The word stunning can mean different things. Beauteous or gorgeous come to mind. But that’s not what the Huffington Post meant when they called the art of Michael D’Antuono stunning.

Making war

Flabbergasting, fierce, or in-your-face is more like what you see. As if to defend his aggressive imagery, D’Antuono opens his website with Picasso’s famed credo that art isn’t mean to decorate walls. It’s a weapon against the enemy.

Enemy within

By the look of D’Antuono’s wide range of subject matter, he sees a lot of enemies. The Huffington Post singled out his pictorial war against COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

But given the recent guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case, the image of choice is the painter’s portrayal of police brutality and racism he calls Tale of Two Hoodies.

Abusing power

What you see is a pot-bellied, uniformed police officer wearing a KKK hood aiming a gun at the forehead of a small African American boy in a hoodie sweater who offers him his candy. A Confederate flag in the background pushes the point that racism is driving this police action. Pushing further, the image shows the officer using both hands to aim his sidearm, as if to make certain he hits his target - even though he’s standing toe to toe with the boy.

Cleo Barnett, executive director of Amplifier, a nonprofit that works with artists like D’Antuono to build public awareness, told the Huffington Post that in times of crisis, artists are the “cultural first responders.”

Nothing new

The Amplifier has been at it since 2015, but artists have been amplifying the burning issues of their time long before.

I’m thinking of Leonard Baskin aiming his woodcut “Hydrogen Man” at the Cold War of the ‘50s. What you see is a human form melted down to a boneless mound of protoplasm with only arteries and veins showing.

In the past, before pandemic problems or cell phone videos proving police brutality, the Viet Nam War was the hot button issue.

This brings to mind Faith Ringgold’s painting of a wearied woman wearing a star standing for having a soldier son, staring out from between the stripes of an American flag, as if imprisoned by them.

War was also on the mind of Rockwell Kent’s lithograph made in 1946 called Heavy, Heavy Hangs Over Thy Head. The image showed an infant sleeping under a window with a picturesque view.

But hanging from the top of the window frame is an assault rifle and, if you look closely enough, you can spot a rat scurrying up the rifle strap.

Blind eye

It's not that problems with the police didn’t exist in the past. It’s just that brutalizing black people didn’t make news back then. There were other problems with patrolmen, like looking the other way when crimes were committed. Ben Shahn’s 1947 serigraph shows a uniformed officer standing with his back to a man in a suit, tie, and hat attacks a man in shirtsleeves – the implication being subjugation of the powerful over the weak.

Right step

You might call the murder of George Floyd a variation on that same theme. Clearly, the police need overseeing. Yahoo reported that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris view the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial as a giant step toward monitoring the unbridled power of the police.