The kids leading the new Revolution stopped by the studio today, and I had a chance to chat with them while doing their portrait.
Me: Did you hear about the man with multiple personalities who shot himself outside the White House?
Nathan Hale: Yes. Another terrible mass shooting. What will it take for people to give up their guns?
Me: Why are you calling yourself Nathan Hale? And why the safety balls on the pitchfork?
Nathan Hale: The real Nathan Hale was 21 when he was executed by the British for being spy, and Donald Trump is going to execute me before I’m legally allowed to drink alcohol. If Nathan was alive today, all he’d want to do is fix the unresolved tensions of the American experience. Imagine how safe life would be if we had common sense pitchforks.
Betsy Ross: The country is navigating what exactly it means to be American. That’s why I identify as the woman who may have created the American flag. Of course, I’d burn it in a Valley Forge minute, but don’t tell anyone that. Betsy was the first transgender American hero.
Me: So … you chose the 1930s “American Gothic” look because Grant Wood was painting in a pretty tough moment. Maybe not so unlike the moment we are in today.
Betsy Ross: Yes. We’re still grappling with the aftermath of economic meltdown and a Great Depression, and I think we’re headed into a Third World War. Maybe not literally a world war, but anything could happen with Hitler in the White House.
Nathan Hale: And we think America can’t win that war unless we physically take every gun and give them all to the government.
Me: How many guns is that?
Nathan Hale: Wikipedia says there are 1.1 guns per citizen, so …
Betsy Ross: 100 million?
Me: What then?
Nathan Hale: What do you mean?
Betsy Ross: Oh, he wants us to look at the past to define some sense of how to deal with the present. Fuck history.
Me: I’m just making conversation. And painting.
Nathan Hale: You’re painting us as husband and wife when we’re really father and daughter.
Me: What do you mean?
Nathan Hale: You’re nostalgic for a mythic imaginary world where men and women had sex and babies and carved their lives out of the wilderness. We’re way past that. Men have uteruses, too.
Betsy Ross: I could have a uterus right now and you wouldn’t even know it. My uterus doesn’t need a gun.
Me: Do you?
Betsy Ross: Do I what?
Me: Have a uterus?
Betsy Ross: No, but what does that have to do with anything?
Nathan Hale: Ignore him. Last fall we debated gun control in class. Now we’re debating lawmakers on TV. In some ways it seems like our school has been preparing us for this moment without realizing it.
Me: So you’re saying that I’m plagiarizing the ambiguity between a bucolic elegiac world and a sense of solitude, estrangement, and disquiet. Like an apprehension that runs through it but is never reconciled.
Betsy Ross: Yes. We’re mesmerized in front of these mass shootings whose meaning we are trying to figure out. We’re held in hypnotic trance, trying to decipher the puzzle of this picture that seem so ambiguous.
Nathan Hale: Absolutely. Our parents have allowed politicians and the media to use us like rented mules in their thirst for political power. As a result, many of us have been nationally humiliated and will forever be known for the ignorant and pathetic things we’ve been saying, with innocent sincerity, prompted by teachers and celebrities we respect because we don’t know any better. We’ve been abandoned by the adults we should be able to trust.
Me: Wait. What?