The Posters of Peace Press

Evict Nixon -Poster by Mark Vallen, 1971

The Los Angeles Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), with funding in part from the LA Cultural Affairs Department, presents an exhibition of rare posters published by Peace Press of Venice California. The exhibit will be held at LA Valley College in the San Fernando Valley. The CSPG press release describes their exhibit this way:

“Peace Press was founded in 1967 by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and The Resistance to give a printed voice to dissent. During its two decades as the most progressive print shop in Los Angeles, Peace Press printed for more than three hundred organizations, including the United Farm Workers, Daniel Ellsberg Defense Committee, Black Panther Party, Free Angela Davis Committee, Alliance for Survival, American Indian Movement, Earth Day, the Free Venice Collective, and various groups advocating solidarity with Central America. A selection of these posters and other materials printed by Peace Press will be displayed.”

This exhibition will be an amazing opportunity, especially for young people, to examine the fiery and controversial protest posters of the 1960’s and 70’s. Ranging from the psychedelic to the politically militant, the posters offer great insight into just how divided America became during that period. Interestingly enough, my very first public poster creation is included in the exhibition.

Late last February I received a call from Carol Wells, the executive director of CSPG. She was inquiring about a certain poster produced in 1971, and wanted to verify that I was indeed the artist responsible for its design, an achievement I readily admitted. I had created that poster when I was an angry 17 year old, and the context in which I produced the artwork is extremely important.

Millions of Americans had already taken to the streets to protest the bloody Vietnam war. The massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians at the hands of US troops had occurred at the village of My Lai. Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in 1970 set off student protests across the country -resulting in the shootings at Kent State University. On May 3 1970 National Guard troops shot 13 antiwar protestors at Kent, killing 4 of them. Just two days earlier Nixon had referred to student antiwar protestors as, “bums”.

My pre-Watergate poster bore the legend, “Evict Nixon” (click for large image), and was a montage of hand-drawn ink portraits of Nixon surrounding an ominous rendering of Adolph Hitler. The implication was that Nixon was a war criminal who had the US on the fast track to authoritarianism, which was certainly true, but my comparing the two leaders was an inaccurate choice that I chalk up to youthful indiscretion.

Since that time I have repudiated such an approach and even shy away from lambasting specific politicians, as I see our collective problems as systemic rather than the fault of individuals. However, my poster did capture the temper of the time. I recall having 1000 copies of my 17″ x 22″ poster printed at Peace Press, and then distributing them for free at a mass demonstration in Los Angeles against the Vietnam war.

My posters were eagerly snatched up and carried in the march of several thousand. This was the beginning of my vocation as an artist concerned with creating and disseminating socially conscious public art. I’ll never forget being taken aside by a young women at that protest who lectured me on how my poster was “bourgeois” since it called for Nixon’s eviction rather than overthrow. Ah, those were the days.

In the end my radical poster statement was vindicated. Nixon’s megalomania and paranoia destroyed him. He had orchestrated a huge campaign of repression against the anti-Vietnam war movement that included the drawing up an “enemies list” of opponents, ordering wiretaps and spying on reporters and activists, and finally directing the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel - the act that ultimately brought him down.

In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment, resolving that Nixon be “impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.” In August of that year, “Tricky Dick” resigned rather than face impeachment. The Posters of Peace Press exhibit opens on March 12th, 2005 and runs until May 5th. The Opening Reception will be Saturday, March 12, from 1 - 5 pm. There will also be a panel discussion on the topic of “Using Graphics to Agitate, Educate and Organize” on Sat. March 12th, from 3 - 4:30 pm. Los Angeles Valley College is located at 5800 Fulton Ave. Van Nuys, CA 91401-4096. For campus info, call: 818-778-5536 or 818-778-3536. Campus Art Gallery hours are: M - Th, 11 - 2 pm & 7 - 9 pm. Saturdays, 2 - 5 pm (Closed Fridays, Sundays and Holidays).

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