Artist Bryan Anthony Moore’s exhibit titled “Washington B.C.” opened May 14 at Ming Studios. The exhibit features watercolors, sculptures and a kind of collage that showcases Moore’s historical and archival research. The watercolors are a reimagining of different historical figures and the mythic construction of their tales.
In the piece “Adams vs. Jefferson” the well-known historical figures are given pre-historic bodies; Adams is drawn as a pterodactyl and Jefferson is given a turtle-ish/Godzilla type form. The two are fighting, but as Moore posits in his description of the painting, they became quite good friends later in life. Moore writes, “Adams, ever the aristocrat, sports rouge and sharp teeth, his skeleton is exposed, and his ribs are shorn in an uncovering of various strata of myth and history. He has raked his talons across Jefferson’s face. His leg has been scraped and his wing torn in this clash of primordial American demi-gods.”
“Adams vs. Jefferson” is just one example of the way that Moore has combined art with historical research to show the way in which history can be manipulated, leading to narratives that don’t always reflect the truth.
The exhibit is something to be seen. The watercolors pull your eyes in and then as the viewer begins to take in the accompanying historical research exhibited with it, the meaning of the painting slowly unfolds. It leaves one to reflect on the nature of how nostalgia and myth muddles historical interpretation.
BW interviewed Moore to get a deeper perspective on this exhibit, how he started the process and what’s next on the horizon. The exhibit runs until June 26, and the studio is hosting an artist talk at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 18. People can learn more at Moore’s website or Ming Studios.
BW: Your new exhibit “Washington B.C.” features watercolors, sculptures, archival and historical research. How did it all come together, and how long has this project taken?
BM: The genesis of this body of work was a series of detailed pencil drawings that began in late 2012. Over the ensuing years these drawings have been added to and translated into watercolors and sculptures. I have been researching American history for many years, and this is reflected in my work. In 2012 I was sketching in my notebook in a coffee shop and drew Abraham Lincoln‘s head on a sauropod dinosaur’s body. I immediately realized that there was something important going on within that drawing. … Preindustrial times are so hard to imagine today that they become mythical times that are ripe for propaganda. There was a visual metaphor with this large dinosaur body in that the heroes of American history have been elevated to primordial giants in our collective consciousness — they have achieved the status of saints or demigods in a sort of nationalistic religion. Think of the Apotheosis of George Washington or of the Lincoln Monument wherein a giant Abe is seated in a temple like Zeus. These characters are the Titans or giants of our collective origin mythos.
BW: The art is also supplemented with audio. Can you please explain how this adds to the viewers understanding of the work, and what the audio is about?
BM: The audio describes what is going on within each artwork, the references, anecdotes and points of interest.
BW: The paintings look modern, mystical and classic, all at the same time. Can you speak to how putting these components together creates the meaning you’re conveying?
BM: I am visually referencing scientific illustrations from the age of discovery (think Audubon) on back to medieval bestiaries. This has to do with the classification and illustration or illumination of creatures real or mythical, or in my case both. The mid-century dinosaur illustrations of Rudolph Zallinger are a major influence. They are so finely rendered and they showed in minute detail the beliefs about prehistoric creatures at the time that they were created. … People believed dinosaurs such as sauropods were too heavy to support themselves on land and lived an aquatic lifestyle like hippos. They believed that T. rex walked and stood erect like a kangaroo and dragged its tail like a serpent. These beliefs have since been overturned. Prehistory, like national history, is continually rewritten. Comic books are an inspiration. ... Heroes that are purely altruistic battle purely evil foes. Japanese Kaiju, classical art, surrealism and magic realism all find their way into my influences. I am depicting a time of legend made up of fact, fiction, selective edits and glaring omissions.
BW: If history should be viewed more subjectively than scientifically, how does your work push that narrative, and is there anything you learned in your research that specifically opened this idea to you?
BM: History is often treated as if it were a science rather than belonging to the world of subjective interpretation.
This body of work is not striving to specifically criticize or lionize historical figures such as George Washington. This work is an investigation and critique of the way in which our nationalist history is constructed.
The United States is not unique in this mythical construction. Every nation has a founding myth that is very slanted towards the glorification of that nation, ignoring its warts and underbelly.
Although I had long been deeply skeptical, in my investigations I learned things that truly surprised me. The myth of the United States being a so-called Christian nation and that the Founding Fathers were part of some orthodox Christian monolith was completely shattered. I had always known it to be a myth, but the extent to which it was an untruth was really shocking. When I read the words that the founding fathers such as Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Thomas Paine wrote both publicly and privately, I found a group of very liberal-thinking, open-minded individuals that disbelieved many of the tenets of mainstream religious thought. I will say though that their liberalism often ended there, as they were also slave owners and men of their time with all of the nasty vices that accompanied it.
This is just one of many things one learns with even a casual survey of more objective historical documents such as the national archives, where you can read the Founders’ original words in their own writings in both private letters and published works. In these writings you can discover our political roots without having them parsed by history book publishers that have to tow the official myth-story in order to sell textbooks to state boards of education.
BW: Can you tell us what your next project will be, or is there anything else on the horizon with your work?
BM: As far as my next project goes this series is ongoing, and I don’t feel that I have fully resolved it yet. There will likely be many additions. I also work on large installations wherein I paper or Tyvek large gallery spaces from floor to ceiling and render loose Sumi ink drawings on a huge scale. These large relatively quick works contrast with my smaller more time consuming pieces.