Scalia's Salmagundi by Chris Buzelli
As a living justice, Antonin Scalia was a firebrand. A new article in Virginia Quarterly Review, paired with a new painting by Chris Buzelli, opens the story of Scalia’s life and impact with an anecdote about how his propensity for illustrative speech has ultimately injured his own intended legacy. A blustering irony written into his dissent for United States v. Windsor was subsequently picked up as an argument against Scalia’s intentions, resulting in judicial decisions that will arguably have a greater impact than any of Scalia’s other words. That anecdote is a great position from which to begin understanding Scalia, but the story is ever more opaque and complex, which was precisely the challenge presented to Chris with this portrait.
Like much of Chris’ work most of the image is a traditional enough portrait: Scalia in his robes and a tie, caught midsentence (with skin so smooth he looks like he recently took a trip to the spa). We know who this is, but Chris has popped open his skull and revealed a tumbleweed that releases itself out of Scalia’s mouth. The argument in this portrait, both by Chris and by the author of the Review’s piece, Jack Hitt, is that Scalia contained within him the ability to be complex, if messy, and often the resulting quagmire was near impossible to sort through.
Scalia’s legacy is written on paper and echoes through the opinions of judges who have written his words into their own, but to call it focused or clear is a misunderstanding. Chris’ work is to help us understand Scalia and the mess in his head revealed though his own work.