May Stevens

Deson-Zaks Gallery

Appointed with TVs, BVDs, bull-dogs and flags, the Big Daddy image has recurred through seven years of paintings, silkscreens, and gouaches by May Stevens. Each variation has cumulatively built or revealed the concept of an authoritarian beast that BD symbolizes. The impact is in Stevens’s irony, her poised commentary on a gross subject, as compared with, for example, Golub’s chaotically ripped and singed canvases. Both BD’s symmetry and his persistence through a series are echoes of regimentation.

Stevens admits that her focus on social problems attempts no social results. And I would agree that authority is timeless; perhaps even that the visual symbol can be neither revolutionary nor radical. Yet, I wonder at Stevens’s resignation. The series may be her catharsis, but, for spectators, BD is a magnet for easy hatred and the sin of self-pity. The liberated may never admit that slavery is more manageable than freedom; but passivity insures authoritarians, and BD’s persistence is a paradoxical acquiescence, an involvement with a predictable image that’s always manipulable. The droplets of anger in every BD permutation seem too slow a dispersion, inevitably bound for neutralization and ineffectiveness.

I wonder if we need more stereotypes or confirmations of what we already know. BD takes us no further. BD pats us on the head, cackling, “Society is bad, little children; draw pictures to protest me on your formica kitchen tables.” But real BD’s might well promote such paintings, so adaptable and conventional. The work finally participates too much in what it purports to rebuke.

C. L. Morrison