... And yet, the strength of KKK lies in the ways in which multiple depictions of violence are rendered as seemingly innocuous yet simultaneously deeply unsettling. The background of the painting evokes the childhood game of 'Cowboys and Indians', in which those designated as, or those who chose to be, cowboys would shoot, with imaginary, makeshift or plastic toy revolvers, the Indians. In the absence of toy or improvised weapons, children would make the fingers of their dominant hand look like a gun, having the thumb up and one, or two pointed fingers sticking out, to resemble the barrel of a revolver. In actuality, these supposedly jovial encounters referenced the bloodthirsty and concerted attempts at the annihilation of indigenous peoples that exist as a yet to be fully acknowledged aspect of US colonial and settler history. Indeed, the aforementioned rifle that is visible in KKK was marketed by its manufacturer as 'The Gun That Won the West'.
But as much as narratives of great violence resonate through the background of KKK, it is the oddly rendered triple K shapes that hold the greatest visual intrigue. One of the remarkable strengths of this painting is its visual narratives that create an equivalence between the violence used in the subjugation and removal of indigenous peoples in the land that became known as the United States and the violence enacted by the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist, right-wing terrorist and hate group whose primary targets were African Americans and, in the aftermath of the Reconstruction era, those white people who supported or advocated for the advancement of African American civil rights, particularly the franchise. I earlier made mention of the pair of cowboy boots visible in the background of KKK. Yet Boshier’s letters themselves resemble nothing so much as the outlines of three pairs of Western leather cowboy boots, beloved to this day by men and women across Texas who regard the footwear as an epitomizing signifier of the state. We might associate Boshier’s triple K boots with the Texas two-step, the dance popularly associated with certain types of country and western music. So, yet again, the painting obliges us to look beyond the seemingly innocuous and consider the deeply unsettling – the history of KKK and other white supremacist violence that has disfigured lives of so many Black people across Texas, across the South, and across the country, over decades. Or rather, over centuries.
Viewing it in 2022, Boshier’s KKK, painted 30 years ago, suggests the persistent menace of white supremacy in Texas, obliging us to recall the horrific murder, in June of 1998 of Mr. James Byrd Jr., tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas. Thus, within KKK, we see very recent, and ongoing histories of violence against people of colour across a state that likes to regard itself as a welcoming home of Southern hospitality. With its bold rendering of the K letters in red, contrasting with supposedly more nostalgic, romanticized pastoral scenes, Boshier’s painting is a jarring, sobering and deeply engaging work.
The above extracts are from a text by Eddie Chambers, "KKK", written for the publication Derek Boshier: Reinventor, edited by Helen Little (London: Lund Humphries, 2023). The "KKK" text, illustrated with a reproduction of the work, appears on pages 100 - 101.