04 October 2014

Dance Masks

20" x 16", oil on wood panel, 2014, private collection

With my current World War One project I'm now slowly developing some more conceptual pieces, moving into metaphor, allegory, and other weirdness, expressing my own opinions, thoughts and feelings. This is an art project, after all, and not a book report.

This painting references chemical warfare, and its large and particularly nasty role in WWI. Read about the horrors here. This painting also references a nightmare I've had since childhood...

I was probably eight or nine years old (but I can't be sure at all) and I was watching whatever kids' program on television I would have been watching normally at that time, when a commercial came on for one of those compilation records (featuring the greatest hits of this musician or that), and this one was for 1940s-era big band music.

Fine. No problem.

But among the black and white film clips of the era (big bands, people dancing, having fun, enjoying themselves, etc.), there was a fleeting shot of a room of soldiers dancing with women (at a dance during R&R?) and everyone was wearing gas masks.

And it terrified me.

My mind couldn't really makes sense of seeing men and women doing a seemingly joyous thing like dancing while wearing bags on their heads with two round and creepy windows to see out of. And that breather thing by their mouths. It was so surreal my little mind nearly short-circuited...kind of like catching that glimpse of that couple in "The Shining" (you know, one of the is in a weird bear costume and...it's creepy); what business did they have showing that in the middle of the day during a kids' show? I wasn't angry, but kind of shocked and confused and that image has haunted me all my life. Unfortunately, painting this nightmare* hasn't robbed it of any of its power; I still find this image incredibly unsettling.



*I didn't actually have nightmares about this, but I feel the term applies, nonetheless.

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