Social Studies?

Words about:

Red Carpet, oil on linen, 48×40, 2010.

I think that the masses, myself included, are constantly diverted by our media from real issues. Reality TV, TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, People Magazine, etc.  take us away from focusing on reality, or the necessity to deal with real issues. So much gossip.  Is it best to just stay dumb? What about ‘real issues’? How can they be dealt with when our brain space is occupied with trivial matters?


I too am curious about the stars and follow a certain celebrity all the time (fun and weird!), and I laugh at my own interest in things that really don’t matter to me. We all need a diversion, something to take us to another place, real or imagined. In “Red Carpet,” I liked the idea of making the male ‘star’ slightly bemused by the adoring crowd, while pyjama clad fans display a little mocking adoration. It seems that stars are modern days gods, mirrors in which we can check in with ourselves, because maybe a part of everyone longs to hear someone say: “Baby, you’re a star!”

Good Citizen, oil on linen, 42 x 54 inches, 2005

Words about:

Good Citizen, oil on linen, 42×54, 2005.

I painted Good Citizen post 9/11 while watching tons of news on television and surfing the web.  Here is a good citizen, doing her social duty by picking up her dog’s poo.  She walks steadily, surrounded by a surveillance camera, a rebel teen, and a face peering from a window to see what is happening outside, maybe after getting a view of the world only through the internet. Behind the dog walker a secretive meeting takes place under an umbrella table, a woman stands alone veiled in a burka, a man perches on a roof ready to drop a bomb, and finally the tree spy hides in plain view to show the absurdity of it all.

Following 9/11, the terms “war on terror”, “axis of evil”, and “homeland security” became regular phrases in US government alerts. While the “potential of attack was imminent” according to some government updates, I was trying to process all the things going on in the world. Living in a Vancouver suburb, I saw the good citizen picking up after her dog, oblivious to the crazy world around her.  The situation reminded me of Plato’s allegory of the cave, where the people in the cave are looking at shadows on the wall trying to describe reality from the observation of shadows, instead of turning to see the source which is the fire itself. There are many shadows and trying to put it all together can be an interesting challenge.

I liked to look out from my window every so often to see how good the world was. Nothing was falling apart each time I looked.  – MA notes on paintings

Real Tissues a.ka. Placards a.k.a. All The World's A Stage (But Quiet On The Set), oil on linen, 54 x 72 inches, Aug 2002-Mar 2003

Words about:

Real Tissues a.k.a. Statement Art a.k.a. Placards a.k.a. All the World is a Stage (But Quiet On the Set), oil on linen, 54”x72 inches, painted August 2002 to January 2003.

Conceptually ‘Real tissues’ is a painting that speaks to the power of the media, not in exploring issues but instead creating diversion and spectacle. The painting displays the wanting of recognition by diverse points of view, while satirically humanizing the concept of commerciality and slant. There are no real focused points of view in this piece, almost as if the figures aren’t sure what to protest, or there are too many issues overlapping to sort through and no solid information.

This painting is an acknowledgment of our overly saturated media age, but saturated with what? The characters are not interested in the “show”, a possible unveiling of a bikini-clad naive, wanting more relevant, humanistic points of view expressed. Some characters are feeling ‘the fear’, (i.e. anxiety over the oppression of peoples, health care, industrial-military complex, globalization, environmental issues, war on drugs, war…) but the big man continues along, assuring that all is well. The ‘show’ has easy answers to complex situations or makes no attempt at all, just a little ‘T and A’; an elderly woman’s answer to the stupidity of the ‘show’ may be reflected in the simplicity of her sign “don’t be an asshole”. Another figure in the painting carries a Christian cross, overlapping a cardboard sign begging for real issues, hence’ real ‘t’issues’, and the woman having synthetically enlarged breasts gently readying to remove her top(?) for the camera may imply wanting reality/real breast tissues as opposed to breast enhancement…. As I was composing the painting with placard overlapping placard, the aesthetics of Matisse’ cut-out painting ‘the snail’ wanted to be tucked in among all the placards, and so it was… Allah Hoo has been one of my favorite songs since about 1987 and is by Sufi singer Nusrat fateh Ali Khan, and translates to mean ‘Praise God’.
“More On” is a play on words or ‘Moron’, and relates to the Canadian diplomat making an under-her-breath comment on George W. Bush’s government at the height of the UN/Iraq situations of 2003. Her comments became more of a media story than any other in Canada for a few days than any actual facts related to the UN / US / Iraq situation.
“Fuddle-duddle” is a former Canadian prime minister’s way of saying” F***. The whistle ‘blow this’ sign is related to Enron, etc… “All for one and one for all”, reads as “All for ne and ne for all”… I was having fun with all of this. One tiniest of signs reads ‘Tommy Kinkade sucks”, a knock at the ‘renowned’ painter of saccharine fairy cottages who has made millions of dollars while artists of somewhat greater intellectual merit struggle to survive; maybe relating it to how I see television; public television versus the major networks (note that I might be implying jealousy for his success!).

The sly graffiti man to the left is embalming the wall with the logo of a famous burger distributor; so much for being aware of any issues! Gone are the days when Graffiti called for “Jello Biafra for president!”. Environmental, social, political and ethical issues have so many layers, almost overwhelming, it is easier to just enjoy the show, the game, ‘real tv’, take in the promo and let everything just unfold as it may! “Real tissues” is my way of summing up how I saw things at that particular juncture in my life. Is television the opiate of the masses? …Hmmm… Yup.   – MA 2003

Unplugged, oil on linen, 48 x 44 inches, 2004

Words about:

Unplugged – oil on linen , 44 x 48 inches

This painting was inspired by a business situation, a family situation…

In the painting ‘Unplugged’ I have depicted a mock fortuneteller in a strange-faced state of knowing, eyes crossed in an odd way…  Across from him at a table is a naysayer looking out to the viewer gesturing craziness, suggesting the other is not really plugged into reality.  By pointing to his eye the naysayer may be negating the offered wisdom, or maybe the opposite, suggesting the fortune-teller really does have a gift, the eye for the future.  Could he be but a trusting believer ready to part with his cash for the other’s insight?  I wanted to paint the fortuneteller as peculiar, somehow making him look like he truly believed his own power, but he is also vulnerable…

A crystal ball usually represents the future, hope, the supernatural, and belief.  In this case it is unplugged and yet still aglow.   I wanted to portray how sometimes it’s our illusions that keep us going, and sometimes it is our illusions that make us the fool.  Our thoughts are our truths.  Are our truths really self-delusions recognized as such by others?  The fact that the ball glows while unplugged and the cynic doesn’t see this, mocks him as much as he is mocking the believer.  Only we as the viewer see this.

It is human nature to want to know truth, to be hopeful, to want answers, to want to believe in a higher power, to have others promise you the future, to want fortune, but it is also human nature to be a cynic, and doubt the power and strength of others and their knowledge of the bigger world and your fate.

I feel I have sat at both sides of this fortune-teller’s table, and in different mental states on either side…

The pink bread clip is a mundane colour note on the floor in the painting, but enjoyed the fact that I could paint an expiry date on it… a contemplative little nod to all our futures.

– Michael Abraham – April 1, 2006