Troops to Vietnam

Ron Hagell 30” x 11” • Acrylic and Paper Digital Images on Canvas

Ron Hagell
30” x 11” • Acrylic and Paper Digital Images on Canvas

I have been an artist since my youth in Camden, South Carolina. My early work was influenced by my painter/cowboy grandfather in Alberta, Canada. I often tried to copy his cowboy images but later my intension with my art was more to make statements than to create decorative items. Although I did in collage make portraits of guys girl friends for a bit of money.

I sometimes made statements as jokes or variations of expectations in others. In school I was much more interested in those classic art statements such as Picasso’s “Guernica” than in lovely flowers or the like. I have always disliked the Southern notion that all artists need to make beach scenes and palmetto trees. But as I studied art and history, I discovered that much can be learned in art and life that is not so obvious or easy. In fact, the best statements come almost by accident or without complex determination and forethought. “Guernica” itself came onto the artist’s canvas in a rush immediately as he discovered the news. He was already working in that style with those figures and simply got angry at the Nazis bombing of this unarmed village in his homeland.

Of course, wanting to make such art and being able are two very different things. I have made a few good things and keep trying to improve. For many years, after the military, I was a film producer/director working with NPR stations across the country. But being unhappy with this I quit and went back to school seeking an MFA to be able to teach and make my own art films and eventually going back to various even more creative arts.

In the late 1980s I began working in fine art photography that eventually led me back to painting and at times combinations of the two and collage with digital images. I have made dozens of works since that time and exhibited around the world. In my last years of teaching and even more so after I retired, I’ve been doing more and more acrylic painting than either film or photography.

The piece on exhibit here, “Troops to Vietnam”, is a combination painting/collage piece. As with many works, one’s eye is forced to roam the canvas and, given time, one can discover various images that may help understand it or possible inspire further consideration.

I am a Vietnam veteran, having served in the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam (1967-68). I’m very fortunate to have been in an intelligence gathering unit and not actually in direct combat although as you may know there really was no “front line” in Vietnam.

If you know about that war and the turmoil it caused there and on the home front, you may better under the imagery here. Although it is not so difficult to understand. We have here the Vietnam War, bombing, money, churches, political trouble, guns, a dove and the American way (Campbell’s soup – a la Warhol). You now know I love Picasso’s “Guernica” – so you get his “war face” reference.

The challenge here is to determine why are they here as we see them. What is new about all this and is it different in some way? How is it different and why? There are also smaller things to examine here. That is the question of the piece and while some is clear other things may not be so clear cut and may have different meanings to various viewers that may be at odds with the intent. That is always an issue with art. But it could also be that I am submitting a challenge to you with the entire piece. Maybe there is something here that has no answer.

I want to challenge you to discuss the piece not in its clear connection to the war in Vietnam but rather as a piece of very contemporary art with Vietnam as a background. As Americans we all have history as a background to our current state. What do you see here that is a current issue here in our country? What is here that has not changed in 50 years? What here has become worst?

There is the image of a page turning here. But is it turning? Are we still hoping for peace but promoting guns? Do we imagine our world as a Campbell soup, country church, simple good society while we are actually creating chaos across the world with bombing? Is the US dollar still being soaked in blood on the streets of Kabul. Does oil drive our politicians and power our comfortable cities? Is there something wrong with a government run by unrepresented Jeffersonian (rule by elite control) Democratic principals?

We can also see here the old map of wartime South Vietnam. This was a subdivided country created in an agreement that the ruling north did not like but a place that allowed the French (a world away) to continue a colonial economic rule through a propped-up government. We decided to support France and after over ten-years of war and the loss of over 55,000 American soldiers and many thousands of others.

The Afghanistan war was longer and fought against a weaker enemy by a much more technically superior yet smaller US force. Yet the idea was the same. To use our military to solve a foreign political based conflict. Both times it did not work and it never would have. Like the big black suited man in the middle here, we think we can lord over all the world. But the turmoil is too much for this method. The Turmoil in the hidden wave beneath the surface – the big grey wave under the acrylic here is an actual ocean wave painted in oil and rising from beneath the new overpainting. Just as our political leaders would have tried again and again.

You may also note the design principals and other images at work here. There are competing diagonals (upper right to lower left is dominant) and a near circular center that draw the eye and confuses the viewer. Then we have the warm to cool colors moving across left to right and back again. Then we have a very small winged heart flying away in the far upper right. Maybe we are being invited to escape in the end.