Michael Scoggins’ Americansim at Weil Gallery

November 19th, 2016  |  Published in October/November 2016

Michael Scoggins’ Americansim opened at the Weil Gallery on September sixteenth and ran through the eighteenth of October.  Scoggins’ exhibited work dates as far back as 2007, and it’s absolutely soul shaking how relevant these images have remained especially as I regard them now in lieu of the results of the presidential election. Nobody thought the election would turn out as it did, and many of us have taken the news incredibly hard to heart. Over the past several days,  I have read about the fears, anxieties, physical reactions ranging from sickness to panic attacks, and thankfully, calls to action from my friends. I have felt emotionally gutted, and have been prone to outbursts of crying. I don’t think anyone has a viable answer for the future, and yet again mostly we are sitting on our cushy American asses.

Looking back on Scoggins’ show is completely different for me now than it was when I first created the word document on my computer little more than thirty days ago. Each piece resonates with a new reality that has been clawing demon scrit into the back of my skull since I woke up Wednesday the morning after. People are trying to pick up the pieces after the proverbial rape of our cultural consciousness. Jerry Saltz’s Instagram is a series of thoughtfully dissenting political memes hand written on legal pad paper that oddly enough reminds me of Scoggins’ paintings every time they roll past on my vision screen.

In a culture that has been in many ways uniformly affected, we seem to have very little to offer in the form of a unified response. Where I am there has been no organizing, on the gulf coast of Texas everybody seems perfectly fine with what’s just gone down. It is now, perhaps more than ever before in this country, that voices of dissent become life lines. Inasmuch as I sometimes feel that material items have replaced the currency of culture, images are powerful, and there is strength in their communicative resistance. It is of the utmost importance that in times like these the work not stop, falter, or abdicate for some brief mirage of normalcy. January might as well be now. The Goon Squad might as well be at your door. Insofar as Scoggins’ work is concerned, the writing was on the wall; he’s been writing paintings throughout the Obama presidency. Images such as these, and their continuance, are those that I look toward now when I need reminding that all’s been added to evil is the agency of institution. If I were starting a small anarcho-syndicalist cooperative community I would appoint Scoggins my minister of intercommunity dissent. I hope that one day I might still be able to do so.

Scoggins’ lives in New York. He really wants to go see the Nixon paintings at Hauser & Wirth and for the time being is more focused on being out in the streets protesting than making his paintings. I think he is a great guy. He describes his career as a right place right time sort of scenario, and offered ample advice to the students at TAMUCC during his artist lecture. He is far and away one of the most professional artists I’ve written about and has been exceedingly generous with his time. Scoggins’ work is a product of process. Its export is political and left leaning, and personally, I love the stuff.

Commies Everywhere
marker, colored pencil on paper

The exhibit of Scoggins’ work at Texas A&M featured five of Scoggins’ paintings. There was also a grouping of crumpled paintings piled away in the corner, as well as a wall sized installation of cut out army men fighting a war. The men are drawn as if by a child and attack one another with every manner of machine. Visually I thought the installation was interesting and very much alive. It was also a nice activation of the space; however, that work does not hit me in the gut now as the paintings do. The paintings are all 67” x 51” with the exception of Commies Everywhere which is more of a fragment. The paintings are big sheets of paper cut and lined by hand to simulate 8×11 standard notebook paper. The sheets are scrawled on with giant childlike letters, often perpetrated by Scoggins’ child-self-alter-ego “Michael S.”  The work is frequently signed and dated in the manner of a messy seven year old journal keeper;  such is the vantage Scoggins’ is speaking from. The personality of this angry and unfiltered little boy reminds me very much of Judy Blume’s character “Fudge” from the Fudge series of children’s novels which delighted me as a child because I could never control my angry words. In this way Scoggins’ achieves humor. As “adults” we all want to say what we mean but often  are put in check by the legal limitations of our jobs, as well as social and institutional contracts and constructs.

Commies Everywhere was my personal favorite of the exhibit and it was hung at the top of the galleries’ forty foot wall in close proximity to the corner. Obviously the painting echoes the paranoia of the McCarthy era that has morphed into Obama being touted as a Socialist radical.

Asshole Jesus
graphite, marker, colored pencil on paper

Perhaps the best example of the Michael S. persona is written out in Asshole Jesus (pictured above). The what would I do t-shirt that Jesus is wearing is an especially nice touch. Also, as far as critiques of the far right go, I think this is one of the best. If they can cherry pick from The Bible, so can we.

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

crayon, marker on paper

Dang! also resonates now, particularly because of who is pictured. The popular vote has been upset by the electoral college for the second time in my short life. The mean people pictured in this drawing are two of the most heinous criminals that American politics has ever seen. Imagining eight years of Trump, like there were eight years of Bush, is the most profound nightmare I can currently consider.

I’m Not Scared
graphite, colored pencil on paper

By far the most resonant image presented in Scoggins’ show is the diptych I’m Not Scared. The painting is dated October tenth 2014 and I couldn’t find anything significant relating to that date insofar to give cause for fear. Right now though this would seem to portray the mind of many of those closest to me. It describes me too in certain moments of my day for instance, when I am teaching my printmaking class of twelve women and one man. The extant fear and constant imagining of horrible situations whereby my marginalized loved ones die inexplicable hate laced deaths is stifling at times. I am somewhat ashamed that it has taken this for me to be able to read an artwork such as this with a literacy that is present and culpable, but here I am.

I Question Your Patriotism
colored pencil on paper

Finally, there is I Question your Patriotism from 2005. This painting is once again extremely relevant right now. Have we married nationalism and hatred under the banner of masculine power violence? What are we doing? Furthermore, what are we going to do? Patriots? I see very few, and perhaps count myself in this very moment among the invisible. Complacency has got to die lest we do.

–Jack Wood

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