The painting that I chose for this assignment does not have a particular name. However, it is very well-known throughout the world, as are many of the other murals that accompany it at Denver International Airport. The paintings, painted by Leo Tanguma, are said to depict unity and peace among all races and ethnicities of mankind. The artist is well known for his artistic contributions to society, focusing primarily on unity, social equality, and human dignity. (Lettieri & Tanguma) While the artist is the only one who can understand their work to the fullest, this painting seems to depict war and death more than anything.
The painting depicts a ghostlike figure wearing a gas mask. He appears to have slain a multitude of sorrowful-looking people, with a dove sticking out of the edge of his scimitar. One might assume that this painting would evoke a sense of fear in people who look at it. What is notable about this painting and the artist who painted it is that there are three of his other murals throughout the airport. These, among other notable artistic choices displayed throughout the airport, have stemmed multiple conspiracy theories regarding war and destruction. (The Sun)
The self-explanatory painting seems to explain the other paintings that he created that are on display throughout the airport. One of them also focuses on people from all parts of the globe gathering around this same Nazi-looking figure. The attached painting evokes not only a sense of fear in the viewer, but of wonder as well. War certainly seems to be a common them in this painting, as well as the other ones. Moreover, the other paintings seem to depict peace and unity. What is ironic is that this painter is known to paint based his humanist views, meant to promote dignity and world peace while the main focus of these particular paintings seems to revolve a being that resembles death.
While it is a morose theory, I believe that the concept of war is utilized subtly in Tanguma’s paintings. The recurring figure in these paintings can only be described as pure evil. Many critics agree that it resembles a Nazi soldier, especially in the discussed painting. In this painting, it is killing people and bringing sorrow unto them. I believe that this is symbolic of the catastrophe that was World War II. Moreover, I believe that the other painting symbolize common unity after death and destruction has befallen the planet. I think that the underlying theme suggests that only through war can be bring near-complete destruction upon ourselves as a world. After this, unity and acceptance of anything that is proposed to promote it will bring about the artist’s view of “world peace”.
One thing that stood out to me was the Artist’s artistic background. I believe that people, especially influential figures, have tendencies to misrepresent themselves and their ideals. While this artist claims to be promoting his usual themes in this painting, one can’t help but question the menacing soldier in it, let alone it’s recurrence in a different painting. What stood out to me is that many of the holocaust’s victims (i.e., Jews) passed the time in concentration camps by painting and creating their own art. Based on a lot of it, the themes that are portrayed don’t seem to be as profound as Tanguma’s. Many of them are simplistic and self-explanatory in nature, depicting the world from the perspectives of victims. (Rogers)
These impressions are based on my own. Since the meaning of art is a matter of personal interpretation, there is no way to truly comprehend the full meaning without consulting the artist. However, Tenguma undoubtedly works death and war into his murals with contrasting intentions. Personally, this painting excited me in an unsettling way upon first looking at it. Amazed by the colors and the way in which people are depicted in such a miserable state, I am still at a loss as to how this should truly be interpreted. I would have to assume that the artist intended it to directly correlate to the other painting portraying this same figure. If anything, it may also have some applicability to the other paintings by Tanguma in the airport as well. Per the artist’s background and the other paintings, I believe that he intends to use war and death to promote eventual peace and unity among all races and ethnicities.
I personally do not believe that the artist achieves this through his work. I say this based on my own philosophy, as the paintings stir up unsettling and confusing feelings within me. Historically speaking, reunification often comes through war and social collapse. To promote it to achieve the goal of world peace seems rather grotesque to me, though. What makes it especially nerve-racking is that this is portrayed very vividly, using bright colors and an almost childlike, light-hearted demeanor. These are my own personal interpretations. Many conspiracy theories and alternative perceptions of this painting have been posed. Regardless of the author’s true intentions behind evoking emotion through his work, it certainly caught my attention. The thought of war was the first one that came to mind upon first looking at this painting, and it left me with a feeling of anxiety. I believe that the artist’s painting is most definitely effective in that it evokes such strong emotion, as it does so in a very profound and controversial manner.
- Lettieri, Monica, and Leo Tanguma. “Cultural Identity and Ethnic Dignity in Chicano Mural Art: An Interview with Leo Tanguma.” Confluencia, vol. 16, no. 2, 2001, www.jstor.org/stable/27922802?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.
- Rogers, Thomas. “Art from the Holocaust: The Stories Behind the Images.” BBC, BBC, 3 Feb. 2016, www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160203-art-from-the-holocaust-the-stories-behind-the-images. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.
- The Sun. “The airport which launched a thousand conspiracy theories.” Fox News, Fox News, 30 Mar. 2016, www.foxnews.com/travel/2016/03/30/airport-which-launched-thousand-conspiracy-theories.html. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.