Fading from Memory
February 5, 2021
I started this piece a few years ago following another mass shooting in America. I began painting numbers on a wood panel to represent the victims of recent shootings. “17” for Parkland. “49” for Orlando. “58” for Las Vegas. “32” for Virginia Tech. And so on. There were a lot of numbers.
I soon set the painting aside, however. Maybe it was the dire gravity of the subject. Or my insecurity about creating a “statement” painting. Maybe it was abject frustration at the typical response to shootings: thoughts and prayers followed by no meaningful action. Or perhaps it was the question of exactly what message I was trying to convey.
Whatever the reason, or swirl of many reasons, the painting sat in a stack of half-finished works until I rediscovered it recently.
As I lifted it out of the pile and onto my easel, I still didn’t know what I could say about mass shootings. Still happening. Still tragic. Still senseless. I wondered about their numbers in relation to the Covid-19 death toll (more than 450,000 and rising rapidly in the U.S. alone). Is their significance diminished by comparison?
Concern about a global pandemic and concern about mass shootings aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, even if our attention naturally follows what’s happening today, what’s screaming out from our screens.
I pondered. Added layers of paint. Covered up some numbers. Scraped paint. Revealed some numbers. Pondered. Flipped the orientation from horizontal to vertical. Painted. Scraped. Through the process, I believe I ultimately found the message that previously had eluded me.
Victims and their stories sadly recede from memory. We forget where the Walmart shooting occurred. What year Sandy Hook happened. How many were murdered at Pulse nightclub. Time passes. Devastating scenes that reduced us to tears back then gave way to other scenes eliciting other emotions. Yet the numbers, although faded and obscured, don’t go away. Their toll remains. Their senselessness remains. They are part of the picture of us. We can’t allow them to fade forever into meaninglessness.