“Unite with Love, Resist with Love is this man’s message to the political and religious conservatives of our time who deny women’s rights. It asserts that science is real and that all humans matter — all bodies matter, however they choose to live.”
Unite with Love, Resist with Love is a love letter full of pain, a politically and personally motivated painting that both captures a specific moment and tells a story in the tradition of Picasso’s Guernica, Diego Rivera’s murals, and medieval history paintings. It captures the pain and conflict of the past year in the U.S., and it offers hope that we can, yes, unite through love.
It’s a big painting, oil on canvas, 48 inches by 30 inches. It is also a manifesto.
When we came across this remarkable work, we wanted to know about the story behind it, which is also the story behind all of us.
We asked Jonathan about the evolution of Unite with Love and his work in his community. What follows is his artist’s statement.
You can also find this feature specially formatted on Medium.
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Unite with Love, Resist with Love
Artwork and exegesis by Jonathan Machen.
The initial inspiration for Unite with Love, Resist with Love was the Womens’ March in Denver on January 21 of this year. I was energized by the solidarity I felt at the march, and I played around with the ideas and figures that would best represent that moment and what it stood for.
The picture has always featured my son, Phoenix (the central figure in the blue outfit), Dick Friesen (holding the science sign), and the grandma with mother and baby.
In early versions, I also featured a group of other women from the march on the same day in Washington, but I have since taken them out in order to make other statements with the work.
To back up a bit: Most of my work has been inspired by exploration of the natural landscape: the wilderness, nature in all its seasons, plants, humans, and architecture.
Lately I’ve been translating my pen-and-ink and pencil landscape studies into larger oil paintings, as well as doing specific commercial commissions like this one for companies like Super Rupair.
But Unite with Love, Resist with Love has been something different for me. It is in fact a work of love, and it’s overtly political as well.
With that initial inspiration from the marches, I started the painting in spring — and then I was away all summer. When I got back, a friend who volunteers for the United Nations Association in Denver asked me for some artwork that would address human trafficking.
An early version of the epic picture, with figures blocked into place, hung in Jonathan’s studio.
I thought that theme worked well with the initial impetus for Unite with Love, so I revisited that canvas and added other figures. At the time, I put in more overt references to trafficking, including some text.
Text in the “trafficking” version made the message very clear.
My friend’s organization wanted the art for a silent auction at their event. But the auction didn’t produce a sale.
Rather than simply abandoning the work, I figured Unite wasn’t finished yet. I went back and changed it once again, adding and subtracting figures and re-working some of the colors.
In this version, the source of all the imagery is my own photographs, which makes it a very personal project. I drew the women freehand from my photos, then scanned those drawings, and I used a projector to move the sketches to where I wanted them.
In December, I revised the painting a little again, to make it less issue-specific.
That said, it goes out to every woman who has been harassed, sexually or otherwise, and to everyone who has faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender.
Now I think it’s evolved to where I am happy with it and it speaks to the moment.
Unite is a message to the political and religious conservatives of our time who deny women’s rights. It asserts that science is real and that all humans matter, that all bodies matter, however they choose to live.
I want it to serve as proof that this male and many others of our generation reject the harassment of women and crimes against them.
Coincidentally, Unite marks an anniversary. It was 1987 when Boulder passed one of the country’s first locally petitioned anti-discrimination measures, as this article in Daily Camera explains.
I think by now it’s clear that I’m pissed off at patriarchy and religious conservatives and this current administration.
More than ever, I want to use my art as a way of voicing my feelings on the issues that define us, so Unite with Love is a big step.
A lot more to come, hopefully!
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Jonathan Machen has painted murals in churches, universities, restaurants, and mobile homes. He won the 2016 Boulder Open Studios competition for a painting depicting the artistic life of Boulder, Colorado. In an act of community engagement, that painting will be made into a 30-x-40-foot paint-by-numbers, crowd-finished mural. He also edits Haikutimes.
Visit Jonathan on the web at www.jonathanmachen.com and www.haikutimes.com.
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