R.V.(Robin Van Arsdol)
His iconic Screaming Man and Tulip have become ingrained in the memories of Orlando, Florida locals for decades and his Homage to Yves Klein series has been the highlight of events hosted by the Orlando Museum of Art and Nude Nite Orlando over the years.
Yves Klein (French, 1928-62) was a unique figure in the post-war European art scene. During his short life, he became renown for inventing and patenting his own ultramarine paint, IKB (International Klein Blue), inviting the upper crust of Parisian society to an opening that essentially exhibited an empty room, and manipulating the human body as a vessel or paintbrush in his Anthropometries.
The Anthropometries record the physical energy of the human body on canvas and have been cited by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg in his blueprint body presses of the late Forties and early Fifties. R.V., in his Homage series, provides us with a citation or art historical reference of Yves Klein, yet a more literal interpretation than Rauschenberg in order to directly align himself with Klein.
The Prophecies as an exhibition delineates an omnipresent narrative and career-long undertaking in the work of R.V. (Robin Van Arsdol). A child of the dusk of the first nuclear holocaust and the dawn of the Cold War, R.V. was integrated into a generation of paranoia and a culture of foreboding “duck and cover” American politics.
Religion and cartoons provided an early refuge and later served as the foundation of his artistic lexicon. By the end of the Seventies, R.V. had established himself as a sculpture instructor at New York University and as a prominent member of the graffiti movement in the New York City of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. Coloring the streets with his metaphoric symbols became his trademark in the thriving space of public art.
Yet, his philosophic and artistic discourses collided in an epiphany after viewing the movie Black Rain (1989). Shohei Imamura’s film follows the trials of Yasuko. Five years after having been exposed to radiation in Hiroshima, she showed no physical traces of this experience while living in a community of fellow survivors. However, she is forced to lie to her family about the deformation of her child, but is unable to protect herself or shield her baby from the dismal truth.
The victimizing effects of radiation and the environment on unborn children posed an aporia and horrific vision for R.V., which he related to the apocalyptic revelations posed in the New Testament in The Bible. Reiterated throughout the Gospels of the Four Evangelists and in the Book of Revelations, Christ offers an ominous account of the Great Tribulation, specifically in his sermon given on the Mount of Olives in the Olivet Discourse recounted in Matthew: And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! (Matthew 24:19)
In relation to Black Rain, infections in the mother are directly transferred to her unborn child. Likewise, radioactivity, which cannot disappear but has been presumed to eventually break down, not only invades the genetics of the body, but causes irreparable havoc to the naivety and purity of the child’s psyche. Plutonium therefore resurfaces as paranoia.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 traumatically brought the Second World War to an abrupt end and in turn, gave birth to a new classification of men and women. The hibakusha, a term given by the Japanese government’s Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, denotes those victims who: (1) were within a few kilometers of the hypocenters of the bombs, (2) were within two kilometers of the hypocenters within two weeks of the bombings, (3) were exposed to radiation from fallout, and (4) were babies carried by pregnant women in any of the preceding categories.
By 1980, there were approximately 11,000 nuclear warheads in production with the capacity to destroy the world three times. Today, production continues and becomes less a question of defense than one of money and greed. Money and greed perpetuate nuclear holocaust and the apocalypse. Delusions of religious authority and the need for justification of doubt perpetuate the prophecies of Christ. We are all becoming hibakusha.
In The Prophecies, R.V. presents a series of “nuclear landscapes” that attempt to ward off the pessimism of the apocalypse through the protest of art. The viewer does not face the archaic personification of the Four Horsemen, but is confronted by the presence of innocent, almost childlike signs of familiarity which are stripped of their quotidian symbolism and impregnated with a deeper, subconscious spectrum of meaning.
Accordingly, crosses and graves signify the schizophrenia of male character, which appeared on the walls and edifices of New York City in the early Eighties accompanied by tags reading, “What will you do when war comes? Die in my car.” By the end of the Eighties, imagery in the form of mushroom clouds, the machinery of war, and burning houses were supplemented with scripture.
Akin to the self-inflammation of Buddhist monks, R.V. offers the artistic protest of hope in the wake of destruction in the form of delicate bulbs or Nature, revealing itself in his landscapes of tulips.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. (Matthew 24:29-30)
R.V. asks, “What will you do when the war comes?” As a child of the Gulf War and a member of the generation impacted by September 11th, impending nuclear holocaust and worldwide uncertainty, I reply, “Spread tulips.” (Written by Curator Megan Bardoe)