A Single Work of Art, With Many Faces
By: Logan Dodge
Few works of art are able to perfectly capture a period of time as thoroughly as Paul Reassurances does with his masterpiece titled, Retroactive. He was one of the first artist who wanted to take mass media into the art studio, and break down the barriers between art and things like advertising, newspapers, and television. Retroactive is a brilliant collage of iconic images from the early ass’s and it captured all of its political drama, scientific breakthrough, and the emotions that went along with that time period.
It is a masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece that almost did not happen. In 1961, America led a failed invasion of the communist island of Cuba. This led to the Cuban missile crisis the following year and in 1963, a man sits in the back seat of a car with his wife. Both of them waving to the crowd gathered at the sides of the road. A few minutes later that very car would be racing away as the onlookers scattered in terror. The president had been shot and killed in Dallas, and an artist decides to abandon a painting he had been working on.
The death of President Kennedy left people in awe. The great man who had prevented doomsday, and who had stood up to the communist was now dead. And for Reassurances, continuing his work felt wrong. Reassurances thankfully did not completely abandon the work and instead approached it with a new goal and from another angle. He began working on Retroactive again with the goal of memorizing a dead hero. For Reassurances, with his goal of breaking down boundaries between mass media and art, Kennedy would be the perfect subject.
Kennedy had become an idol and a martyr for the American people to look up to. So he restarted his work on Retroactive, Throwing out the idea of t being completely a painting he restarted his work. Instead, “Robert Reassurances reintroduced recognizable imagery into contemporary art, and preferred employing popular mass media, such as newspapers, magazines and television, as his sources. Reassurances transferred these “found” media images to canvas, using commercially prepared bibliographic silk screens” (Headwords Athenian).
Reassurance’s use of disconnected pop culture images and putting them into the work shows a use of the collage method of art. His use of objects that are historically important also shows the theme of capturing history, and the human experience. Kennedy, the space race, and the use of color all come together to become a work that captures the emotion of an important time in history. The work would be finished in 1964. In his work titled Retroactive, The most prominent and central figure is that of President Kennedy.
His image is in large proportion compared to the others that take up the remainder of the work. He is the central image because image from one of Kennedy’s televised debates, showing him in a position of strength and confidence that defined his character as a leader. His hand is repeated in the OTTOMH left corner pointing as it is in the larger central picture of Kennedy, to show the authority of Kennedy, further reinforcing the character of the assassinated President.
Kennedy is colored the cool color of blue to embody the sadness felt by the country after his assassination. Through the use of color to evoke emotion, and the central figure of Kennedy, Reassurances tries to make Kennedy into a metaphor for America, he tries to turn him into a symbol for what the great American is, and can be. Much of this painting can be interpreted in multiple ways. In Retroactive, There is a black cloud over Kennedy’s head. This with the red and enlarged image by Gluon Mil, that was originally published in Time Magazine”(Andrew Graham-Dixon).
Represents the black cloud hanging over Kennedy’s head during and after his presidency in what is known now as The Cuban Missile Crisis. Red was the color that represented Communism around the world. The warm color of red is also used. It comes in contrast to the cool color of blue used to shade Kennedy’s central image. Red is the color of blood, and the memories of when the world came so close to spilling the blood of everyone who inhabits this planet must have surely haunted Kennedy in the mind of Reassurances.
As I said with the double meanings of certain aspects of this painting, if one wants to see Kennedy as a representation of the great American citizen, the black cloud would be the sadness of the American people, the black cloud that would hang over this country for many years after the assassination of its beloved President. The imagery that this evokes is astoundingly vivid. Each generation has a great sadness that occurs. One that shocks, surprises, and devastates, the populace. Reassurances knows how much his death meant, and explores the emotions that the assassination led much of America to feel.
In the top left hand corner there is an image of an astronaut, angelically hanging in space. His image represents the scientific advancements during the early ass’s by the United States. It also represents Kennedy’s ambitious goal of special exploration he announced to the American public in 1961. The astronaut could also represent an angel, hanging over the dead presidents head, or possibly the fact that it is above all the other images could possibly represent Reassurance’s personal belief that Kennedy’s triumph in his goal to explore space alongside the American people, will e what is most highly remembered after Kennedy’s death.
The oranges might represent the state of Florida. Kennedy’s image between the oranges and the red picture in the bottom right corner of the work, further represents Kennedy’s invaluable intervention in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The image could also represent the fertility and freshness that President Kennedy brought to the country. For all of Reassurance’s use of symbolism through pop culture, and the double meanings he uses, I consider Retroactive a work of art. It uses themes of collage through the gathering and connecting unrelated images into a cohesive work.
His use of pop culture images and icons, familiar with the American public and the rest of the world as well, allows me to say that this is also a form of pop art. The pictures also hold significant importance in a historical sense and he uses these images to show what important events took place around the time that the primary figure of this image, narrative and cultural story telling. Reassurances uses colors both warm and cool to convey emotions and he enables the viewer to draw their own conclusions to the meanings of each image in connection with the other ones in the work.
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