On the morning of November 24, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, infamous for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, was to be transferred to an armored truck; yet, Oswald never made it to the vehicle. Surrounded by crowds of news reporters, cameramen, and photographers, Jack Ruby was virtually unseen as he stepped forward, drew a Colt Cobra .38 pistol, and murdered Oswald with a fatal shot. “The Shot Seen ‘Round the World” was instantaneously covered by the media, scarring the event into the public’s memory.
Exploring the private nature of horrific public events, Peter Dean questioned the truthfulness of the images recalled by the public. Frantically thrusting paint against a canvas in 1982, Dallas Chaos II was created, depicting the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby nearly twenty years earlier.
At first glance, one is immediately overwhelmed by Dean’s massive oil painting. Hung upon a free-standing wall within the University of Texas’ Blanton Museum of Art located in Austin, Texas, the piece derives importance and attention. Using dense, theatrical brushwork, Dean creates an expressionistic style exemplifying garish colors and carnivalesque imagery that astounds his viewers. Obvious brushstrokes layer upon each other to create thick impasto that adds to the chaos displayed.
Once taking in the vibrant, saturated, and unrealistic colors, figures begin to appear from the madness. Wearing a striped brown coat with a top hat, the blue-bearded murderer flaps his flaming wings as he delivers his deadly shot. Bore into his victim’s eyes, lines of ray gun vision etched into the thickly layered paint connect the predator with his prey. Screaming with blood spittle staining his lips, Oswald reveals the shock and astonishment that strikes the heart of each individual as the gunshot radiates throughout the crowd. Sporting colorful clothing, of carney green, red, and blue, he stands out from the rest, becoming the emphasis of the piece while the policemen, unable to help, recede into the background. One, masked in white, rivets his gloomy eyes upon the viewer, staring from every angle and revealing the helpless feelings overwhelming the police force. Barking wildly from below, flesh-colored dogs froth and rage like angered dragons creating snarling noises within the viewer’s mind. Capturing the moment through film and imagery, media swarm the scene with lenses attached to their eyes. Flashes of light radiate about the crowd like clotted paint, intensifying the gaudy colors and only adding to the pandemonium.
At a time when Minimalist and Conceptualist aesthetic were prevailing in New York, Peter Dean defied the popular styles in order to create his own expressionistic piece. Unrealistically portraying Jack Ruby’s assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, figures appear abstract and grotesque. All clustered together, each character blends in with the next creating a mass of cluttered chaos that strikes the viewer immediately. Forcing one to strain to find the details within the piece or to even make sense of the jumbled action, Dean creates an unusual depiction of an infamous act in order to convey hidden meaning.
Set against a lurid backdrop, Jack Ruby’s crime is molded into an altered perspective, suggesting complicity on the part of the media, law enforcement, and governmental authority. Questioning the images etched into the public’s memory because of the instantaneous capture of the event through media, Dean explores the horrific murder with doubt and uncertainty. Searching for the truth, he develops his own interpretation of the event, showing his discomfort, unease, and distress. A part of the audio tour within the Blanton Museum of Art, Dallas Chaos II provokes Evan Smith, the editor of “Texas Monthly” to express his views, allowing anyone viewing the piece to listen to his words. “I live in a world of facts, and even our opinions are based on facts,” he states. “Running an event like the Kennedy assassination through the filter of an artist’s imagination is really the only way that we’re going to get a new spin on it. The facts are established, but the interpretation is limitless.” Because of the coverage the event experienced, many opinions were formed, but Dean wanted to glance past the facts, past the opinions, and past the subjectiveness. He wanted to find his own interpretation within the chaos of the murder, just as his viewers want to find their own interpretations within the chaos of his painting.
As soon as one rests eyes upon Peter Dean’s vivid, yet grotesque, painting, one is taken aback. Each time a new person discovered the painting behind the free-standing wall, gasps were heard and heads were turned. With such unusual and intimidating carnivalesque imagery, Chaos Dallas II successfully reveals the excessive media coverage that erupted from Jack Ruby’s assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald the morning of November 24, 1963 and causes viewers to question the murder and the related images etched within their memories. Upon viewing the striking artwork, one is forced to analyze, not only the chaotic composition and barrage of vibrant colors displayed, but the event it depicts, as well, just as Dean, himself, was challenged to search for truth, reason, and even reality within the frenzied and wild assassination: the media circus of Dallas chaos.