Domestic Reverberations of War and Peace

Black and white gestures act as simulacra for raw human emotions. Such languid, bold strokes trace characterizing features, abstracting the human frame, but not beyond human recognition. In isolation, each trace can be viewed as an exemplum of geometric form—an end in itself. However, when viewed as a succession of traces, a cohesive creation emerges. Distilling the human form the artist represents the oppositions of self and society, the fundamental divide between pain and pleasure, and the fulcrum of chaos and disorder through a series of simplified gesture.

Yet, the creator cannot be lauded, only the creation discussed. A series of poignant portraits on temporary construction planks in central London, particularly Bloomsbury and Covent Garden, are attributed to an unknown artist. Hiding in anonymity, this creator crafts social commentaries, which are quickly erased. Painted over by broad strokes of white paint or covered by flanking panels, these creations are fleeting. Placed in public spaces, such works are accessible and widely viewed. Passersby remark on the effortless beauty of such creations, snap a picture to post on Pintrest, Instagram, or Facebook, and proceed with their daily tasks. Certainly, the crystallization of form is evocative, meriting instant documentation; however, the aesthetically pleasing form is only a gateway into deeper philosophical discussions.

Utilizing a mere sixteen strokes, this anonymous artist denotes the omnipresent duality: war and peace. Painted on panel, the hue of the plank mirrors that of flesh. The well-defined right side emotes the persona of a resilient, unflinching sitter. Self-assured, order trumps over disorder. Juxtaposed with the right, the depicted’s left angle lacks instilled order. A wandering tear-like trace pierces the eyebrow, swerves over the circumference of the cheek, juts out around the mouth, and falters upon intersecting with the cheekbone. Whereas the right profile denotes a peaceful, ordered, pleasurable life, the left signals a life marked by war, disorder, and pain.

Such divide is both external and internal. The tear gesture acts as stigmata, clearly signaling physical disfiguration of the depicted. Yet, the intangible internal war can only be alluded to via pigment. The flatness of the board reinforces the physicality of the work, further emphasizing the limits of the pictured allusion. However, it is the clarity in contrast—the simplicity in the gestural shifts—that resonates with the spectator. The sexless sitter is universalized. Visually reinforcing the duality of singular individuals, the image incorporates both triumphant and triumphed posture within a singular frame. The depicted is a mirror image of us, the spectators, as well as an abstract image of what cannot be defined—a concrete recording of our intangible emotions.

Figuring the duality of individual personas, the image can additionally be interpreted as a depiction of the divisions in capitalist society. Participants in society seek to act morally in both word and deed. Yet, monetary temptations exist along side entrenched racial, class, and cultural hierarchies. Society is thus left with two divisions: foremost, those who front right-side faces—confident, self-assured, fulfilled—and secondarily, those who don left-side faces—financially depressed, doubting, unfulfilled. The coexistence of opposing factions is referenced in this image.

Following the trace of the street portrait, the peaceful harmonious right profile fluidly intersects with the saddened fraught left. The duality of the system enforces its ultimate singularity. As the choice blackened strokes communicate, war begets peace, pain produces beauty, and disorder effects order.


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