“Am I ridiculously naive to think that we could all grow up and continue this relatively young experience of two hundred and forty-six years? I’m starting to think I am,” said artist Chris Ware. Her cover of the magazine’s July 4, 2022 issue captures the divisions underlying this year’s Independence Day celebrations. As suburban real estate agents prepare to drape lawns across the country with miniature flags, millions of Americans are glued to the proceedings of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Down the street, the Supreme Court on June 23 struck down a New York state law restricting the ability to carry a gun in public, even as the Senate voted to pass gun control legislation. firearms following the shooting at the school in Uvalde. A day later, the Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion, with its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a decision that is both devastating to many Americans – two-thirds of whom were against overturning Roe v. Wade – and a cause for celebration for others. We spoke to Ware about his inspiration for this image of a divided America.
Where did you draw your inspiration from?
During the time of the George W. Bush administration, I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, and regularly walked past a corner with two houses. The yard of one house was decorated with Obama campaign signs and the other, unusually for Oak Park, left, with McCain-Palin signs. The houses were divided by the nostalgically named Pleasant Street. Although I never witnessed shouting or punching, I often wondered how the inhabitants of the two houses could have gotten along. The corner looked somewhat like a suburban thirty-eighth parallel, an asphalt ditch through which much of the city passed.
You’ve never been optimistic, but does this moment feel worse than usual?
I was taught in school that the American experience was rooted in consensus and compromise. But the algorithms of the internet have put us in an uncompromising moment of nonconsensual reality. Sometimes it seems like the only thing left and right can agree on is that compromise is ridiculously naive. I was heartened by the brief flirtation with reality that the January 6 hearings resurrected in a slice of the GOP, but now the Texas Republican Party’s vote to adopt a platform that affirms the illegitimacy of the election victory of Biden gives the impression that something very, very, very bad is about to happen.
Do you often engage in political debates?
About as often as I talk about sports. A few years ago, I inadvertently discovered a subject inaccessible to Google while trying to find the nation on planet earth that ranked sport as the least valuable human activity, because I had decided it was there that I would move my family. But all I found was the Olympic medal count, NFL ties, and player stats. No answer. The fact is, our red and blue teams can’t play ball if they can’t agree on whether the ball is legit or if it’s legal for players to own assault weapons.
Your love for architecture is striking. Do you work from memory or do you use reference photos?
Although I usually take photos and use Google Images generously, while working on this drawing I looked the truth out the window. The mature honey locust tree that shades the yard outside my studio compelled me to capture the drooping and drifting of its leaves. At one point I thought, Jeez, I’m so lucky there’s a nice big tree. Then, an hour and a half later, a horrible storm passed and tore off half of its branches.
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