Shocking Event & UNSETTLING Art

Paul Owen Weiner holds a black mirror to America

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Inside a tiny Murray Hill apartment, artist Paul Owen Weiner is laboring on a new body of work. It's designed to challenge viewer’s (and his own) notions of patriotism, nationalism and anxiety. He’s here in Jacksonville as the current resident artist of Long Road Projects, the artist residency and edition house founded in 2016 by Stevie Covart Garvey and Aaron Levi Garvey.

“My work usually starts with some kind of shocking event,” he said, “and the [2016] election was that shocking event … there was no turning back.”

A native of Aurora, Colorado, Weiner talked about the ways in which he thinks art should operate—as a part of a larger dialogue without a crisp ideological edge. He notes that being in Aurora when the Century Cinema 16 mass shooting occurred directly influenced his work—away from obsessive personal mark-making and into things dealing with information and misinformation; and how physical places inform bodies of work: “there is history, but which history,” he posed rhetorically.

The new in-process pieces are a suite of American flags that have been painted black, and the accompanying paper pieces divorce the symbols of the flag from their context (stripes and stars). “These black flags ask you to be introspective about your relationship to America,” said the artist. “I am interested in these as a mirror of society [...] and as a mirror of the person standing in front of it.”

The question, of America and American-ness, is one that always needs examination, but now, as Washington seems determined to return to the “great” days of buggy whip factories and hand-crank telephones (because really, who does know how computers work?), and of one kind of American; discourse and disagreement are more important than ever. Right now, said Weiner, his biggest concern isn’t the people who might disagree with him; it is censorship “no matter where it comes from.”

Censorship is a topic close to the artist. His earlier works dealt with how information is disseminated—paintings that look like redacted documents—and these flag works take the literal fabric of patriotism as their material. Crafting paintings out of flags, not just representing them, has given him anxiety. “You don't realize how deeply entrenched [the veneration of American symbols] is … there’s not a comfort level there, and that’s how I know it's where I need to be working.”

Weiner will participate in a group show with Shieda Soleimani and Talwst Santiago at The Space Gallery, Downtown, in January 2018.

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