Documentary Frames Graphic Art’s Political Ferment - Miller-McCune
A stirring compilation of instances where the pen, or brush, was equivalent to the sword raises the question of whether it can compete with the keyboard.
Back in the day, being a socially committed graphic artist was a particularly dangerous undertaking.
Honoré Daumier was imprisoned for his work, and died impoverished. Käthe Kollwitz and Otto Dix had their work declared “degenerate” by the Nazis. George Grosz was arrested for allegedly insulting the German army. And so incendiary were Francisco Goya’s masterpieces, Disasters of War, the aquatint prints were not published until 35 years after his death.
“In the past, the documentation of these artists had a terrific effect, which was why back then it was more dangerous to do it,” says Manny Kirchheimer, director of Art Is: The Permanent Revolution, a new documentary about politicized graphic artists.
“At least the establishment thought [these works were dangerous],” he continues. “They jailed these people, or sent them into exile.”
Kirchheimer’s film, currently in New York and soon to open around the country, operates on two levels. It is first a look at three graphic artists — etcher Sigmund Abeles, woodcutter Paul Marcus and lithographer Ann Chernow — as they create works protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, the documentary is a fascinating look at the minutiae of the artistic process, as the creators discuss the pieces they are making and their motivations for doing so.
But Kirchheimer intersperses these sections with montages of works by great political artists of the past — everyone from Picasso and “Guernica” to lesser known graphics stars like the early 20th century Mexican master José Guadalupe Posada — featuring voiceovers describing the trials and tribulations many of these geniuses have encountered because of their unyielding artistic visions. As these brilliantly savage images of war, torture, poverty, and the excesses of predatory fat cats roll by, the film becomes a fascinatingly offbeat history of political conflict.