Electric Production and Direction

  • William Karp, Electric Production and Direction, ca. 1933-1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.128A-B

William Karp created Electric Production and Direction as a mural design for the Public Works of Art Project in New York during the 1930s. The image shows disembodied, muscular hands and arms as components in a complex machine. It is difficult to tell who is in control. The hands at the top might be twisting and pulling strings to operate the machine, but the giant eye in the background suggests there is a greater power watching over. Mechanical forms echo the shape of the clenched fist in the center, but the fist is also tightly clamped in place. This sinister combination of flesh and metal evokes a common fear during the 1930s that machines would not only replace factory workers, but would literally absorb them into their clinking, whirring mechanisms. 

Electric Production and Direction
ca. 1933-1934
two panels, total: 55 3427 18 in. (141.769.0 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Figure – fragment – arm
  • Allegory – arts and sciences – industry
  • Study – mural study
  • Allegory – element – energy
  • Architecture – industry – power plant
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More Artworks from the Collection