Never Mind the Card–Say It With a Stamp

Though political art is often motivated by anger, it can be ineffective when it’s too angry and too didactic. On the other hand, such art can also lose its political punch when it’s open to multiple interpretations (even when that’s considered desirable aesthetically). It’s not clear exactly what Al Brandtner meant with his Patriot Act, a stamp showing President Bush with a revolver pointed at his head. But the Secret Service was intrigued. Carrying a copy of the Reader, which had a reproduction of the stamp on the cover of Section 2, they turned up at the April 7 opening of “Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin,” Columbia College’s exhibit of artist-created stamps, and photographed Brandtner’s piece. A Secret Service spokesman said afterward, “We just need to ensure as best we can that this is nothing more than artwork with a political statement.”

Artist provocateur Michael Hernandez de Luna has been creating his own faux stamps for years. In the fall of 2003, he writes in a wall label, he invited 47 artists from 11 countries to “reveal to us what they see as Evil.” The 127 stamp sheets in the exhibit target Hitler, suicide bombers, pedophile priests, and Pol Pot, among other subjects. Even a stamp that’s unambiguous on the surface can be misunderstood. Markus Greiner’s Citizen John Ashcroft has been described by the Sun-Times and the New York Times as showing the former attorney general’s face fashioned from “images of naked bodies at Abu Ghraib.” But the artist created his fleshy assemblage before the scandal broke, partly from a photo of Ashcroft’s face and partly from pictures of body fragments found on the Internet. Annoyed at this misinterpretation of his work, Greiner says using Rumsfeld would have been more appropriate if he’d wanted to comment on the torture at Abu Ghraib.

Some of the best designs combine powerful artistry with strong statements. Jon Langford’s elegantly ornate We Grow These in Texas uses an archaic-looking image of Uncle Sam holding skulls to critique the death penalty. Garland Kirkpartrick’s Jihad, a simple silhouette of a cowboy hat, reminded me that Bush referred to his war as a “crusade.” And Constantin V. Khudiakov’s odd Stalin Upper Dental Plate places two plates between the two halves of what looks like a Faberge egg: by juxtaposing Stalin’s expensive dental work with a classic symbol of czarist excess, he makes the case that there’s always a privileged ruling class.

The most moving piece here, also by Brandtner, Collateral Damage serves as a reminder that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, at least according to one estimate. Pointedly designed in the style of U.S. commemorative stamps with multiple images of a celebrated event on a single sheet, this antiheroic commentary includes six depictions of badly injured civilians.

Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin

Where: Columbia College Glass Curtain Gallery, 1104 S. Wabash

When: Through May 11

Info: 312-344-6650

Pomo Painter

Jackie Tileston’s 12 dreamy, collagelike paintings and works on paper at Zg reflect her diverse heritage: these postmodern images incorporate fragments from Chinese paintings, 19th-century French wallpaper, and Japanese woodcuts. Tileston’s American father and mother met in Manila, where they married and she was born, and she grew up in Bombay, London, and Paris, where her father worked for an American bank. Tileston’s mother, who was raised in Shanghai, collected Chinese paintings; only as an undergrad at Yale did Tileston study modern art. At first pursuing detailed realism, she began making abstract works several years after an instructor called her a “highlights on the eyeball” painter.

Tileston’s postmodern approach grew out of the reading she began doing after getting her MFA at Indiana University in 1988. Her upbringing in different countries predisposed her to reject overarching narratives in favor of multiple viewpoints. “This is how I grew up,” she says. It made complete sense to her that “our identity and reality is a construction of everything we were exposed to,” and she began collaging found images, which led to the work in the present show.

Tileston also began practicing meditation as a way of “emptying the mind of chatter” and started including diverse elements in a sort of continuum. Wavy Pixels is a provocative mix of line drawings of Asian deities with colored blobs–painted from the pixels created by using a Photoshop filter on a tiny portion of an Indian miniature. The Real, the Unreal, Scones for Tea combines bright, hard-edged blue and orange lines enlarged from a fragment of sky in a Chinese painting with a wallpaper design showing Europeans encountering Indians in the New World. Fuzzy clouds in pastel colors contrast with the precisely delineated figures, while drips of paint call into question all these representations. Tileston says she was trying to capture the “Taoist idea of emptiness giving rise to ‘the 10,000 things,’ the stuff of the world, and dissolving back to emptiness.”

Jackie Tileston

Where: Zg, 300 W. Superior

When: Through May 7

Info: 312-654-9900

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Fred Camper.