As South Carolina considers taking down its Confederate flag, the
stars and bars battle flags fly in Laguna Beach starting Saturday–if by "battle flags" you mean "images of the Confederate flag in two paintings" and by "Laguna Beach" you mean "Laguna Art Museum" and by "flying" you meaning "hanging on walls."
Beginning Saturday and continuing through Sept. 27, Laguna Art Museum displays two paintings by G. Ray Kerciu–a Laguna Beach artist and president emeritus of the museum's Board of Trustees–that prominently depict the Confederate flag.
Kerciu was a young professor at the University of Mississippi in 1962 when he painted Never and Ho as part of a series of his works reacting to the racially charged atmosphere around the admission of the university's first African-American student, James Meredith.
"I had to do something," explained Kerciu during an interview on the occasion of "G. Ray Kerciu: Radical Retrospective," a 2013 exhibition at Cal State Fullerton's Begovich Gallery which our Dave Barton reviewed. "It was a gut reaction, an intuitive reaction to hatred and misery."
He's celebrated now but back in the day Kerciu received death threats and was indicted for violating a state law prohibiting the desecration of the Confederate battle flag. He was later freed on bail and the charges were dropped.
When it comes to Never, the swastika may have had something to do with the backlash. Can you spot it behind the depiction of the "Never" lapel button that was worn by those opposed to integration at Ole Miss?
"Created at an intense moment in American history, this is politically charged art from the past that has suddenly taken on a special relevance to the present," notes Malcolm Warner, Laguna Art Museum's executive director, "Kerciu was a brave man to use the segregationists' imagery against them."
It shocks Kerciu that the debate over the flag still rages. "I thought by now we wouldn't be needing to show these things and have these kinds of conversations," he observes. You can hear more of his observations on July 23, when he will present a talk at Laguna Art Museum, which is, after all, in South County.