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David Humphrey: Ike Paints from Life, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 60 × 72 inches. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY. 331 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2008 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 4, ISSUE 3 PP 330–336 CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/175174308X339180 FIELD REPORT IKE AND ME DAVID HUMPHREY Dwight Eisenhower was the bland grandfatherly presence on the TV of my earliest childhood. The 1960s slowly pushed his memory into a prehistory fossilized somewhere deep in my father’s soldierly sense of responsibility and my aversion to that sense. Art school fortified my aversion even as my application portfolio was filled with stone carvings I had done with Dad’s tools and hobbyist coaching. Dwight Eisenhower, like my father, made art in his spare time. Even as contemporary art has perennially defined itself against the unconsidered appetites of popular taste,artists, myself included, have mined the vernacular for unexpected insight. Many of my paintings are variations or interpretations of works I find online or in flea markets. Dwight Eisenhower’s paintings presented an irresistible adventure. His work exemplifies what Christopher Bollas would call normotic, the pathologically normal. There are no displays of fancy brushwork, no compositional or iconographic ingenuities, no indication of art historical knowledge or ambition. Ike’s work has just the right mix, for my purposes, of rhetorical modesty, hyper-conventionality, and subtle idiosyncrasy borne through awkwardness and error, but underwritten by our knowledge of his life as the victorious Supreme Allied DAVID HUMPHREY IS A NEW YORK ARTIST REPRESENTED BY SIKKEMA JENKINS & CO. HE OCCASIONALLY TURNS IN REVIEWS FOR ART IN AMERICA AND WROTE FOR ART ISSUES FROM 1989 UNTIL ITS DEATH IN 2002. A FORTHCOMING ANTHOLOGY OF HIS ART WRITING, BLIND HANDSHAKE, WILL BE RELEASED BY PERISCOPE PUBLISHING. HIS RADIO SHOW SOUND AND VISION CAN BE HEARD ON WPS1.ORG. > CULTURAL POLITICS 332 FIELD REPORT Commander and postwar President of the United States. Ike was the author of a successful memoir and, consequently, very aware of the earning power of his signature. In 1968 he published a suite of “limited edition” reproductions of his paintings with the name of each owner printed below the image alongside its title, size, medium, and copyright. Eisenhower painting. Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas. Ike copied greeting cards and family snapshots but his preferred idiom was the pastoral landscape, images of simpler times with variations on covered bridges, water mills, and family farms. He painted,at Winston Churchill’s suggestion,to relax. But the unrelaxed spectator happily looks for the buried cargo of ideologies and unintended associations, links between the work’s banal operations and dominating social structures, repressed themes and offbeat formalities. The Deserted Barn is Ike’s depiction of a derelict building surrounded by signs of a life now over. Its compositional (normotic) straightforwardness seems to mask an elaborately encrypted code language. Every pictorial element lines up as if it were part of a glyph sentence. The hatching lines that depict the barn’s deteriorating roof tiles march horizontally with casual cuniformic regularity until an uncanny hole appears in the shape of a Greek cruciform. Doors and windows, trees and fences all seem to be arrayed in hieroglyphic code sentences. The barn’s dark interior suggests a longing to speak a language it has failed to learn, while, outside, the abandoned red wagon and water pump, with lowered handles, echo the aging Ike’s self-reflective theme of a now-passed usefulness. CULTURAL POLITICS 333 FIELD REPORT I begin my treatments of Ike’s compositions by doing a loose copy, which often becomes the location for characters inserted from my image repertoire. I make one-way collaborations in which the long transcription of Ike’s image builds an emotionally inflected connection between him and me. The effort draws me to marvel at the labored specificity of his choices: this cone-shaped tree here, that oddly rendered rock placed so deliberately there. My attentions constitute a form of contact, intimacy within a context of extreme detachment. I’m spending at least as much time making these images as he did. My feelings about...


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