Leon Golub (1922-2004)
White Squad I
Acrylic on linen, with metal grommets
Overall: 120 × 210 in. (304.8 × 533.4 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the Eli Broad Family Foundation and purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
White Squad I is the first of seven paintings that Leon Golub created during the early 1980s in response to the activities of the Salvadoran death squads, an issue then receiving much international media attention. The massive painting–10 feet high and more than 15 feet wide–depicts five male figures in the aftermath of an execution, their awkwardly frozen gestures and expressions recalling the image’s origins in journalistic photographs. These figures were drawn from a media archive of “political criminals” that Golub amassed over forty years. The enormous figures, flattened like cut-outs against a solid-color background that denies retreat into an illusionistic distance, confront and overwhelm the viewer with the atrocity of their actions. Seeking to achieve what he called a “barbaric realism,” Golub developed a unique working process that mimicked the physical violence he depicted. Laying the canvas on the floor, the artist built up his figures with acrylic paint, then poured solvent on top and scraped away layer after layer–sometimes using a meat cleaver–until only a raw, eroded film of paint remained.