“It’s cold. It’s a protest, it’s them marching in,” said Adrian Van Der Plas as he looked at an oil painting hanging in his Lower East Side gallery. “There’s some fire, some smoke. They’re here to scorch the opposition with shear manpower and guns.”
“Ferguson,” by Vincent Zambrano, depicts police force in the wake of Michael Brown’s death, and a tension that has flared back up in recent days as the St. Louis suburb marks the anniversary of the shooting.
“He’s not really showing the guns here,” Van Der Plas observed, “but you get the impression that there’s something important happening.”
At 9″ x 15″, the painting is small but haunting. Rendered in fuzzy black and white, the police officers are like remnants of a half-remembered nightmare.
Zambrano created this petite but powerful work two months after white cop Darren Wilson shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson. Generally, the artist is inspired by family, religion, pop culture, and life and death. This time he was drawn into the story of the Brown and Eric Garner deaths and the resulting protests. After searching the internet, he chose an image of the Ferguson riot police as a base reference for the work and completed the painting in just five or six hours.
“I was looking at this situation where this 18-year-old was shot by the police,” Zambrano told us. “People take it to the extreme. I have friends that are cops and I understand their point of view, but when you see a person that doesn’t have a weapon there should be a different tactic than to just pull out a gun.” He went on to say: “They always go for the gun here in America. I don’t know why that is. Just like any other painter, I knew that was a moment in time that I wanted to capture. It’s a tribute not to Michael Brown, but to the moment that was happening.”
A filmmaker and a painter, Zambrano moved from Ecuador to Queens when he was 14 years old (at 51, he now lives in Jersey City). Recently, he won The Great Art Contest with his painting “The Nap,” which will be on exhibition on Aug. 26 at The Clemente. His films have appeared at the HBO International New York Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival and he is currently working on a documentary featuring photorealism artist Yigal Ozeri.
While Zambrano doesn’t like to get political, he did feel a personal connection to the injustice experienced by Michael Brown and the people who continue to protest racism and mistreatment by the police. Zambrano hopes his painting will help people understand the import of the event and how it fits into the larger American narrative.
“Once I was mistakenly taken to a jail cell because they thought I was stealing a car when it was my sister’s car,” said Zambrano, who hopes his children will be spared such experiences. “She’d reported it stolen but she forgot to call the station and take out that order. I was taken to a jail for four hours without me explaining anything. I did try to explain. At times I think the police are making assumptions. They come in really forceful.”
“Ferguson” is part of Van Der Plas Gallery‘s Summer Salon, on view through Aug. 31.