White trailer trash

White Trailer Trash • 2008
- The american dream

A man stands threateningly in the foreground of the painting. He is guarding his trailer home with a rifle. The American flag billows confidently on the roof.

In another painting we see a man cleaning up, or rather rummaging in the rubbish that has been chucked out in front of another distinct trailer home.

René Holm is tackling a particularly American phenomenon. We are talking about “White Trailer Trash”, those people on the lowest rung of the American socio-economic ladder, who live, sometimes with a degree of self-regulation, in so-called “trailer parks”.

In the course of a trip through California René Holm visited these little micro societies. As in several of his previous series of paintings (for example, Outsiders, Sixteen Destinies and Consumer Slaves), his special preoccupation in White Trailer Trash is the portrayal of the fates of people on the very outskirts of society.

René Holm working in his studio

The american dream

From a Scandinavian point of view American trailer parks have a somewhat paradoxical reputation and not completely without justification.
Americans themselves have done everything they can to portray “White Trailer Trash” not only as violent and intolerant, but also in-bred and dim-witted. Sometimes they are depicted as pure caricatures: for example, in road movies such as California and Natural Born Killers. Under the pretext of social relevance they inhabit a murky world of southern state sadism and diabolism.

Fiction places trailer parks in a context of misery, poverty and unemployment. At the same time it is in this very context that the “American Dream” still flies its all-or-nothing flag: witness, for example Eminem’s 8 Mile and Million Dollar Baby. In the depths of this mind-numbing, patriotic local society, where the only pastimes are going to church, having sex or drinking yourself senseless, the American Dream lives proudly on.

White Trailer Trash highlights the extremes of American culture, where the poles of loss and dream seem to be perilously close to each other. It is these existential concepts of fate, choice and blind alleys that seem to preoccupy René Holm in his latest series of paintings.

Exhibition view - The Jens Nielsen & Olivia Holm Møller Museum - Holstebro, DK, 2008

The everyday anti-hero

René Holm’s figurative works reveal his belief in the capacity of painting to deal with themes that relate to the identity of the individual, our cultural diversity and the absurdity of life. At the same time he does not resort to those notions of heroic emotional expression and privileged insights, which have traditionally been associated with painting as an artistic medium. Instead René Holm presents us with a view of the world from the perspective of the anti-hero. He dismantles all the elevated aspects of every day issues, while large questions are concealed in what is, at first sight, banal.

In his new series of paintings, White Trailer Trash, the characters in the pictures pose in front of their trailers as if trapped in the moment like in an unofficial family photograph. They are, however, faceless, so the portraits remain anonymous.

The faces are erased with pasty brushstrokes. This emphasises the rich contrasts in the artist’s way of painting, where motif and style are inextricably bound together. How else to portray the fates of people in that borderland between anger and pride, hope and lost dreams?

René Holm seems to use the surface of the picture as an activity zone, in which several approaches to painting can play against one another. Colourfully patterned areas and expressive strokes on the canvas contrast strongly with the actual figurative elements.

The faces are quickly dissolved. Only the shape of the characters remains, like an artistic symbol that suggests an unstable, porous identity confronted by what we regard as an alien, volatile existence.

René Holm is portraying a condition in the everyday life of America. Maybe it is this very elemnt that invests these paintings with their special aura and fascination. René Holm’s paintings can be interpreted in so many different ways. There is no explicit narrative in his portrayal of people. It does not seem to be his artistic mission to add a particular message to his motifs. Instead the paintings speak to us in a raw, direct way and allow us to enter into a dialogue with the theme. We ourselves are invited to add to the portrayal of the fate and existence of the characters, when we view the anonymous portraits in these paintings. Maybe in the process we discover our own preconceptions (perhaps even our prejudices) about this very particular aspect of American culture, from which we would probably prefer to keep a comfortable distance.

Marie Kirkegaard - Cand. mag., kunsthistorie og visuel kultur