Robert Colescott, The Star: A View from the Pinnacle (1987),
acrylic on canvas
West Coast painter Robert Colescott has long employed a kind of theatre of the absurd, rendered with expressionist and outrageously satirical imagery in formal compositions of great visual presence. His social concerns - issues of race, class, gender and sexuality; and more recently, mytho/religious allegory - are calculated not only to elicit our total attention, but to playfully prick the armour of even the most complacently liberal or politically-correct minds. Unlike the Mexican muralists who set out to educate the unschooled and illiterate about their own history and struggle, Colescott suggests that even the art-sophisticated viewer might reflect once again on the most unresolved human issues of our time.
The freely brushed figurative elements of Colescott's broadsides are seemingly aimed at everyones' sacred cows: he is an equal-opportunity provocateur, casting African-Americans as stereotypical minstral show buffoons and white women as wanton pink Venuses: he addresses black nostalgia and dreams of glory, interfaced with the perplexities of class difference, standards of beauty, white discomfort and sexual paranoia; demonstrating ultimately that anyone can be objectified.
For his efforts, but perhaps particularly for his funky, painterly daring and corrosive humour in the face of a field choked with postmodernist installation art, Colescott's exhibition Recent Paintings was selected to represent the U.S. in a single artist pavilion at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997.
© Ted Lindberg