Category: Art Activism

I Did Not

The artist with his parents at Disneyland's Tomorrowland, 1959. "We're a happy family, me mom and daddy." Photographer unknown.

The artist with his parents at Disneyland's Tomorrowland, 1959. "We're a happy family, me mom and daddy." Photographer unknown.

I did not start my American life at Disneyland
but it was a close starting point
I was born September 7, 1953
Disneyland opened in California in 1955
my parents took me there in 1959
I was six-years-old.

That same year Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
was denied permission to visit Disneyland
I liked Tomorrowland
where I rode the look-alike U.S. Navy nuclear submarines
I liked the Rocket to the Moon ride with its space age astronauts
I did not like Mickey Mouse.

The comedy album The First Family, was one of the most popular records in the United States in 1962. A lighthearted parody of President Kennedy and his family, the album was recorded on the very evening that J.F.K. made his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The album sold nearly eight million copies, more than the debut album of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I bought the album as soon as it was released, and in the above photo I am pictured listening to it on my portable record player. Photo by the artist's father, Joe Vallen.

The comedy album "The First Family," was one of the most popular records in the United States in 1962. A lighthearted parody of President Kennedy and his family, the album was recorded on the very evening that J.F.K. made his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The album sold nearly eight million copies, more than the debut album of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I bought the album as soon as it was released, and in the above photo I am pictured listening to it on my portable record player. Photo by the artist's father, Joe Vallen.

In 1963 at the age of ten
my parents gave me a wooden palette box
with oil paints and brushes
I painted a portrait of President Kennedy
right after he was cut down by an assassin
My painting is lost, but I did not misplace
the wooden palette box
I use it to store my paints today.

In 1967 I was fourteen when
President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke
at L.A.’s ritzy Century Plaza Hotel
outside 10,000 people protesting the Vietnam war
chanted “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
they were attacked by a phalanx of 1,300 club swinging LAPD officers
I did not attend that protest, but it moved me just the same.

It would be a short time later that same year
that I would attend my first political demonstration
a massive protest against the Vietnam war
where thousands of people snaked their way down Wilshire Boulevard.

My father took this black & white Polaroid camera snapshot of my mother and I as we marched in the huge anti-Vietnam war demonstration that took place on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard in 1967.

My father took this black & white Polaroid camera snapshot of my mother and I as we marched in the huge anti-Vietnam war demonstration that took place on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard in 1967. The placard carried behind us that reads "Bring the Troops Home," was the theme of the march.

In 1968 I was fifteen-years-old
The Vietnam war was escalating
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated
So was Bobby Kennedy, at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard
At the Democratic Party National convention in Chicago
police beat and tear gassed thousands of antiwar protestors
I did not go “Clean for Gene.”

When I was sixteen in 1969
I convinced my parents to donate food
to the Free Breakfast for Children program
run by the LA chapter of the Black Panther Party
We drove the family car full of food stuff
to the L.A. Panther headquarters at 41st and Central
A week later on December 8, 1969 the Panther H.Q.
was raided by officers of the LAPD SWAT team
They dropped a bomb on the rooftop of the Panther H.Q.
It was the first military operation by a SWAT team in the U.S.

On August 29, 1970 I watched live TV coverage
of the Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles
30,000 Mexican-Americans marched against the Vietnam war
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department attacked the people who
gathered in Laguna Park to listen to speeches
Police gunfire killed four that day:
Brown Berets José Diaz and Lyn Ward
a Jewish supporter of the movement named Gustav Montag
and L.A. Times reporter Rubén Salazar
Salazar was shot in the head with a wall-piercing teargas canister
as he calmly sat in the Silver Dollar Bar and Café on Whittier Blvd.
I was seventeen-years-old and my blood boiled.

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Yours truly at eighteen years of age, standing on my home turf of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California, 1971. Photographer unknown.

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My first public art exhibit, an open-air display of pen drawings, watercolors, and collage. The art was displayed at a 1971 counterculture festival sponsored by the L.A. Free Press that took place in the San Fernando Valley. The art included tributes to Hippie, Native Americans, psychedelic rock, and the Black Panthers. I was eighteen at the time, and yes, I made the tie dye backdrops myself. Photo/Mark Vallen ©

In 1971 I published my first street poster
a pre-Watergate print titled “Evict Nixon
I did not vote for George McGovern
In 1972 when traveling in Europe
To avoid the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I hid my ponytail under my collar
Appropriately, I was standing in the Roman Coliseum
when I got the news that Richard Nixon had been re-elected
The Italians were furious; I told them I was Canadian.

In 1973, a U.S. backed fascist coup destroyed Chile’s democracy
sending shock waves around the world
A Chilean family friend told me the coup made her feel “secure”
I did not concur. I preferred Victor Jara.

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"Self Portrait" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1973 ©

At twenty-years-old I ate tofu, wheat germ, sprouts, and yogurt
before they could be found in mainstream grocery stores
The fast food culture was driving me insane,
I had a growing interest in T.Rex and David Bowie.

In 1975 the war in Vietnam finally ended
The alternative culture flew apart
I was twenty-two-years-old
A new conformity began to rise
I did not think it would be long before another war started
In 1976 I did not vote for Jimmy Carter.

When I was twenty-four in 1977
I did not listen to the Bee Gees or the Eagles
To provoke the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I writhed and frothed in the birth of LA’s
nihilistic punk rock scene
my hair whacked off and my clothes torn to shreds.

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"Self Portrait" - Photo/Mark Vallen Feb. 1983 © Punk rock portrait on Sunset Blvd near L.A.'s infamous Whisky a Go Go.

By 1984 Orwell’s words had already come true
I made art against the policies of President Ronald Reagan
I feared the world would end in a nuclear holocaust
I did not vote for Walter Mondale.

In 1985 I created the silkscreen print, Free South Africa
a poster created to support the anti-apartheid movement
I worked with UCLA students that demanded the
university divest its funds from apartheid South Africa.
Despite the “Reagan Revolution”
I did not vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988.

I was thirty-eight in 1991
I made art against President George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War
I became a vegetarian
In 1992 I did not vote for Bill Clinton
And with the indigenous people of the Western hemisphere
I condemned 500 years of colonialism in the Americas.

In 1996 I was forty-three-years-old
I worked at a top advertising agency
I offered to build the company’s website,
saying the internet was the wave of the future
The CEOs told me the internet was a “passing fad”
There was no future for me in the 9 to 5 world
I did not vote for Clinton’s re-election.

I was forty-five-years-old in 1999
In the spring of that year, I made art against
the war President Clinton waged on Yugoslavia

I liked the film Wag the Dog
and was amused by “The Billionaires for Bush or Gore
I did not vote for Al Gore
In 2000 my chad was not hanging.

My grief was not a cry for war in 2001
I made art against the war in Iraq
In 2003 I joined 100,000 anti-war protesters
on the star studded Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame
distributing my artwork Not Our Children, Not Their Children
I did not vote for John Kerry in 2004, the former “anti-war” activist
known in the UK as “The Haunted Tree”.

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I am pictured standing before a John Heartfield reproduction at the 2006 J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit, "Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage." Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2006 ©

In 2008, friends and associates asked me
to create and exhibit artworks to support
the presidential campaign of Senator Obama
I declined, and I did not vote for Obama
but dared not publicly say so until now.

I was fifty-eight-years-old in 2011 when President Obama
without Congressional approval, began a war against Libya
Antiwar activists said the war would being democracy to Libya
I lost friends because I thought the war illegal & unwise
Today Libya is overrun by al Qaeda affiliates and ISIS

In 2012 I attended the first day of Occupy Los Angeles
then got back on the subway and went home
The movement coined the phrase “We Are the 99%”
but in L.A. it degenerated into a squabble about
camping on the lawn of City Hall. Another missed opportunity
I did not vote for Obama’s re-election.

I will be sixty-two on September 7, 2015
I make no apologies for my life thus far
I am the most un-Baby Boomer person in existence
born between the execution of the Rosenbergs
and the premiere of the radioactive monster-movie, Godzilla
Given my crown of thorns in the punk rock summer of hate in 1977
This is not a nostalgic poem
all of this and more made me what I am.

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Yours truly at sixty-two years of age, still standing on Ventura Boulevard, but it is now an "upscale" street awash with corporate logos. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2015 ©

I’m still clawing my way to the bottom,
as an artist and a counterculturalist
because “radical” means “the roots”
Sometimes saying “no” is not a negative but a positive.
Just think of what I will be writing about after
the lyrics to the Beatles’ song When I’m Sixty-Four
actually fully apply to me.

All this started for me years ago
when people were optimistic enough
to work at creating a new world
While that optimism has lapsed for many
the need continues to be great
This is what inspires me to create my art
to transform horrible circumstances into a world at last livable.
So dear reader, I am not a cynic after all
I did not think that at this late date
I would still be saying
“be more than a witness.”

– // –

All photos and text are the property of artist Mark Vallen ©

Manifesto for World Revolution?

Vallen finds inspiration in the pages of Adbusters. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

Vallen finds inspiration in the pages of Adbusters. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

The front cover of the latest edition of Adbusters magazine, is a photograph of a surfer “shooting the tube,” that is, riding his surfboard through the hollow part of a large wave as it crests over itself and makes a tunnel. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I have spent much of my life on Southern California beaches… so I know this stuff. The photo is a bitchin image of primo, off the Richter, gnarlatious awesomeness (more obligatory surfer lingo).

But trouble is brewing in paradise. Beneath the eye-popping ADBUSTERS masthead that looks like a garish headline from a 60s B-movie sci-fi flick, a mysterious subhead hovers in the wave’s curl like so much kelp and non-biodegradable beach trash, it reads… Living Without Dead Time. It is a revolutionary proclamation from our past, and if we are lucky, from our future.

To unlock the profound meaning of the text, one has to read carefully while thumbing through the pages of the subversive rag and “art novella.” Hey, this ain’t no trendy, bourgeois gazette I’m talkin about here, this is a mag that promotes itself as a “Manifesto for World Revolution Pt. III.” Zounds! I think they are actually serious!

Adbusters contacted me in April seeking permission to reprint my 1980 silkscreen poster, Whatever Happened To The Future! The publication hoped to use my print in a “dystopic photo album” covering events in the 20th-21st century. Ah! Dystopia! I began to smile broadly.

"Whatever Happened to the Future!" Mark Vallen 1980 © Silkscreen print. Published in the July/August 2015 issue of Adbusters.

"Whatever Happened to the Future!" Mark Vallen 1980 © Silkscreen print. Published in the July/August 2015 issue of Adbusters.

When I was informed that anarchism would be the “overarching theme” of the issue, my ear to ear grin was joined with a sinister twinkle in my eye. Advised that the issue would cover, among other things, a “history of uprisings in the 20th-21st centuries” and an essay on “post-post-modernism,” I began to experience mystical self-transcendence!

I was simultaneously brought back to earth and thrown for a loop when told that Adbusters would like to place my image “right before the history section. We are featuring many old anarchist and situationist comics and cartoons, and would be honored to have your image run as a full page.”

Visions of Guy Debord, the Situationists, the Paris 68 uprising, and those brilliant posters created by the anonymous students and workers of the Paris 68 Atelier Populare galloped through my mind. Of course I did not refuse Adbusters request, which is why I am writing this screed.

Whatever Happened To The Future! has been shown at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles and the Pasadena Museum of California Art, but Adbusters provided the proper historic context for my print.

Adbusters front cover, "Living Without Dead Time" issue. July/August 2015

Adbusters front cover, "Living Without Dead Time" issue. July/August 2015

Aesthetically, Living Without Dead Time is a poke in the eye, especially when compared to the à la mode commercial hipster garbage one finds on newsstands these days. Adbusters’ philosophy of art squares perfectly with that of situationism and its bugbear offspring, punk rock. In fact the publication is somewhat evocative of the rough and tumble punk aesthetic of L.A.’s Slash magazine, that “monthly manifesto of angry refusal” that rose from the polluted urban despair of 1977 to become the city’s first punk publication and an internationally influential journal.

Adbusters has taken the nihilistic graphic style of punk, and polished it up quite a bit. It maintains the punk spirit but meshes it with an overtly anti-consumerism political stance. In the summer of 2011 Adbusters championed a citizens’ “occupation” of Wall Street, and presto, the Occupy movement was born. Adbusters did not create nor control the Occupy offensive, but its contributions are undeniable. In their latest issue they announced they are “planning a #billionpeoplemarch in December” as a stand “against a world order which refuses to produce tangible action in the face of impending climate disaster.”

I do have some criticisms of Adbusters. I was an initial supporter of the Occupy movement, but soon found it rife with opportunists and social democrats. Bill Clinton’s former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, was invited to speak at an Occupy rally outside of L.A. City Hall; Reich’s presence only served to fold people back into the Democratic Party orbit. Likewise, the liberal political commentator and PBS host Tavis Smiley was also invited to address Occupy at L.A. City Hall. With a net worth of some $10 million, Smiley was firmly within the 1% circle that Occupy supposedly opposed. Inviting Reich and Smiley was a major political failing for an ostensibly anti-corporate movement.

When Occupy seized the lawns around L.A. City Hall, the campaign degenerated into a fight over the “right” to camp on City Hall grounds; opportunities to make alliances with working people were squandered over a tussle regarding camping. This can only be attributed to naiveté and a lack of actual working class politics. Adbusters excelled at “culture jamming” but hit the skids when laying the groundwork for political opposition against the entrenched financial aristocracy.

There is one article in the Living Without Dead Time issue of Adbusters that I must give an emphatic thumbs down to, a piece on the Euromaidan “revolution” that occurred in Ukraine in February 2014. It is a hack-job that does nothing but contribute to the jumble of Russophobic Cold War nonsense presented nonstop by the corporate media. It is a lazy minded essay that plays into the war hysteria that seems to be growing by the day.

At Airstrip One, a prole secretly looks at Adbusters before participating in the Two Minute Hate on the telescreen. Photo, E. Goldstein.

At Airstrip One, a prole secretly looks at Adbusters before participating in the Two Minute Hate on the telescreen. Photo/E. Goldstein.

The Adbusters Ukraine article did not once mention NATO, the EU, or the enforced austerity programs of the IMF and the World Bank. The article paints the crypto fascist Dmytro Yarosh as a popular revolutionary leader, when in reality he is the boss of the right-wing, ultra-nationalist Right Sector organization. Yarosh is on record as having written, “I wonder how it came to pass that most of the billionaires in Ukraine are Jews?” [1] The word “fascist” is used in the Adbusters article, but it is decried as a Russian propaganda term used to malign the democratic project in Ukraine.

Democratic Congressman John Conyers Jr. and Republican Congressman Ted Yoho wrote amendments to ban U.S. troops from training a Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia unit known as the Azov Battalion, which is integrated into the Ukraine National Guard and the army. The Azov flag is a variation of the infamous “Wolfsangel” symbol used by the Waffen-SS. In early June 2015 the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the amendment blocking assistance to the Azov Battalion. I understand that this story broke as Adbusters was going to press, but credible reports of the fascist threat in Ukraine have been circulating for some time, even on this weblog. The Adbusters Ukraine article did not even come close to mentioning this.

The socialist stalwarts at Jacobin magazine have a harsh assessment of Adbusters. Published in 2013, their critique titled Adbusted poses some tough questions about the politics and philosophy of the anti-consumerist publication; these are unsettling queries that demand answers.

I am not an anarchist, marxist, or a democrat, and I am certainly not a republican. The only identity I embrace is that of dissident artist, my humanist politics are fully on display in my art. To be honest, I am happy to be published by Adbusters, my criticism of them not withstanding, just as I would be gratified to be published in Jacobin. It is all part of the essential conversation so needed at this juncture in history.

The final image published in Adbusters is a photo that spreads over two facing pages, in this case the next to the last and the final inside page. It is a grainy black and white snapshot of masked protestors on a nighttime street. It is an ominous vignette laden with tension. Hostage-letter style text floats across the photograph, it reads…

May love and revolution rise from the ashes of this dying civilization.

– // –

Signed prints of Whatever Happened to the Future! can be purchased here.

[1] Practice for a Russian Invasion: Ukrainian Civilians Take Up Arms. Spiegel Online. April 16, 2014.

I AM NOT THE ENEMY

I Am Not The Enemy - Poster by Mark Vallen ©

Poster by Mark Vallen ©

I Am Not The Enemy
Free downloadable, 11 x 17 poster.

Download and publish the poster on any printer that takes 11 x 17 inch paper. Poster available here.

Print and display this poster for solidarity, unity, and compassion, and to express your opposition to xenophobia, and racism.

– // –

I first published this poster in the weeks following the heinous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when thousands of hate crimes directed at Muslim Americans, or those thought to be Arabs, were occurring across the United States. Some of those attacks resulted in murder.

It was the case of Balbir Singh Sodhi that drove me to create my pencil on paper drawing, which I then published as a poster against hate crimes. Mr. Sodhi, a turban-wearing Sikh and proprietor of a gas station in Mesa, Arizona, was gunned down by a “patriot” that hours before, had bragged in a bar about wanting to “kill the ragheads responsible for September 11.” That murderer now sits on death row, but the racist xenophobia that motivated him is alive and growing in the United States, where anti-Muslim hatred and incitement has reached a boiling point.

On the afternoon of February 10, 2015, three young Muslims, twenty-three-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his twenty-one-year-old wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were found murdered in their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A 46-year old white man was arrested as the suspected killer.

Deah Shaddy Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha had been married for just a month. Deah was a dental student that organized free dental care for the homeless of Durham, North Carolina. He was also raising money to provide free dental care to refugee children in Turkey fleeing the devastating war in Syria. His wife Yusor was a talented artist and videographer. Her sister Razan did fundraising for a charity group that helped deaf Muslims.

It took days for the U.S. press to notice the killings while the twitterverse exploded with horror and outrage, lambasting the media for its almost non-existent coverage of the murders. Downplaying the possibility of a hate crime, the press has been reporting that the shooter might have killed the three over an argument concerning a parking space. But the unarmed students were found in their apartment, each with a bullet hole neatly placed in their heads. That was not an argument over parking… that was an assassination. I am deeply concerned that the media hems and haws over whether or not the killer was angry over a parking space or was actually motivated by a hatred of Muslims. I cannot image the horror and alarm Muslim Americans must feel at this moment.

The murder of the three young Muslims has become an international incident. United Nations spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said: “At a time of troubling tensions stoked by those who seek to twist the teachings of faith and sow division, these three young people represented the best values of global citizenship and active community compassion to build a better world for all.”

On Feb. 11, 2015, at a daily briefing with the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, a reporter asked a question regarding the killing of the students, “Does the White House have any reaction?,” to which Earnest responded, “There’s no specific reaction from the White House.

On Feb. 12, 2015, U.S. ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, sharply criticized President Obama for his “telling” silence over the murders. Erdogan remarked: “If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you. As politicians, we are responsible for everything that happens in our countries and we have to show our positions.” Erdogan chided, “I ask Mr. Obama, where are you, Mr. President?”

After mounting criticism, Obama finally made a short statement on Feb. 13, 2015. The president said the killings were “brutal and outrageous,” and that “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.” That those words sound refreshing in “the land of the free” should tell you just how deep the crisis of American democracy has become.

While Obama’s words were certainly true, they also smacked of hypocrisy. The president targets people outside of the U.S. for “what they look like, or how they worship.” In five years of his drone attacks on Pakistan, 2,400 people have been blown-up by drone fired hellfire missles. While the majority of fatalities were suffered by terrorists, an estimated 951 innocent civilians were also killed, including up to 200 children. You might say that the victims of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate were simply “collatoral damage,” but I suggest you take that up with their parents.

I do not know what more I can say. I will let my 2001 poster do the talking for me.

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.