Social Conflicts in America

Since the late 1990s I have created nearly 150 of TV spots, promotional films and documentaries for companies, non-profits and entrepreneurs, as well as animations and commercials to promote my art and my business. In 2005 I have was asked to create a video to promote a local non-profit founded to help stimulate conversation between ethnic groups. The Media Fellowship House was founded in 1944 based on a racial incident in Media, Delaware County and the collaboration of two woman, one white and one black, who helped to break down barriers of discrimination in the community.

Working with the theme, over an eleven year period I wrote and produce two videos for MFH: Words of the Heart, the story of Dorothy James and her great, great grandfather Thomas Garrett; and America in Black, White and Many Colors, a 20 minute history of discrimination of immigrants as well as African Americans after reaching the shores of the United States.

Both films consumed me and transformed me in many ways, but as a painter, I had never used my art for social or political purposes. After my fun romp with The Movies and Music of Hollywood, I thought it was time to address some serious issues.

My initial idea was wars and conflicts, but after counting the number of wars and adding them to other types of conflicts, the project seemed baffling and confusing.
Prohibition - acrylic on canvas - 36" x 24"

My friend Bob Bucceri suggest that I narrow the subject down to just “social conflicts.”  With that concept in place I needed to decide what those conflicts might be...and over what period of time...and where. I narrowed the time frame down to the 20th Century, limited the conflicts down to those only in United States, and then began thinking of how I might express the conflicts in paintings.

Historically, the movement for the prohibition of alcohol in 1920 proved to be controversial and multidimensional. There were reasons from opposing sides for conflict. Drinking alcohol was part of the culture of the French, Irish, Italians and Germans...and part of the religious ceremonies of the Catholics and Jews. Many immigrants worked lowly, back breaking jobs and sought relief in the “bottle” often squandering away their paychecks on drink and male companionship at days end. Many woman supported prohibition to keep their husbands away from bars and certain Protestant religious groups believed that alcohol was destructive to homes and communities.

In a larger sense, prohibition had always been a part of our culture. Opiates, ownership of weapons and prostitution have existed since man first walked on the earth, and throughout those scores of centuries the effectiveness of laws supposedly protecting people from the use of drugs, guns and sex have continually failed to prevent people from procuring them.

So, as the initial painting in my series became, “Prohibition.” The visuals depicts police supervising “beer” being dumped into the gutters of the streets, a poster promoting the 36th state ratification of the amendment to vote the country dry, and a group of women with plaquereds picketing for "BEER' in 1933. Across the top of the painting the street scene is covered with blood, as is what happened when alcohol became illegal and the crime syndicates took over.

My guess is that what is prohibited becomes more desirable, and that some will follow any rule, while others will be guided by their morality, social mores desires, and personal demons.

What followed in the series were five paintings: Gay Rights, Religious Freedom, Discrimination,
Religious Freedom - acrylic on canvas - 36" x 24"
and Woman’s Rights. My mission was to present the issue without commentary, though this was somewhat difficult. Of course, I have my opinions, but in any conflict there are practical, moral and personal reasons for people to take sides. A woman who is abused by her husband when he is drunk, may be highly in favor of the prohibition of alcohol, and a person brought up with beliefs in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, may be outraged by the thought of the biblical union of two men.

In painting Censorship I picked a diverse assortment of books prohibited at one time or another from being published, or placed in schools or libraries in areas of the United States. The background of the painting shows a book burning, and the books themselves, painted with their original covers, includes  The Catcher in the Rye, banned from many schools in 1950s, but made part of the curriculum in many others in the 1960s. The painting also includes Uncle Tom's Cabin, D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, and Catch 22, a novel about the insanity of the Korean War.

The painting Religious Freedom contains symbolic writing from the Koran, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Buddha, and most notably a portrait of James Madison and his almost singularly written Bill of Rights.

Discrimination - acrylic on canvas - 36" x 24"
Overall, the series is meant to provoke questions, not answer them. Womens’ Rights includes suffragists, Gloria Steinem, Molly Brown, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt. Each person of different generations and backgrounds had her own view of what it meant to be free and what it meant to be a woman in a male dominated world.

Discrimination, though showing black protests of the '60s, offers a sign from Texas that restricts Spanish or Mexicans from service expanding the notion of prejudice and how it can vary from state to state and generation to generation.

Yes, the work is more a social statement than a work of art, and could include many other social conflicts such as Workers’ Rights, the treatment of veteran’s and homelessness. Pictorially, for now, six was enough to open up conversation on the issues rather than viewing opinions as right or wrong.

Click here to view and discover more about the series, Social Conflicts in America. 

Click to Chapter 20: 20th Century American Writers