Thom Ross | American Flag: Artist Reception | Saturday October 3, 2-4pm

28 September - 10 October 2020 Jackson

Solo Exhibition | Jackson, Wy

 

Altamira Fine Art Jackson is pleased to present a solo exhibition for New Mexico artist Thom Ross, opening September 28, 2020. 

 

Please join us for an  Artist Reception Saturday, October 3 from 2-4pm.

 

 If you would prefer a private tour of the exhibit, please contact the gallery (307) 739-4700.

 

 

American Flag

The genesis for this show began 14 years ago when I read Flag of Our Fathers, a detailed account of the flag raising on Iwo Jima (February 23, 1945). Everyone is familiar with the iconic image (based on a photo taken by Joe Rosenthal) as six U.S. Marines raised the American flag—for a second time—atop the 556-foot-high Mt. Suribachi (suribachi is the Japanese name for a type of bowl, and the mountain looks like a upside-down bowl). I was struck not by the visual profundity of Rosenthal's photo, but rather the accounts of several men fighting at the base of Iwo Jima, down below on the black sand beaches or stationed on ships offshore, unloading cargo to support the assault. Even from afar, the flag raising inspired them—just a speck popping up atop Suribachi. Immediately, I thought of the poem “Excelsior” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, penned a century earlier; specifically, these stanzas:

 

The shades of night were falling fast,

As through an Alpine village passed

A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,

A banner with the strange device,

      Excelsior!

 

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,

Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,

And like a silver clarion rung

The accents of that unknown tongue,

      Excelsior!

 

At break of day, as heavenward

The pious monks of Saint Bernard

Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,

A voice cried through the startled air,

      Excelsior!

 

A traveller, by the faithful hound,

Half-buried in the snow was found,

Still grasping in his hand of ice

That banner with the strange device,

      Excelsior!

 

There in the twilight cold and gray,

Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,

And from the sky, serene and far,

A voice fell like a falling star,

      Excelsior!

 

Excelsior, translated from Latin as "ever upward,” encapsulates that moment when, as in the poem, others bore witness to a symbol rising. The resulting painting measures 72 by 72 inches, and yet the subject of the painting—the flag above Suribachi—takes up only a ½ by ¼ inch patch. If you don't know what it is you’re supposed to see, you won't see it. That’s how it would have been in 1945. Everyone is at least familiar with this image of the American flag. Yet, as the title of the painting, American Flag; Suribachi, alludes to, the historic details of its raising eludes most people. Very few recognize where, why or when the flag was raised. To me, this seems like a sad commentary on our collective ignorance.

 

Reflecting on this most famous flag-raising in American history made me wonder about other instances when the U.S. flag has had a profound effect on social consciousness—when the flag has served as a symbol in singular historic terms. I began to research situations in which the flag has appeared in different guises and meanings. I made paintings of these seminal scenes, such as Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, a crown he earned by defeating Jim "Great White Hope" Jeffries on the Fourth of July, 1910 in Reno, Nevada. Johnson wore an American flag around his waist as a belt.

 

I am a historian/storyteller first, an artist second; I use the art to tell the story. I feel like if you have a painting like Suribachi on your wall, someone is bound to ask about it, and then the owner of the painting can tell the story. That is how the story lives on.

 

Pre- sales available.

 

For more details contact the gallery, (307) 739-4700, connect@altamiraart.com.