“Icarus (scapegoat for an atrocity)” 2003
Following the initial idea for this painting, the process for the continuation of the work develops from a natural mechanics of the convolution of thought. Producing a piece specifically to be shown in such an art historically rich location as Florence with all the accumulated associations of history painting led to this work being loosely associated with the mythology of antiquity. However, I have always felt that artists bear a responsibility to social concerns and it would have been an abdication of this responsibility not to refer to the current conflicts outside of the rarefied environment of ‘Art’ which still too often claims an autonomous relationship with society at large.
Icarus flew too close to the sun, the wax of his wings melted, and he perished for his pride. In this respect my depiction of Icarus represents many things. The black and the gold are a symbol of the global political greed for oil – and my response is summed up with the cut-up newspaper text.
There are further combinations of references to contemporary life and art-historical tradition. The old colonial notion of ‘the noble savage’, still pushed to the consumers of news and represented in the painting by the black warrior, is a commentary on the current political and media community’s obsession with identifying a common ‘popular’ enemy. A symptom of controlling dissent well demonstrated by Orwell’s INGSOC of ‘1984’. In the linguistic currency of modern news-casting the ‘civilised’ Western world is fractured by political difference whereas the ‘uncivilised’ Middle East is split by religious or ‘tribal’ difference with all the semantic associations of a backwards looking society yet to reach our levels of ‘sophistication’.
The Middle East was the birthplace of modern mathematics, astronomy and medicine – and this is ignored as foreign armies roll in under the guise of civilising an un-modernised culture.
Icarus represents the collapse of western political morality, the impotence of the idealism of the United Nations in the face of global capitalism and the callous indifference of the majority of western peoples whose only interpretation of the events is as television spectacle.
Icarus represents the tragedy of the events of September 11th 2001 – particularly its political manipulation into being the scapegoat for an act of military aggression that had been planned years before this horrendous terrorist act.
In the painting none of the figures take notice or is even aware of the unfolding tragedy as it is carefully and erroneously mediated by the politically and economically controlled news media, here represented by the illegible jumble of stencilled texts.
The quotation is from the Roman poet Marcus Annæus Lucan:
‘Trahit ipse furoris Impetus, et visum est lenti quæsisse nocentem.’
‘They are borne along by the violence of their rage, and think it is a waste of time to ask who are guilty.’