MAN LIVES THROUGH PLUTONIUM BLAST

I arrived in Japan with my mother in 1948 at seven months old after a three week journey on a military transport from Seattle, Washington, to join my father, an army officer serving with the allied occupation forces. For the rest of her life my mother never failed to remind me just how unsettling that voyage had been. 

While in Japan our family was based in the southern half of the country where Hiroshima and Nagasaki, devastated by atomic bombs which ended the war, still lay in ruins. Curiously, as I was growing up, neither my mother or my father were ever given to mention or discuss these two unprecedented events.

Although the war had brought my parents together in matrimony, the peace following would insure that their marriage would not last.

I was nine-years-old when my mother, having by this time remarried, dropped my brother and I off at a movie theater one summer afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas, to see “The Amazing Colossal Man”, one of many cheaply made science fiction movies that seemed to be released on a weekly basis during the 1950s.

This was a film about a soldier accidentally exposed to an atomic blast at a nuclear testing site in Nevada. The cells making up the soldier’s body, instead of dying from exposure to radiation, began to replicate at an astonishing rate. The soldier grew to be sixty feet tall, fell victim to insanity and laid waste to Las Vegas, all before a battalion of U.S. Military took his life during a showdown atop the Hoover Dam.

If ever there were a movie crafted to stir the imagination of a preadolescent boy in the singular cultural mix of the time, this one was it. I have never forgotten how sublimely preposterous and profoundly strange this experience was. 

Writing in 1961, a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez declared that life was the best thing ever invented. If we are to take him at his word, the question left begging is this: If life is in fact the best of inventions, why is it, in our modern era, that humanity seems so persistently inclined to push itself to the very brink of extinction in ever more creative and lethal ways?

The imaginary vernacular images in the series, “Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast”, have been created in the shadows of this paradox. Rooted in the soil of my coming of age, its images are sourced from bits and pieces of discarded analog photographs acquired over the years from the dust bins of the twentieth century.

They represent narrative threads populated by monochrome men fallen from grace, ambivalent women standing on the cusp of reinvention and feral, free range children born to run, all living with the threat of an end to the world as they know it circling high overhead. 

These are cultural themes established in my youth that have continued to mutate and metastasize in society for the better part of my life. They inform works in this portfolio that are of the past and yet are also of the world as we know it today, spilling over with question marks and exclamation points, as unpredictable and absurd as ever.

It is also a world for which I am truly thankful. For in a perfect world, one in which there are no contradictions, ambiguities or moral dilemmas to contend with, only the ebb and flow of uneventful lives, nothing out of the ordinary would ever happen. In such a world, my mother, from Brownwood, Texas, would have never eloped at seventeen with a persuasive tank commander from Minnesota who was going off to war–and I, in turn, would not be alive today to explore life’s possibilities, just as my parents did, back in the day, following in the footsteps of their hearts.