Wolfe painted “Nam” in 1972, at the height of the grassroots anti-war movement. He rented space in a factory building, as the 30 foot long painting was too big to fit on the wall in his studio. This was actually his second “Nam” painting. The first was cut from its stretchers and stolen while on display at the Arlington Street Church in Boston, which was a center of anti-war activism and sanctuary for resistors. Prior to its destruction, the original painting had also been displayed at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA in 1967.
Wolfe used images taken directly from the media coverage of the day. Thus every figure represented is a portrait of a real individual, such as the famous photo of a young girl fleeing from a napalm bomb and a group of victims from the massacre at My Lai. The disfigured images are shocking to the viewer, forcing the viewer’s confrontation with the horrors of war. As with many of his political works, Wolfe sought to disrupt a public complacency through forcing a level of emotional contact with the tragic human outcomes resulting from oppressive applications of American power.