Anton Van Dalen, one of the original contributors to World War 3 Illustrated and someone I have heard Seth Tobocman cite repeatedly as a major influence on his own work, sent an email in response to our recent discovery that the Museum of Modern Art here in NYC has put some of its collection of back issues of World War 3 Illustrated on display as part of their New York contemporary arts gallery. The comics on display are open to some of Van Dalen’s drawings.
Here is the story he tells behind those drawings, and muses on the place of art, commerce, and community:
Dear Seth and friends,
Thank you for your email alerting me to WW3 Illustrated at MOMA! Did go recently…WOW!
Decided to first see their Willem de Kooning and Diego Rivera exhibitions. Both artist and their work had been important early influences in shaping my own art towards human content. Yheir extreme radical immersion in the big questions of their times remains extremely inspiring.
Then went to 2nd floor and saw displays of art and of collectives of artists in the 1980s. Was wonderful to then come across the WW3 Illustrated showing, seamlessly integrated into the total experience of the museum. Think it is a great accomplishment of the magazine and its contributors to gain the respect of yet an other kind of audience.
Remember like yesterday the day in 1980 of seeing Seth and Peter bring out first issue on table in hallway at Pratt Institute. And you two pitching copies in classrooms, as you did so bold to my students.
My drawings included in WW3 display are of 1976, and spoke of neighborhood, and my home, at the time in the midst of a drug war crossfire.
Below see photo of me working on one of these drawings. It’s titled “Falling House”.
Also below 1941 London photo showing the devastating effect of German bombardment. That image helped construct my own.
Saw this very photo in Dutch publication shortly after WW2 ended. Made big impression on me as eight year old in Holland. Never forgot its riveting visual power.
Found same image again some time in early 70s, and took its energy to combust my own. We had moved into the 166 Avenue A “falling house” as young family (still live there) with violence to do with drugs on its streets all around. House is one of oldest in neighborhood. At the time its bricks were drifting out on eroded cement causing walls to buckle out.
The buckling of our home reawakened my dormant WW2 anxieties. Overlaid with experience of a neighborhood on the threshold of demise. Out of that reality sprang an urgent sense to respond through my work to neighborhood and its people on brink of demise, to bear witness. At a time of minimal and conceptual art dominance, it was an archaic thrust.
Those 1976 drawings became a one-person exhibition at a commercial gallery on Madison Avenue, just north of the Whitney Museum. Was well liked by the New York Times. And also by art collectors, as I was struck at the time how many of these drawings ended up sold. In fact the “Falling House” drawing was bought by The Prudential Insurance Company. Not only did they buy that one, but two others as well. For me early lesson of weird symbiotic relationship between gallery artists and the rich. Also the Whitney Museum wanted to buy one, but then on learning I was not American citizen withdrew.
For my last exhibition at the Adam Baumgold Gallery I deliberately made work small, some very small. Thinking it would encourage people with modest means to buy. But that is not what happened. Instead high end collectors bought several. Still leaving me with a disconnect of purpose. Have always kept a degree of distance to any one outlet for my work. Its given me the freedom to not belong to one kind of audience, keeping work hovering between personal and public.
Today I am as ready as ever to stencil again an overt political image/message on the street.
As I for four years now endlessly rework group of oil paintings. Some of the painting is of how the neighborhood main economy has shifted from illegal drugs to legal drugs. And how the bars are now the shooting galleries, and thereby again keeping a community hostage. Through the years WW3 has been steady influence on me not to be a self preoccupied dreamy artist. Always reminding that what we as artists are equal members of a neighborhood, and of the larger world.
Therefore pleased to be part of the WW3 family and its inclusive approach to all, and its ever evolving social subjects to work off.
To see more images from the World War 3 Illustrated display at MoMa click here.