oil on canvas
360 x 259.7 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 41508)
In "Tefzen", an absurd circus troop has just been engaged in deadly battle. The artist has portrayed himself as the lithe showgirl dominating the foreground, who seems to exclaim “On with the show!” while her unbelieving sideways gaze of disbelief belies what her body announces, a gesture that places "Tefzen" within the realm of both tragedy and satire. Read as an allegorical history painting of a modern disaster-as-spectacle, the work’s red, white, and blue “American” colour scheme implicates the Super Power, but any reference to a specific event remains ambiguous. Various characters animate the scene, including a Lilliputian turbaned man (with the greenish hue of a night-vision scope), and a matronly woman with the discreet text “Please Help Us” written across her body. One of a series of four paintings titled with anagrams derived from the German names for the main compass points, Tefzen is a hybrid of Westen (West) and Fetzen (a noun meaning “shreds” as well as a slang verb for “fighting”), effectively implying a political critique of the West.