America has often been best anatomised by outsiders, by visitors not tipsy on its cocktail of myths or writhing in its web of appearances. One thinks of Alexis de Tocqueville, touring the States during the 1830s before sailing back to France and producing Democracy in America, a foundational text in US schools ever since. One thinks of Robert Frank, hard nosed Swiss photographer and roving buddy of the Beats, whose book The Americans (1958) first showed the country its own inequalities and glories in panoramic fullness. One thinks of the indelible Swiftian grotesquery sketched by Ralph Steadman – a gallery of puking, screaming, velour-clad insects – in the Englishman’s illustrations for the late Hunter S. Thompson’s scabrous Aquarian-age journalism. (Among those contemporary philosophes who would aspire to update De Tocqueville, however, one tries to forget Jean Baudrillard and Bernard-Henri Lévy.)
Plenty of American artists now position themselves publicly as involuntarily estranged from their own country, from younger practitioners such as Tom Sachs to elder statesmen like Richard Serra. Few, however, seem poised to deliver something like Dominic McGill’s huge (1981 x 229cm) curving drawing Project for a New American Century (2004). Composed of thousands of overlapping pencilled summaries of historical events (and pungently apocalyptic snippets of imagery), its subject is nothing less than the past century, figured as a massive sequence of bleak nexuses. America is mostly at the centre: religion, race relations and foreign policy appear snarled up and intractable. One tiny snapshot from the overpowering whole: a preacher, arms aloft in supplication or triumph, ringed by spiralling texts that enumerate atomic tests, rising Bible sales, UFO sightings, paranoia over Communism, and escalating lynching. (This in the land of the free, of course, as opposed to the godless USSR.) Some of this material you’ll remember from history classes. But it is usually apprehended in fragments. Only presented as a big picture does it coalesce into a portrait of a culture in freefall: ahistorical, irrational, insane. (Read the full article here)
Thanks to Drawings and Notes for finding this artist!