J. Edgar Hoover, Artist's Assistant


Arnold Mesches, born in 1923, is both a painter and a political activist. Those two lives have just converged in an unexpected way, as Doug Harvey reports in the L.A. Weekly:

From the beginning, Arnold Mesches knew that the FBI was watching him. "What I didn't realize—until I got the 760 pages of the file [under the Freedom of Information Act]—was the extent to which they followed me. They not only had FBI agents, they paid and probably threatened some of my students, one or two of the models I had, neighbors—it was amazing. There were hundreds of people following or reporting on me over 26 years."…

After the initial shock wore off, he began to see the blacked-out pages' potential as drawings.

The results are now on display in Los Angeles, after a successful run in New York:

The blacked-out texts of the re-copied FBI memos, like Dadaist chance compositions or (as the artist suggests) Franz Kline sketches, create powerful graphic jumping-off points for more than 50 of what Mesches envisions as contemporary illuminated manuscripts. Incorporating collaged pop imagery (scenes from B noir films and musicals, ceramic pigs and Aunt Jemimahs, Ferris wheels), news photos (Nixon, a Klansman holding a flag, etc.) and Mesches' expressionistic paint interpretations of the same source materials (Khrushchev? A GI in Nam? A mainstream political convention? They?re realist but not too realist), the mixed-media works on paper have a picture-in-picture density. Bordering these layered cells of information (or lack thereof), and working its way through the interstices, is a constant stream of brightly contrasting pattern, often from as simple a source as a stencil made from a paper doily. This simulated filigree flattens the imagery into a pagelike design and sweetens the ominous content considerably.

You can see some of Mesches' paintings here.