"History is an object of human interest perhaps as old as the human species itself, and it probably has always been entwined with a desire to forge meaning from human endeavor, to recognize a bond with previous generations and the heritage they created, and to help create an identity for the people who share a particular history or culture. All of these, have been of interest to me.

In the fall of 1991, I began a series of historical portraits (Frued, Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, etc.) which I exhibited in the summer of 1992. These allowed me to explore the technical demands of portraiture while playing off the psychological and social associations of the people portrayed. In part, I was inspired by the theatrical productions of Robert Wilson (The Life and Times of Sigmund Frued, Einstein on the Beach, The Civil Wars, etc.) whose work often takes advantage of the mythical aspects of famous historical figures.

Based in part on these interests, in 1993, I co-curated, with the late Don Baum [see Don Baum's Letter of Support for "Building America"], an exhibition for the Betty Rymer Gallery at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago called Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars: Death, Reverence, and the Struggle for Equality in America. The works in the exhibit were drawn from a wide-range of visual culture (folk art, printed materials, etc.), portrayed people and events from the history of both the civil rights and labor movements in the United States, and responded to a cultural imperative that insists that carnage, death, and loss do not have the last word in the course of events.

So, in 1996, when I was discussing the possibility of a large-scale commission with Chris Iovenko, the history of the United States emerged as a subject suitable to my interests. And, it imposed a set of technical and artistic challenges that I found intriguing.

Above all, as a visual artist I wanted to create a monumental work whose character would be evocative of Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian, and other ancient painting, low-relief sculpture, and scrolls, since these sources have made a profound impression on me. I also found ancient and antique maps particularly illuminating for this project, as well as architectural drawings. All of which, placed new demands on my draftsmanship and organizational skills.

A static, two-dimensional work of art is a limited format for scholarship and for chronicling the events and personalities of history. But, where painting and drawing fail to match the historian's prose, they may ring with the language of the poet. After all, works of art are often emotional documents, and, in this case, the work is a better chronicle of my emotional reactions to history, and how it has been envisioned, than of the history itself."

--Bruce Linn, Louisville, Ky, February 2001

Overview of Building America, a fifty-four-foot painting of the history of the United States.
Panel 1 Panel 2 Panel 3 Panel 4 Panel 5 Panel 6 Panel 7 Panel 8 Panel 9
© 2001-2014 Bruce Linn