BY THE DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT
2015-2018 PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS
Proust once wrote that “the only true voyage of discovery…would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes.” In my new body of work, “By the Dawn’s Early Light,” I look around me with fresh eyes and find complexity in seemingly simple objects—such as everyday architecture, statues, monuments, and the national flag. In two paintings, for example, the subject matter is the figure of Christopher Columbus. Given the disturbing accounts of his behavior toward the indigenous people, Columbus is an uncomfortable choice. He might have been a man of his time, but his actions have come to represent colonialism and the beginning of the end for the native peoples of the Americas. Now, as there are calls to remove politically problematic statues across the United States, my choice to portray two of these statues in my paintings was risky. At the same time, my work does not glorify the image of Columbus, but rather uses it to pose questions. In the painting “Entry Denied” (2017) I depict Columbus’s statue at the gates of America, as seen In Boston's North End. Columbus is overlooking some Coast Guard boats and what seems to be a boarding area or entryway to the new land. We know how history unfolded, but in the current political climate I raise the question of what would have happened if Columbus’s entry to the New World had been denied. In “Falling” (2018-Columbus Circle, NYC), Lady Liberty stares out of an LED screen at the leaning statue of Columbus. Her gaze is anxious; can she see something that we don’t? Perhaps, like Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, she can see destruction and wreckage piling up. Perhaps she is just staring at Columbus while the lone navigator keels over: Will he soon be part of the wreckage? Or perhaps it is a case of impossible love between a French woman and an Italian man who came to America under different circumstances, representing conflicting ideas. We live in a time in which polarized political visions reduce complexity to a single dimension. I hope that my work can entice the viewer to pause and contemplate.
© Lior Neiger