1918 Acrylic and stucco on canvas, 36” x 36”, 2020 The current COVID-19 pandemic is often compared to the 1918 influenza pandemic that began with soldiers in WWI, and spread quickly with the brutal unsanitary conditions of trench warfare. Then as soldiers returned home at the end of the war, it swept through the general population. 43,000 servicemen died from the flu in WWI and 15 million died worldwide. 0f those US soldiers who died in Europe, half fell to the flu and not the enemy. WWI was catastrophic. It was technologically modern- airplanes, trucks, tanks, machine guns, and deadly poison gas used for the first time spurred advances in medical treatments. But it was fought more like the smaller wars of the previous century– trench warfare with barbed wire, cavalry, horse-drawn caissons, conditions that fostered disease, gangrene, and amputations. And then just as the war was winding down, a deadly and uncontrolled flu pandemic struck. My painting draws a parallel with the current situation by referencing the First World War, medicine of the time, victims of the pandemic, and symbols of remembrance. Unlike previous flu outbreaks, the Spanish flu was most deadly for the 20 to 40 age group (the age of most soldiers) here represented by the vulnerable ghost-like figure. The stucco surface is scraped to create concentric circular ridges that converge on this central figure and radiate out from him. He is backed by a design based on Giacomo Balla’s Futurist work, La guerra, 1916. Concurrent with the war, the art movement celebrated dynamism, mechanization, industrialization, and the “cleansing” effects of war. In the lower section of the painting, I’ve included medical equipment of the period: a nebulizer, chemical bottle and an optical model, plus a gas mask diagram and a child’s hobbyhorse. The upper section includes a bronze laurel wreath, bronze hand with a garland and poppies all symbols of mourning and remembrance in 1918. I wanted to create an image that is cinematic, not static, and suggests movement through time from 1918 to today.
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