Twenty-eight paintings from the Americans Who Tell the Truth series by Robert Shetterly will be on view in a joint exhibition of the Dowd and Beard Galleries from January 22-March 9, 2013. The series features portraits of Americans throughout history who have spoken the truth against injustice, often under difficult circumstances. Each piece is composed of both a painted image of the subject and a quotation by the subject, which is scratched into the surface of the paint. A special posthumous portrait of Bill Griffen, activist and SUNY Cortland Professor, has been created for the show and will be permanently ensconced within the Americans Who Tell the Truth collection.
The Dowd Gallery will feature twenty-two portraits of activists, such as Cesar Chavez, Shirley Chisolm, Alice Waters, Muhammad Ali and Bill Griffen, whose focuses cover a wide range of issues. The Beard Gallery will feature six portraits of activist women in the arts, including Sue Coe, Dorothea Lange, and Lily Yeh.
Rob Shetterly, a Maine-based artist, began painting the Americans Who Tell the Truth series in response to the frustration he felt when President George W. Bush’s administration leveraged propaganda about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as justification for waging a war in Iraq. “I was determined to use the portraits and the words of the subjects as an act of defiance against the lies of an administration leading the American people into unnecessary and illegal wars,” he stated. “The fantasy was that I could, by painting the portraits of these courageous people, evoke their spirits in some way to help us now. I imagined the ghosts of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Mother Jones, Jane Addams, Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, W.E.B. Du Bois, and all the others marching arm in arm, leading millions of people, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to demand the truth about the reasons for the War on Iraq. I imagined them comparing the struggles of their times with issues today so that we would not be so easily manipulated, so easily convinced to give our patriotic approval to causes against our personal interests, the interests of democracy, the environment, and peace.” He originally set out to paint 50 portraits, one for each state. To date, he has created over 150.
Shetterly was working toward a degree in English literature from Harvard College in the late 1960’s when he enrolled in some courses in drawing that changed the focus of his creative endeavors from the written word to the painted image. He was also active during college in promoting civil rights and protesting the Vietnam War. Much of the art he has created over the decades is political. The despair that inspired him to begin the Americans Who Tell the Truth series is transformed into hope by the actual finished portraits. They beckon the viewer to stand up against wrong in the tradition of so many other courageous Americans throughout the nation’s history. The subjects gaze directly back at viewers with an invitation to act. They imply that if they, our fellow citizens, can and did stand up for the truth, so can—and must—we.
For more information about the Americans Who Tell the Truth collection, visit americanswhotellthetruth.org.
Tuesday, February 12, 5:30-6:30 pm: "Speaking Truth to Power about Fracking," a talk by Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Dowd Gallery (9 Main Street, 3rd Floor); Dr. Steingraber, whose portrait is featured in the exhibition, is an Ithaca College Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Department of Environmental Studies and Science.
View the talk