The “Fundamental” Art Exhibit

Fundamental is an international touring art exhibition that explores the prickly subject of fundamentalist religious intolerance at the turn of the 21st century. I’m pleased to announce that my painting, A People Under Command: USA Today, is included in the exhibit, which tours four European cities from September 2007 until June 2008.

“A People Under Command: USA Today.” Mark Vallen. 1985. Acrylic on unstretched canvas. 6 x 8 ft.

Fundamental will premiere at two venues in Manchester, England, starting Sept. 1, 2007 – the Zion Arts Center (running until Sept. 15th, 2007), and the Green Room (running until Sept. 22nd, 2007). The exhibit then travels to Madrid, Berlin, and Leeds, England. The traveling exhibit concludes at the Gallery Gabrichidze in Brussels, Belgium, where it opens on July 19, 2008, and runs for a month.

Painted in 1985, A People Under Command: USA Today, was my wry comment on the rise in America of right-wing political ideology along with a resurgent, politicized Christian fundamentalism. The concept for the painting came to me while watching a born-again preacher on television performing a song about “God’s Army” and how true believers were “a people under command” lead by the ultimate general – Jesus Christ.

Since I had always heard Jesus referred to as the “Prince of Peace,” I found the jingoistic psalm more than a little disturbing, especially when coupled with the rightward drift in American politics as exemplified by the administration of Ronald Reagan. My painting heralded the new dark ages, but little did I realize it would take on a frightening new dimension come the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Detail of painting by Mark Vallen
“A People Under Command.” (Detail) Mark Vallen. 1985. America’s new skyline.

The didacticism of my painting notwithstanding, it may come as a surprise to learn that my artwork was in part inspired by a Pop Art masterwork.

The stilted realism and irregular perspective I employed in depicting the presumably impossible scene, coupled with the fact that each visual component of the painting was derived from observing modern American life, points directly to Pop as a stimulus.

In 1956 artists Richard Hamilton and John McHale collaborated on the creation of, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, a small collage created with photos cut from popular American magazines of the day. It is generally considered to be the first work of Pop Art, and its skewed perspective and juxtaposition of discordant images provided an uneasy look at mass commercial culture. It was in essence, a glimpse of things to come… and the future wasn’t looking bright. Well, that future has arrived, and in creating A People Under Command, the collage of Hamilton and McHale served as a touchstone for my own vision of a culture gone haywire.

Detail of painting by Mark Vallen
“A People Under Command.” (Detail). Mark Vallen. 1985. “I’m the Boss.” Through the looking glass with the Gipper.

I believe there are many types of fundamentalist views running riot in the world today, for example, political, economic and national viewpoints are often reduced to fundamentalist positions. However, it’s religious fundamentalism that receives the most attention at present, though I’d argue all of these “isms” are interrelated.

The organizers of Fundamental are billing their exhibit as “a timely glimpse into the disturbing world of global religious extremism,” and to their credit they’ve evenhandedly applied their focus on the extremists of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. It is no doubt a thorny concept to build an art exhibition around, especially in today’s climate, but the exhibit cannot in any way be characterized as a show opposed to religion.

Aside from myself, participating artists include: Debbie Hill (a photojournalist living in Israel), Frans Smeets (Dutch artist and sculptor), Parastou Forouhar (an Iranian-born artist residing in Germany), Khosrow Hassan (an Iranian artist based in Tehran), Dalila Hamdoun (a French-Algerian artist based in London), Garth Eager (an English multi-media artist based in Manchester), Andrew Stern (a photojournalist based in New York), Andreas Böhmig (German photojournalist), Joel Pelletier (American painter based in Los Angeles), and Johan Oldekop (a UK based photojournalist).

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