CO Flag: now in Indiana

CO Flag, enamel on found door panel, 2004. Collection of Mennonite Church USA.

 Hi friends. An older painting of mine has been accepted into the (brand new) collection of artwork in the (also brand new) building of the Mennonite Church USA headquarters in Elkhart, IN. Below is the short blurb to help viewers engage with the (admittedly) minimal image. I'd be interested in your feedback, as well.

Several years ago, I was working my way through a book by Perry Bush, entitled Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America, a study of the gradual transition of Mennonites from quietism to active pacifism, and happened upon a passage which piqued my interest on the psychological impact of color. During World War II, when there was a heightened animosity against conscientious objectors, an Ohio Mennonite place of business had, overnight, been splashed with a can of yellow paint. Yellow has long been associated with cowardice, and this is likely what the perpetrator was intending to convey. Being from the (at least outwardly) more politically-tolerant east coast, I was unfamiliar with this discriminatory practice, and it struck me as an opportunity for artistic experimentation.

My artistic approach has become fairly minimal, that is using a minimum of materials and components to convey a maximum of expression, so that connections often need to be sussed out by the viewer. This piece, CO Flag, was made easier by the fact that a friend of mine, knowing that I enjoyed painting on and engaging with found objects in my work, had given me an aluminum screen door panel, stamped with an iconic "barn-door" pattern. I decided to use it to experiment with the possibilities of yellow. The thought process was something like this: if one assumes that the perpetrator of the yellow-paint vandalism was doing that action because of perceived patriotism, and if one also assumes that the Mennonite victim of this crime also was, in their own way, trying to be a good citizen, what might be an expressive icon or symbol of that unusual common ground? In other words, what kind of flag (a calling-card of patriotism) would a conscientious objector (CO) have, or choose to have? And of course a little artistic tongue-in-cheek approach doesn't hurt.

Re-appropriating the cowardly color yellow, I made it the primary color of this flag, and squeezed it into a very basic representation of the American flag, and painted it on a door panel: another re-appropriation. One piece of advice to discriminated people is to take back something that was taken away, and make it new. This is also a part of the Gospel: old things have passed away; the new is here! My hope is that some of these connections were successful in this painting, and that it goes on as an encouragement to creative discussion -- and creation.

March 31, 2012.

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