VERO BEACH — Ron Van Sweringen is no stranger to controversy. His art, both in print and on canvas have always stirred strong emotions. But this year’s past images of violence and stories of racial intolerance struck a loud chord in this particular southern gentleman’s soul and, as he often does, he has translated those powerful emotions into artworks so arresting and shocking that they are certain to stir up strong emotions from both sides of the issue.
Six small paintings, now on display at the Lighthouse Gallery, were inspired by the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Mo., where the shooting of an 18 year old African-American teen by a white police officer led to riots in the streets that played out on televisions across America.
Van Sweringen, though white, grew up in rural Virginia and has a close affinity for the southern mindset of both blacks and whites. The artist, who’s works have been exhibited in venues such as the Menello Museum in Orlando, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and even the Reagan White House, has always been an intuitive artist, never one to follow trends and thus his range of imagery spans from the Abstract Expressionist color splashed he terms “Astroism” to quaint scenes of Americana like his “Old Florida” series and his series of Impressionistic seascape masterpieces.
This show, however, is like no other he has presented before. These images are raw with bold color and strident brushwork. One painting titled “Lighting Up The Arches” shows a riot taking place in front of a burning McDonalds with the familiar golden arches and an American flag illuminated by the flames while a single bleeding body lies on the road in the foreground. In another, titled “Saturday Night Special” we see two men armed with Molotov cocktails before a burning police car. In the foreground one woman leans against a tree bleeding from the head while another appears to be running to get out of the boys way. One’s reactions are both physical and emotional when confronted with such strong, grotesque imagery.
These paintings are stunning and meant to stun, to open eyes and start the conversation. That is what they certainly will do. The exhibit will run through the month of November. The Lighthouse Gallery is open Monday through Saturday but will be closed for Thanksgiving.