lost tribe of people who are more numerous in America than in any other country in the world. They belonged to that unnumbered horde who think that somehow, by some magic and miraculous scheme or rule or formula, ‘something can be done for them.’ They belonged to that huge colony of the damned who buy thousands of books that are printed for their kind, telling them how to run a tea-shop, how to develop a pleasing personality, how to acquire ‘a liberal education,’ swiftly and easily and with no anguish of the soul, by fifteen minutes’ reading every day; how to perform the act of sexual intercourse in such a way that your wife will love you for it; how to have children or to keep from having children; how to write short-stories, novels, plays, and verses which are profitably saleable; how to keep from having body-odor, constipation, bad breath, or tartar on the teeth; how to have good manners, know the proper fork to use for every course, and always do the proper thing—ho, in short, to be beautiful, distinguished, smart, chic, forceful, and sophisticated—finally, how to have a brilliant personality and achieve success.
Similar to Wolfe’s description of The Great Colony of Lost Americans, this painting suggests that Americans are bombarded daily through education and mass media with illusions of betterment that define standards by which to measure success and happiness. These standards exist as part of a process of institutionalization that cultivates behavioral actions and beliefs that are considered most beneficial to society by imbuing individuals with a defined model of American values and patriotism.
In the early years of television and radio, the white middle class was presented as the ideal family model of American virtues and values. Excluded from this paradigm were the working class, the poor, people of color, the LGBT community, and those with mental and physical disabilities. Through education and the media, Americans were presented with a model of courage and strength allied with a patriotism that was presented as always being good and just. This mythical model has become a shield we use to blind ourselves from recognizing a nationalism that has evolved without moral justice and has become the evil it had set out to destroy. American scholastic institutions have established a values system and a model for measuring intelligence that unjustly undervalues and marginalizes too many people. It can therefore be said that education serves national needs rather than the learning needs of individuals.
National and societal indoctrination is a process of behavioral modification achieved through controlling institutions that mold the hearts and minds of individuals into a collective that can be branded as possessing “American Values.” Categorized groups of people, such as the fabled Silent Majority, have been susceptible to political manipulations that notoriously embraced American Values that included blindness and indifference. Their silence was considered consent to the unjust practices of social inequality and imperialistic foreign policies. What is lacking in a societal-based success and value matrix is the recognition of individuality, which is the foundation of intelligent choice for self-determination, free from the blindness induced by nationalism.
The symbolic visual images employed in the painting work to express its intent. The institution of family is among the most prized of American values. The American family was typified by the stereotypical portrayal of the white, middleclass, suburban home-owning family with two or more heterosexual children in need of firm and loving parental guidance. The expectations were for the viewers to identify with the paradisiacal TV family existence and aspire to emulate their American middleclass values. Needless to say, most do not or cannot live up to the idyllic existence of scripted television.
Embedded within the painted field of stars are the television icons Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, of the family sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. They were among the many TV families that modeled the American family values of their era, with a success that derives from being a middle-class property owner raising a traditional American family. Americans were taught to desire appliances of convenience and to develop an addiction to entertainment, which fed the contentment that birthed a compliant, blind, and silent population reliant upon government to protect the standard of living of the “haves” from that of the “have-nots.”
This painting is a rejection of societal and national indoctrinations. To quote Thomas Wolfe again, “The great enemy of life may not be death, but life itself.” To escape the emptiness of programmed expectations, the painting’s protagonist is destroying his institutionally molded and formed plastic heart in order to find his own heart – his own way of life – and live free from expectations, alien from his own being.
Night Journey 61: Obeisance and Faustian Fever
The Obdurate Finality Deep Below the Roots of Thought and Memory
Night Journey 61 is the expression of two ideas originating from one painted image, necessitating the use of two titles to distinguish the dual meaning of the painting. The first, Obeisance and Faustian Fever, denotes my ongoing dialogue with art history and my desire to join the lineage of accomplished artists that have made relevant contributions to our culture.
The four figures on the left are appropriated from Kazimir Malevich’s painting Sportsmen (Suprematism in Sportsmen’s Contours). Malevich, a pioneer in abstract art and creator of the Suprematist style, rejected figurative representations in favor an inner expression of “new realities,” which were articulated in compositions of flat geometric shapes. In Malevich’s viewpoint, the only true, enduring value of art resides solely in the feeling communicated through the artwork. He believed that the rigid structures of Suprematism were the most appropriate means of achieving his expressed goals.
The four iconic figures on the left are a translation of Malevich’s Suprematist theory into a figurative format, comprised of and constructed with the abstract Suprematist elements, essentially making them symbols of his philosophy in a form more understandable to those unaccustomed to abstraction. In placing the figure I have developed to the right of these symbols, I establish it, not as a representational being, but rather as a vehicle through which to express ideas and feelings. I view my symbolic figure as a prisoner, not unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, both of whom find themselves imprisoned within the reflections of their own mind, being, time, and world. It is a figure that oscillates between existence and non-existence. By placing my symbol next to Malevich’s, I pay homage to one of the 20th Century’s most notable creators, and align myself with Malevich’s principal tenet that an artist must create new realities to best express himself.
Although our goals are similar, our styles are different, separated only by how we choose to use the same elements of art. The elements of art are the artist’s base language and means of communication. All forms of visual expression evolve from the same foundational elements. It is the artist that narrows art’s versatility; we do so in the service of our own expression. Therefore, one form of expression or style cannot be viewed as superior to another, but must be combined with others in unity to exhibit the full potential of art. The placement of my symbol figure next to Malevich’s signifies that I am standing in the diverse linage of ideas that comprise art history.
The second title, The Obdurate Finality Deep below the Roots of Thought and Memory, is a depiction of how we see and form judgments based on visual information. We are born with a complex visual processing system that enables us, even as very young infants, to see and to recognize the differences between family and non-family members. We are genetically predisposed to recognize differences over commonalities, and our visual perceptions are governed by thought and memory.
In the painting, the figure on the right establishes itself as a strong focal point. Although this figure has many of the same characteristics as the other four figures, it garners more attention because its visual differences render it quite unlike the other four figures. Rather than acknowledging the figure’s commonalities, one might just as easily decide that it does not belong with the others, based upon its visual differences.
Many individuals and societies throughout the world use the distinctive discriminating characteristics of vision to form the basis of their perception toward those who are visually different in their appearance or observable customs. When the focus is on differences, commonalities go unseen. Individuals lose their human distinction and become identified as “other.” In this regard, the painting reads as a vision test chart, which illustrates how we are more prone to see differences than similarities. Understanding visual information requires thoughtful looking—it is the only way to understand the universal connectedness we have to all things visible and knowable.
Night Journey 68: Shelter from the Storm: Matisse Reigning in My Head
Soren Kierkegaard asserts, “It is one thing to think and another to exist in the thought.” This aptly describes the cognitive action that I am trying to project in my current painting series, Shelter from the Storm. Creating art requires the action of projecting thoughts from one’s own existence into an alternate state of being, which resides within the reality of the artwork. This action, which transpires in thought, becomes an escape from the man-made chaos of the world in which we live. This painting and those in its series are meant to be, as in the Dylan song title, a Shelter from the Storm.
The title of Night Journey 68 is a word play on the phonetic sounds of “rain” and “reign.” My escapism places me in Matisse’s painting, Interior with Goldfish Bowl. The view through the window exhibits Matisse’s papercut acrobat raining down from the sky. Symbolically, Matisse’s room serves as a shelter, with the acrobats representing the outside world tumbling around me. I have always greatly admired the aesthetic calm Matisse creates in his paintings through the reductionism, linear lyricism and rhythmic patterns of his work, and in my mind he reigns supreme in the pantheon of great artists.
I am not immune to the calamities of this world’s reality, but through painting I can seek a reprieve from its insanities. Like many artists, I project into my work, and in doing so leave the external world behind. It is in this state of altered reality that I feel most at home and best able to find and project my voice back into the deeply troubled reality of the day to day world in which we live.
Night Journey 36: The Amazing Juggler
The title and principal figure of this painting is appropriated from Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s 1952 painting titled The Amazing Juggler. I first encountered this painting as a teenager on an art scholarship to the Des Moines Art Center. The Amazing Juggler was my first encounter with art that deployed visual symbols to construct a narrative meaning. In my naïve artlessness, the painting was indecipherable, and the museum lacked an explanatory text. What Kuniyoshi had required of me was to stop seeing paintings as objects and to start understanding them as dialogues, created for the purpose of contemplation. As I developed more visual literacy, the painting’s cryptic images formed a clear and understandable narrative.
Kuniyoshi painted The Amazing Juggler at the height of the Cold War, in the midst of the anxiety of the nuclear holocaust. In 19th and early 20th Century western cultures, clowns were often used as symbols to denote the folly of special interest politicians, with masks representative of their subterfuge. The performers behind the juggler in Kuniyoshi’s painting are chaotic, fearful, and out of control, and the tent is disintegrating. The translation I surmise from Kuniyoshi’s narrative symbols is that politicians are carelessly juggling the lives of all humanity through their acts of narcissistic self-interest, which will ultimately lead to the disintegration of organized societies and the end of the world.
Night Journey 36 has two agendas: One is to note my reoccurring acquaintances with the painting through place and time; the other is to convey my interpretation of Kuniyoshi’s painting and how its narrative meaning remains relevant in my own moment in time.
To represent my cyclical interactions with the painting, I reconfigured the figurative elements of the Kuniyoshi painting to form a circular composition. Embedded within the circle are two remembrances of viewing the painting, depicted as younger ghost images of myself. The multiple echoed line-figure on the right is tethered by line to both to the juggler’s bicycle and to my past contemplative relationships with the painting. In the depiction of this ongoing relationship of viewer and painting, what I hope to make visibly evident is that only the Kuniyoshi painting has the sustenance of actual existence, as compared to the transient fleeting moments of my human existence. The painting I had encountered in Iowa was conceived and painted in New York City. When I painted Night Journey 36, I was living and working in New York City, which impressed upon me a circular expression of time and space. This impression became the reasoning for the multi-layering ghost imaging of the New York Cityscape, which, like human existence, is always in a state of change and, due to its placement on earth, is in constant motion.
The second intent of the painting was to add a personal interpretation to Kuniyoshi’s painting by reinforcing its meaning by referencing the historical event of 911. To clarify the perils of human existence at the hands of our world leaders, I changed one of the juggling balls to the planet earth. The centrally located planet earth has a circular trajectory of smoke emanating from the burning World Trade Center in the cityscape at the right edge of the painting. This visual device is meant to connect the responsibility for the tragedy of 911 to the actions of our political leaders. In conspiracy with other world leaders, our leaders are directly responsible for the divisive, self-interest policies that created the conditions of resentment and hatred that provoked the violence of retaliation that deepened the irreconcilable differences separating one individual, one religion, and one nation from another, blinding all to the humane common interests that inspire peaceful coexistence.
Night Journey 59: How to Draw a Bunny in the Shadow of God
Possibilities are projections of the mind and actuality is the product of choice. The prerequisite for choosing is the ability to visualize potential and anticipate the consequences of impending actions. Choice is the internal confrontation during which the mind ultimately transforms the abstraction of possibility into the concreteness of being.
Art is created from the confrontational actions of choice and exists to confront and engage viewers in a constructivist dialogue. Art itself does not express actualities, but rather represents potentials that are the product of the imagination. It is the imagination that has the capacity to release art from reality to venture into the realm of the absurd.
It is often through the lens of the absurd that reality becomes more visible and understandable. It becomes a creative means to think about choices, actions, and complacency. Therefore, art is not factual, but merely the impetus for the mind’s imagination.
Night Journey 59 fuses the title of a documentary on artist Ray Johnson, How to Draw a Bunny, with the philosophical term, “in the shadow of God,” coined by Existential philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, in response to the Enlightenment movement. In the documentary, it was revealed that Johnson’s last work of art may have been the performance of his suicide. The term imaginatively represents man killing God and ascending to God’s throne. The connection I wish to draw from the fusion of film title and philosophical term is that man’s faith solely in his own rationality results in suicide.
Rationalism challenges the existence of God. The 19th Century philosophical debate centered on the consequences of a world without God. Religion represented a moral code that enforced a social structure, and the absence of God was feared to lead to nihilism and the collapse of orderly, stratified societies. The intelligentsia was skeptical that common and uneducated people were capable of thinking rationally and acting morally without the threat of God. Therefore, a rational man deified by empirical knowledge must ascend to the guiding and ruling position of the displaced God to maintain the integrity and stability of the new world order.
The rationalist scenario, as philosopher Nietzsche pointed out, calls for the revaluation of values. The universal religious moral code of behavioral conduct is replaced by a new code of national values favorable to the interests of a nation state. In creating a national moral code, murder, deceit, and theft can be sanctioned against all perceived enemies of the state. The world is divided into us and them, and humanity is lost forever.
The absurd lens of this painting is fashioned through the use of symbolism. The overarching theme is the light of Enlightenment, which leads to darkness and the fall of mankind. In the dark area on the left of the painting is a reproduction of Albrecht Duer’s print of Adam and Eve. In the Christian religion, the act of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge represents the fall of man. The evil of Satan, represented in snake form, is the agent of man’s fall from grace, leading to the justification and acceptance of human suffering as a condition of life. If man can ascend to the throne of God, as depicted by the figure riding the cloud, then man must also descend to the throne of Satan. The head of the man-God is attached to the serpent of the Adam and Eve scene painted into the background; this suggests that man can be good and evil, as well as perceive himself to be good while being evil.
I make no allusions to reality in this painting. Night journey is a surrealist term for the dream; the entire painting visually reads as a dream and an eternal nightmare that has plagued humanity since the end of WWII. The nocturnal rabbit is often used as a symbol indicating the painting is depicting a dream, which would allow departures from rational reality. There are three characters in the painting that are drawing rabbits to symbolize the creation of their dreams, which represents the potential of their lives. The man-God is drawing Ray Johnson bunnies, suggesting a chosen path of genocide and suicide. The choices and actions of the man-god alter or destroy the dreams of future generations.
The last notable symbol in the painting is a bag of frozen cherries. Cherries, either on a window sill or visible outside of a window, have been used traditionally as a symbol of the paradise (Eden) that mankind lost due to its own actions, as portrayed in the story of Adam and Eve. The bag of frozen cherries is a 21st Century adaptation of the symbol; they have been placed inside a student’s desk, where learning is meant to take place. The lesson we have learned is that being human means living in a world where we take care of ourselves and of our own, even at the expense of others if need be, and therefore we continue to live in a state of fallen grace. The lesson to be learned is that paradise can be found when we end human suffering for all mankind in a world where “them” and “us” become the all-inclusive “we.” How we have wisely or irresponsibly chosen to act in the past presents the matrix for the future. The future is dependent on how we confront the choices of the present. This artwork, so absurdly structured, is designed to be confrontational by reminding its viewers that the future demands choices and actions to prevent the absurd from becoming a reality.
Night Journey 49: Abstürzender/The Twilight of Idolatry
On the left is an image of Max Beckmann’s painting Abstürzender (Falling Man). At the time of the 911 World Trade Center attacks, when I learned that the victims were jumping from the towers, my mind recalled Abstürzender.
In this painting, I combine the burning buildings of the World Trade Center on the right with the burning buildings of the Beckmann painting on the left, by means of smoke traveling through the deconstructed space that separates the painting’s window from the reproduction of the Beckmann painting. The view through the window on the right of the painting establishes the historical time and place, while the Beckmann painting provides the emotional climate.
To these symbiotic images I add the cause of 911, and similar tragedies, in the form of a false gold idol. The idol is the love of money, represented by the Washington dollar head on the body of Venus, the love goddess. The dragonfly is a symbol of power, and the golden idol standing atop the dragonfly pedestal establishes the relationship between wealth and power. The light, borrowed from Picasso’s Guernica, Illuminates the world of destruction we have created.
The U.S. flag has become an idol, complete with mythological and chameleon leaders who disguise special and self-interested greed as patriotic, national interest. The theme does not revolve around the depicted events, but rather around the architects who construct the policies of division and destruction. The masks they wear cannot disguise their lies, and the torch they carry for liberty and freedom is not real.
Night Journey 48: We Sleep In the World We Make
I see conflict not as a present, singular moment, but as a layered summation of time that is, as yet, incomplete and unresolved. Additionally, I am blind to the concepts of good, just, right, or wrong in the construction of conflict with devastating consequences. I find myself in agreement with Aristotle’s statement that we learn more from art than we do from history. There are few works of art that psychologically analyze and dissect the human nature of war better than Homer’s Iliad, just as there is no better example of the inhumane totality of contemporary conflict as depicted by Picasso’s Guernica. I think the difference is that history favors a cyclopean nationalist view of events and circumstances, whereas the artist has the parallax view of humanism.
In this painting, I use elements of Guernica as symbols to illuminate and connect the viewer back to the origins of indiscriminant and inhumane warfare that have become the standard for modern conflict. The striped clothing of the sleeping person is meant to reference the concentration camp uniforms of the Holocaust, which in turn represent the magnification of centuries of social, religious, and ethnic intolerance. The use of Guernica symbols and the overlay of a war torn, Middle Eastern city fused with a view of 911 is an attempt to thread a line from the indiscriminant killings of national warfare to the indiscriminant killings of terrorism. They are both actions relating to the false ideal that the end justifies the means, wherein each act of inhumanity diminishes the chances for the desired outcome.
The severed Guernica horse head mimics the warning scene from the movie The Godfather. The painting itself is meant to be a warning to a society ignorant of the suffering it has helped to create in the world. In causing suffering, we have unwittingly become victims of our actions and now must create barriers to circumvent the world we have created.