The main exposure of the first Gulf War conflict came through CNN's round the clock coverage of the air attacks. The Night Vision effect the cameras on the planes were equipped with turned the black night into a digitized lime green and yellow field of vision. Upon explosion the yellow hue would flash white light and commentators would announce the play by play for the uninformed viewers. Previous documentation of modern warfare has always had a disheartening effect on viewers. The widespread use of photography at the beginning of the century allowed the masses to witness the brutality of trench warfare during Word War 1, provoking considerable critical outcry at the violence and mutilation. The Vietnam War was the first televised war and brought the spilled blood of America's youth into the confines of living rooms across the country, adding an animated daily reminder for the anti-war movement. The way we witnessed the Gulf War in 1991 with the digital aid of Night Vision and the perspective from the air attack proved to be an invaluable aid in public support for the first war effort in Iraq. There were few pictures or video of direct ground battle or close ups of the many who directly suffered, mainly un-natural colors of abstract geographies being bombed from above. How we see and what technologies are at hand help forge our understanding of reality and also our ideology. The widespread use of digital filters through still and motion graphic design and animation has distanced the populations from previous modes of reality in favor of a simulated one; one with brilliant colors and less starker visions of even the most inhumane acts.
Armando M. Diaz first one-man show at the Paragraph Gallery takes the lens of this brave new visual world order as a starting point in presenting the six canvases in this series. The Acrylic on canvas paintings range from 3' by 3' squares to a massive 10' by 5' piece. The imagery, motif, and color remain consistent in every canvas: highly stylized architectural landscapes with disorientating abstract lines creating the silhouette of a helmeted soldier, a post-Bladerunner scene created in a frenzy of Day-Glo style colors that have resurged in so many culture mags and Flash websites. One soldier has just shot a missile out of a rocket launcher, caught in mid shot the viewer witnesses the rocket; still, flat, and covered with purple, red, white, and yellow stripes. Another canvas shows a soldier hands above his head jeering in his victorious pose. These paintings intentions are not to provide commentary on the current war effort (the series was started two years ago). They are part of a dialogue about the possibility of a generation used to dealing with war and violence through Apocalypse Now and Grand Theft Auto facing real threats of terrorism and war without the mediation of a gaming console or scripted ending by the very timing of the show. Diaz contributions are successful because he avoids a dogmatic approach to his subject. On first glance one is likely to miss any forms of representation and mistake the paintings as pure abstraction. By appropriating the vocabulary of the Hard Edge abstract artists like Frank Stella and transforming it into a figurative subject Diaz actually changes the minimalist mantra of "what you see is what you get".
Diaz's earliest paintings in this series are square shaped, compact and economical canvases. They retain the same style as the later pieces but are too rigid for their own good. The buildings in the background retain enough detail to be identified by the keen eye. In the piece INF_SEC.03 there is a forest green building with a shaded multi-level car garage cutting a sharp diagonal line across the bottom right third of the composition. The architectural space appears lifted from a virtual reality game and the unnatural colors and hard edges create another dimension. Breaking up the space are the vertical lines of orange, black, and burnt sienna; like a Barnett Newman stripe showing up in a Peter Halley painting, following the vertical lines one discovers the pale pink tones make up the outline of a helmeted soldier with rifle raised. At first the soldier appears decorative and ornamental. He is outlined with no detail inside his form, his shape a purely artificial figure. There are no signs of brushstrokes, no misplaced paint or sloppy line. Everything in this painting is exactly executed as if by machine. The man/machine process is the defining characteristic of the work. These are paintings of rendered pictures based on photographs. Sketching the images into Adobe Illustrator, the program that vectorizes images into flattened planes one finds in contemporary advertisements and in Internet graphics, Diaz is able to find swatches adequate to provide a slick look. He cleans up his pictures and removes hints of reality, the hindrances of a world burdened with graffiti and trash are removed in favor of an architectural space that is flattened and washed in the passive pastel hue of the future. He has adopted the visual language of marketing, the aesthetic of the cool, the clean and the consumable. We understand that a living human has created these because of their physical presence, but we also know that they would not be possible without current technology. Lichtenstien used the effect of the Ben Day dot to transfer the printing techniques of his time into large-scale paintings; Diaz has Adobe Illustrator. Once the work leaves the computer screen and the inkjet print or color copy and occupies the physical space and history of paint on canvas the viewer is allotted a special privilege; a critical distance, the possibility to understand the impact current technologies have on the way people see and understand reality. In Diaz's landscapes the viewer witnesses a soldier with a gun aimed and ready to shoot and it means nothing to us. The sight is familiar to everyone from the daily news, cartoons, cinema and childrens toy. Americans are inundated with images of guns, violence, and warfare. Many have participated with similar looking soldiers in video games like Doom, Quake, and Bond. By further stylizing the soldier in this unidentified artificial place these paintings hold a mirror to our current moment in history and the immunity such pictures now have on the viewer.
The most successful and recent painting is saferd2 and is nearly ten feet long by five feet high. The painting has further minimized the color palette, contrasting the darker purple and green in the background with the lighter pink and greens of alert soldier in the foreground. The figuration of the soldier cuts across the right plane of the canvas interrupting and interacting with the background. The figure is flat, torso to helmet, shoulder to barrel of his gun creates a new plane of space that has no shading of dimension, only the multiple flat stripes of color. He appears to be alert but could be an exacto knife cut out pasted onto this three dimensional landscape. The engagement of the viewer with this near life size figure is one of entanglement. We are accustomed to viewing this type of graphic image on the computer screen, where it is at the largest 19" and the light emanates from the back of the screen. Enlarged and well lit in the confines of the cube of the gallery, Diaz has traded the illusionism of one graphic mode to another. He understands our relationship to this new world of visual understanding and responds with a new realism, one that is enjoyable to look at but somewhat troubling to digest. When the viewer looks at the remnants of the buildings in this painting which have become further abstracted, one is not sure if it is a further stylized form that has become less recognizable, or if these are representations of a real site that has been ravaged by rebel guerrillas fighting for a free state. This could be the Night Vision of the future. It would make a beautiful war.