’ 60s protest has new relevance
Two Confederate f lag paintings decrying the racial climate in the South set for Laguna Art Museum.
A pair of Confederate f lag paintings that Southern California artist G. Ray Kerciu created in response to the racially charged atmosphere at the University of Mississippi during the 1960s is set to go on display Saturday at the Laguna Art Museum.
Organizers said the display came together quickly this week in response to the national debate over the Confederate f lag following last week’s fatal shooting of nine people at a predominantly black church in South Carolina.
Malcolm Warner, executive director of the Laguna Art Museum, said in a phone interview that Kerciu’s paintings are examples of appropriating the Confederate f lag “as a way of attacking the violence and racism that so appalled him in Mississippi.”
He said that Kerciu, a former museum trustee, approached him about displaying the paintings, which are part of a larger series he created.
“We thought it would be an interesting contribution to the debate, showing how an artist can turn imagery against itself,” Warner said.
The two paintings, titled “Never” and “Ho,” belong to the artist and aren’t in the museum’s collection. The former painting shows the word “Never” in large letters set against the Confederate f lag. The latter piece shows two Confederate f lags f lying in opposite directions.
“In museums, we always strive to be relevant,” Warner said. “So when debate swirls around public imagery, it means there needs to be an appropriate response to show works of art that chime in on the subject.”
Kerciu said in a separate interview that he kept the two paintings in his collection and “I never thought how they would be seen again. They were about what I went through at the time.”
He said he has thought a lot about the recent spate of racial unrest across the country:
“I thought as an old man, we would be past all this stuff,” he said. “But we’re not. It’s a great disappointment to me.”
The artist explained that “Never” was created in response to an incident when civil rights leader James Meredith came to the University of Mississippi campus.
“He was guarded by federal agents,” Kerciu said. “Some students wore black and white buttons that said ‘ Never’ and that meant never would they integrate.
“That’s one hell of a strong word.”
The painting “Ho” is a bit more conceptual and features randomly chosen letters placed around two Confederate f lags.
Kerciu taught for decades at Cal State Fullerton and lives in Laguna Beach. He is scheduled to talk about the paintings and his career July 23 at the Laguna museum.
As a young man, “I wasn’t a radical,” the artist said. “I just got caught in the middle of the battle and joined the battle. Once your heart is into f ighting the good f ight, you continue it.”
The f lag paintings are scheduled to remain on view through Sept. 27.
G. RAY KERCIU created these works in the 1960s to decry the violence associated with the Confederate f lag. They will go on display Saturday in Laguna Beach.