Justin Prough: A Vitally Important Story Told in Art
By Genie Davis
A true visual storyteller, Justin Prough works in a variety of mediums, creating work that blends digital work with tactile medias from wood to the detritus found on shore lines, domestic objects, discarded toys, and the photographic. Whether he is making prints that dance with dimension, creating sculpture, or shaping wall-hung assemblages, Prough makes a point of creating vibrant, humorous, prescient art –art that has a point both sharp and well-taken.
His background in advertising has served him well: he knows how to craft a visual punchline and tell a fast-beat story that has a memorable hook. In his fine current exhibition, The Whitewashing of America, Prough looks hard and smart at the words and actions of our 45th president, creating images that show the emotional violence the orange man in the White House creates for what it really is: daggers to the heart of the nation.
In an effort to reassure his daughter, and his viewers, about the wrongness that reaches deep into American culture, Prough created an astonishing assemblage series that is as beautiful as it is symbolic. Exposing the vitriol that runs like a vein of copper through the mineshaft of American history, Prough’s exhibition prods the viewer to look below the surface, under the pretty white paint, the hasty make-over that does not truly cover the ugliness below.
Utilizing wood pieces and household objects, Prough has created works that dive deeply into American culture, and dig at the greed, as well as the lust for conquest and submission, that are endemic beneath the surface. The worms beneath the bedrock of the U.S. body politic have crawled to light under the current president, and Prough is having none of it. No acceptance, no acquiescence, no white washing of bitter truths.
There is a graceful wave of leaves and doves – if the doves were the Twitter logo, that is – lining the stripes of the American flag in Prough’s “Social Revulsion.” Linked by barbed wire, these birds are both wearing the flag’s stripes and hiding within it. At the lower far-right corner of the piece, the artist has inscribed “#End It @USA.” Now there’s a hash tag, and one perhaps ironically placed in that particular position within the artwork, that of the far- right. The upper left section of the piece, where the flag’s stars stand, a hammer and sickle override them, with the gravestone marker of “2016 – ___,” the end-year of our current cultural desecration blank for now. Inscribed on the hammer’s shaft: “Designed in Russia, Made in the USA.” No amount of whitewashing, literal or figurative, can disguise this truth – hidden in plain sight.
Exhaust tail pipes – the positioning of which resemble a frequent shaping of U.S. president 45’s lips, dominate the upper section of “The State of Trump.” An image of a haggard Trump is framed in barbed wire, and crowned by it – a Jesus-like reference to the crown of thorns and the strange, sacrilegious sanctimony often anointed on the president. Building to a final crescendo of advice, “Make America Great Again? Resist the State of Trump,” sentences spell out the curses leveled by Trump against our society: fake news/lies; normalizing racism, sexism, and hate; deconstructing concepts of hope; pillaging the environment while denying climate change and providing tax breaks for the wealthy; denying his and his cronies wealth grabs. The words are powerful, direct, and exciting to see scorned, but the flag-like design of the visual and textural elements also defines their ugly power.
The flag motif runs through all of these works: in “F-It I’m Playing Through,” a smiling Trump’s visage mars the position of the stars around it, and the stripes are riven with a spill of broken golf club-heads. Discarded and outdated video-game figurines are the found-pieces included in “A Nation Divided.” A toilet paper dispenser is aptly placed over Trump’s mouth in “Full of Shit.”
The actual whitewashing of America needs repudiation in the world; Prough’s exhibition of the same name is surprisingly serene visually for an exponentially fierce subject that will light bursts of firework-bright rebellion in viewers’ hearts and minds.
The series is currently on exhibit by appointment at Balcony Gallery, organized by Shoebox Projects. View a video walk-through and stills of the exhibition in a well laid-out virtual space online at: https://shoeboxprojects.com/justin-prough-the-whitewashing-of-america/
On Prough’s website, https://justinprough.com/, you can also take in the artist’s seaside debris assemblages, Seascapes Found; and his vivid archival ink on acrylic-whitewashed wood works in The Fictional Reality of California Beach Culture, where Barbie dolls add to the fantasy world of California girls and singular surf days.