Golub is one of the masters of political realism, and one of the few American painters of his generation to have steered away from abstraction. Several complex artistic currents come together in his sensibility, which was forged during a stay in Italy (1956-1957), where he discovered Hellenistic, Etruscan and Roman art. Golub lived in Paris from 1959 to 1964, exhibiting with artists under the banner of New Figuration, a movement that sought a third way between Abstraction and New Realism, advocating a critical examination of contemporary social conditions. Golub, for his part, had already developed a grim vision of the brutality of power, which he dubbed "brutal realism". He fully engages in political current events with the "Napalm" series, which evoked the horrors of the Vietnam War. This was followed by a series devoted to the world of mercenaries, paramilitaries and interrogations under torture. Critic Donald Kuspit has described the artist as "the Jacques-Louis David of the reactionary American empire, showing it defending its outposts through mercenaries . . . affecting every life in the world." Characteristic of the other works in the latter series and painted against a background of red oxide, this painting is inspired by the murals of Pompeii. Golub imparts a heroic dimension to a scene that is anything but heroic - mercenaries horsing around. The artist says of them: "they may be brutes, but . . . they're not that different from everybody else . . . they are part of a system of domination and control."
© Estate of Leon Golub / VAGA, New York / SOCAN (2021)