Winston Churchill once said "History is written by the victors." But it also is true that stories are for everyone, and in America, stories appear almost everywhere, from song lyrics to comic strips or even old vintage scraps of paper, as we see in Michael Pajon's striking O Bury Me Not collage exhibition at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery. The title, taken from a Depression-era cowboy ballad, sets the tone for a wide range of folksy snippets of printed matter that, when shrewdly reworked into evocative collages, lead us straight into the wayward residue of American dreams of the past, those alternative histories that can never be written except by the poets, dreamers, musicians and inspired madmen among us — those rare creatures who are capable of capturing life as it is lived rather than simply chronicled.
Art is what happens when such dreams are reworked into visions of the past, present and future, times that Einstein said exist all at once. In Standard American XXIV (pictured), a vintage American vision of "progress" appears as a fraught nirvana of cowboys, flappers and Pullman cars surrounding a bull's-eye graced by a bluebird of happiness and guarded by World War II aircraft among other whimsical omens of a happy hereafter. A Whisper, a Handshake, A Drop of Blood features a gathering of similarly dressed corporate stalwarts posing for posterity flanked by anatomy charts and tombstones. To the victors go the spoils, their expressions seem to say, and if the price is paid by others, so much the better. Hunters, Hazards and Haints reads like a fever dream from the mind of Mark Twain, a fractured fairytale of Conestoga wagons, cowboys, railroads, Indian chiefs and a lone home on the range where the deer and the antelope play — along with hucksters, hunters, snake oil salesmen and preachers, what Pajon calls "the 'lesser' folk of our collective American history," characters who, like the cowboy riding into the sunset, "should be allowed the luxury of myth." — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT