His peaceful demeanor not withstanding, for almost seven decades Seymour Chwast has fought brush and nail on the front lines of what is decidedly an endless war against war. His frequent salvos of acerbic visual commentary against warfare are welcome alternatives to drum rolls and saber rattlings. His Vietnam era poster “War Is Good Business Invest Your Son” was a peace movement mantra, and the acerbic “End Bad Breath,” with bombs being dropped on Hanoi in Uncle Sam’s open mouth, is an icon of anti-war graphics in the tradition of artist/critics, including Felix Vallotton, Georg Grosz, Franz Masereel, who have published antiwar bombshells.
This exhibition looks at some of Chwast’s arsenal. It also marks the launch of a Kickstarter campaign to help finance his indictment of warfare. Seymour Chwast at War with War: An Illustrated Timeline of 5000 Years of Conquests, Invasions, and Terrorist Attacks is a illustrated record of world conflagrations that have taken their toll. It is also a testament to Chwast’s continued deployment of art and design to protest mankind’s worst scourge.
For Chwast there are no just or unjust wars, only invasions, conquests, interventions and terror where destruction is the means to all ends. War suspends all norms. Whether defensive or aggressive, liberating or subjugating, all wars are ultimately transgressive acts where culture and humanity are held hostage to ideology, greed and power. Although Chwast’s art won’t put an end to war, it invites us to think about the consequences – and, more important, who ultimately benefits from the spoils.
Granted, a comic image and clever slogan will never earn Chwast the Nobel Peace Prize, but that is of no concern. All his socio-political work and All The Wars, in particiular, express a gut aversion to making even the thought of WAR into a patriotic rallying cry that inflames the masses. He greatly admires The Marx Brothers’ anti-war satiric masterpiece Duck Soup, which so stunningly deflates hysterical war-fever. With a nod to Marx Brothers’ lunacy, Chwast wants his messages use comedy to reveal truth. To infiltrate the mind rather than assault it.
Through his sometimes childlike style that implies innocence, Chwast leaves a sly reminder that war is not a game – video or otherwise. Despite the increased use of drones, war is raw; human beings pushing buttons that kill and maim other human beings. Through his paintings, drawings, posters and books Chwast is saying only war itself is the victor. The lessons learned from one conflict return to fuel another. Out of one war another war regenerates ever stronger. So, it is a wonder that Chwast is not simply resigned to fate. But that is not his way. Although he may loose this war, he continues to valiantly (and entertainingly) fight those endless battles.
– Steven Heller
Author, critic, editor
Co-chair, MFA Design / Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, School of Visual Arts.
An Opening Reception will take place on Thursday, April 28 beginning at 6:30PM.