Portrait of the Artist as a (Very) Young Man Part 1


by Robert Studwood Hues, Famous Art Critic

 


Hello Cruel World

 

Genius? Rebel? Provocateur?

In the 1970s, Christopher P. Auman was all of these things. He challenged authority, the status quo, and the very idea of what art could be. In less than a decade Auman would shock the art world, only to give up in disgust at the start of the 1980s. In just a few short years, however, he would channel his raw talent into great works that continue to influence our culture even today. After abandoning visual art, Auman would become a novelist, a newspaper publisher and a musician, where he would push the envelope further and further into the stratosphere! 

1970-1973

1970 was a turbulent year, like all the years preceding it and every year since. In 1970, the Vietnam War was still raging and U.S. troops had invaded Cambodia. On the home front, at Kent State University, four students were shot dead by the Ohio National Guard. Movies in 1970 parodied war (M*A*S*H, Catch 22) and glorified warriors (Patton, Kelly’s Heroes). It was into this chaotic world, on the 111th day of 1970 at 4am, that Christopher Patrick Auman was born. It was April 21st and a Tuesday. Immediately upon birth, Auman was appalled by the injustice and hypocrisy he saw in the world. He was torn by his own government's misguided containment policy towards the rise of the worldwide communist threat. Simon and Garfunkel were singing about a bridge that spanned troubled waters. Edwin Starr was asking the question, "War, what is it good for?" "Absolutely nothing" was the answer Starr provided to his own question. It was a turbulent time to be sure, but it was also a great time to be alive and to be an artist! However, even though Auman had a firm grasp on the state of world affairs, it would be several years before he could get a firm grasp on a crayon.

The Red Scribble 

the Red Scribble by Chris Auman
The Red Scribble, 1974 Crayon & paper

1974-1975

By the early 70s, the revolutionary promises of the 60s were as dead as Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The Left's favorite punching bag, Richard Nixon, was out. Ford was in. The war was winding down, but it still raged on, and the U.S. challenge to Communism would pop up elsewhere, everywhere, all over the globe. It was in this spirit of conflict and uncertainty that Auman created his first work of art. The Red Scribble was a study in turmoil. Like the lines of the drawing, the Communist Threat was swirling around the globe. The challenge had not gone unmet, however. Would it be contained by the "Imperialist" ambitions of the United States, whose U.S. Army is represented by the sharp green angle? Or would it continue to circle and engulf the world? And what would the end result be? Auman was asking the questions with this piece, it was up to the politicians to provide the answers. 


"In '75, I was still struggling with what I wanted to say with my art. I wanted it to have an impact, but I didn't know how."-Chris Auman, INTERVIEWED Magazine 1978


Booze & Religion 

Booze and Religion by Chris Auman
Booze & Religion, 1974 Washable tempera paint

Auman was not one to shy away from controversial or taboo subject matters in his work. Religion and substance abuse were fair game. Recognizing that religion, like drugs and alcohol, could also be used as a crutch, Auman brought that point into sharp focus in 1974 with Booze & Religion. Experimenting with the use of color in this painting, Auman depicts a giant martini glass rejecting the garnishes of conformity. The maraschino cherries hurl themselves down to pelt the Catholic Church (represented by the cross) that Auman had been baptized into, without his consent, four years prior. He had no a voice then. He had one now: a loud one. In typical Auman fashion, he refused to spell his name correctly, preferring to employ an almost dyslexic style to his signature that other preschoolers would soon adopt, further drawing the ire of authority figures. 


Mister Blue Pants

Mr. Blue Pant by Chris Auman
Mister Blue Pants, 1975 Crayon & paper

In 1975, Auman entered his "Giant Head Small Hat" period. Depicting a variety of characters with giant heads fitted with comically undersized hats, showed that the young artist still wasn't comfortable in his own (yellow?) skin. Depicting the fashions of the time with extra wide colorful belts and tight blue jeans, Auman was questioning what it was to be masculine in androgynous 1970s America. Mister Blue Pants defines a paradox of the time, can a man still be a man in a large green belt? The answer to that question was a firm and resounding, yes, no, maybe, who cares? Here again, Auman refused to sign his own work, preferring instead to let others apply the labels. 


Vengeance of the Earth Mother

Vengeance of the Earth Mother by Chris Auman
Vengeance of the Earth Mother, 1975 Crayon & paper

Global Warming was not a household term in 1975. It was in this year, in fact, that Wallace Broecker, a geochemist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, first used those two words together in print. The idea that humans could impact their environment so acutely and with such catastrophic results, horrified the five-year-old artist. When the sun's rays are no longer filtered by the ozone layer and they melt the polar ice caps causing the ocean to reclaim the terra firma, thereby creating an apocalyptic scene of death and destruction, the message becomes clear: Reduce C02 emissions by 20% by 1980 now! 


A year later, in 1976, Auman would offer an explanation of this polarizing work:

"Here water and sky do not meet. I wanted to create the feeling of a total disconnect between our environment and what we perceive as reality which is, in fact, diffused reality, as seen through the prism of our capabilities as humans to tear apart the essence of what allows us to live on the planet that gave birth to us."

Despite the fact that no one knows what that even means, in 1975, it seemed to hit the nail squarely on the head.


The Broken Hearted Cowboy

The Broken Hearted Cowboy by Chris Auman
The Broken Hearted Cowboy, 1975 Ballpoint pen & crayon on paper

The obvious meaning of this work is hard to miss: the cowboy has a broken heart. But why is he so sad? Is he overwhelmed by a sense of guilt by the genocide perpetrated against the aboriginal population by the U.S. Government? Is he lonely on the prairie? Does he miss his arms? We don't get the answers to these questions. In life, do we truly know what makes us happy or sad? Could it just be that the sun was particularly scribbly that day? 


Smiling Turkey Man

Smiling Turkey Man by Chris Auman
Smiling Turkey Man, 1975, Crayon & Paper 

The graphic and disturbing Smiling Turkey Man demonstrates Auman's disgust with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, where thousands of innocent turkeys are slaughtered, their organs removed, cooked and stuffed back into the carcass before being roasted in the oven for hours and served along with delicious side dishes of cranberries and mashed potatoes. Mmmmm. Yum!


Next

The next chapter in the career of Christopher P. Auman covers the period of 1976 to 1978. It was during this time that Auman tackled such diverse topics as war, space exploration and pop culture. Always open to new ideas, Auman let his imagination guide him on a journey that would take him through to the end of a turbulent decade, with fascinating results.

Portrait of the Artists as a (Very) Young Man Part 2