Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Waco, Weaver Paintings Assault Viewers’ Senses

On one wall, a busty U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, in a red corset, dances the cancan with Adolf Hitler.

On another, crazed federal agents deal cards, guzzle beer and whoop it up outside Randy Weaver’s besieged log cabin in the North Idaho woods.

And there’s Hitler again - this time on the face of an FBI agent who gleefully mugs while the Branch Davidian compound goes up in flames in Waco, Texas.

John Thamm’s art exhibit is as subtle as a Ryder truck bomb or a G. Gordon Liddy talk show.

Usually it’s sandal-clad lefty artists like Robert Mapplethorpe who try to shock us with their far-out images. But this is visual napalm from the radical right: militia movement ideology in angry strokes and blasts of color.

A day before he opened his exhibit, Thamm, who calls himself a libertarian, worried how the public might react to such inflammatory stuff.

“My wife and friends warned me against showing this work,” he told a reporter for the Inlander.

So far, however, Thamm’s work has created as much uproar as a Jell-O salad at Thanksgiving. “Location, location, location” appears to be as crucial to selling an art show as it is to selling real estate.

Were these paintings hanging in the Chase Gallery at Spokane’s City Hall - hoo boy! - you would hear the offended masses screaming like Quakers at a strip joint.

But Thamm’s display is tucked away on the little-traveled third floor of Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane.

Most people just won’t go that far out of their way to be offended. So Thamm’s guest book is filled with boring attaboys from his friends.

Too bad. Thamm is talented and wants to provoke debate on what he sees as important issues of the day. “I think we’re this far from an immense social upheaval,” says the Coeur d’Alene artist, holding a thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.

Whether or not you buy into Thamm’s depictions of federal agents as storm troopers, don’t fault him for being ignorant about his subject.

Thamm became so intrigued with the Weavers’ plight at Ruby Ridge that he hired out as a courtroom sketch artist during the trial. He did the same when the Branch Davidian survivors went to court in Texas.

Thamm believes the Weavers and the David Koresh gang were treated like black marchers and Vietnam War protesters during the 1960s.

Oppression, he says flatly, is oppression.

“I don’t see that it’s any different,” adds Thamm, who can rattle off every mistake and outrage committed by the feds during the violence in North Idaho and Waco.

But what Koresh’s and Weaver’s sympathizers always conveniently overlook is that their paranoid martyrs brought on most of their own troubles.

These social misfits should have obeyed the law and laid down their weapons when asked. End of story.

But that message doesn’t play well with the conspiracy crowd.

“I can only determine Nazi activity by behavior,” explains Thamm when asked why he would portray federal law enforcement agents as Hitler clones.

“I haven’t heard of a Nazi breaking down a door and stomping someone’s kitty.”

Hey, John, remember The Order?

Order members were true Nazis with ties to Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations compound near Hayden Lake.

The Order in 1985 murdered a Jewish talk show host, gunned down two Missouri troopers (killing one), bombed a synagogue and staged armed robberies to raise money for its racist plans.

But why quibble over details.

Thamm’s exhibit does what powerful artwork is supposed to do. It assaults the senses. It challenges the way the viewer looks at the world.

“To try to paint a picture that needs no explanation is something I strive for,” says Thamm. “I know none of this will make any difference, but at least it makes me feel better.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Thamm’s show will be open to the public at the Galaxy Gallery, W402 Main, through June 30 at no charge.

Thamm’s show will be open to the public at the Galaxy Gallery, W402 Main, through June 30 at no charge.

Tags: column