This is an image appropriated from a cover of an old boxed set of JFK speeches on vinyl that I found somewhere. I love the heroic trope of the image that somehow supercedes being clichéd or banal by the power of the image, of John F. Kennedy and the Stars and Stripes of Old Glory. I was born just post JFK, in 1966, and so was always naively nostalgic about him and his era, but somehow felt that truly the nation had been "better" or that, growing up as a young child in the sixties and seventies, on the tail end of the Boomers, that the hippies—my babysitters, teachers, and cultural influencers were right about the country going wrong after his assignation. Certainly my parents are also liberal, although a little too old to have been hippies, they were part of a smart cocktail generation that had beatniks, jazz, and poetry on the sidelines with their own wave of being anti-authoritarian and suspect of egregious uses of power. While painting this work, I listened to many audiobooks of John F. Kennedy, and of course had learned and thought about him before in my mature life, and knew and know he was a flawed figure, however I’m still bowled over by his handsome regard for integrity, his spirit and intelligence, and before Obama—and my knowing of Obama—a great president who mostly told the truth and tried his best to steer the country in great directions (despite also nearly bringing us to the brink of catastrophe, he also pulled us out of it).
The great thing about pictorial icons is that they are truly pictures that say a thousand words, but instead of merely wanting to embrace the iconographic flag in the Duchamp-like maneuver of Jasper Johns, who appropriated the pre-existing design of the flag, and painstakingly recreated it in the slow process of encaustic in different ways (which of course has its own political relevance), I think, post-Johns, it’s my job to penetrate the picture plane and while acknowledging that the painting itself is an object, do something at the same time "old school" with the power of oil paint to create plastic space, and paint through the image. I love Warhol, but in his "flattening" of the iconic figures, made them into the symbols that the culture, at the speeded up time of Corporate Commodity Culture getting its footing, made them into merely iconic symbols, without individual agency, in the same manner the culture and media was doing to the same people he was transmuting into flat, repeated images. I wanted, even with this ghost-like visage, to get to the real JFK, a Hamlet’s Ghost, coming back from the dead to deliver his message of his history.