I’ve been working on a painting called Trigger Happy for the last several weeks, and when it came time to print some new T shirts I thought the image was powerful enough to come off the canvas and onto some merchandise. I don’t strive to be a controversial artist, I don’t get off on being shocking. I also don’t want to beat people over the head with political messages. Nobody likes Bono. What I try to do is to combine powerful symbols in new ways. I want people to look at my work and develop their own meanings. For that reason I don’t put text with my images, or lengthy artist statements. We all have our own interpretations of art. The problem with that is that sometimes I catch flak for the meanings people come up with. Take this email exchange I had today.
Person: Gotta a say, I love your stuff… but was disturbed by the picture of t-shirt with gun and smily (sic) face. REALLY??? with all the violence today, your (sic) selling this?
Me: The real question is what does it mean? Is it a statement about violence or a celebration of violence? Perhaps a statement about the American psyche? Usually I don't beat people over the head with overt messages. Guns R Bad, is a little heavy handed for my taste. Look at it, think about it. Think about the title of the piece especially. Art is supposed to be challenging. But thanks for your input. I mean that.
Person: Thanks for the schooling and take me off of your email list
Me: I honestly meant thank you for your input. I like having conversations about art with people, but I see this didn't end well. Sorry I offended you I'll take you off the list.
So, that’s that. Artistic discourse at it's finest.
To me the interest in a piece like this lies in the tension between the saccharine sweetness of the smiley face and the implied violence of the gun. This is an experiment in meaning. Giving it an implicit message would be as easy as turning the smile upside down. Gun with frowny face = guns are bad. That simple maneuver relieves the dissonance between the two images, immediately making one single meaning easy to understand, and also serving to render the art trite and boring. There is no remaining room for interpretation, there is no larger message, there is no deeper meaning. Bono has spoken.
I honestly think that if I had left the image on a canvas this person might have been more inclined to think about it as art and give it a little more thought. Or maybe not. You can't please everyone I guess.