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Hubris Corpulentus

A series of ten engravings on the Iraq War by Art Hazelwood

Hubris Corpulentus Title Page
Title Page, engraving, 3½" x 7½", 2003

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Hubris Corpulentus
is a state of obscene, overweening pride that produces monstrous realities out of the stupor of irrationality.

After it became clear that nothing would stop the US march to war in Iraq, and my sense of frustration mounted, the only course that seemed open was to channel despair into small concise statements. Engraving seemed like the best way to focus. It is a laborious process: a method of cutting a metal plate with tools to create an image. The minuteness, obsessiveness and control required were the perfect match for my wish to focus anger at details of this monumentally hubristic war.

I did not presume to portray the photographic reality, nor the horrors of war. My experience is limited in this regard to news consumption. I focused instead on the metaphorical and satirical nature of the enterprise. Liberty Brought to Baghdad portrays a bound and blindfolded lady liberty, roughly treated by troops dragging her off to her newly intended. The Four Horsemen portray the classic four figures of death, war, pestilence and famine striding above the globe while below insignificant peace protesters march in ant-like swarms.

The full series of ten prints is $2,000 . Each individual print is $225.

Hubris Corpulentus has been acquired by the following collections:
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, New York Public Library, St. Mary's College of California Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design Institute Museum, Stanford Library Special Collections

Hubris Corpulentus exhibition reviewed at the Meridian Gallery 2004

HUBRIS CORPULENTUS: Prints by Art Hazelwood
Jan. 15-Feb. 28, 2004 T-Sat 11am-5pm
Meridian Gallery
545 Sutter Street (at Powell), SF

I believe if one looks around at the culture one sees romanticized violence and sexualized war, and that is what I am attacking.
Art Hazelwood

In 1996 Presidential candidate Bob Dole, anent some quaint Clintonian scandal or other (I disremember now), demanded, "Where's the outrage?" (Perhaps he was invoking Walter Mondale's rousing 1984 "Where's the beef?") In light of the hypocrisy and religiosity, arrogance and ignorance, stupidity and cupidity on display these days, it is gratifying to hear, even in the liberal wacko bastion of the Bay Area, that the Emperor is, well, sartorially challenged (though, admittedly, buff in the buff after all those workouts); and it's heartening to see artwork that dares to examine reality not just with a cool conspiratorial wink, but a satiric angry gimlet eye.

Art Hazelwood's scathing prints (Hubris Corpulentus translating as "overweening pride") continue the proud tradition exemplified by (Breughel, Holbein, Cruikshank, Gillray, Hogarth, Goya, Daumier, Posada, Orozco, Nast, Steinlen, Kollwitz, Barlach, Beckmann, Dix, Picasso, Rouault, Heartfield, Bellows, Gropper, Grosz, Shahn, Levine and Coe)of criticizing social ills, telling the truth to power and to the powerless. They are moralizing in the best sense (not that of the professional Bible-thumpers)and call us to our better selves, stripping away our masks and patriotic finery, looking beneath the hectic shibboleths and bland platitudes. It's strong stuff, not our usual recycled art feed, but good medicine, and tonic for what ails the body politic in '04.

It would be selfish to reveal too much about the imagery of these wood- and linocuts, etchings and lithographs, depriving viewers of the shock and awful joy of recognition, but discussing a few examples may be useful.

Ship of Fools revives the late medieval conceit (also employed by Bosch and Beckmann) of mankind as self-absorbed punters abandoned to private follies, and oblivious to their common peril; Hazelwood updates it, adding soulless sports, firepower and sex to the traditional target of religious hypocrisy.

In the Coliseum depicts the contemporary version of the Roman bread and circuses: fans and athletes fight on and off the field, flanked by cheerleader/model/actress caryatids under a sky crisscrossed by advertising airplanes.

Liberty Brought to Baghdad shows a winged allegorical figure bound and guarded by two soldiers who eat and floss (good hygiene, banal evil), in a secular parody of the Roman soldiers gambling at the Crucifixion.

The central figure in Paranoia stands bewildered, paralyzed by the threats of modern life, e.g., Teletubbies, The Gay Agenda, Ebola, Satan in Toys, and is not appreciably reassured by the video surveillance cameras on either side.

Finally, Romance of War, depicting a coalition of the bikinied draped over (manning?) a cannon, all gas-masked and ready for action, indicts our voyeurism and hypocrisy: sure, we're freedom-loving, peace-loving and just plain loving folks, but isn't violence fascinating? Sex, too (Seen any action-revenge-hottie movies of late?). The Private Lynch story has it all: guns, girls and, in Hazelwood's words, the "eroticization of the war made flesh." The richest and most powerful nation in world history hypes a docutainment video to manipulate public opinion. Wasn't there already a movie made about our crusade against the Albanians? Or was it Grenadians?. (Romance is also a satirical restatement of Goya's etching Que Valor! from The Disasters of War, commemorating the Spanish heroine of the Peninsular War against the French.)

Those who are alarmed at the current political and social situation should see this show. It is probably too much to ask supporters of the status quo to make the effort, but they are losing an opportunity to save themselves from sheepish apologies in a few years' time ("You don't understand what we thought."). Let's all spare Errol Morris and ourselves the blockbuster sequel film "The Fog of War 2: Hindsight 2020."

Copyright DeWitt Cheng 2004
Art Hazelwood
Meridian Gallery
545 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 398-7229
Through 2/28/2004

"Hubris Corpulentus," prints.

Those presumed lost have a way of turning up alive and well and living in San Francisco, as Mark Twain once famously observed, and so it is only fitting that revolutions that may have been presumed lost have also turned up alive and well at S.F.'s Meridian Gallery (not to mention at city hall this week). Art Hazelwood's dynamic, Expressionist-inspired prints feature bloated businessmen and corpulent soldiers in woefully inadequate World War I helmets who would seem right at home in early 20th-century protest prints by the likes of Otto Dix, but for Hazelwood's topical allusions to the current war in Iraq, merger mania and the distractions of the Super Bowl. In "Hubris Corpulentus," chubby soldiers disembark from a plane waving tiny machine guns around menacingly yet ineffectually, like B-movie extras who seem set up just to be shot down. In "Merger Mania," two businessmen and one businesswoman rush at one another like NFL players, flailing their briefcases wildly as a woman cradling a baby watches warily from the sidelines. This is the kind of spectacle that gives cause for speculation not only among Wall Street traders but also with conspiracy theorists such as the one featured in "Paranoia." Here, a bug-eyed figure in Birkenstock sandals tentatively peeks through a doorway, only to be confronted with a phalanx of security cameras and long lists of fears: "Teletubbies," "Kenneth Starr," "mad cow," "Vote Nader," "alien autopsy" and "Social Security is doomed." Here, as in the show as a whole, Hazelwood finds a moment of truth amid the prevailing paranoia, and suggests there is yet a choice to be made: Surround ourselves with fears, or slam the door on them with a resounding bang. In a city that has galvanized global attention with mass protests, mass weddings and political art of the caliber of Art Hazelwood, bet on the bang.
Alison Bing, special to SF Gate

Hubris Corpulentus
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