Andrew Brandou on his Jonestown paintings


Earlier this year, painter Andrew Brandou mounted an astounding and provocative exhibition, "As A Man Thinketh, So He Is," at the Corey Helford gallery in Culver City, CA. The paintings told the story of Jonestown, the commune in Guyana where more than 900 members of Peoples Temple, under the guidance of cult leader Jim Jones, killed themselves or were murdered in 1978. While creating the series, Andrew consulted a variety of sources on the history of People's Temple, including the "Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple," a site sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. Now, Andrew has contributed a piece to the site's online journal, "Jonestown Report."


From Andrew's essay:

i was ten years old living in michigan when the events in guyana occurred, so on one hand i have no direct relationship to them. on the other hand, i was attending catholic school. each morning after for quite some time, the sermons tended to be responses to the tragedy. my teachers and priests not only described the events to me, but my own brothers and sisters, all 14 years or more older than myself. their point of view did not always align with what other authority figures had said. i became driven to understand exactly "what" had taken place, not only to the victims of circumstance who became "a nations tragedy" but to myself, as a frightened child suddenly forced to question authority. these are the forces which have always driven me for my series regarding peoples temple.

i have 30 some pieces, only 10 of them recalling specific events in south america. i have no interest in mocking anyone, glorifying tragedy, playing into conspiracy theory, or being overtly graphic. as a matter of fact, if you did not know it, you may not even realize the paintings were about the peoples temple in particular. i humbly submit that this is because i am coming from a youthful perspective, as an outside observer trying to reverse engineer an "unsolvable" situation.

i have found that a visual shorthand helps to focus on the types of stories i tell. for this reason, i call forth the simple graphic nature of childrens book artwork as a shell around my concepts. most people seem to respond very rapidly to the benign nature of the visuals, and have an easy time deciphering them. for example, i use animals in my work instead of humans. most people have vivid memories of the childrens books they read. they understand things like a lion is king of the jungle, or a rabbit is the everyman. the use of these simple visual metaphors works to take away distractions. if i attempted to portray jim jones specifically, people would find flaws or idiosyncrasies that have nothing to do with the story im trying to tell. if i simplify him by making him a lion, he becomes a hieroglyph, filed away under jones, and you can then go straight into the story.

Link to The Jonestown Report essay, Link to Corey Helford Gallery (select Andrew's name from the "past shows" menu to view "As A Man Thinketh")