Leon Golub

White Squad I

Not on view



Acrylic on linen, with metal grommets

Overall: 120 × 210in. (304.8 × 533.4 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Gift of the Eli Broad Family Foundation and purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee

Rights and reproductions
© Estate of Leon Golub / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

White Squad I is the first of seven paintings that Leon Golub created during the early 1980s in response to the activities of the Salvadoran death squads, an issue then receiving much international media attention. The massive painting–10 feet high and more than 15 feet wide–depicts five male figures in the aftermath of an execution, their awkwardly frozen gestures and expressions recalling the image’s origins in journalistic photographs. These figures were drawn from a media archive of “political criminals” that Golub amassed over forty years. The enormous figures, flattened like cut-outs against a solid-color background that denies retreat into an illusionistic distance, confront and overwhelm the viewer with the atrocity of their actions. Seeking to achieve what he called a “barbaric realism,” Golub developed a unique working process that mimicked the physical violence he depicted. Laying the canvas on the floor, the artist built up his figures with acrylic paint, then poured solvent on top and scraped away layer after layer–sometimes using a meat cleaver–until only a raw, eroded film of paint remained.


  • Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s

    Leon Golub, White Squad I, 1982

    Leon Golub, White Squad I, 1982


    Leon Golub: White Squad really means death squad; that’s another term for it. These are attempts on my part to grapple with events today, to grapple with media in a certain sense, and to put things up front as much as I can. 

    Narrator: This painting depicts five men in the aftermath of an execution. Leon Golub drew on a variety of journalistic sources in making the composition, which responds to large-scale human rights abuses committed by death squads in Central and South America. Golub was particularly concerned with these groups because they often worked on behalf of governments who had been installed or supported by the C.I.A.

    Golub once described his style as a form of “barbaric realism.” Much of its roughness comes from his painting technique. He described his method in this 1999 lecture, recorded at the Whitney. 

    Leon Golub: I build up the paint, I build up a number of surfaces, and I scrape it down using solvents. In a sense I skin the canvas to remove the external traces of color and form, and often will rebuild toward the end partially.

Leon Golub
6 works

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