Hell On Wheels

2005 — The earliest works in this series are watercolors done on location while teaching in Normandy, France where decommissioned Sherman Tanks are ubiquitous. They can be found in front of memorials and museums and in the town squares of small towns throughout the region. The body of work grew from simple sketches of local color to be a comprehensive  investigation of the tank as an object, symbol and metaphor. As my interest grew, I found the tank to be ripe with associations. Though outwardly menacing and powerful, the Sherman Tank proved to be inadequate in firepower and armor compared to its German counterparts. For those that occupied the tanks in battle it could become a deathtrap. This dichotomy, the contradiction between image and reality, power and impotence, is a thread that runs through all the work in this series. Hell On Wheels includes drawings, paintings, sculpture and animation. Each medium allows me to explore the subject from a different point of view. The drawings and paintings move between portraiture to dense diagrammatical explorations, although neither extreme seems to reveal an accurate picture.  They each expose but a single, fleeting aspect of the Sherman tank: its physicality and potential, its history and its presence. My sculptures tend to be more ironic using the materials as part of the message.  An example of this would be Surplus Tank, which is an Oldenburg-like soft sculptural tank constructed of surplus army duffel bags. Limp and splayed, Surplus Tank is pathetic. However, the duffel bags enhance the meaning, because of their direct connection to armed service. They were still caked with dirt and tagged with the former owner’s name and outfit when I purchased them from an Army Surplus store. The limp form that at first glance may be seen as humorous can be understood as fatigued, frightened or, worse, dead. At The University of Arizona Museum of Art the work was featured in Corrspondence: In Relation To Goya where it was displayed adjacent to Goya’s Los Desastres de la Guerra suite of prints.

 

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© Joseph Peragine