Leon Golub’s massive canvasses depict scenes most of us would prefer not to see – mercenary killings, torture, and death squads. Golub offers not simply a profile of a painter with a political conscience, but an investigation into the power of the artist to reflect our times and to change the way we think about our world.
This one-hour film juxtaposes scenes of violence and political repression around the world, statements by American politicians and others, the responses of viewers to Golub’s exhibitions and an extended sequence capturing the artist at work. In his New York studio, he creates a huge canvas that depicts a brutal assassination – a reminder, he says, of U.S. subsidized activity in El Salvador.
While tracking a major retrospective of Golub’s work across the United States and Canada, the documentary also follows the creation of his monumental canvases, detailing his complex and unorthodox techniques. It then accompanies the finished painting, White Squad X, to its European opening in Derry, Northern Ireland in a joint exhibition with Nancy Spero, Golub’s wife.
Interviews and discussions filmed in Derry raise questions about First Amendment rights and the venues available for art to speak to these issues. When a women in the audience talks about a lack of safety for Irish artists who “reflect reality” Nancy Spero says, “…it’s different in the United States. I don’t think that they’re afraid of what an artist has to say.” And Golub responds, “Society does not censor you until it really thinks you’re dangerous, and we have not been considered sufficiently dangerous.”