Charles Browning

Remembering to Forget: Strategies of Propaganda and Mythology 2008

Schroeder Romero Gallery, NYC

The paintings of Charles Browning offer a  complex interplay of Art and History, humor and brutality, sincerity and irony, narrative and allegory. They present us with a “new” history painting, one that lays claim to a position of authority among the images of the past. Browning’s sincerely flat-footed love of an anachronistic form of painting adroitly skewers the propaganda of frontier mythology. Using the associative potential of historical imagery and narrative, the scope of Browning’s work expands to implicate us all in the goings on within.

“Three Indians come today to take Christmas with us, I gave them a bottle of whiskey . . . one informed me that an Englishman 16 miles from here told him that the Americans had the Countrey and no one was allowed to trade & etc. I explained to him the Intention of Government and the Caus of Possession.”

William Clark, Journals, December 25, 1803

What’s your strategy? Blow on west, shooting and drinking, and before you know it, you’ve conquered a continent. Use it or lose it! “We The People” shall decide who shall be included in “The People.” All others will serve or be destroyed, absorbed, or forgotten. We move closer to the self-evident truths and inalienable rights laid out at the founding of the nation by eliminating inconvenient claimants. And they will keep popping up!

What’s wrong with this picture? We live in funny times. We live in unfunny times. A confluence of Nationalism and Romanticism in 19th century American painting forms an image of the nation, a cultural foundation for the idea of Manifest Destiny, for Paul Bunyan, Kit Carson, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Distract the people from real dangers with shadow play. Shoot where there are easy targets. Sound familiar? Tell us another story of our great success, a story to explain away the cruel clowns and buffoonish brutes from then ‘till now.