Last Sunday marked the opening of a series of goache works by modernist painter Matthew “Hari” Kidd (1899-1964). This superb undated series is something of a meditation on war-in this case Nazi germany and the second world war. It is not limited to the horrors perpetrated by Nazi’s but includes paintings of wealthy businessmen holding dollars while looking smugly on Nazi flag waving armies; on double dealing diplomats and others, as well as portrayals of concentration camps, wounded soldiers and armed conflict.
Hari Kidd, who attended elementary school in El Paso, studied art in Europe where he obviously absorbed all of the then new art ideas swirling around at the time. Although Kidd painted a variety of themes, this use of modernist technique in service to political commentary makes one, of course, immediately think of George Grosz, whose powerful caricatures of the Weimar republic also used distortion to political effect. But Kidd was also obviously influenced by cubists among others. His use of color, in this case somber browns, greens and ochre, to create forms and mood also echoes Fauvists, though their works tended, of course, more to bright orange and more vivid colors, yet there was the same creation of form through color rather than strict figurative delineation.
Unlike in much other American social realist paintings, these forms are more hinted at than realistically drawn. One painting shows row after endless row of uniformed soldiers as machine. The first one or two soldiers has a face, and the rest simply indicated through color and form in unvarying uniformity.
The work is undated, and precisely when he made these is unknown. The series was donated to El Paso in 1965, a year after Kidd’s death, and apparently, it has never been exhibited as a series since then.
Kidd apparently returned from Europe in the 30’s for health reason and tried to introduce modernist art to El Paso, which by all accounts said hello, and gave it a table by the kitchen. Kidd moved to Key West, but this gives an opportunity to see how the combination of what was at the time somewhat experimental art techniques could be harnessed to a political consciousness to excellent effect.
I must say the whole summer has been filled with political work. The Ruben center kicked things off with their Up Against the Wall series of international political posters; then the El Paso Museum of Art has Alice Leora Briggs Dreamland out of Juarez series. In the middle of this month there was Peace of Art in a space on north Mesa which filled a large space with posters on the theme of violence in Juarez. This had some good graphics though there were so many pictures of doves, I thought maybe they should put some paper on the floor, and then there was an exhibition at Glass Galleryby UTEP graphics artists apparently inspired by the Up Against the Wall series. I’m not sure this was an entirely successful show, though again some of the works on the theme of violence in Juarez were powerful and effective, and now there is the Kidd series. It’s been an interesting summer.-david sokolec