El Retrato de Linda Christian

"El Retrato de Linda Christian" (Portrait of Linda Christian) - Diego Rivera, oil on canvas, 1947. 44 x 35 5/8 in.

"El Retrato de Linda Christian" (Portrait of Linda Christian) - Diego Rivera, oil on canvas, 1947. 44 x 35 5/8 in.

El Retrato de Linda Christian (Portrait of Linda Christian) has until recently been an oil painting by Diego Rivera that was virtually unknown to the general public, especially outside of Mexico.

On Nov. 20, 2012, the painting was exhibited for the first time at Christie’s auction house in New York City. But who was Linda Christian, and how did Rivera come to paint her portrait? Let me begin with a few biographical details on Christian.

In 1923 Blanca Rosa Welter was born in Tampico, a port city in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. As fate would have it, just after she graduated from high school she met the Australian-American actor Errol Flynn, who was filming in Acapulco. Flynn became the young woman’s lover and persuaded her to come to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. Not long after her arrival in Tinsel Town, Louis B. Mayer’s MGM studio gave her a seven-year contract.

Mr. Flynn suggested a stage name for her; in 1933 he had played the character of Fletcher Christian in an Australian cinematic version of Mutiny on the Bounty, so Señorita Blanca Rosa Welter became Linda Christian. Thus began Blanca’s wild Gringolandia adventures.

Linda Christian made her U.S. film debut in the 1944 musical comedy Up in Arms, starring Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore. She played minor, decorative roles in other films, like the 1947 Green Dolphin Street starring Lana Turner, where she played a maid to Turner’s character. In 1947 Christian took a starring role in the film Tarzan and the Mermaids, the last of 12 Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller. The film was shot in Acapulco, and it was during this time that Rivera met the young star and painted her portrait.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

Lana Turner was romantically involved with the popular American actor Tyrone Power, who as fate would have it, met and had his heart stolen by Linda Christian instead while visiting Rome in 1948.  Power, the 35-year old “handsome leading man,” married the lovely 26-year old starlet Linda Christian in a church in Rome, Italy on Jan. 27, 1949; the ceremony was attended by some 10,000 adoring fans. The press called it the “marriage of the century.”

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

Christian’s last claim to acting fame was her role as the very first “Bond Girl,” appearing as “Valerie Mathis” in a 1954 TV adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond story Casino Royale. Eight years later Swiss actress Ursula Andress was inaccurately proclaimed to be the first Bond Girl for her role as “Honey Ryder” in Dr. No (starring Sean Connery). In 1959 the Celebrity Register summed up Christian’s acting career with the following: “With a sixth sense for publicity, she parlayed a small talent for acting into an international reputation as a femme fatale.”

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

In ‘47 Rivera painted the young actress as a nude figure, but Christian’s mother objected, insisting that the artist cover up her daughter’s bare breasts. A compromise was reached when Rivera painted a delicate but highly transparent lace blouse on the young woman’s torso. Honestly, I cannot imagine the alteration satisfying the mother one bit; it only heightened the eroticism of the portrait.

Talking heads and so-called art world “experts” have commented that Rivera’s use of the “kissing” hummingbirds was a sexual metaphor.  The depiction of the birds supposedly “exploring the internal cavities of flowers,” is said to be a subtle sexual reference.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

As an avid bird watcher I would like to point out that the pair of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds shown are both males, and that they are not probing the internal cavities of flowers, but rather are displaying the typical male fighting posture of the aggressive and supremely territorial hummingbird.

There is another aspect to Rivera’s hummingbirds that escapes non-Mexican viewers of the painting. Rivera’s love of indigenous Mexico is well known, and he inserted pre-Columbian symbols and legends into his works at every opportunity. One of two supreme deities worshipped by the Aztecs was the war god named Huitzilopochtli (in English, Hummingbird on the left). If you have ever seen male hummingbirds ferociously clashing to protect their territory, you will understand why the Aztecs adopted the diminutive bird as the emblem for their war god.

In the Aztec pantheon of gods, Huitzilopochtli was represented by the image of a hummingbird. The Aztecs made no stone, clay, or wood artifacts of the god, making 3D ritual objects of him only from corn, amaranth, and seed paste. However, hummingbird representations of the deity survived the ages in Aztec mosaics, paintings, and murals. The Aztecs believed the soul of a warrior who died honorably in battle would be reborn as a hummingbird to enjoy eternal bliss. You could say that the birds in Rivera’s painting are two such souls in paradise, or that they were fighting over the enchantress, or both.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

"Portrait of Linda Christian" (Detail) Diego Rivera, 1947.

Ms. Christian commissioned the painting from Rivera, and thus was the original owner of the portrait. It was never exhibited to the public and only seen outside of Christian’s home when she reproduced it as the cover art for her 1962 autobiography, Linda, my own story.

I do not know how or why, but the painting eventually became the property of Baron Enrico di Portanova, a rich playboy jet-setter that attained his vast fortune through an oil inheritance. Portanova maintained an enormous villa in Acapulco he named Arabesque, the château had 28 bedrooms, 4 swimming pools, indoor waterfalls, a nightclub, and more, including a guard tower with machine-gun toting thugs.

At Arabesque the Baron regaled his coterie of celebrity stars, moneybags, and assorted politicians with endless galas and banquets… even fêting the ignoble Henry Kissinger with Champagne and caviar.  It is distressing to imagine that El retrato de Linda Christian might have watched such dirty dealings from a prominent wall in the lavish mansion. Oh pobrecito Diego, this is why Siqueiros berated easel painting!

 "El Retrato de Linda Christian" (Portrait of Linda Christian) - Diego Rivera, 1947.

"El Retrato de Linda Christian" (Portrait of Linda Christian) - Diego Rivera, 1947.

The Baron died of cancer in March 2000 at the age of 66. Linda Christian died from cancer on July 2011 at the age of 87.

In November 2012 the di Portanova estate put Portrait of Linda Christian up for sale at Christie’s, where it was briefly exhibited at the auction house’s showing of Latin American art before it went under the gavel. The painting sold to an unidentified Mexican buyer for $578,500. If there was any justice in the world, that buyer would loan or donate the painting to the new Casa de los Vientos Diego Rivera cultural center planned for Acapulco, Mexico, where it could be adored by the viewing public forevermore.

As it stands, the painting has once again disappeared from public view, slipping back into obscurity as an expensive trophy in a private collection. Oh pobrecito Diego. ¡Oh pobres de nosotros!

L.A. Mexican Consulate: Jan. 2015

Protest in front of the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate-General, Jan. 2015 - Photograph Mark Vallen 2015 ©

Protest at the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate-General, Jan. 2015. Photograph Mark Vallen 2015 ©

In Mexico and around the world, January 6, 2015 became an international day of solidarity with the parents of the missing students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college in Iguala, Mexico.

Vigils and protests took place all across Mexico, as well as in 20 U.S. cities. On the evening of Tuesday Jan. 6, 2015, up to 70 protesters in Los Angeles, California gathered outside of the Mexican Consulate-General across the street from L.A.’s historic MacArthur Park. My poster, Ayotzinapa Somos Todos, played a small role in the significant demonstration. You can view an article and photo essay about the demonstration that I have uploaded on my PATREON website, where you can also become my patron and directly assist in making such poster projects possible.

Obama’s 2016 Arts Budget

Altered logo for the National Endowment for the Arts

Altered logo for the National Endowment for the Arts

President Obama has proposed a Fiscal Year 2016 budget approaching a record $3.99 trillion. It contains money for a $478 billion “public works” program for the construction of upgrades to U.S. transit systems, bridges, and highways, all financed by taxes on profits U.S. corporations have amassed overseas. It is nice that Mr. Obama is promising American workers the world, now that Republicans holding majorities in both the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress will undoubtedly block his faux “Rooseveltian” vision. Obama’s budget is a shell game designed to take advantage of the politically confused.

You see, the president could not offer a public works program earlier in his presidency when democrats had congressional majorities in the House and Senate, because he was too busy bailing out giant financial firms with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. But I am supposed to be writing about Obama’s proposed FY 2016 arts budget.

Let me put it this way. Our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president has put forward a “defense” budget for FY 2016 that will total $620.9 billion. His proposed budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), you know, the U.S. government agency that is “dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts” from sea to shining sea… is a mere $148 million. Here I must add that Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has grossed, in just a three week period, $31.9 million dollars; the film is expected to generate $249 million in domestic sales.[1]

When announcing his FY 2016 budget, Obama said: “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?” The answer to that should be obvious; the financial aristocracy is grinning from ear to ear.

George W. Bush was certainly no friend of the NEA, but during 2009, the last year of his administration, he gave the NEA a $155 million dollar budget. What might shock the reader… or not, is that under the Obama administration the national arts budget has been consistently slashed since 2010. In that year Obama’s NEA budget was $161 million, in 2011 it was $154 million, in 2012 it dropped to $146 million, in 2013 it bottomed-out at $138 million. In 2014 it “rebounded” like a zombie from The Walking Dead by shambling back up to the shameful sum of $146 million, where it continued to limp and stumble throughout 2015. Now Mr. Obama has requested that the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) should receive a $2 million dollar increase in 2016… which is still lower than George W. Bush’s 2009 funding of the NEA!

That is no mean trick for a senator that cajoled the U.S. arts community into electing him as president. Remember the hard sell from the 2008 presidential election campaign - Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Champions For Art and Culture? Remember the excited chattering amongst artists (save for this one), that Obama was the only candidate to have a platform in support of the arts? The better question is what happened to the voices of all those artists who worked so hard at promoting Mr. Hope and Change? They have all fallen silent, or changed the subject. Laughably, some have even managed to continue packaging themselves as “subversive” artists.

Robert L. Lynch, the CEO of Americans for the Arts, the nonprofit organization that lobbies for the advancement of the arts in the U.S., said the following about the president’s arts budget:

“The Administration’s FY 2016 budget request for the NEA is moving in the right direction with a $2 million increase. Congress will especially embrace the increased focus and expansion on the NEA’s grantmaking work with arts and the military, including the Healing Arts Partnership. However, this proposed funding level still does not meet the needs of the 95,000 nonprofit arts organizations and state and local arts agencies across the country nor does it reflect the value of the arts to help power our nation’s annual economic growth reflected in U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data showing the arts to be an annual $698.7 billion industry or 4.32 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.”

Obama’s request to raise the 2016 NEA budget by a measly $2 million - still keeping the sum lower than it was in 2010 - should not enthrall arts professionals. It reminds me of the folk truism “they break our legs, and we say thank you when they offer us crutches,” so beautifully encapsulated by the U.K. punk band Chumbawamba in their 1987 song, Here’s The Rest of Your Life.

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Reference [1] ArtsBeat/New York Times

Twittering Like A Bird

Detail of hummingbirds from Diego Rivera’s remarkable 1947 oil painting, "Portrait of Linda Christian."

Detail of hummingbirds from Diego Rivera’s remarkable 1947 oil painting, "Portrait of Linda Christian."

I have an aversion to the Orwellian truncation and mangling of English words and their meanings. Last year Lake Superior State University came up their 40th annual list of words that should be banished for their mis-use or uselessness; words like swag, foodie, curate, and enhanced interrogation. I would like to add to that list the words twitter and tweet.

As a lover of the avian world and a keen bird watcher, I know that tweeting is something birds do. Nope, you can’t fool me.

Up until just recently, to say that  someone was “twittering like a bird” meant that they were inanely chattering about trivial matters. That does not sound like me, so I am certain many will be surprised that I have finally made the giant leap into the micro-blogging Twitterverse.

twitter.com/mark_vallen

Now, instead of long-winded rants and essays, I have to learn how to express myself with twitter-speak, 140 characters sprinkled with # and @ signs. Heavens above, Pablo Neruda sheds a tear!

Although Twitter has been in existence since 2006, I must admit to not appreciating its potential until just a while ago. Specifically it was the mass protests in Mexico over the missing 43 students from Ayotzinapa Normal School, and how Mexicans were using Twitter in response, that finally woke me up and won me over.

As is almost always the case when it comes to the truly important news of the day, I was completely frustrated by the near total lack of coverage the Ayotzinapa crisis in Mexico was receiving, not just from the mainstream media as I would expect, but also from the so-called “progressive/activist” news outlets as well.

Undaunted, I turned to Twitter, and saw how the students, activists, workers, and protesters of Mexico were using the micro-blogging platform to spread their drive for true democracy, exchange images and ideas, create dissident culture, coordinate actions, and so much more. Not only that, people around the world were joining them; I wanted to jump into the fray myself, and the only way I could do that was by creating my own Twitter account.

I look forward to using the platform to post announcements of artistic happenings, as well as news and links I find interesting as I research my writing projects; spreading the Art for a Change message to a larger international audience. I promise not to “twitter like a bird” over celebrity superstars and their lifestyles.

Whether you are already a Twitter user, or have been perched on the fence about joining - I invite you to connect with me on the Twittersphere. Please visit https://twitter.com/mark_vallen and click the “Follow” button to receive regular updates!

All is Forgotten - Todo está Olvidado

Todo está Olvidado (All is Forgotten) is a subversive cartoon one can properly call satirical. It is currently “trending” on the Mexican twitter-sphere, though I have been unable to ascertain just who created it, aside from its being signed by someone named “Alex.” The Mexican artist alluded to the January 14, 2015 “survivors issue” of Charlie Hebdo published in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on that publication’s Paris headquarters and the heinous murder of its staff.

The provocative cover of the Jan. 2015 survivors issue was drawn by Hebdo staffer Renald “Luz” Luzier, and featured a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad; a single tear falls down his cheek while he holds a sign reading Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie). The words Tout est Pardonné (All is Forgiven) float above his head.

The Mexican artist Alex mimicked the rough and ready style of the French Luz, but instead of sending a flaming arrow at the heart of Islam and all of its believers, Todo está Olvidado depicts a simple cartoonish Mexican worker, a tear of grief rolling down his cheek. He holds a sign that reads: I am Mexico. Totally standing the Hebdo cover on its head, the text floating over the sombreroed head of the worker reads, All is Forgotten - as in erased, omitted, blotted out, unrecalled… and consigned to oblivion. But what has Mexico and the rest of the world forgotten?

Cartoon - Alex. 2015. "All is Forgotten. I am Mexico. In 2014 Mexico attained sixth place with more journalists assassinated!"

Cartoon - Alex. 2015. "All is Forgotten. I am Mexico. In 2014 Mexico attained sixth place with more journalists assassinated!"

The answer is in the text at the bottom of Alex’s sketch, which translated into English reads, “In 2014 Mexico attained sixth place with more journalists assassinated!”

Contemporary Mexicanos intrinsically understand the mockery, for if there is anything more dangerous to be in Mexico than a student, it is being a journalist.

The artwork Todo está Olvidado is only slightly inaccurate when it comes to Mexico being ranked the sixth most dangerous place for journalists to operate in 2014, otherwise it is based on solid facts.

When eight Mexican journalists were assassinated in Mexico in 2010, and many others were threatened or disappeared, Pen Center USA held an evening of solidarity with Mexican journalists titled, State of Emergency: Censorship by Bullet in Mexico. Things have only gotten much worse since then.

In 2014 the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) located in Brussels, Belgium, released a report that stated 118 journalists and media staff were killed doing their jobs in Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Ukraine, Honduras, and Mexico. Pakistan rated the highest, with 14 journalists killed. Ukraine actually took 6th place for journalists murdered, while Mexico took 8th place… with 5 journalists murdered.

However, Spain’s newspaper of record, El Mundo, reported on July 17, 2014, that since the year 2000, over one hundred journalists and media workers have been assassinated in Mexico… and the list keeps growing. On Jan. 26, 2015, it was reported that the Mayor of Medellin de Bravo, a town in Mexico’s Veracruz state, is under arrest along with several corrupt policemen for the kidnapping, decapitation, and mutilation of journalist José Moisés Sánchez. Since 2010, 11 journalists have been murdered in Veracruz alone.

Mexico Is a Killing Ground for Journalists is a report from VICE News that quotes Jorge Carrasco, a reporter for the Mexican newspaper Proceso. In 2012 Mr. Carrasco received death threats while investigating the assassination of a fellow Proceso journalist. He put it this way: “Mexico is not a democratic country, because journalists wouldn’t be forced to work in conditions like this if Mexico was a democracy.”

The massacre of 12 cartoonists in Paris (there were 6 other victims as well) by reactionary “Islamic” extremists was rightly condemned, not just by the French, but by people around the world. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was seen as an assault on free expression. As an artist whose works are given to social criticism, I have always been a defender of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. On Jan. 11, 2015, more than a million people took to the streets of Paris to hold a “unity march” opposing terrorism. I was moved to see the tools of my profession, the pen and the pencil, held defiantly in raised fists during the protest; suddenly the world was seeing the artist’s pencil as I have always seen and used it… but I am left with some difficult questions, only two of which I will put forward here.

The Paris unity rally was attended by 44 foreign presidents and prime ministers. They linked arms and led the march for the 12 murdered staff members of Charlie Hebdo and the 6 other victims. I cannot help but wonder when these same world leaders will march in Mexico to honor the more than 100 journalists who have been assassinated, and to demand an end to the Narco State masquerading as a government that put them in their graves.

When will the international corporate press popularize the phrase… Je suis Ayotzinapa.

Exhibit: Voces/Voices of the People

I will be exhibiting at Voces/Voices of the People, a group exhibit at Avenue 50 Studio in the historic Highland Park area of Los Angeles. The show opens on Valentine’s Day: Saturday, February 14, 2015, with an artists reception from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. The exhibit’s press release states the following; “Artists are usually at the forefront of a struggle. 2014 has given us a plethora of struggles to think about: black lives matter, LGBT equality, immigration reform, sex/wage slavery, gentrification.” Ave 50 Studio invited a number of L.A. artists to “visually discuss the issue(s) most prominent in our world.”

No doubt my fellow artists will contribute paintings that throw a spotlight on various socio-political problems, but also efforts to solve them. The show includes works by Andres Montoya, Derrick Maddox, John Urquiza, Patricia Payne, Richard Turner, Frohawk Two Feathers, Eric Almanza, Norm Maxwell, and of course, yours truly.

"Masked" - Mark Vallen 2015 ©. Oil on linen, mounted on masonite. 11 x 15 inches.

"Masked" - Mark Vallen 2015 ©. Oil on linen, mounted on masonite. 11 x 15 inches.

Two of my recent works are included in Voces/Voices of the People. Painted in the hot colors of revolt, Masked, a small oil on canvas, depicts a firebrand in the midst of blazing turmoil. He represents all those who resist the headlong rush towards austerity, repression and war. I will also show my black and white drawing, Ayotzinapa Somos Todos (We are all Ayotzinapa), an image I transformed into a free downloadable poster now available to the world community via the internet. For those that attend the exhibit’s opening night, free signed copies of the poster will be available.

Voces/Voices of the People runs from Feb. 14, 2015 to March 7, 2015. Avenue 50 Studio is located at 131 North Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90042. For directions and gallery hours see the Avenue 50 Studio website.

Art For A Change Patreon Project

“A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself”
- Jim Morrison *

Dear Friends and Associates old and new. I have splendid plans for the Art For a Change project in this unfolding New Year, and I need a little bit of your help to make them come true.

Recently I found out about a new website platform called PATREON, which is pulling together a community of artists, photographers, writers, musicians, and all manner of creative people; it allows supporters to directly fund their favorite artists. Patreon is similar to an ongoing art grant, but one financed completely by the people!

This week, I have publicly launched the Art For A Change Patreon site, where you can directly support my art and writings. If you would like to know more about my Patreon campaign and perhaps lend your support, please visit:

www.patreon.com/markvallen

I am mindfully launching my Patreon campaign now because of an upcoming significant date for all Americans and the global community, January 19, 2015 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In his 1954 sermon Transformed Nonconformist, Dr. King uttered visionary words for the nascent political activists of his day that were also amazingly applicable to the artists of the present. As a teenager in the late 1960s, when I read King’s advocacy of “creative maladjustment,” I suddenly understood the path I would take in life. As both an artist and an activist, Dr. King’s words hold special meaning for me:

“This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation: dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives: truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries: and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a non-conforming minority.”

The scourges of racism, war, poverty, and severe inequality that Dr. King confronted still plague U.S. society and the world, recent mind-numbing events in the news are proof enough. But where are the creatively maladjusted that King spoke of? Clearly, the artists of today have not met the challenges of a world in crisis.

Banner from the "Art For A Change" Patreon page

Banner from the "Art For A Change" Patreon page

The Art For A Change project hopes to nurture and encourage the “non-conforming minority”… but it cannot be done without your support. I have been creating socially conscious art for my entire career - and I have written this blog for the last ten years - all entirely without any outside funding or art grants.

Patreon, meanwhile, allows creative people to receive regular monthly funding to support the imaginative things that they do. It provides a way for creative types to be compensated for their hard work, especially when it comes to work that is distributed online and often for free. The best part is, support can begin at just $1 per month! Plus, as part of an artist’s community on Patreon, supporters (patrons) can communicate with artists directly and get special updates on their work!

Today’s admission prices to any of the major museums in the U.S., can run anywhere from $15 to $25 dollars per person; the entrance fee for two individuals attending a “special” exhibit at a museum is commonly $50. In the first half of 2014, Christie’s auction house sold $4.5 billion worth of overpriced artworks to society’s 1%. None of that has anything to do with making art accessible to the 99%, or helping the great majority of working artists in the U.S. to survive. It is time that artists and their enthusiasts take another path; by means of Patreon, the public now has a new ability to help directly shape the art world.

I am excited to see what we can collectively accomplish in the months to come. Many of you have followed my works for years, some of you have just discovered this web log. I greatly appreciate that you find value in what I do, perhaps as much as I enjoy painting, drawing, and writing about art on this blog. Together, with your generous support, we can do so much more!

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* The quote from Jim Morrison came from an interview with him conducted for Creem Magazine by Lizzie James in 1970. Morrison died in 1971 at the age of 27. Creem Magazine published the interview in 1981 on the anniversary of Morrison’s death.

Carry The Names & Reverend Billy

"Carry The Names" - 24 hour vigil at New York's Grand Central Station, Jan. 5- 6, 2015. Photo by anonymous photographer.

"Carry The Names" - 24 hour vigil at New York's Grand Central Station, Jan. 5- 6, 2015. Photo by anonymous photographer.

On Tuesday afternoon, January 6, 2015, while evangelizing at New York’s Grand Central Station, the fire and brimstone preacher known as Reverend Billy was arrested on trumped-up charges of “obstructing governmental administration” and “disorderly conduct.” You might ask “who is that preacher man” and why was he Sermonizing at the nation’s busiest train station? Allow me to explain.

A coalition of activists in New York operating under the title, Carry The Names, decided to hold a peaceful, public vigil at Grand Central Station on January 5th and 6th, 2015. The vigil would be held to commemorate the victims of racist violence in the U.S. and to “bear witness with the names and stories of over 150 people killed or brutalized with impunity.” Most were killed by “legally-sanctioned extrajudicial violence,” that is, by those armed bodies of men employed by the state. It was at the vigil that those same men would put the good Reverend Billy in hand-cuffs.

Carry The Names was mostly promoted by social media. In Twitter and Facebook announcements, organizers of the vigil stated that “we will carry into the New Year the memory of more than 150 people who have been subjected to the tyranny of violence, in a country where racism and police brutality are pervasive. We will hold their names high for the world to see.” Hundreds of New Yorkers of all races and ages turned out for the vigil, where activist/artists from Carry The Names provided them with black and white signs printed with the names of those African Americans and Latinos slain due to racist violence.

 "Carry The Names Vigil" - Photo by Enbion Micah Aan/www.enbionmicahaan.com

"Carry The Names Vigil" - Photo by Enbion Micah Aan - www.enbionmicahaan.com

During the opening hours of the vigil the signs were held aloft as statements were made, songs were sung, poetry recited, and the names of the deceased were read out loud.

Vigillers never blocked travelers at the train station. Eventually the signs were arranged in neat symmetrical rows on the station floor. The roster of victims included Emmett Till, Fred Hampton, Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Akai Gurley, and Eric Garner. Interspersed with the names were other signs bearing messages of rage and sorrow: Racism Is A Deadly Force, Beware Police Brutality, Not One More, Stop Killing Our Loved Ones, Imagine Freedom, Who Will Be Next, We Will Not Forget, Don’t Shoot, Stop Killing Our Loved Ones, and When Will We Be Free?

Some eighteen hours after the start of the vigil, Reverend Billy arrived. Seized by the Holy Spirit, he began to Sermonize the crowd with a homily aptly titled, Black Lives Matter. Approximately two minutes into his reflection on racial oppression in the U.S., he was arrested, hand-cuffed, and frog-marched off by the New York Police Department to cool his heels in “The Tombs,” the Manhattan Detention Complex in Lower Manhattan. The Carry The Names vigil completed its twenty-four-hour run despite the arrest, disbanding at 5 p.m.

I know Reverend Billy (a.k.a. Bill Talen) as a brilliant performance artist who has dedicated his life and work towards social transformation using the arts. He is wholly committed to the vision and practice of non-violence, both is his street theater interventions, and in his writings. Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir are radical performance artists that stage mock revival meetings to deride and ridicule the folly of late capitalist “culture” in the 21st century.

The police maintain that the Reverend’s disorderly conduct charge stemmed from his “intentionally causing public inconvenience and annoyance,” and that he had been arrested “for physically trying to block a police officer from doing their lawful duties.” I think not. His arrest was politically motivated, an act of state repression designed to squelch the free speech rights of all Americans.

The Daily News reported the Reverend saying “I was handcuffed while I was speaking in the middle of expressing my beliefs in a public space. This is the most basic form of American freedom.” On Wednesday the police released the Reverend on his own recognizance.

In a message to his supporters posted on his website, the Reverend said that “I shouted ‘Black Lives Matter’ a few times in Grand Central Station and police rushed at me like I was a fiend.” But his note was also conciliatory, he wrote: “The cops can be reached and changed. That must happen. It will come from black lives and white lives being unafraid to talk to them in public space. That was always how it was. We have to bravely go to them and change them - and that is a strange transfer, like wrestling with very old culture.”

I have the highest regard and fondness for Bill Talen and what he does… though I am not in full accord with him. When all is said and done our differences do not matter, for we are kindred spirits. I will say the same for the movement that has sprung up in the U.S. in opposition to police violence against “minorities.” I shrink back from its naiveté and political disorientation, yet at its core there are incontestable truths regarding race and class in America. Ultimately, this post is not about the Reverend Billy at all. Rather it is about all of those individuals, who, despite the odds, work to uproot the poison of racist terror that continues to exist in American society.

In my July 2011 article, An Exorcism at Tate Modern, I detailed a performance the good Reverend had just conducted at the Tate Modern in London to protest the museum taking sponsorship from the oil giant, BP. The article included a short video of the Reverend’s antics at the Tate, which were nothing short of inspirational and illustrative of the powerful performance art Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir engage in.

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting the Reverend when he came to Los Angeles to perform at a local venue with punk icon Exene Cervenka. I covered the event in my article, The Burning Palm Tree Epiphany, which I concluded with the following words: “Talen’s love of humanity, the earth, justice, and beauty, finds expression not in dry political discourse but in artful burlesque; he speaks a language community organizers are by and large unfamiliar with, or willfully disdainful of - the vernacular of art. The conformist machine society is equally non-aesthetic, so, the Reverend Billy Talen provides us with a revelation - art and action leads to salvation!”

Out With the Old, In With the New

I am continuing with my tradition of writing a “year in review” column, a habit that I have inflicted on the masses since 2008. So here are ten articles from this artist regarding cultural events of the past year; a collection that comprises my “Best of 2014.”

xxxx

Lost Horizons

Lost Horizons: Edward Biberman
“Biberman (1904-1986) was an American realist painter that carved out a place for himself in mid-20th century Los Angeles, despite the ascendancy and domination of abstract expressionism.

His figurative paintings examined social inequality, racial oppression, and the plight of workers, placing him in the school of Social Realism. But his paintings focusing on the architecture of Los Angeles and the new - at the time - freeways of L.A., exposed his modernist side.”

Agony of Ukraine

Agony of Ukraine

The Agony of Ukraine
“Stepping into the quagmire stoked by super power geo-strategic interests, are a number of artists, arts organizations, and arts publications, some of which I will criticize in this article.

Oddly enough, none of the artists or artworks mentioned in this article present a cogent reason for exactly why Ukraine’s integration into the EU would result in a more prosperous and democratic Ukraine. This is especially interesting since millions of people from Spain to Greece have been demonstrating in opposition to the tough austerity measures of the EU.”

Screamer

Tomata du Plenty

Who was Tomata du Plenty?
“As for the query regarding Tomata’s identity, answers might be found - to some extent - in a surprising exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, Boxers and Backbeats: Tomata du Plenty and the West Coast Punk Scene.

The show is an examination of Tomata’s naïve paintings in the context of the original 1977 L.A. punk rock milieu, and having been one of the earliest admirers of Tomata and the Screamers, it is a unique honor for me to have some of my drawings included in the exhibit.”

Police State

Police State

Police State
“In 1973 I created a drawing in my student sketchbook that was meant purely as an exercise; I never intended to show the sketch to anyone. Considering our tenuous collective future, I think it is important to show, and explain the artwork. I made the freehand drawing with a “rapidograph” technical pen, a tool I used often in those days. Symbolic of mute terror, the angst ridden face in the ink drawing was left without a mouth. A wordless homage to the Viennese savage, the face was loosely based on a photo of Kokoschka by Danish photographer Erling Mandelmann. But Kokoschka and his fellow Expressionists were not the only thing on my mind during those days.”

Picturing Mexico

Picturing Mexico

Alfredo Ramos Martínez: Picturing Mexico
“I have long admired the works of the Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871-1946), and over the decades I was fortunate to see a handful of original works by him. I was always puzzled that so few in the U.S. remembered him, especially those of us living in Southern California where Martínez came to live and exercise considerable influence. Once a renowned and much sought after artist, the sands of time have buried Martínez, but an amazing exhibit of his works at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), Picturing Mexico: Alfredo Ramos Martínez in California, should stimulate a new appreciation for his art.” Also read: Ramos Martínez & The Flower Vendors.

TRAC 2014

TRAC 2014

Roger Scruton at TRAC 2014
“My day at TRAC 2014 began with the keynote address delivered by British conservative philosopher, activist, and author Roger Scruton. Well-known in Britain, Scruton remains an obscure figure for most Americans, apart from those conservatives that take pleasure in reading weighty cultural/political criticism.

He is perhaps best known, at least in artistic circles, for his 2009 BBC documentary, Why Beauty Matters, which hauled postmodern art over the coals while praising the virtues of traditional representational art.” Also read TRAC 2014: Part II.

... oh, please

... oh, please

Newseum: Super-Sized R-Rated Version
“On Nov. 14, 2013, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. opened what it hoped would be a ‘blockbuster’ show, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - The Exhibit. If there was ever a more blatant abuse of a museum’s mission, I cannot think of what it might be.

Slated to run until Aug. 31, 2014, the exhibit was created in partnership with Paramount Studios to promote its latest movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, written and directed by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

Prometheus

Prometheus

Prometheus: José Clemente Orozco
“The first modern fresco mural to be painted in the U.S. by a Mexican artist was titled Prometheus, and it was painted in 1930 at Pomona College in Claremont, California by José Clemente Orozco.

I photographed the mural in late January 2014, and those photos are the focus of this web post: close-up details that show the artist’s hand and the technical bravura of Orozco’s fresco painting.”

Serigrafía

Serigrafía

Serigrafía: Chicano Art at the PMCA
“As I have argued over the years, Chicano art is a well-spring that may help to invigorate the long dormant genre of American social realist painting.

While Serigrafía focuses exclusively upon silkscreen prints, it is worth noting that a number of the exhibiting artists are also painters (including this writer), and that Chicano/Latino print circles have long had very close association with the creation of public murals. If Serigrafía has a weakness as an exhibit, it is that it freezes its artists in a moment of time, and does not even hint at broader artistic production outside of poster making.”

¡Pobrecita Frida!

¡Pobrecita Frida!

Frida in Dubai-landia
“Let me be frank in my appraisal of contemporary Chicano art. It is far from its origins, and that in part is what this article is about. The roots are still viable, though the foliage is looking peculiar and in need of pruning.

The greater part of Chicano art is mired in tired clichés, as if portraits of ‘exotic’ Latinas wearing traditional clothes and posing with antique pistolas says anything meaningful about our past, present, or future. The school has largely reduced itself to painting those scenes of lush tropical jungles filled with colorful birds and happy peasants that David Alfaro Siqueiros detested and refused to paint. Something more is required today, and that is also a reason for this article.”