Imbued with tongue-in-cheek humor, Robert Colescott’s A Modern-Day Medusa (1990) contains a tapestry of interlocking vignettes, floating together like dream clouds. From his celebrated Tucson period, which was marked by the artist’s accepting of a faculty possession at the University of Arizona in 1985, the subject work is brilliantly emblematic of an important shift in the artist’s output and a time of reinvention for Colescott. Moving from his celebrated satirizing of the ideologies of racism that brought Colescott critical recognition in the 1970s—the Tucson period bred rich aesthetic exploration and allegory-driven commentary on subjects such as Imperialism, Capitalism and identity.
Rich in commentary on and symbolism of European expansionism, A Modern-Day Medusa serves as densely packed allegory of Colonialism and the malign influence of Capitalism on native populations and identities. The central figure of Medusa is a symbol of Western Imperialism in her garish evocation of sexual desire, though the viewer is warned of her danger through the brooding snakes standing in as her hair. Flanking Medusa, a World War II “hamburger tank” rolls across Europe, with its dubious commander in the lower right, as a biting satire of fast food’s conquest and the overt violence of economic power. Colescott packs these seemingly disparate objects and figures into a single canvas, sending the viewer on a visual game of hide-and-seek and culminating in a moment of cultural and historical reckoning. By illuminating history through his uniquely raucous style and subversive palette, Colescott sparks necessary discourse on critical themes of Colonialism, Capitalism, race and identity as relevant now as when he painted this work thirty years ago.