"Employing both the loosely figurative pre-impressionism of J. M. W. Turner and the satiric graphics of later Philip Guston, Eggleston, in State of the Union, grapples with and protests the injustices carried in on the most recent waves of conservatism–the Tea Party, Trumpism, etc. Eggelston seems to lament a unifying patriotism of the past that has been co-opted in service of voter suppression and false claims of fraudulent vote counts, book banning, and ultimately the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, while recognizing that patriotism, in whatever iteration, has never been accessible to all Americans.
State of the Union also explores the exhaustion, the emotional and physical wear and tear, that the vigilance required to fight injustice results in, as well as the outright violent dangers that accompany oppression and protest. The horse, depicted as either dead or emaciated, is being shot at or doused by paint. The flag is in tatters or is simply disappearing, dispersing like smoke or tear gas.
The horse at times evokes the idiom of beating a dead horse, as issues we keep telling ourselves have been resolved keep rearing their ugly heads generation after generation. At times, it evokes the donkey of the Democratic party, either deflated after a loss to Trump, exhausted in the face of Republican propaganda and lies, or inept and impotent, unable to produce the solutions its stated ideals promise. Or all of the above.
The flag is reminiscent of the flags of Jasper Johns, but in the context of the January 6 insurrection, they also evoke his target series–flag as target. Is the flag a rallying symbol for the insurrectionists, even as it flies over the building they ransacked? Or is it a symbol of the democracy they attempted to overthrow?
After every State of the Union address, the president, no matter which party, inevitably closes by saying, “and the State of the Union is strong.” There are times when that rings more hollow than others, and Eggleston’s State of the Union makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that this is most definitely one of those times."
-Written by Chris Tonelli
Chris Tonelli works in the Libraries at NC State and co-owns So&So Books in downtown Raleigh, where he lives with his wife, Allison, and their two kids, Miles and Vera. He is founding editor of the independent poetry press, Birds, LLC, and he curates the So&So Series and edits So&So Magazine. In addition to The Trees Around, he is the author of five chapbooks.