Shock and awe 

John Detweiler: False Perceptions: Iraq
Indianapolis Art Center
Through June 22

The first time I viewed John Detweiler’s work, nearly a decade ago, it struck me as the work of an artist exploring interior spaces through a linear, abstract aesthetic. To put it another way, it felt like art for the artist’s sake: less searching than exploring. Now, with a solo show on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, Detweiler has made his years-long transition complete, decidedly taking his personal and artistic concerns outward.

With the show title False Representations: Iraq, Detweiler distills the horror attendant to what is happening in the Middle East. It can be viewed as a political statement — and undoubtedly, this is such a beast — but it extends its calling further. In this current body of work, Detweiler has constructed multilayered images to mimic the onslaught of information-age bombardment, a sort of macro-scale collage of darkly hued, media-inspired imagery.

In an ironic twist, on the afternoon of my visit to the gallery, the makings of a wedding celebration were under orchestration: Tables were being spread with cloths, buffet tables were set up, black-suited caterers scurried around somberly. What a curious backdrop for such a moment. I imagined dipping my fork into a fondue pot with the image of a cadaver peering back at me. I recalled the countless news reports of suicide bombings wreaking carnage at weddings, bringing “till death to us part” crashing into the present.

Detweiler’s work, though, has moments of sublime beauty. Oddly, “Shock and Awe” and “More Shock and Awe,” images of a mercenary-type figure on an equally formidable looking horse, offer a certain majestic simplicity that cuts through the almost neutrally but affectively portrayed violence throughout the exhibition.

But these images are striking, too, if for different reasons. “Insurgents, Dudes, Dead Body and Missing WMD” speaks to a mind-numbing surf through cable channels: Images of a young black man a child, really with an automatic weapon, bullets slung over his shoulder like a snake, shares space with John Wayne and the decomposed lower half of a cadaver. Our collective nightmares are brought to life before us, blurring the boundaries between what is imagined and what is real.

Detweiler’s painting continues to evolve in its subtlety and sensitivity. This isn’t just a show about Iraq, as substantive as that may be in its own right. Detweiler says it best: “… this show embraces false fabrication that reflects only too truly the lack of solid ground upon which we now stand in a fakery enhanced world. The false has become our true world.”

False Perceptions: Iraq, mixed media images by John Detweiler, is on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., through June 22. Call 317-255-2464 or visit for information.

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