There is a large work hanging at the Jonathan Beach Club by John Huggins titled Stars and Stripes that grabs me every time I walk past. It’s perfectly placed. More people see this work of the American flag than our more celebrated works of art, precisely because of its location.
It’s large, it’s nationalistic, it’s political, and it’s a montage of the American flag in multiple images. When I stop to gaze, I want to count the flags, and see how many are horizontal or vertical. The multiple stripes and stars are riveting. The individual four by five-inch works are an assemblage of photographs via a unique technique by Huggins. His process is a wet Polaroid emulsion transferred to an archival pigment print. Here a small section of the total image, in this case the flag, results in heavily textured images on what historically appears to be handmade paper. The multiple images look faded as if they are aged and worn by history. It adds a historical commentary that is often at first sight overlooked.
The work illustrates the signature American colors easily recognized—red, white and blue. They are iconic. But as we celebrate our nation’s birth this month, the work speaks to the many faces of our country. The United States appears well represented. The flag’s segments are situated irregularly, right side up, upside down, sideways and then reversed. The diversity of the United States is metaphorically understood as one nation challenged by individual interests. The individual constituent is represented within the context of the total population. The message? We are many and we are varied, but we are one country under one flag. A powerful message that unites.
While we may individually identify with different aspects of the work, do we focus on the red and white stripes signifying the first 13 states, liberty, union and the common man? Or do we identify with the stars in a field of blue that represent states’ rights? The advantage of this work is that all voices become one. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Take the challenge: stop, look and reflect, and see what meaning you determine. Happy fourth!