It’s an accepted fact that Americans have little respect for history. Thomas Plagemann, for his drawing, painting and photography, mines a sense of the past to illuminate the present. His large-scale paintings are inspired by photographs of early 20th century military skirmishes. They evoke World War I, but exact dates are unimportant. Plagemann is driven by an unexpected visual appeal and perversity in these vintage images. His canvases express a sense of visual power, in all senses of the term.

At a time of war, these paintings exude an insistent ambivalence. They stem from pervasive, morally problematic questions about the appropriate use of deadly military force. Plagemann offers no answers, but he imbues problematic history with an industrious twist of the narrative.

Plagemann explores the term ‘theater’ as it relates to drama as well as battle. Male figures are costumed in armor, gas masks and fatigues. He also directs the scene with a command of painterly issues and technique, rendering the masks as abstract veils of fleshy pink and depicts faceless soldiers aiming at equally anonymous enemies, men seemingly fused to automatic weapons. The latter as objects are described with an almost sculptural integrity. It’s troubling to conflate beauty with the ugliness of warfare, but therein is the daring of Plagemann’s vision – he shows us how the allure of the unspeakable makes war a recurring component of the human condition.