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Who is Mr. Peanut?

A few days ago, I watched the physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Colbert discuss Mr. Peanut on The Late Show.

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WATCH the video here >>

My Mr. Peanut paintings capture my disdain for war and the warmongering, profiting capitalist whose business profits from the death of the innocent. History has always rewarded greed, and the military-industrial complex shows no sign of weakness. Our democracy has been stolen. We kill for money. And we, the people, fund this madness. See below.

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And, in case you missed it:

Earnest Irony: The Deadpan Passions of Clark V Fox by Emily Warner

In the mid 1970s, Clark turned to the figure of Mr. Peanut as a subject in his work. Mr. Peanut has thrived among the cultural icons that constitute Clark’s vocabulary and has become a handy vehicle for commenting on consumerist culture and brand-name iconicity. Bedecked with a monocle, walking stick and top hat, Mr. Peanut hails from the era of industrial capitalism,[2] or, more properly, from an American imagination that casts the successful tycoon as its ideal.[3] Clark is constantly dressing Mr. Peanut up and giving him new roles: he becomes a portrait subject, a right-hand man to Mao and Chavez, or “Afro-Nut,” Mr. Peanut’s black cousin. In the Who Would Jesus Bomb? series (2004-2008), he stands below the emblazoned question, his smile and jaunty stance reminiscent of a televangelist or perhaps a profiteering promoter of the military-industrial gospel. He even begins to look like a devilish version of the top-hatted Uncle Sam, cheerily calculating our best bet for war-mongering. Mr. Peanut was actually used to sell war saving stamps in World War II.[4] Clark notes biting ironies and unexpected consonances in each work, but the overall impression is of a feverish and wacky meaninglessness, an icon devoid of any inherent value. As the consummate “shell,” Mr. Peanut captures the emptiness of consumer culture, both the absurdity of the commodity as fetish and the unreal, spectacular language of advertising that promotes it. 

If the husk-like Mr. Peanut levels a critique of society along the lines of Guy Debord and the Situationists, he also engages in a quieter but nonetheless potent celebration of a more personal visual vocabulary. In Clark’s paintings, the soul is in the brushwork. The real animation lies in the colors, the gestures, the build-up of multiple styles and manners, or (in the wooden sculptures) the accretion and arrangement of collage elements. For all the emptiness at the core of his subjects-exposed as commodities, murderers and blank ciphers-there is a teeming activity at their surfaces. Clark builds up the backgrounds and the rendering of Mr. Peanut himself with a diversity of handling, from the messily abstract to the rigidly checkered, from pure golden sheens to intense, deep reds. Each Peanut portrait seems imbued with a distinct aesthetic liveliness: in some, textural modeling clay is applied to the backgrounds; in others, wooden collage elements are attached. Clark himself has explained Mr. Peanut as a fetish object, and indeed there is something about the hyper-attentiveness to the garb and guise of these icons that marks them with an animating force. Clark’s visit to the Musée de l’Homme in Paris in 1970, where he was especially struck by African fetish sculptures, was a precipitating factor in his development of Mr. Peanut. We can see an analogy between the accrual of metals, nails and objects in religious figures like Kongo power sculptures and Clark’s layering of materials and gestures in his own paintings. Both insidiously consumerist and aesthetically powerful, Mr. Peanut elicits, like all fetish objects, a very ambivalent response. Even while attentively crafting new portraits of him, Clark admits, “in a way, I hate him.”

A REVIEW from the ARCHIVES : Aim For the Nuts – Panhwa Art Studio of Georgetown by Chris Ingui [2003]