On the same day that a white Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, entered by "mistake" the apartment of an unarmed 26-year-old a black man Botham Shem Jean and fatally shot him in his own apartment (she claims she thought it was her apartment and he was an intruder; she is now charged with manslaughter; this is America), a new show opened at Gallery 110 in Pioneer Square. The show, titled Angry White Men by David Haughton, features 12 paintings of images taken from global news sources depicting neo-Nazis, gun advocates, nationalists, and the “disenfranchised.” The show also features four portraits from Haughton’s mug shot series. Anders Behring Breivik, Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., and Dylan Roof are among those shown. The timing of this show is, to say the least, bizarre.
How did it come to be that 16 portraits representing white supremacists become a part of the Art Walk? The story: Gallery 110 is a member-owned cooperative gallery, meaning, the artists each curate their own shows; sometimes in collaboration with each other—such as with Angry White Men and Li Turner’s Notorious Women. From what I understand, both Haughton and Li Turner are happy and excited about showing alongside one another. Haughton, most known for his whimsical landscape paintings, is white and a citizen of the United States but lives and works out of Vancouver, BC. He is also a pediatric emergency doctor and described his exploration of darker topics, such as the morality of modern medicine and his "The Face of Evil" series, as an attempt to explain the pain and trauma he witnessed in hospitals. What kind of pain and trauma is Angry White Men trying to explain?
Why did Haughton want us to look at these recreations of mug shots and violent newspaper images? Who is the audience? What are we supposed to take away from this show? These are some of the questions I posed directly to him (he was at the gallery this Saturday), and the answers were, not surprisingly, riddled with indecisiveness and prompted verbal shrugging from Haughton.
He doesn’t know. The paintings are, in his words, arbitrary. In our interview I couldn’t believe this. These images are everything, absolutely everything, except arbitrary. This article is being published on the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which is one of the High Holy Days in Judaism and culminates on the Day of Atonement. This is a time of reflection, introspection, and worship for us and while others attended temple last night, I stayed home to write this; the word "arbitrary" ringing through my phone as I listened to the recording of my interview.
As knowledge of the show spread, a confrontation between the artist and a local black DJ took place in the gallery. The portraits prompted the young man to, rightfully, question Haughton directly about his decision to put price tags on the paintings–specifically the one of Dylan Roof. Haughton told me about the confrontation as if completely shocked it took place: “I don’t disagree with his viewpoint, this guy [Roof] happens to be a very evil guy, but his name isn’t there, the title is ironic, 'Fellow Christian'…I am actually thankful to the guy who posed the question... except he didn’t pose it as a question he just yelled at me.” (I tried to find the identity of the local man who pointed this out to Haughton to get his side of the events but was unsuccessful. I still hope to meet with him and discuss what took place.)
The lack of direct identification of Dylan Roof is erroneous as the image itself, blown up and overbearing, is clear enough. This man, who caused so much pain (he killed nine black people in South Carolina church and was openly a white nationalist), is now a work of art. Surprisingly, Haughton himself believes that only a select group of individuals have issues with the work shown; but in reality, there seems to be a cavernous divide between the established profitable galleries, such as the Greg Kucera (who came out in support of the show via an email, claims Haughton) and the POC/queer/community based arts spaces which prioritize social justice and the expressions of the marginalized.
There is no way to paint such work without it being highly politicized and conveying a privileged and aggressive message. The painter is white. The killers are white. The strong emotional reaction from the surrounding community should have been expected, and this work should not have been shown without taking into consideration the national tensions regarding gun violence, the pain surrounding the continuous murdering of POC and queer individuals, rising racism across the Americas and Europe, and the brazen public stance that white nationalists have taken.
The newspaper clippings and online images used by Haughton are taken from moments of severe fear and trauma, not experienced by the "angry white man" but rather, their victims, and so, the replication of this work into portraiture is coming across as another white man taking a privileged position in which he is emotionally protected from the images he is presenting. Now, if that were the intent of the artist—to offend or challenge—this might be a slightly different review, but Haughton comes across as ignorant to the impact of showing this series.
In response to my question asking what he hoped community members would take away from the show he stated, “I just want to be a painter and I am exploring it by just sort of saying arbitrarily that I am going to paint this and thus explore it.” When a white man today forces work like this, when one replicates evil-as-art in such a passé way, you lose your ability to claim to be ‘just a painter’ and instead enter the battle for marginalized voices to be heard over the privileged. Furthermore, Haughton himself has surpassed his ability to be a simple landscape painter and is instead subject to the conceptual criticism of the community—except there doesn’t even appear to be a strong concept here.