A People Under Command - Painting by Mark Vallen, 1985. A People Under Command - Painting by Mark Vallen, 1985.
A People Under Command - Painting by Mark Vallen, 1985. A People Under Command - Painting by Mark Vallen, 1985.

"A People Under Command:
USA Today"

Mark Vallen 1985
Acrylic on unstretched canvas.
6' x 8' ft.

Vallen's A People Under Command traveled throughout Europe as part of, Fundamental, an international art exhibit that explored totalitarian religion at the turn of the 21st century. The show toured 4 European cities between September 2007 and June 2008, and offered a timely glimpse into the disturbing world of global religious extremism.

Artist's statement:

"I painted this surreal street scene during the second half of the Ronald Reagan presidency. The large unstretched canvas both documented the time and foretold of things to come. It's unnerving to me that the painting has a new, chilling, relevance in our post Sept. 11th world."

"In the 1980's there was an upsurge in militarism and its popularization in American culture. From army camouflage becoming - for the first time - acceptable casual wear (with civilian versions of the fighting uniform sold in large department stores), to the romanticization and glorification of war in Hollywood movies and television shows. My painting warned of a population completely embracing the ethos of military institutions. The hysterical anti-communism of the cold war reached its zenith in the dozens of pro-war Hollywood films that flooded the US market in the 80's.

In the 1984 film Red Dawn, starring Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze, Soviet and Cuban troops invaded and occupied the US. Invasion USA, released in 1985 and starring Chuck Norris, also told of the US under the heel of cruel Soviet occupiers and their terrorist allies. But it was the first Rambo film released in 1985 that truly represented the triumph of martial culture in Hollywood. Everywhere in America, walls were plastered with Stallone's Rambo movie poster - so I included the image in my nightmare vision."

[ A People Under Command - Detail of Rambo movie poster on the street. ]

Detail of painting by Mark Vallen
Detail of painting by Mark Vallen
Detail of painting by Mark Vallen Detail of painting by Mark Vallen

"I got the name for my painting while watching a fundamentalist Christian preacher performing a religious song on television titled, A People Under Command. Oddly enough, down the block from my studio a Church had painted black the cross on their rooftop.

I included that ominous Church steeple in my artwork as a sign of alarm over the rise of a right-wing Christian fundamentalism."

[ A People Under Command - Detail of America's new skyline. ]

"The newspaper vending machine included in my painting represented the corporatization of media as exemplified by the then fledgling USA Today. That paper actually ran a front page photograph of a rosy cheeked Ronald Reagan with the headline: "I'm the Boss." I knew then that journalism in America had taken a nose dive from which it would never recover, and that I had to paint that particular paper into my canvas. USA Today also serves as the alternative title to my painting."

[ A People Under Command - Detail of a newspaper vending machine, with Reagan declaring, "I'm the Boss." ]

Detail of painting by Mark Vallen
Detail of painting by Mark Vallen

"When I created my painting in 1985, the US Invasion of Panama had not yet taken place. The first Gulf War with Iraq was on the distant horizon, and only a handful of Americans had ever heard of a place called Kosovo. Most Americans had not yet become aware of the growing right-wing militia movement taking root across the US, but in 1995 the name of Timothy McVeigh would become seared into the national consciousness when the Oklahoma City Federal Building was destroyed in a devastating blast that took the lives of 168 people.

Now, after the horror of September 11th and the occupation of Iraq, we face an open ended 'war on terrorism' and a further militarization of American life. In August of 2003 the German magazine ZIVIL published a spread on my painting, calling it 'an outstanding example of political art' and 'a prohetic vision for the era of George W. Bush.'"

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