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


by Robert Studwood Hues, Famous Art Critic


Chris Auman
Auman anticipated the Grunge Era by a decade.

 

1976-1978

1976 was a time for celebration in America. It was the bicentennial of the U.S. — two hundred years of what Alex de Toqueville called the "Great American Experiment." It was a time to forget the divisive politics of the '60s and kick back and relax with bad weed, bad beer and horrible music. It was a time to Welcome Back Kotter and welcome in Donny & Marie (a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll—a very little bit rock and roll). The pop charts were full of disco and silly love songs. Star Wars was just about to take over as a pop culture juggernaut that would rule the rest of our lives forever. Rocky was a failed, moronic everyman that found redemption. The Omen put the fear of the devil in us and King Kong was just a big old, loveable gorilla. A peanut farmer from Georgia, who admitted knowing lust in his heart, was elected President of the United States — lust in the heart now being permitted while marijuana smoke in the lungs would take another decade and a half. It was in this year, 1976, that the young artist tried to make sense of the first five years of his existence: the destruction, the carnage, the horror! It was through a series of drawings depicting scenes of war and military life that Auman was able to comment on the events that shaped a world that was stagnating around him. Authority figures also figured prominently in Auman's work from this period, as did the possibilities of what may lie just beyond our reach: the stars!

War In Pieces

Though the war in Vietnam officially ended in 1975, the carnage and devastation the young artist saw on his family's tiny black and white TV stayed with him in the subsequent years. These images led him to create stunning depictions of battle scenes rendered in full color. Brilliant oranges and martial greens commanded the page as themes of patriotism, cowardice, and the frailty of the human condition lied just under the surface.

Retreat

Army Retreat by Chris Auman
Retreat, 1976 Crayon and Pencil

Saigon fell in 1975. It was a humiliating defeat for a military that was accustomed to kicking ass and taking or not taking names as they saw fit. The US had made themselves subject to their own Policy of Containment, which was designed to keep the dominoes from toppling and the Weebles from wobbling, but topple and wobble they did.


Some art historians claim that Auman's artwork had a major impact on the American subconscious and that he was able to influence public perception and government policy in an extremely subtle way. This is probably true.


Submerged

Submerged Naval Battle by Chris Auman
Submerged, 1976 Crayon and Pencil

Auman used a submarine as a metaphor for the sinking of America's influence due to the futile implementation of military solutions to the growing threat of Communism worldwide. Or something. Through the bold use of color, Auman brought this ugly truth home to average American kindergarteners who were either incapable or unwilling to wrap their tiny little brains around the concept. 


Hey Sailor!

Hey Sailor by Chris Auman
Hey Sailor!, 1977 Marker and paper

Auman was not afraid to tackle hot button issues like Gays in the Military many years before they would become hot button issues. This was even before people said things like "hot button issues." Don't Ask Don't Tell wasn't being asked (or told) and certainly no one was asking the opinions of seven year olds. Auman had an opinion, however, and he was not afraid to share it visually. Some art historians claim that Auman's artwork had a major impact on the American subconscious and that he was able to influence public perception and government policy in an extremely subtle way. This is probably true.


A Walk on the Wild Side

Wild Ones by Chris Auman
Wild Ones, Part 1, 1978 Crayon & Paper

A healthy suspicion of authority, and a belief that a man should make his own laws and live by them, informed Auman's work throughout 1978. Inspired by the unwritten, unspoken philosophy of America's mythical outlaw motorcycle clubs, Auman's series of portraits Wild Ones demonstrated this solidarity with the self-proclaimed One Percenters.

Wild Ones Part 2 by Chris Auman
Wild Ones, Part 1, 1978 Crayon & Paper

Revealing a slight libertarian bent, Auman was opposed to federally mandated helmet laws. 

Sometimes innocent civilians were the victims when the few rejected the rules of the many and lived their lives according to their own laws and social mores. In Wild Ones Part 2, Auman explored this theme in great detail. The rebels in the piece smile and laugh as they leave an army guy and a driverless blue Pinto in a cloud of noxious dust. Civility is the casualty in this war being waged on society by a few outcast soldiers who have banded together to fight who they perceive as the "Normals." Whether this was Auman's intention or not, I think this observation on my part makes me sound smart. 


Auman tried to explain the motivation behind his work in a 1978 piece in INTERVIEWED Magazine.

"What does it mean to be a rebel in America? Is it about more than driving a semi across Dixie with a load of Coors? Why are so many truckers friends with monkeys? Why don't guys on motorcycles like wearing helmets or the cops? These are all questions I try to answer through my art"


Lost in Space

Space, the final frontier. What lies beyond our Milky Way? Is there intelligent life out there? Is there intelligent life down here? These were the questions Auman was grappling with in 1978 when he created his Rockets series. 

Green Rockets 

Green Rockets by Chris Auman
Green Rockets, 1978 Crayon & Notebook 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? 

Pink & Blue Rockets

What lies beyond the Milky Way? Yodas? Wookies? Mars Bars?

Pink and Blue Rockets by Chris Auman
Pink & Blue Rockets, 1978 Crayon & Notebook Paper 

Race to Space

The Space Race in the '70s was Skylab and Salyuts, kaputniks and kersplatniks. 

R2D2 by Chris Auman
Arto Dto, 1978 Crayon & Paper

Auman's best friend in 1978, sadly, was a robot named Arto Dto. 


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 3