Outlaws was a series of small paintings that I did back in 2006. They were dark pieces, painted in a deep almost-black sepia, where the light of figures emerge from the darkness. There was a sense of desperation in each of these figures, a sort of inner struggle that overflowed to the outer world, that gave the series its title. They are not necessarily breakers of the law but they are outside it, away from central stream of the world. Outcasts more than pure outlaws. Some of the characters held handguns, mainly in fearful, defensive positions. The exception was the piece shown above, The Kid, which is most aggressive piece in the series and the one that most closely fits the textbook definition of outlaw.
In most of my work, there are elements that take on symbolic meaning. The Red Tree. The Red Chair and Red Roofs. The artifacts found underground in the Archaeology series.These things evoke some sort of private meaning for most viewers, mostly familiar and gentle to them. The handgun does this as well, although the reaction is definitely more extremely polarized. I wanted a symbol that raised extreme emotion, wanted to see how people reacted.
Many people were disturbed by the imagery because it was so far from the gentler alter-world I normally paint. It had elements of fear and other darker emotions that are usually absent from my signature work. The handgun piece, predictably, was the most disturbing to most people. I have described here before how the pieces that showed the central figure looking through a window became a litmus test for a person’s own level of fear or, at least, understanding of the fears of other people. Some people saw the figure as a threat, peering in the window from the outside, ready to invade their home. Others saw them as a figure looking out the window from the interior, fearful and haunted. Although this result was not intended, it pleased me that it raised such distinctly different points of view.
I suppose this is akin to the way people view the ongoing debate on gun control. Each sees gun control in different ways. I grew up around guns. My father wore a gun to work every day and we always had guns in the house. Most people I knew hunted and had guns. I remember my grand-uncle taking me on an early morning walk when I was about 5 years old. We walked down to the cove, an inlet along the Chemung River where people dumped their trash, which was not that uncommon at the time, unfortunately. He sat up several coffee cans and bottles and stood behind me, putting his arms around me to help me steady the heavy blue steel of the handgun he took from his holster. I remember the thrill of the jolt from the blast and the clang of the can. The pungent smell of gunsmoke in my nostrils and the pointy ringing in my unprotected ears. It is an indelible memory.
I don’t have a gun now and haven’t shot a gun in several years. Can’t stand the noise, to tell the truth. But I respect the rights of hunters and shooters and feel that guns do have a place in our country. That being said, the current debate has become poisoned by the fearful hyperbole perpetrated by the NRA and other advocates. Any form of gun control is seen by them as the first move towards some fascist, dystopian future, a paranoia which prevents any sort of dialogue based on common sense. They oppose any laws , any registries and almost all oversight. They say that the laws on the book now should be enforced but they say it with a wink because they know that they have effectively disabled the effectiveness of this enforcement though crafty lobbying which has led to underfunded agencies such as the undermanned ATF which are hampered in their efforts at every turn by restrictions imposed by lawmakers who are very friendly with the gun lobby . Until we begin to look at how these agencies can once again be allowed to enforce the laws currently on the book as they are written, new gun law legislation is a moot point and a distraction from the fact that the enforcement of any new laws is toothless by their design.
Unfortunately, they are a powerful and well funded lobby that knows how to play on the fears of gun owners. They make people who are at no risk of losing any guns or the right to use them believe that the gun apocalypse is near. They want to stay in the extreme position because that is where fear is created. They need that fear and they play on that fear. It sells guns and ammo and that is the bottom line. It’s not about the Second Amendment, it’s not about stopping a Fascist American government and it’s certainly not about making us safer. Their efforts certainly haven’t made any of us feel any safer, gun owners included. The characters in these painting have guns and they certainly don’t seem any more at ease for it.
Free the agencies responsible to fully enforce the law…