Stephen Whisler answers to the question of the choice of his subject matter:
“So, why am I obsessed with bombs and the military? It definitely goes back to my childhood, and growing up in a military family. My father was in the US Navy and was variously a fighter pilot, the Air Officer on the aircraft carrier USS Midway, worked in weapons development in Washington DC, and worked in Naval Intelligence in Vietnam. As a young child I was steeped in this military life and as a rather typical boy I was fascinated with aircraft and weapons of all kinds. When I was a teenager I became more aware of the destruction and horror of war, and as many in my generation I came to this realization because of the US war in Vietnam. I knew that my father had served in Vietnam but it was only after his death that I discovered that when he worked in Naval Intelligence there he was responsible for choosing targets for the US Navy to bomb in North Vietnam. It was after this realization about some of my father’s work in the military that I started to work with images of bombs. But I decided that I needed to work with nuclear weapons because they are the most destructive weapons ever invented and I felt the images of them were very powerful. I consciously decided to make images of the objects themselves instead of the destruction they cause or the mushroom clouds because I wanted the work to be about the possibility of destruction. I felt the mushroom cloud to be too much of a cliché and the image had been used so well by Bruce Conner in his film Crossroads.
The large installation called The Fat Man at 11:02 AM, 2018, has as it’s central image the Fat Man bomb that destroyed Nagasaki at the end of World War II. I scaled the sculpture to be the actual size of the bomb and made it out of papier-mâché covered with my handprints just as my drawings are made from my fingerprints and handprints. I wanted a sense of the impending explosion and installed the sculpture with about 90 wire cables that hold the sculpture in suspension in the space but they also function as metaphors for the radiation coming from the warhead.
In a sense I do think of the work as a kind of social sculpture. I want to make people aware of the potential horror of these weapons but at the same time I think it is very difficult for art to educate people. Viewers always bring their own understanding of the world to the work and will interpret the work in their own way. I also want to create a kind of theatrical presence and an ominous feeling with my work.In the end I just think these weapons need to be talked about and seen and not hidden away. If they are used again there may never be a humanity that will make art again.
Stephen Whisler obtained an MFA from Claremont Graduate University and a
BA from University of California Davis, Davis CA. His solo show: The Tyranny of Objects, was on view at University Art Gallery, Sonoma State in 2018 . Currently his work is included in the group show: All that Glitters at the Berkeley Art Center until February 16th 2019.