Wayne Coe


I'm an interdisciplinary artist using painting, sculpture, performance & film to explore the mediated unreality of living under our system of militarized acquisition of wealth. How did state school abolish the past, western media reframe the present to absent the Oligarchic war-acquisition from most citizens? Everything’s about selling war. As a West Coast artist, my approach is manifest destiny continued, about borderlessness, expansion of sexuality, drugs, music, religion and art, a freedom quest.

Thoughts about the violent acquisitiveness of the state are unreflected in media.  The Marvel universe is an aesthetic abstraction of the states war fantasy.  Colored aliens replace colonized coloreds.  Richard Wright’s brilliant stories are filled with a delusional quality, his oppressed status under Jim Crow made his childhood innocence feel fugitive. His desperation to survive produced a genius melding of the fanciful and psychotic. The individuals’ primary escape is from our own tortured self inward, not over a fence or under a wall. History painting and fantasy art may be the same escape. Landscape and portraiture cell decoration?     

Crossing borders lets me investigates the queazy intermingling of fact and fiction, news-fantasy, reality-delusion gripping American citizenry.  Working in the film industry, I create hyper-real fictions meant to distract from war capitalism, to deny our history, to divert from reality.   Media fictions may convey truth and information but the media industry’s focus is absenting “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own nation.” And what aesthetic to use in this essentially philosophical inquiry?  I’ve tended toward contemporary historical painting and subverted Pop Art forms, model boxes, comics & stamps. 

For instance, to the world, 9/11 was the most successful TV show ever, spinning political movements, wars, deregulation, elections by wealth, austerity, ecocidal climate denial for stratospheric increases in inequality (capitalism).  My impression was of catastrophic corporate failure, the message I got was: the insurers of the buildings, architects, city, airline owners, the security, the military, Condelisa Rice, took my money but could care less about my body.  All their jobs and duties sham, every capitalist failed.  The emperor has no cloths.  To paint capitalism, I used the industry forms, production art for a disaster picture.  So effective was I at the form, producers would walk in and ask, “when is this film being released, I’ve heard nothing about it?” 

I had the same confusion when the set dressing of the NYTimes photos of Sadaam’s statue coming down were staged with 15 paid Iraqi actors, Times photographers crouching down to dramatize the victorious volk, cropping out the military directors and the vast empty square on all sides.  It’s the same queazy feeling people get watching Triumph of the Will celebrating Hitler’s saintliness, the focus of universal adoration.  To day, it takes a while for the film’s magic, it’s scope and visionary genius to overcome the outed capitalist militarized, murderous acquisition of wealth.  The film hasn’t changed.  Peoples perceived reality changed.  Maybe that’s why I got into sand painting to changes my perception of reality and the audiences.

Al Qaida didn’t attack Democracy; the white house, capital and statue of liberty” the aggrieved Saudis struck the financial and military state, what capitalists are (Sheldon Wolin).  Western history books deny the annexation (theft by war) of the poorest people of colors liberty, lucre, labor, land and lives.   Curiously, the corporate predators unleashed internally and externally their violent greed, re-codified but hardly invisible.  Racists, women’s status depreciated, social programs slashed, economic elite elevated, religious fanatics suddenly exalted in their worship of state power.  The were a U.S. reflection of the Saudis capitalists, billionaire Bin Laden (if he did it), who attacked, flushed out to gleefully be stateless executioners, borderless terrorists, and economic torturers.  Any illusion of separation of military and wealth melted away.  All Democrats and Republicans, united in the super rich.  For me, overnight, the nation was this gruesome stranger.  Not In Our Name and JERSEY GIRLS were rendered voiceless by state media.

Going back to early capitalism and it’s autocratic school curriculum, to blind kids to capitalism, to incarcerate us our whole lives and manufacture, “wise voters” (Elementary Education Act 1880), citizens blinded to inequality, racism and militarism of white men.  Public school takes daggers to my eyes by declaring over and over, “capitalists make no money”, “war promotes freedom and liberty”, “racism is nonexistent and justified”, “the state is not a violent manifestation of minority class coercion of the majority”. 

I was taught, my parent were taught, my grandparents were taught, their grandparents & on.  Thanksgiving, the puritans and Indians eat together like a happy family, instead of the centuries of genocide of twenty two million natives to take from them everything, and a century of reeducation to climate their culture from history.  We’re taught Slavery ended 150 years ago with an angry internecine argument and slavery made no money: 4,400,000 (Dubois) enslaved were moved from North to South under a corporate contract, the Constitution, focused on “private property rights”, to empty a quarter of the U.S. of American Indians to establish a vast capitalist-owned cotton plantation (THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD, SLAVERY AND CAPITALISM IN THE UNITED STATES).  And perpetual wars for money from North Korea to South Vietnam from Central American to the Middle East —  were fought for the highest ideals; to stop communism, end all wars, free the downtrodden, civilize the savages, liberate their Iraqis, defeat the fascists  —  not prosecuted for the enrichment of capitalist empires.

So how to make credible art under the national religion of the insanely, murderously rich capitalists?  How do you paint it?  You see an ocean of problems and an eyedropper as a tool.  Re-Territorialize, re-historicize, re-empathize.  Style is essential but shifts to explore the extraordinary landscape suppressed experience which must be recalled to life.

A friend Alex Schaffer did plain air paintings of banks when they were being caught yearly breaking the law, banks on fire.  He was arrested.  His painting was too true.  I think they read it as a suggestion, as an incitement to burn banks but one look at Alex, five minutes of conversation would disappoint the prosecution.

I stopped a school closing by attending 3 years of school meetings and a million creative activities: articles, cartoons, posts, etc.  I was banned by the superintendent from school.  My video making  she claimed was “a threat to the privacy of the staff and students” but there were not students in it, my video was policing the administration.  I had stopped a bond and school closing and fell into the #1 category of political prisoners (Angela Davis), an effective community activist targeted for a police frame up.  Within capitalism there is thought crime.  How do you paint thought crime?  I film it.  I animate it.  I see it as sanctified, the borderless expression of my artistic inquiry.  Capitalists brands thinking, trespassing; art, economic.  As Lippard in MIXED BLESSINGS notes, spiritual and social are excluded from capitalist art.  Capitalists are smashing regulatory boundaries to wage ecological exploitation across borders, infecting nations with neoliberal henchmen or cancerous coupes, or rapacious war; it’s curious we, the poor, facing new boundaries daily of policy, law, economics, education, barb wire, armed officers or soldiers, these borders make us safe.

Harold Pinter in his Nobel speech said of western media, “It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis. I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever.”   I spent one fifth of my life in ‘clever’ education, a kind of sensory deprivation where you’re told daily ‘no one makes any money.’  Wars are fought for the highest ideals not profiteering! Slavery never made a dime. Washington was the honest father of our country not the richest American militarized racists: i.e. capitalist.  We have Thanksgiving to celebrate how well we got along with the American Indians, we annexed the continent from.  There is no capitalism, there’s only “democracy”.   How do you express this hollywood delusional political fantasy which forms every waking media expression?  Media forms, untrustworthy forms, evoke a conditioned pleasure-trust through which threatening truths might find access through what appears an ‘entertainment’.

9/11 was a corporate disaster, war is a corporate profit bonanza, pornography is the power reflection of capitalist exploitation, and public education blinds kids to the wild profitability of slavery, genocide, perpetual war & ecocide.  By boycotting school, Greta Thunberg took the beam out of her eye and ours.

Sand painting comes from a long tradition of sacred and temporary art.  It’s resolutely non-commercial.  Sand is quintessentially about time: transience and mortality.   I was thrust into sand painting by the near death of my brother; an instinctive choice.  The public practice mediated my anxiety, tied me to the moment, connected me across language, age, and situation.  It was universal.  In the “immediacy” of my brother’s sudden death, we being near the same age, the meaninglessness and ceaselessness, his heart was fine, that anxiety about death was ameliorated in the immediacy of sand painting.  it also gave me years to express my infinite gratitude for the mercies of a divine providence that spared him.

For New Yorkers, the sand and gay themes reflected issues of transience of community, and a forbidden nostalgia.   The sexuality of those years even for the heterosexual community are fraught with an unspeakable fear.  I, being from far away, could evoke the times without fear.  My ceramic works challenges transience by preserving sand painting in perpetuity.

Performing on the street at art markets and historic porn theater locations, my evocations engage passing audiences, “speakers”, who explain and expand on these social narratives.  I’m making videos that explore these branching connections.  Sand painting connects more broadly than art cultures: Sufi, Tibetan, South American Catholic, Hopi, all became directly engaged: many world religions have sand painting traditions.  The sand painting’s power expands exponentially as it transcends; cross-cultural, cross gender, cross ages, cross language, cross currencies, an eternal boundarylessness.