Leon Golub

White Squad


Not on display

Leon Golub 1922–2004
Lithograph on paper
Image: 755 × 1060 mm
Purchased 1988

Catalogue entry

P77251 White Squad 1987

Lithograph 755 × 1060 (29 3/4 × 41 3/4) on wove Arches paper, same size; printed by John Hutcheson, Rutgers University; publisher not known
Inscribed ‘Golub’ bottom centre, ‘22/60’ bottom centre and ‘White Squad’ b.l.
Purchased from Print Works, Chicago (Grant-in-Aid) 1988

‘White Squad’ depicts an elongated man's head with cap, the head and shoulders of a man bent forward, and, at the top right, a hand holding a cocked semi-automatic pistol. The print is predominantly black, with some blue in the face of the man on the left and streaks of brown in the face of the victim. P77251 was made when Golub was invited by John Hutcheson, an independent printmaker then teaching printmaking at Rutgers University, New Jersey, to make a print at the University Art School. The image was drawn on transfer paper, then reworked on the stone with crayon and tusche. It is one of seven or eight prints the artist made during the 1980s.

P77251 is closely related to Golub's ‘White Squad’ paintings, a series of eleven works dating from 1982 to 1987 on the subject of interrogation and arrest by police and vigilante forces. These pictures reflect Golub's opposition to the manner in which state power in many countries is exercised over opposition groups through the use of paramilitary or covert forces.

Two ‘White Squad’ paintings are the sources for P77249. The head on the left is based on the policeman in ‘White Squad IV (El Salvador)’, 1983 (Ulrich Meyer, repr. Donald Kuspit, Leon Golub: Existentialist/Activist Painter, New Brunswick 1985, pp.184–5, no.142, in col.). In conversation on 2 November 1988, Golub said that he used a photograph of the painting for this section of P77249, not the painting itself. The source for the hand holding the gun and the crouching victim is ‘White Squad III’, 1982 (the artist, repr. ibid., pp.182–3, nos.140–1).

Golub based his paintings on newspaper and magazine photographs, although he could no longer recall the exact sources. Golub said that the original idea for the ‘White Squad’ series referred in a loose way to Latin America, although ‘it could refer just as much to South Africa, New York City or anywhere’. ‘White Squad IV (El Salvador)’ is the only painting in the series to identify a country in the title. He identified the man wearing a cap in P77251 as a police agent rather than a vigilante. He intended the figure's role to be ambiguous, because the cap was not strictly part of a police uniform, although ‘the police often wear [them] on special duty’. He said that the anamorphic distortion of this figure was intended to simulate movement, and likened it to a momentary glimpse of a head seen in passing. The artist produced this elongated image by photographing the source image at an angle. He then traced the outline shape onto lithographic transfer paper. The fact that the policeman has turned towards the viewer invites involvement in the action and suggests the viewer's complicity as a witness to the incident.

Portraying the three protagonists on different scales, Golub avoided proportionate relationships that would make them appear, in his words, ‘graceful’ or ‘civilised’. Golub said that he assembled the different elements of P77251 from television and mass-media photographs and that the incident depicted had not actually happened. In a 1990 interview Golub said that mass-media imagery resulted in our seeing nothing in its precise totality. Everything jitters, is fragmented, contingent' (Gerald Marzorati, A Painter of Darkness: Leon Golub and our Times, New York 1990, p.65). He continued, ‘the other effect photography has, along with the fragmenting, is a sort of flattening, or what I call a deadening. It can be seen especially in gestures when they are frozen by the camera, and in close-ups. The camera fixes action, stablizes a gesture, and this stablility works somehow to exaggerate the gesture’.

The subject of male aggression has dominated Golub's work since the late 1950s. He based several early paintings on ancient Greek warriors and heroes (see entry on P77249). Later he adopted images of soldiers and mercenaries as a way of expressing his political opposition to the American involvement in Vietnam and civil conflicts around the world. According to Kuspit, Golub was depicting ‘increasingly undisciplined, paramilitary types (the irregular soldiers of the “Mercenaries” and “White Squads”, 1982–4) and finally the completely undisciplined mob’ (Kuspit 1985, p.75). Golub found mercenaries, who were usually older than regular soldiers and from more diverse backgrounds, interesting for sociological and psychological reasons. In conversation the artist said he became interested in portraying black mercenaries in relation to white mercenaries and exploring racial hostility, even within the same group. He then wanted to investigate ‘a subtly felt sexual ambivalence - men away from women - or whether there was hostility or attraction. Just to see if it was possible to enter that world, it became very exciting to me to conceive it’ (ibid., p.75). Unlike the the more generalised heads in the ‘Gigantomachy’ paintings of 1965–7, Golub's mercenaries are depicted as individuals, like the political portraits he made of world leaders between 1976 and 1979, including Ho Chi Minh, General Pinochet, Nelson Rockefeller and General Franco.

In an interview given in 1988 on the occasion of ‘Committed to Print’, an exhibition of political prints at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Golub said that he believed that prints could have a greater political effect than paintings, because they are cheaper, produced in large numbers and can be widely distributed. The smaller scale of prints make them more manageable and less ‘threatening’ than paintings. He said, ‘even wall-sized prints are not so huge. They're controllable, visually and environmentally. There's also a distinction about paper, because it's fragile, and we discard it. So in a certain way, it's more intimate’ (Nancy Princenthal, ‘Political Printers: An Opinion Poll’, Print Collector's Newsletter, vol.19, no.2, May–June 1988, p.45).

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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