A self-described history painter, Philadelphia-based artist Jane Irish combs old magazines, newspapers, and the picture archive at the Free Library of Philadelphia for her subject matter, painting direct copies as well as slightly altered versions of political protests, protest flyers, and luxurious interiors. Her work often subverts and recodes the class-conscious aesthetics of the Baroque and Gilded Age in order to underscore the excesses and inequities of our current times. Irish is part of a tradition of artists who believe in the inextricable relationship between art and politics.
"Dewey Canyon III" evolved out of a body of work she realized for her PAFA Morris Gallery exhibition History Lesson (2002), where she juxtaposed images of political protest with images of opulence. The large painting depicts a corner of a room that brings to mind the excesses of 18th century Baroque or 19th century Gilded Age domestic interiors. Seamlessly installed into the large work are six paintings that celebrate protestsby Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The painting takes its title from the American military’s code name for the invasion of Laos during the Vietnam War; Vietnam veteran anti-war protesters appropriated this code name and used it to designate their own major protest “offensive.” The antiwar movement’s Spring Offensive began on April 19, 1971 when more than 1,000 members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War launched a five-day “limited incursion into the country of Congress” known as Operation Dewey Canyon III, a parody of the code name of the invasion of Laos. Dressed in fatigues, the veterans—many with long hair, some disabled—held memorial services for fallen comrades, conducted guerrilla theater search-and-destroy missions, and testified against the war before Congress. On April 23 more than 700 VVAWs threw their medals over a fence in front of the Capitol as a final gesture. The recessed painting of a barricaded Capital Building is derived from this famous episode in the homefront history of the Vietnam War.