I’ll see you there.
By William Zdan:
The term “Pollice Verso” means (roughly) “thumbs down”. It’s in reference to the (albeit incorrect) traditional depiction of a Roman emperor giving the “thumbs down” signal that dictated the fate of a vulnerable/defeated fighter…usually a slave or other “expendable” that was forced into brutal exhibition.
I’ve toyed with the phrase, changing it to “Police Verso”..in obvious reference to the despicable actions that took place in Fullerton last year. In my painting, Dick Jones plays the part of a distant and ineffectual Caesar. He thumbs the fate of the unseen victim in smug disinterest, not even allowing his glaze to meet the atrocity for which he shares ownership. A panel of piggish spectators oversee the event, in uncontrolled animalistic enthusiasm.
When watching a television report with Dick Jones last year, I was disheartened by the comments he had made about the murder. “I don’t know why he died” was the comment from Jones that affected me the most. Jones made a point to boast about his war-time efforts and how much worse, non-fatal injuries had been experienced there. Jones, we know and YOU know why he died. And it wasn’t just because of the fierce bludgeoning that he received by your endeared law-enforcement brethren. He died, Jones, because of a culture that still treats other human beings as “expendable”. Because people like Kelly are easily marginalized. Homeless people, especially mentally ill homeless people, clearly don’t count to Jones…and he did not create that sentiment, he just reflects it. Just as the slaves and expendables of the Roman Empire could have their humanity stripped of them by a blood-thirsty crowd, eager to do so…so was Kelly Thomas rendered a worthless item by those people we trust to protect the rest of us who do “count”. As I heard Jones speak, I thought (as I often do), “we have not progressed as a society. We are no different than Rome”.
Despite the (much needed) height of the soapbox upon which I like to stand relative to this topic, I cannot dismiss my own contribution to the negative and destructive culture in which I actively participate. So…the pawn/villian in my painting takes the form of my own image. Shamefully turned away from the viewer, I still raise my tool of destruction above my pig-like visage. I still perform for the pigs and am obedient to the tyrants of norms and expectations. I still pass by countless expendables, which whom I ironically share so much commonality.
I spent much of my young adulthood studying and working with the mentally ill. I worked at occupational, psycho-social rehab facilities for schizophrenic people during college. I even interned at a psychiatric prison for 6 months. During that time, I imagined that my idealism and self-congratulatory understanding of those emotionally suffering individuals would allow me to make a difference. Instead, I’ve become homogenized, like the dizzying amount of conscientiousness introverts that allow people like Jones to have any say in the direction of our society. Despite the fact that Kelly walked the same blocks that I walk every week, I had never even seen him…and wouldn’t have remembered if I had. I stretch my own rubber glove over my hand every day…keeping my fellow man at a distance…careful not to touch the blood that I shared in spilling. Because if I (a so-called idealistic artist with fair exposure to the troubles of the mentally ill) can willfully ignore injustice for the sake of convenience, I am just as filthy a pig as Ramos.
So, I am the ultimate executioner and THAT illness is worse than Kelly’s was. I am the baton-waving brute in my painting. I was never so aware of this until I met Kelly’s mom yesterday. I stood next to her as she looked at the painting that I shat out for this important event. I had jumped onto a cause for someone I never met or cared about. Nowhere in the painting is Kelly’s personal injustice really depicted. Rather, in the form that fell Rome, mine is a self-indulgent view. And here was this man’s mother, looking upon my painting about..well, about something to do with being angry and selfish and pointing fingers, I guess. She said to me, “he was really a good kid”. I bet he was.