Michael Waugh at Schroeder Romero
Art in America, June-July, 2005 by Calvin Reid
What is one to make of Michael Waugh's inventive, elusively allegorical text-and-image drawings? Moderately large works of ink on Mylar or paper, sometimes with watercolor or acrylic, they are investigations of the spin techniques and rhetoric of U.S presidential inauguration speeches, filtered through the experiential lens of a gay man. Each drawing is meticulously rendered in several eccentric representational styles. But the markings, lines and tonal variations are constructed entirely from the text of inaugural addresses, written, or really drawn out, in Waugh's tiny script.
The drawings are language quite literally made visual. The imagery is composed of an expressive, sometimes indecipherable scrawl ranging from dark to light, creating gray tones that build the artist's ambiguous but distinctive figurative representations. Step forward to examine the works closely and the surfaces are fields of frenetic, almost molecular activity. Step back, and the dense script recomposes itself into a series of iconic tableaus rich in visual character and oblique allegorical overtones. Inaugural (2004), composed of fragments of every inauguration speech, is a good example. The image is of two hands, one fitting a wedding ring on a finger of the other, in a gesture of matrimonial symbolism made ironic by Waugh's own sexuality, the recent debate on same-sex marriage and a series of sly indicators of satirical gay sensibility scattered throughout the exhibition.
Another work, The Initiation (2004), using text taken from the beginnings and endings of every inauguration speech, suggests the possibility of rather unpresidential shenanigans that might have taken place out on the frontier. The work presents two isolated figures--said by the artist to be George Washington leading a young soldier--walking through a winter landscape with snow-laden bluffs looming over them. The two men trek toward some new experience or activity that we can only guess about. The ink and watercolor Composite President (at Mount Vernon), 2004, presents a multi-armed figure created from the likenesses of 17 presidents. The image recasts the commander-in-chief as the ultimate practitioner of political sleight-of-hand (pick an issue, any issue).
Waugh lampoons the authoritarian rhetoric of presidential speechifying with a cryptic, satirical and wonderfully visual queer-directed wit. The strength of these works lies in the artist's ability to construct idiosyncratic and compelling images, full of contrary social allusions, out of the literal record of national public oratory. They delight even as they mock the intent and gravity of the nation's quadrennial acceptance speech.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group
Bibliography for "Michael Waugh at Schroeder Romero"
Calvin Reid "Michael Waugh at Schroeder Romero". Art in America. June-July 2005. FindArticles.com. 15 Sep. 2006. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_6_93/ai_n13804283