February 11, 2020 – Dr. David Haughton, “Angry White Men: Why I Paint Them”

Dr. David Haughton
Artist and Retired Pediatrician

David Haughton was born in Philadelphia in 1956 and moved to Canada in 1991. He trained as a medical doctor at Harvard College and Cornell University Medical College, and until 2017 was a pediatric emergency doctor. By then, Haughton had been an artist for 40 years and a physician for 32. His plan all along had been to become successful enough as an artist, in parallel to medicine, to eventually become an artist full time.

He has been exhibiting for more than 35 years. In the mid 1980s, Haughton began defining an original artistic style. He captures the essence of what he is seeing with a quick sketch, then paints layer upon layer of glaze and scumble.

Haughton has extensively painted the wild west coast of British Columbia with its stormy clouds, sparkling waters and ships at sea. Other series have captured the deep rich tones of Dordogne, Provence and Tuscany and the intense clarity of the light in Greece. He has exhibited in Zurich, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle and Vancouver, and his work hangs in private and corporate collections worldwide.

Haughton’s artistic role model is the Japanese master Hokusai, who strove to keep learning and growing well into his ninties. He hopes to achieve a state where his “every line and dot on the page is alive”. Other artistic heroes include Cezanne, Winslow Homer, Van Gogh and Goya: all primarily self-taught, independent and somewhat solitary artists with self-reflective tendencies.

David Haughton has two types of paintings. He paints landscapes that inspire an emotional reaction like beautiful views of Mount Baker or the scene outside a boat window. He also paints humans, although he isn’t interested in the human form, it’s the human psyche and history that he attempts to capture in his paintings. Specifically, he likes to use his paintings to help understand the mess that humans get into amongst themselves and their environment. In contrast to his scenic paintings, these figurative works of his tend to be dark, emotional, and intellectual. He is inspired by other artists such as Goya and Bosch who paint the agony and confusion of humanity unflinchingly in their works. Haughton believes that many of the greatest pieces of art created, attempt to answer the ever-compelling question of “why is there evil?” and furthermore, “is there a God, and if there is,why does he allow evil to persist?”

While Haughton did not start with the intention of painting Angry White Men, his search for trying to address these age-old questions quickly led him there. While he couldn’t answer the questions, he can answer why he paints Angry White Men.

Haughton began painting Angry White Men, first as portraits, where he was able to use mugshots for inspiration. He then moved on to gangsters and bad guys in disguise as other bad guys. Eventually, he moved on to drawing a series of bad guys and good guys, a series of self-portraits and images of personal friends, to see if it was possible to see the difference between good and evil people. This eventually led him to painting a series of bad guys and victims to see if it was possible to see the difference between them.

However, in November 2016, this latest series got sidelined. With the US election outcome followed closely by Brexit stemming from the rise of populism and growing Islamophobia, white identity terrorism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism, Haughton realized that painting these victims would be presumptuous on his part. As a white guy, he saw it as his duty to call other white guys out.

Unfortunately, Haughton was able to find a lot of material to help him with this journey. He collected much of his research through the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which has a whole section on their website of all the different hate groups, and subgroups of hate groups, that have existed over the last decade in the US. Through his research and the creation of this series, Haughton discovered three flavours of Angry White Men.

The first type is the Angry White Men of the Street. These are generally tattooed gentlemen that you can see yelling and flying flags in the street. Generally, these men haven’t done anything wrong legally, but you probably wouldn’t invite them to Sunday brunch. These men could be reachable and are most likely just following the crowd. It is critical to remember though, that in group settings, evil escalates as members bring out one another’s worst impulses, lose track of individual responsibility and reinforce one another’s wavering faith and the broad justifications for what they are doing.

The second flavour of Angry White Men is those who have done truly horrible things. Haughton continued his previous series of Mugshot paintings. Through this work, he concluded that all of these Angry White Men have some or all of these common aspects: A history of mental illness, history of social isolation/strangeness, few friends, come from a broken family, and a history of low IQ, mental retardation, or school failure. Most importantly though, these Angry White Men were put into situations where they could be controlled. Many of them spent the previous several years imbibing hate from internet sources through prolonged screen-time in hate groups. Take for example, the man that killed two Sikhs after hearing about how Muslims are terrorists trying to implement Shia rule in America. He has done evil, a key part of him is probably evil, but he was driven by this growing online group mentality to the point where he just had to do something.

Finally, there are the Puppet Masters. These are the most evil flavour of the Angry White Men. They drive the vulnerable to do evil deeds against the innocent for personal profit, prestige, and power without conscious. Haughton is just beginning on this Puppet Masters series, and it will be very interesting to see what it looks like and what he will discover in this process.

Haughton will be exhibiting both his landscape series and the Angry White Men series at the Visual Space Gallery in Dunbar this fall, and the Probus Club of Vancouver is warmly invited to attend the reception.

Q & A session

Question: Shakespeare said, “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” Have you ever considered trying to paint good?

Answer: That’s been considered. Yes. No is the answer. Just like evil, good is hard to actually paint the thing, but in a sense, I would be doing it with the good guys, bad guys series, where there are some of my best friends, some of them no longer with us, but I wouldn’t identify them as such.

Question: Could you give us an idea, do you think evil is increasing in the world in the context of why is our society getting more populist? Why are we so angry? Is it a socio-economic thing? An economic divide between the rich and the poor? Is it a decline in the power of religion?

Answer: So, what’s going on? Is it getting worse? And if so, why? What are the factors? So I’m as ignorant as you in the actual answers, but I can say that Steven Pinker, one of the more eloquent and fantastic writers, put a whole book out which pretty well demonstrates that things are getting better on all levels. Indeed, if you look at even with even with the resurfacing racism, that racism was in the States, that was there all along. It’s just a matter of the rock has been pulled up and oh my God, it’s been there, and it’s encouraged to come out and express itself, but I think it’s just sort of a process. I smiled when you first started asking the question is because the only way I can cheer myself up as I’m originally American and I’ve gone from being the proudest I’ve ever been in my country 11 years ago to the most embarrassed I’ve ever been three years ago, and I’m heartsick. I’ve been basically dealing with it by hiding about 23 out of 24 hours behind the couch where I have some M&M’s, you know. *laughter* and I think there’s a number of things happening. Certainly, the more inequality, the more people join and feel driven. There was an interesting research just published which showed that if you take a hundred people and just stress them, they are more likely to shift to the right in their political views. So, you’ll ask him the same question like, “would you like somebody who’s from Syria to move next door?” and it’s of a series of questions so they’re not aware that they’re being necessarily studied. They shift to the right if there’s a lot of noise or whatever if they’re really crunched closely together and so forth. And so, there are certainly stressors of climate change, inequality, where are they going to find work, the loss of work that has meaning… All of that happened to the Blacks in the 80s and 90s. Now it’s happening actual white guys and there are proceeding down either this violent nastiness or a self-violence of suicide, alcohol, drugs, and depression all of which are growing. And God? Well, I don’t know. “Where the hell were you?” I don’t know.

Question: In your quest to concentrate on evil people and so on like that. Are you in your painting trying to express that in them or are you just merely sort of showing them? Is there something in your commonality in that to painting that will tell us, if we were looking for it, that that person is evil or is it just sort of a representation of evil people?

Answer: Actually, what I’m actually getting at is that you can’t tell. You can’t tell. We’ve got these huge supercomputers and they’re there because we evolved to protect ourselves against our greatest threat which is… So, I can imagine myself sitting on the plain somewhere in Africa and all the sudden a humanoid comes over the Ridge and starts coming down to where I’m sitting in front of my cave or I’ve got my camper van with me, or my wife and the dog and the kids and I have to decide instantaneously whether this guy is a threat or he some guy I can work with to go over that hill and take that guy’s camp or whatever. And this is why advertisements always have a face in them because, this is all for reading the tiniest little changes around the eyes or the face, all the myriad of muscles in the face, all those expressions. And then we also have the brain to fool them, to fake that. And so, you can’t tell is the answer. And again, I’m iterative. I don’t know, I’m exploring. So, I’m painting and then going, “hmm, I guess that’s what I was getting at.” So maybe in 10 years, I can tell you.

Question: You’ve mentioned that you’re a good person. Do you think it’s possible for a good person to capture the essence of evil in any medium, whether it be painted or music, or ….

Answer: Okay can a good person, we can leave it up to debate whether I’m a good person or not, can a good person capture, in any medium, the essence of an evil person? Um, I don’t really know that answer. You can certainly hint around there. But no, I don’t necessarily think there necessarily is an answer. It would involve going so close to the core of the black hole of evil that you would be a little bit scared of not being able to get out.

Question: I don’t know if this is politically correct or not, but you kind of embodied these one thread of evil in angry white men. I’ve got to wondering if you decided to do that with women, what it would look like. And there’s a number of duos like Karla Homolka, Bonnie and Clyde where you can kind of create a contrast between them. I’m just kind of wondering how you would do that.

Answer: There are some women there, well they’re low. There are no women in Angry White Men. Actually! There are. There are some women in the Angry White Men series. When I play the video I can remember a few, but 99% of them are men, it’s sort of a men’s club. But in the Mug Shot series probably 7-10% are women. I tried to look for them and found them. Some who are horrific. In the image of three that came from a catalog, the top person is a very famous in England evil, evil woman. I think, statistically speaking, there are way less women who do evil deeds than men. At least evil in the sense of cutting up chopping up, mass murder, etc… But you know, some find their way there, some are encouraged some are lead.

Question: What kind of people are buying your paintings? *laughter*

Answer: Which paintings? The Angry White Men are essentially not for sale. I put a price on them just to put my flag in the sand, saying that they have value, but it never occurred to me that I’d sell them. I wouldn’t sell them. If Bill and Melinda walked into the gallery and said, “We’ll take them all and give it to the Seattle Art Museum in 10 years,” then I would negotiate but actually wouldn’t want to touch the money. Particularly that done of paintings that are that are the most evil people who have done evil things. I wouldn’t have that money ever touch me. I would say, “Okay, this is what I said the value was, send it to either the Equal Justice Initiative or the Southern Poverty Law Center.” So, let the money go directly against the evil.                                                                              But, the landscapes, people like you and me, I mean that’s what I actually sell. Goes into people’s Collections and it’s in 400 collections or so around the world. Angry White Men are hiding behind trees. So in the fall, they’ll be a show of first landscapes for two weeks and then I’ll take the sold Landscapes down, distribute them, but I’ll leave some of the unsold ones up in one corner. I’ll be showing the Puppet Masters and some of the Angry White Men. So, in sequence and what I can do is I’ll send the invitations on the notifications to Bill or somebody and it can be circulated amongst you if you want, but you are all invited to a reception, and I put on a good reception, but I’ll take it down and show the Puppet Masters and some of the Angry White Men for two weeks after. So, it starts near the end of September and it’ll end near the end of October. The Visual Space is on Dunbar between 17th and 18th on the Eastern side of the street right up from the Home Hardware. So, I get most of my walk-in traffic from the Home Hardware and they charge me only a very small commission.

Question: I wonder if you agree. My wife says the solution to Angry White Men is automatic/driverless cars.

Answer: Well certainly I can think of some final solutions. But then you are doing exactly what you suggested. You’re brushing really close to the black hole. When I got into a fuss in Seattle, I invited a guy from the ACLU to come and talk about freedom of speech. And they will protect anybody so, they’ll defend the Ku Klux Klan. The Southern Poverty Law Center put the KKK out of business by lawsuits. The ACLU would protect the right of someone from the KKK to say anything on the street or anywhere. And the rationale being you don’t want to limit or censor ideas or speech because you never know who’s going to be doing it tomorrow. And then what was is no longer and what you want to say…

Question: I have a question about how do you decide? When you’re talking about the Puppet Masters, there are people on both sides. Some people think the Puppet Master, the pollers, think that they’re wonderful, that’s why they poll them, and there’s another set of people who see them on the very opposite end of the scale. An example would be someone like Martin Luther King Jr. Some people thought he was a wonderful leader in freedom and other people thought he was so bad that they had to destroy him. How do you decide whether a puppet master is good or bad? Because the evil people think these people are good from their point of view and the other people come back from their point.

Answer: Well, I’m not deciding for the world. I’m not deciding to go out and take this group and shoot them or run them through a pulper or anything like that. I’m just deciding to paint them and label them. So, I decide. I’m a painter. And if you want to paint them you can pick a different group. I feel comfortable having done the reading that I’ve done over the years and approached all sorts of stuff travel and the life I’ve led. I have a sense of where what I would call True North is and it’s reinforced by the fact that I’m now madly in love, married to a French Canadian woman, who I know knows exactly where True North is. And she thinks I’m not as bad as they say. *laughter*

Question: Can you say a few words about the evolution of your faith from your background

Answer: The background I already said, in Greece, the expression is, “the son of a priest is the devil’s grandson” because the priests have so much power in the village that the son of a priest, and they are they have to marry before they go onto the priesthood, just the opposite of the thought Catholic Church, he’s a little puddy guy, a little strong boy and everybody spoils him rotten. He’s become dry. Anyway, so I’m a devil’s grandson just by definition. But you know, there’s that sort of word association thing that psychologists or psychiatrists used to do. Maybe they still do. You know, dog – bark, pizza – food, or something like that where they just say one word you come up with another one. So, for me when you say the word authority, and my colleagues will confirm this from BC Children’s, I immediately go question. And that’s what I’ve done all my life. I’m, “wait a second Socrates, I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with that and I’m willing to, if necessary, stand in front of the tank to prevent bad things from happening.

Question: Have you been able to conclude whether religion has increased or reduced the amount of evil in the world?

Answer: I think that it is sort of immaterial. I guess if they answer both of your questions, I think there is a receptor in humans for religiosity for spirituality for the need for answers to all of the difficult questions. So there is a receptor and that you go around and start finding things that that receptor that may not be perfect fits, but religion is just like power tools. It can be really useful. It can do wonderful things. Build gorgeous tables, and furniture, and cathedrals, and music, and in the wrong hands, think Friday the 13th or whatever *chainsaw noise*, it could be really nasty. Just last year, we walked through the Sentier Cathare in southern France below Carcassonne. And we walked past all of these gorgeous and formidable fortresses has that the Cathars had built. The Albigensian Heresy that the French King, Pope Innocent III, and two famous Saints, Dominic and Bernard had cut their teeth on, and in fact, all of the tools of the Inquisition that were developed, questioning the Cathars before they were burned to death. Their sin, their heresy was to believe that you had to give up eating meat, and you had to be pure, and you had to not do evil. Got to get rid of that! So they were burnt to death, 200 there, 300 here, 450 there.

 

Websites of interest:

https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

Recommended Reading:

Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy F.

Baumeister

“Great art shows reality unflinchingly.”

 


Leave a Reply