My Dimebag painting gets me back in trouble

November 11th, 2009

DimebagIt seems that my 2005 painting “The Assassination of Dimebag Darrell” is going back to auction and this has re-ignited the ire of Dimebag’s fans. In fact I learned of the auction through a surge in the regular trickle of hate mail/criticism that this piece engenders. Roadrunner records blog, called Blabbermouth, posted a short (and I thought remarkably fair) article about my painting and the upcoming Phillips de Pury auction. This post was picked up by various other metal blogs and was heavily commented on by their readers. The post linked to my website, and led to an onslaught of email to me. Most of the email amounted to cursing me out while accusing me of crimes ranging from poor taste to exploiting the death of Dimebag. I guess that I am guilty of both.

Back in early 2005, when I made the painting, the reaction of Dimebag’s fans was actually not on my mind. I was interested in this tragedy as a historical event that occurred in our media saturated world, but was without a defining image of the event. Normally the pervasive 24-hour news and infotainment industry is able to define news worthy events with an image or video. In this case the event was only captured in the accounts of witnesses who saw the horrific event live at the Alrosa Villa. This afforded me an opportunity to make a painting that might be the only visual depiction of the tragedy, and yes I exploited this opportunity.

In my defense I thought it to be an extremely significant event, and one that needed to be remembered. I thought my painting might help remember the tragedy. The painting is certainly in poor taste, but I think that when one is describing a mass murder, etiquette is really not an issue.

Poor taste is pretty much the baseline criteria for my work, so fundamental to my project that I really do not consider it when I make a painting. I have no interest in being in good taste. My work is always subjective, inaccurate and incorrect, and I stand behind this position. I am however surprised that Metal fans would be so sensitive to taste, as it seems that their genre of music operates in a context without taste. For fucks sake, Dimebag played a guitar with a rebel flag painted on it! For any non Americans who might read this, the rebel flag is a symbol of the civil war era American south. While it is not solely a symbol of a pro-slavery political position, it cannot be divorced from this meaning, much like the swastika is forever linked to the holocaust. While I would not pretend to know Dimebag’s views on anything, and certainly not race, I do think this guitar shows he was not concerned with issues of etiquette or sensitivity to people’s feelings. I would hope I would be allowed a similar social leeway as a fellow artist. Neither paintings nor flags kill people – crazy fucks like Nathan Gale do.

More generally, I certainly respect anyone’s right to get their panties in bunch about something they find offensive. But I can’t help but be amused by the irony of this particular situation. The iconography of metal heavily features imagery of violence. The culture police are constantly complaining about its offensive and obscene song lyrics. Many, many metal albums depict images of war, rape, murder etc etc. And when the PMRC (et al.) complain I would be the first to tell them to shove it up their ass. I didn’t mean this painting to be offensive, but I am not in the least bit sorry if it is. That is not to say that I don’t empathize with the family and friends of Dimebag and all the victims, their loss must have been horrible beyond anything I can comprehend. But Art’s job is not to be polite.

I guess this little dust up between me and a few vocal metal fans gets at larger issues in my work and I am glad to get the chance to address them. For the most part I am of the opinion that most contemporary painting has little relevance in our larger culture, except for that some paintings can be extremely valuable luxury goods. But since I really love making paintings, and it’s all I’ve ever been much good at or interested in, I try to think of ways to make paintings that are relevant memes in our current context. I admit that I fail at this often, however all of the hubbub around this painting confirms it as a success in terms of my criteria (despite its extremely low monetary value judging by auction estimates!) I honestly didn’t make this painting with the intention of being transgressive (and I have made things with that goal in mind and would gladly admit it). That being said the fact that this painting is so extremely controversial in some circles is a testament to the power a painting can have and i guess this is extremely empowering for artists.