Category: Obituaries

Richard Duardo: RIP

“‘Where in the world, where in this situation now can I be revolutionary, iconoclastic, and a voice of freedom?’ And, mind you, I’d never even lifted a pencil or drawn a circle. I was eighteen. I thought, “Artist. You can be as revolutionary and loud and opinionated and self-righteous as you want to be in this world - in the art world. And they’ll just accept it.” You know, what an interesting curiosity, an artist with an opinion. And I thought, “Okay. I’m going to be an artist. This is how I can survive, this is where I feel I can be free.”

- Richard Duardo in an 2007 interview with the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

 "Richard Duardo" - Mark Vallen. 1980 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. I took this photo of Richard standing in front of the Centro de Arte Público gallery in Highland Park, Los Angeles. He was 28 at the time and I was 27.

"Richard Duardo" - Mark Vallen. 1980 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. I took this photo of Richard standing in front of the Centro de Arte Público gallery in Highland Park, L.A. He was 28 at the time and I was 27.

My old friend and associate Richard Duardo died on November 11, 2014 at the age of 62. I will let others compose the detailed obituaries… but I do have a few things to say about the passing of L.A.’s maestro of serigraphy.

I made Richard’s acquaintance in 1980, since we were both denizens of the Los Angeles punk scene. Our reputations preceded us, as we knew of each other’s works before we ever met.

I had seen a number of silkscreen prints by Richard - like his 1978 poster Dia de Los Muertos, which was a public announcement for an art event held on Nov. 4, 1978 in the Highland Park area of the city.

Featuring a hand-drawn image of a skull clenching two red roses in its teeth, the poster is still in my collection. But it was Richard’s punk posters that really grabbed me.

Richard and I were both enamored with The Plugz, one of L.A.’s original Chicano punk bands. The group was widely popular in Los Angeles during that tumultuous period and Richard had produced a 1980 poster for them announcing performances with British bands Gang of Four (Starwood) and The Selector (Whiskey a Go Go).

"The Plugz" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen poster announcing a Plugz performance at the Starwood with the Gang of Four.

"The Plugz" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen poster announcing Plugz performances at the Starwood and Whiskey a Go Go.

That same year Richard teamed up with Tito Larriva of the Plugz and Yolanda Comparan Ferrer to form the Fatima Records punk label. Its first production was Attitudes, the debut album from L.A. Chicano punk rockers, The Brat. Richard designed the album cover art for the record.

Only in the last few years has there been some acknowledgement that a sizable portion of L.A.’s original punk scene was composed of working class Chicano youth.

We were also fans of the Screamers, possible L.A.’s most extreme and theatrical early punk bands. In 1980 Richard created a large silkscreen portrait of Screamers front man Tomata du Plenty and keyboard player Tommy Gear.

Snarling in cheap sun glasses, Tomata stands behind Gear, who breaks open a raw egg. Esoteric and mysteriously confrontational, the Screamers print not only captured the novelty of the band, but the uniqueness of the entire early L.A. punk scene.

I still think of the Screamers print as a high-point of Richard’s design career.

At the time I had also created portraits of the Screamers, and I am pleased that one of them, a 1978 portrait of Tomata, is currently on display at the Georgia Museum of Art’s Boxers and Backbeats: Tomata du Plenty and the West Coast Punk Scene until January 4, 2015.

"Screamers" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen. 37 x 40 inches.

"Screamers" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen. 37 x 40 inches.

My two cover illustrations for L.A.’s punk journal SLASH magazine were well known in 1980 - a portrait of singer Sue Tissue of the Suburban Lawns, and Come Back To Haunt You, a drawing of an indigenous man wearing a leather jacket and sporting a Mohawk.

One day in 1980 Richard called me to ask if I would exhibit my works at a small group exhibit of artists to take place at his Centro de Arte Público gallery in Highland Park. He knew of my art, especially liked the SLASH portraits, and really wanted these works in the show.  Of course I said yes; years later, every time I saw Richard he mentioned how much he loved the Sue Tissue drawing, and always hinted at buying it. Now I wish I had simply given him a print of it years ago.

In 2002 I contacted Richard to see if he would be interested in reprinting my Sabra poster at his Modern Multiples serigraphy studio in downtown Los Angeles. He was extremely supportive of the project and immediately agreed to do the work. At the time Israel had started its “Operation Defensive Wall” campaign that had its soldiers fighting major battles in Palestinian West Bank cities; it would be the largest Israeli military campaign in the West Bank since the 1967 war. Moreover, in June of 2002 the Israeli cabinet decided to build a gigantic wall that would seal-off the Palestinians in the West Bank. The Israelis called it a “security fence,” the Palestinians called it the “apartheid wall.” I thought it was time to republish my Sabra silkscreen poster.

I originally created the Sabra print in 1982 as a street poster reaction to the Sabra and Shatila massacres that killed some 3,000 Palestinian civilians in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of that country in June of 1982. The Israelis had invaded with the intention of destroying the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was then in exile in Lebanon. The Israeli Defense Force surrounded the PLO in the capital of Beirut, and laid a seven week long siege of the nation’s capital of Beirut that included saturation bombing. The war ended with a U.S. negotiated settlement that forced the PLO to completely withdraw from Lebanon. After the pull out, Lebanon’s President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, and in retaliation his right-wing supporters were allowed by Israeli troops to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila - thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians were brutally murdered and mutilated.

"Sabra" - Mark Vallen. Silkscreen. 23 x 29 inches. Originally published in 1983, Sabra was reprinted in 2002 by Richard Duardo at his Modern Multiples Serigraphy Studio in L.A. Each print was pulled on heavy white paper, hand-signed by the artist, and received the Modern Multiples studio "chop" mark.

"Sabra" - Mark Vallen. Silkscreen. 23 x 29 inches. Originally published in 1982, Sabra was reprinted in 2002 by Richard Duardo at his Modern Multiples serigraphy studio in Los Angeles. Each print was pulled on heavy white paper, hand-signed by the artist, and received the Modern Multiples studio "chop" mark.

As Richard pulled the Sabra print, we discussed the politics of printmaking and much more. He was very “left,” but also quite cynical, preferring the artist’s life to that of the political activist. I spent some days around the studio, talking with Richard about all manner of things, including the so-called art scene. In a moment of truth he told me that he sometimes wondered what it was all about. He spoke of the hundreds of artists that had passed through his studio, and how so few of them actually got anywhere; of those that did achieve fame, their celebrity was usually fleeting.

I have to mention that during my time at Modern Multiples, Richard was also working on a silkscreen reworking of the legendary artwork created by Ignacio Gomez for the play, Zoot Suit. I was thrilled to see this work in progress, not just because I have come to know Mr. Gomez, but for the reason that as a twenty-five year old I saw Zoot Suit premier at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1978. I watched in fascination as Richard’s assistants worked on creating a hand-drawn stencil for the large 37 x 51 inch silkscreen. Since the print had 25 colors in it, that meant 25 different screens; and because the edition was 250 prints, that meant an extremely labor intensive project. The results however are nothing short of astounding. Zoot Suit is a dazzling print full of rich detail and one of the reasons why Richard was an acknowledged master printer and his Modern Multiples was possibly the best arts oriented silkscreen workshop in the entire country.

I certainly had artistic differences with Richard. I thought his personal works became much too commercial in the latter half of his career, and that he need not have worked with so many self-absorbed art stars. He started to apply to himself the dreadful moniker given to him by others, “the Andy Warhol of the West Coast.” But I have been told that it is impolite to speak ill of the dead.

Richard was sociable, gracious, and always supportive of artists. Looking up his own prints online, I am alarmed to find that his early works are practically non-existent, which is why I felt it necessary to write this obituary. Of the hundreds of artists that did pass through his workshop, I am certain that each and every one of them felt special because of the experience. That perhaps was Richard Duardo’s greatest legacy.

– // –

The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas will present an exhibition of 20 large-scale silkscreen prints by Richard Duardo from June 3, 2015 to August 10, 2015.

Billy Jack

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack." Artist Ermanno created a montage using newspaper photos and stories of the day to form a portrait of the fictional super hero, Billy Jack.

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack." Artist Ermanno created a montage using newspaper photos and stories of the day to form a portrait of the fictional super hero, Billy Jack.

I was 18-years-old when the movie Billy Jack was first shown in U.S. theaters in the year 1971. Tom Laughlin, the man that imagined, wrote, starred in, and independently produced the film, died on Dec. 12, 2013 at 82 years of age. This is a short remembrance of Mr. Laughlin, an appreciation for his swimming against the tide and capturing a certain spirit that most today will deny ever existed. I cannot begin to say how influential Billy Jack was to my generation.

As the Vietnam War continued to rage in 1971, U.S. Army Lieutenant William Calley was found guilty of mass murder for his role in the My Lai massacre; the Pentagon Papers were published in the Washington Post and the New York Times; prisoners took over Attica State Prison in Attica, New York and the government responded by launching a military assault that killed 28 inmates and 9 guards. A massive international campaign demanded the release Angela Davis, then in prison on trumped up charges of kidnapping and murder; over 1,000 Vietnam War veterans threw away their combat medals and ribbons on the Capitol steps in a protest against the war, and the Native American occupation of Alcatraz ended when armed agents of the state forcibly removed the indigenous activists from the island. Of course, there were dozens of earthshaking events that took place in 1971, but the aforementioned sets the stage for an understanding of Billy Jack.

None of the corporate press obituaries written for Mr. Laughlin will tell you this, but Billy Jack was one of the cultural expressions of opposition to illegitimate power that became a hallmark of the rebellious late 1960s and early 1970s. Laughlin’s movie embodied the anger, distrust, and open contempt millions of Americans came to feel towards government.

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1967 film, "Born Losers."

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1967 film, "Born Losers."

The character of Jack can be described as a Green Beret Vietnam War veteran of white and Native American heritage that experienced the horror of war and came home to a deeply divided nation.

Confronted with racial and class oppression on all levels, Jack found his spiritual core by becoming a guardian of the people. The character of Billy Jack first appeared in Laughlin’s 1967 Born Losers, where Jack battled a psychopathic motorcycle gang that had been terrorizing a small California beach town.

Nevertheless, Jack as a character cannot in any way be compared to right-wing vigilante characters like those in Death Wish (Charles Bronson), or Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood). As a Vet, Jack certainly had no relationship to the monosyllabic, muscle-bound, jingoistic Rambo (as played by the monosyllabic, muscle-bound, jingoistic Sylvester Stallone).

The character of Billy Jack really struck a nerve in the 1971 film, where the tale of the battle hardened Vet takes on a decidedly anti-authoritarian direction. In that film Jack rediscovers his Native American roots while living on an Arizona reservation, he takes up the struggle to defend an alternative school and its hippie and indigenous student body from small town bigots, and uses his hapkido martial arts and firearms skills to battle the forces of oppression on his native soil.

The movie more than touched upon pertinent social issues from an egalitarian perspective; racial oppression, corrupt police, the abuse of power, the destruction of the environment, and other pressing concerns, all of which are still very much with us in the present day. The film ends with Jack entering an armed confrontation with law enforcement and their crooked bosses in city government, leading to his arrest and imprisonment. In other words, Billy Jack is not a movie that would be made today.

In the ending scene of the film as Billy Jack is driven off to prison in a column of police cars, while Jack’s young supporters line the road with their clenched fists held high in defiance of authority, the song One Tin Soldier played over the movie’s final moments. The song as recorded by the U.S. rock band Coven put the finishing touches on the movie’s pro-freedom stance and further galvanized the real world antiwar movement; One Tin Soldier hit number 17 on Billboard’s top 100 in 1971.

Laughlin’s 1971 Billy Jack would be followed up in 1974 by The Trial of Billy Jack, and again in 1977 with the last of the series, Billy Jack Goes to Washington. All took the same dissident stance, but I think the 1971 production was by far the most effective and influential. The last film condemned the atomic power industry and its connections to the U.S. government, and Laughlin remained convinced that his film did not receive a general theatrical release because of a government effort to suppress it. But as everyone knows, blacklists were never implemented in Hollywood. Commenting on the film’s portrayal of governmental collusion with corporate powers, Laughlin told Sacramento TV interviewers in 2007, “However corrupt you think Washington and Congress are, you’re not even close.” Nothing has changed since then.

While conservatives may well bemoan Billy Jack as so much whining from Hollywood liberals, Tinsel Town did not exactly roll out the red carpet to Tom Laughlin and his antiwar protagonist. The Billy Jack films were produced independently, and Laughlin used his own money to make them. In the case of the 1971 Billy Jack, its politics caused major studios to reject it, but Warner Bros. finally worked up enough courage to distribute it. However, Warner dragged its feet in promoting the movie and Laughlin had to wage a three year legal battle to regain control of his film. He finally won his lawsuit, and in 1973 rented 1,200 movie theaters across the U.S. for the re-release, a strategy that had never been used previously. While the 1971 Warner distributed release made $6 million, Laughlin’s independent ‘73 re-release eventually made $100 million. Billy Jack remains one of the biggest grossing films in the history of independent filmmaking.

Korean hapkido grandmaster, Bong Soo Han, stands in as Billy Jack. Screen shot from Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack."

Screen shot from Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack."

Billy Jack would also be the first film to introduce a mass U.S. audience to martial arts, something that forever changed the American understanding of “action” movies. Billy Jack predated the films of the Chinese American martial artist, Bruce Lee.

Tom Laughlin was a student of the Korean martial art, hapkido, and he trained a great deal for the fight scenes in his film.

While Laughlin did his own stunt work in the movie, he called upon the Korean grandmaster, Bong Soo Han (1933-2007), to stand in as Billy Jack to perform the advanced fighting techniques seen in the most electrifying and memorable fight in the movie.

Despite the popularity of the Billy Jack films, critics generally hated them. For instance, Roger Ebert (1942-2013) reviewed Billy Jack by stating, “I’m also somewhat disturbed by the central theme of the movie. ‘Billy Jack’ seems to be saying the same thing as ‘Born Losers,’ that a gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice.” Other bourgeois film critics have referred to the films as “vigilante-themed” (LA Times 12/15/2013). In its obituary for Mr. Laughlin, USA Today made reference to his “big-screen vigilante Billy Jack.”

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word vigilante is that of “a person who is not a police officer but who tries to catch and punish criminals.” In an opening scene from Billy Jack, Jack discovers the town’s corrupt unelected political boss, Mr. Stuart Posner (played by Bert Freed), trespassing onto the reservation with his thugs to hunt and kill wild horses. Jack confronts the armed goons with his own lever action rifle and the following dialog ensues:

Jack: You’re illegally on Indian land.
Posner: I’m sorry about that. I guess we just got caught up in the chase and crossed over without knowing it.
Jack: You’re a liar.
Posner: We got the law here, Billy Jack.
Jack: When policemen break the law, then there isn’t any law - just a fight for survival.

The exchange between Jack and Posner does suggest vigilantism, but would it not be more accurate to describe Posner as the vigilante? As the unofficial “leader” of the town, he appointed the judges and the police, so when he said “We got the law here,” he literally meant that he was the law.

Another scene from the Billy Jack film shows hooligans associated to Posner, roughing up Native American students at a local eatery. Billy Jack walks into the establishment just as the racist brutes are dumping white flour on the students in a mocking attempt to make them “white.” Tensely, Jack tells the bullies that he has tried to “be passive and nonviolent,” but when he sees the children he loves so abused by “the savagery of this idiotic moment of yours… I go BERSERK!” Jack then trounces the racists with a series of hapkido punches and kicks, utterly vanquishing them before attending to the stricken kids.

To fully understand that scene, one must know that just eight years earlier on May 28, 1963, multi-racial Civil Rights demonstrators had staged a sit-in to desegregate a “Whites Only” lunch-counter at a Woolworth’s Department Store in Jackson Mississippi. The protestors were viciously assaulted by a gang of white racists, while the police stood by and watched. Those conducting the sit-in were punched with brass knuckles and struck with broken sugar containers. They were burned with cigarettes while the mob poured sugar, ketchup, mustard, and drinks on them. A photo of the unpleasant attack made the national news, outraging decent people everywhere. Tom Laughlin was one of those people.

Tom Laughlin as the character, Billy Jack. Screen shot from Laughlin's 1971 movie, "Billy Jack."

Tom Laughlin as the character, Billy Jack. Screen shot from Laughlin's 1971 movie, "Billy Jack."

All this brings up memories of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Deacons were founded in Jonesboro, Louisiana in 1964 by African American men wanting to protect their communities from the depredations and terror of the Ku Klux Klan.

A good number of the Deacons were combat veterans of WWII and the Korean War, they armed themselves with legal firearms and patrolled their neighborhoods, guarding against the KKK. The Deacons for Defense and Justice provided security for the non-violent activists of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who were organizing voter registration drives among disenfranchised blacks. Considering that law enforcement, the courts, and various governmental agencies in Louisiana at the time were largely controlled or sympathetic to the KKK and other white supremacist organizations… can you really call the Deacons “vigilantes”?

I am struck by the vast difference between the tone and temperment of the Billy Jack movies, and contemporary movies like Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, films that not only embrace torture and imperial intervention, but were made with the cooperation of the Pentagon and the CIA. Today’s critics have nothing but praise for such films, and would never express their being “disturbed” that “a gun is better than a constitution” when depicting the invasions of foreign countries or holding “enemy combatants” in torture centers. Even the social democratic windbag Michael Moore praised Zero Dark Thirty as a “fantastically-made movie” that should “make you happy you voted for a man who stopped all that barbarity.” And what barbarities have been halted exactly? Launching war without Congressional approval? Zapping wedding parties with drone missiles?

It should be remembered that in 1968 John Lennon wrote an alternative version of his song Revolution that included the line, “we all want to change the world, but when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out/in.” Lennon included the word “in” because he was torn over whether violence might actually be used successfully to bring about justice. Tom Laughlin did not share those misgivings, and his anti-hero character of Billy Jack used his open heart, swinging fists, and gun, to fight oppressors and protect the defenseless.

Like many films from the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Billy Jack movies are undoubtedly dated. This is due, not only to the technological changes that have taken place in the world of movie making, but because of the changing perceptions and sensibilities of today’s film makers. Yet, an authentic and deeply felt humanism still emanates from Laughlin’s Billy Jack series, no matter how dated they may appear, which is something no one will honestly be able to say about all of Hollywood’s current action films rolled together.

Laughlin’s films could have been improved with substantial edits to focus the stories and shorten running times, though I say that about most films from the period. Just as postmodernism reduced the visual art world to an uncommunicative, detached, and indifferent state, so too has Hollywood largely forgotten how to tell the human story realistically and sympathetically. Laughlin could at least write a screenplay that expressed real compassion, despite the fact that he was not the most sophisticated or accomplished director. In a 2011 video statement titled What makes the Billy Jack films so unique?, Laughlin admonished Hollywood filmmaking by proclaiming:

“Another thing that made the Billy Jack series so unique, and so box office goldmine, is that you had the super action, the morality, the spirituality… come from both a super hero, Billy Jack, and a super heroine, Jean - who does credible, powerful women’s action, not absurd stuff like shooting two guns while riding backwards on a motorcycle, as Cameron Diaz did in the latest Tom Cruise picture… just absurd stuff.”

Whatever the weaknesses of Tom Laughlin as a director, and there were many, I would prefer his vision over most anything Hollywood offers today.

Iron Lady: Rust In Peace

Mark Twain once wrote of a memorial service, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.” The following comments regarding Margaret Thatcher having ascended to the choir invisible are written with that same attitude, a spirit no doubt shared by millions in the U.K. and around the world.

When I heard the news on April 8, 2013 that the “Iron Lady” had passed away at the age of 87, it was like receiving word of a long-time nemesis having given up the ghost. Numerous memories of Thatcher came to mind, none of them pleasant, as I waited for the deluge of corporate media sophistry that would conceal the real legacy of Maggie Thatcher.

This “anti-obituary” will be told through some of the graphics and songs opposing Thatcher that were produced in England during her reign, which is a very wide field indeed. There was The English Beat’s Stand Down Margaret; Robert Wyatt’s version of Shipbuilding (written for him by Elvis Costello); Costello’s own Tramp The Dirt Down; Morrissey’s Margaret On The Guillotine; UB40’s Madam Medusa; the Au Pairs’ Armagh (about the torture of Britain’s Irish political prisoners); The Exploited’s Let’s Start A War Said Maggie One Day; Anti-Pasti’s No Maggie Thatcher and No Government, and many other songs too numerous to mention.

"Margarine the Leaderine" - Gee Vaucher. Collage. 1979. Cover art of Maggie Thatcher for volume two of International Anthem, Vaucher's self-published "nihilist newspaper for the living".

"Margarine the Leaderine" - Gee Vaucher. Collage. 1979. Cover art portrait of Thatcher for Vol. 2 of International Anthem, Vaucher's self-published "nihilist newspaper for the living". The artworks Vaucher created for Crass became an indelible part of the band's legacy.

This piece of writing will primarily focus on two influential punk bands that gave Thatcher and friends a collective headache, Chumbawamba and Crass, but first a few things about Maggie you will likely not hear about in corporate news coverage of her passing.

I remember Thatcher as the Education Secretary for Edward Heath’s Conservative government (1970-1974). She imposed spending cuts on the state education system, eliminating free milk for schoolchildren, an act that earned her the everlasting title of “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”.

Things only got worse when she became Prime Minister on May 4, 1977.

Prime Minister Thatcher introduced austerity to the U.K., implementing savage cuts to social spending and making race-to-the-bottom neo-liberal casino capitalism the new norm.

Working class England was ravaged by her monetarist economic policies as manufacturing and industrial jobs disappeared - a legacy that continues with the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Thatcher took Britain to war over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands… a filthy imperialist escapade that earned her the contempt of Latin America. She mobilized the state to defeat striking British coal miners, and totally decimated the mining communities of northern England’s coal belt. At the House of Commons she attacked the miners by referring to them as “the enemy within”, saying; “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty”.

Thatcher refused to negotiate with Irish Republican prisoners in Britain’s notorious Long Kesh “H-Block” prison camp; interned for committing paramilitary acts in the cause of an independent Ireland, the inmates were waging a hunger strike in 1981 in order to gain political prisoner status. One of the protesters, Bobby Sands, was elected as a member of the British Parliament during the strike. Ultimately, Thatcher let Sands and nine other Irish Republican prisoners starve to death rather than talk to them. IRA recruitment went through the roof, and upwards of 150,000 people attended the funeral of Sands in Belfast, Ireland.

 "You're Already Dead" - Gee Vaucher. Cover art portrait of Thatcher for the 1983 Crass single "You're Already Dead".

"You're Already Dead" - Gee Vaucher. Cover art portrait of Thatcher for the 1983 Crass single "You're Already Dead".

Thatcher supported the apartheid regime of South Africa and in 1987 stated “The ANC is a typical terrorist organization. Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land”.

She struck a solid alliance with Ronald Reagan, agreeing with him that hundreds of U.S. nuclear missiles should be deployed across Europe in order to pressure the Soviet Union. She allowed Reagan to base 160 nuclear cruise missiles in the U.K., 96 at the Greenham Common U.S. Air Force base, and 64 at the RAF station in Molesworth.

Thatcher supported General Pinochet, who staged a fascist coup d’état on September 11, 1973 that drowned Chile in blood. Pinochet’s military dictatorship (1973-1990) murdered tens of thousands of Chileans, still more were kidnapped, tortured, and forced into exile. As late as 1999, even after his 1998 arrest on charges of torture and murder, Thatcher thanked Pinochet for “bringing democracy to Chile“. There is more of course, but it is outside the scope of this blog to list each and every one of Thatcher’s misdeeds.

Of all the music produced during the Thatcher years, the most caustic and vitriolic attacks against Maggie came from punk rock; in fact it is hard to imagine the genre at all without the Iron Lady. From the Sex Pistols to the Clash, from Discharge to Conflict, punk bands may not have mentioned her by name, but they laid waste to Thatcherism and the ruling class it served. As the perfect icon of reactionary state power, Maggie gave punk something to flail and wail against.

Outside of England, Chumbawamba and Crass were hardly known (save for small circles of miscreants like myself), a fact that remains unaltered by time; both were extremely influential in their own way, making tremendous impact on punk and dissident culture in the U.K. Crass formed in 1977 after the group’s founder, Steve Ignorant, saw a performance of the Clash. Chumbawamba formed some years later in 1982, in large part influenced by the artistic/political stance of Crass.

In those early years the two groups spearheaded the politicized subsect of punk that came to be called “peace-punk” or “anarcho-punk” for spotlighting anti-war, anti-authoritarian, and anti-capitalist themes. Crass came to my attention in 1979 when they sent a review copy of their first 45 single, Reality Asylum/Shaved Women, to L.A.’s Slash magazine, where I worked at the time. The challenging slab of vinyl was unlike anything us Angelenos had ever heard before, and so Slash published a full article about the band in its last issue… which was most likely the first major article written about the group in a U.S. publication.

Crass released a string of albums and singles from 1978 to 1984 before they disbanded. It was difficult listening on the whole, even some of my punk friends in the early 80s would not listen to them, but I always found the group more than intriguing. To me, one of their most inspired recordings was their third album, Penis Envy (1981), an indictment of male dominance, conformity, and war, all delivered with the band’s typical melodic chaos.

Another recommended recording would be their single, Nagasaki Nightmare (1981). Few works in the annals of music history have attempted to deal with truly horrifying real world events, but this particular recording succeeded like few others. It is their most remarkable effort. It should be remembered that despite all of their outrageousness, their brutal sound, and their total lack of radio airplay - Crass nevertheless consistently reached the top of the Indie Charts.

"XXX!" - Gee Vaucher. Designed as back cover art XX

"Welcome Home" - Gee Vaucher. 1982. Artwork designed as a foldout poster for the single "How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead?"

In 1982 Crass responded to the “Falkland Islands” war with a scorching aural attack titled, How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead?

The song was a slap in the face to Thatcher and the British ruling class over their war against Argentina on the issue of Falkland/Malvinas Islands sovereignty.

The Guerra de las Malvinas, began in April of 1982 when Argentina sent its military to secure the Islands, which Argentinians call the Malvinas and have always claimed as their territory (they continue to do so).

The British government under Thatcher deployed Her Majesty’s Armed Forces to make the Argentinians surrender the islands to the British Empire, having “claimed” the islands in 1833. The Malvinas are some 300 miles from the coast of Argentina, while they are around 8,000 miles from the U.K.

The uneven war lasted 73 days, ending June 14, 1982 with Argentina surrendering the territory to the U.K. The conflict took the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers, 3 Falkland Islanders, and 255 British troops… just shy of the 1,000 alluded to in the Crass song title. How Does It Feel was recorded in London in August of 1982, the single came shrouded in a black paper sleeve printed with a thousand tiny white graveyard crosses representing the war dead. The single included a folding black and white poster artwork of a horribly wounded U.K. bomber pilot, his face mutilated from combat. Under a banner reading “Welcome Home”, the vet hugged his gleeful blonde wife on the airfield tarmac. The song itself was frenetic, filled with atonal guitar noise and anguished shouted lyrics;

“How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand death? Young boys rest now, cold graves in cold earth. How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand death? Sunken eyes, lost now; empty sockets in futile death.”

Conservative MP Timothy Eggar defended Thatcher and the war, telling the press that the Crass single was “a vicious, scurrilous attack on the Prime Minister and the government”. Eggar condemned the record for being “obscene”, and Crass responded by saying the true obscenity was the war. The Tory party made an effort to prosecute Crass under the U.K.’s “Obscene Publications Act”, but the attempt failed once the Attorney-General ruled the single did not breach the law.

"Gotcha!" - Gee Vaucher. Designed as back cover art for the single release, xxx.

"Gotcha!" - Gee Vaucher. Designed as the back cover art for the 1983 single release "Sheep Farming In The Falklands".

As a follow-up, Crass released the single, Sheep Farming in the Falklands, in April of 1983. The single’s flipside was titled Gotcha! The cover art featured the otherwise black and white Crass logo, this time done up in the colors of the Union Jack.

The flipside jacket was a photograph of a World War I veteran whose face had been mutilated by bomb splinters - the word GOTHCHA! floating above his face in capital letters.

The image sans text, came from the classic anti-war book, Krieg dem Krieg (”War against War”) by the German artist Ernst Friedrich (1894-1967). Friedrich first published his book in 1924. A diatribe against those who start wars, his book combined appalling photos of war wounded soldiers with devastating text. Needless to say Friedrich ran afoul of the Nazis and fled Germany in 1933. I have prepared an essay on Friedrich, which you can expect in the near future.

The song, Sheep Farming, begins with a short snippet of an actual news broadcast recounting the attempted government prosecution of Crass over the aforementioned How Does It Feel. The song then launches into feverish pandemonium - screeched and squealed - first sneeringly condemning the imperial war (”Friggin in the riggin another imperialist farce, another page of British history to wipe the national arse!”), and then, dripping with bitter sarcasm, offering a jingoistic narrative as told through the voice of an imaginary war supporter (”Onward Thatcher’s soldiers, it’s your job to fight…”). Laced with expletives, the song ends with all musical structure falling apart, like a great battlement blasted to bits by artillery fire. The final words of the composition, aimed directly at Thatcher, likely comprise the most insulting language ever committed to vinyl.

"Birds Put the Turd in Custard" - Gee Vaucher. xxx xxxxxx xxxx

"Birds Put the Turd in Custard" - Gee Vaucher. 1983. Artwork designed as a foldout poster and lyric sheet for the single "Sheep Farming In The Falklands/Gotcha!"

The single’s inserted mini-poster and lyric sheet bears an artwork of Thatcher, wide-eyed and smiling, holding what appears to be an enormous phallus sculpted from excrement. Circling the repulsive portrait are the words, “Birds put the turd in custard but who put the shit in no. 10?”

The title of Gotcha! referred to the May 4, 1982 edition of The Sun, which originally offered the revolting headline of “Gotcha” when reporting on the sinking of the Argentine Navy cruiser, the ARA General Belgrano, by a British Royal Navy submarine, the HMS Conqueror. The Conqueror struck the Belgrano outside of the war zone with two torpedoes, killing 323 crew members. The infamous Sun account gloated that “Our lads”, “had the Argies on their knees” after “torpedoes from our super nuclear sub Conqueror” had blasted the cruiser.

Gotcha! had the same song structure as Sheep Farming, alternating between earnest denunciation and sardonic pro-war narrative. Crass took the war propaganda of The Sun and inverted it, exposing the national chauvinism, racism, and warmongering of the state and its sycophantic media with the song’s opening chorus;

“Gotcha! - you Argie bastard, Gotcha! - you fucking Spik, Gotcha! - you Latin bender, Gotcha! - you Dago prick… We gotcha, gotcha, gotcha - gotcha, gotcha, gotcha - we gotcha, gotcha, gotcha - Our boys have got it right!”

Sounding like the heat of battle from the opening to final chords, the relentlessly unpleasant song creates the impression of a soldier, indeed, an entire nation, gone mad with war lust: “This is Thatcher’s Britain built on national pride, built on national heritage, and the bodies of those who died to wave the flag on the Falklands, to protect us from the Irish hordes, to support the rich in their difficult task of protecting themselves from the poor”. Listening to the song, one can imagine the eyes of war enthusiasts bulging as their spittle flies into your face while shouting: “Yes, this is Thatcher’s Britain, so let’s increase the strength of the police. Let’s expand the military, let’s all arm for peace. Let’s suppress all opposition, let’s keep the people down. Let’s resurrect past histories for the glory of the crown.”

Chumbawamba achieved “commercial success” with their 1997 “dance hit” Tubthumping, but it is a lesser work that gives little indication of the full depth and breadth of what the band was capable of.

In 1982 I first heard Chumbawamba on a double record compilation put together by Crass and released on their Crass Records label that same year. Titled, Bullshit Detector Vol 2. (after a lyric from the Clash’s song, Garageland), the compilation consisted of 38 tracks from the same number of British punk bands. Chumbawamba’s cut Three Years Later was easily forgotten, a grating ditty with the repetitive lyrics, “You can’t do nothing if you haven’t got money”. Still, there was something to the lurching mechanical-like beat and jangly guitar noise… a portent of things to come. I still posses my copy of Bullshit Detector for its anti-Monarchist cover design and illustration, a consummate example of punk aesthetics.

"Dig This" - Clifford Harper. Linoleum cut. Cover art for the 1985 benefit album, "Dig This: A Tribute to the Great Strike".

"Dig This" - Clifford Harper. Linoleum cut. Cover art for the 1985 benefit album, "Dig This: A Tribute to the Great Strike".

I really took notice of Chumbawamba in 1985 when they contributed two songs, The Police Have Been Wonderful and Fitzwilliam, to Dig This: A Tribute to the Great Strike. Dedicated to the Miners Strike of 1984-1985, the album was a fund-raiser for the striking miners and all money raised from the sale of the record went to the “Miners Solidarity Fund”. The LP featured cuts by Poison Girls, Mekons, The Ex, Omega Tribe, Leningrad Sandwich, Men They Couldn’t Hang, Akimbo, and Steve Lake.

Chumbawamba’s contributions to Dig This were a far cry from their earlier hard-core punk sound. The Police Have Been Wonderful had a mild techno sound achieved in the studio through repetitive looping tape. Over the hypnotic soundtrack the group sampled news broadcasts of Thatcher lauding the police for the way they handled the strike, “Most of us who have watched the scenes on television have only the highest praise for the police” - an outrageous statement in itself since the entire country was watching TV news reports of brutal police actions taken in crushing the miner’s strike.

Fitzwilliam was a hauntingly beautiful ballad about the people of the mining town of Fitzwilliam braving violence from police and scabs, and enduring government and media lies throughout the duration of the strike. In the middle of the song (lyrics here) a poetic juxtaposition is made between the working women of the mining town and Prime Minister Thatcher: “Woman and woman in opposing extremes, between man-made heaven and popular dreams, between twisted detachment and learning to breathe - one locks the prison, one sets herself free”.

The Mineworkers strike lasted a year but was eventually defeated by repressive legislation and Thatcher’s use of raw police violence and brutality. After the strike collapsed, Thatcher closed 25 coal mines in 1985, and 97 more would be closed by 1992. In a report published in the Guardian after Thatcher’s death, one miner, a veteran of the 1984 strike, put it this way: “It was class war. The people above didn’t want us to win. The people with money didn’t want us to win. If we had won, they wouldn’t be able to get away with what they are doing now, cutting benefits for disabled people and things like that. The unions would have stopped them. But we lost.”

"Never Mind The Ballots" - Artist unknown. Graphic from the inside cover art of Chumbawamba's 1987 album, "Never Mind The Ballots Here's The Rest Of Your Life".

"Never Mind The Ballots" - Artist unknown. Graphic from the inside cover art of Chumbawamba's 1987 album, "Never Mind The Ballots Here's The Rest Of Your Life".

By the time of their debut 1986 album, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, Chumbawamba had already moved beyond hard-core punk to embrace pop, folk, a cappella, and “world music” forms - though they were certainly capable of launching a raucous sound barrage at a moments notice (listen to the cut Invasion as proof - lyrics here). Despite the lack of stereotypical punk dissonance and cacophony, Starving Children embodied the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist punk moral code; it was a concept album that offered a scornfully derisive view of corporate control of culture.

Other high-points in Chumbawamba’s recording career include their second album, Never Mind the Ballots… Here’s The Rest of Your Life. Recorded in 1987, this brilliant concept album exposed the con-game of elections under capitalism: “Said the Party to the adman, ‘We’ll conjure up a gimmick - the way to lead an ass is with a carrot and a stick. Dig down for minorities, promise them concessions, ride in one their backs, and then teach them all a lesson”. (It was the album young people in the U.S. should have listened to prior to the 2008 presidential elections.) Also high on the list would be the group’s third album, English Rebel Songs: 1381-1984. This extraordinary recording presented traditional protest songs from throughout England’s history; from the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, to songs of the Diggers (1649), and Chartists (1840s).

"Here's The Rest Of Your Life" - Artist unknown. Graphic from Chumbawamba's "Never Mind The Ballots" album.

"Here's The Rest Of Your Life" - Artist unknown. Graphic from Chumbawamba's "Never Mind The Ballots" album.

After 30 years of writing, recording, performing, and agitating, Chumbawamba called it quits in July of 2012, but ever forward thinking - they had planned something special for the future.

“In anticipation of the great day” they wrote and recorded a seven track EP in 2005 titled In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher (you can see them performing one of the songs, So Long, So Long, in this 2009 concert).

Over the years the band encouraged fans to pre-order the EP for £5 (around $7.60 U.S.), giving their word that the recording would be released on the day of Thatcher’s death. Years after they recorded the EP, Thatcher died on April 8, 2013. The band mailed out the Memoriam CD that same day. Chumbawamba posted a statement that read:

“She’s not been gone more than a few hours, and already the national media have cranked into gear and begun the blandly respectful eulogies – at their most critical they seem to be only able to say: ‘She polarized opinion … what’s certain is how much of an impact she made on Britain … etc etc.’ Twitter set off at a pace with a thousand ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ messages only to be followed by a slew of bleeding heart liberals bemoaning the fact that people were daring to celebrate someone’s death.

Pah! Let’s make it clear: This is a cause to celebrate, to party, to stamp the dirt down. Tomorrow we can carry on shouting and writing and working and singing and striking against the successive governments that have so clearly followed Thatcher’s Slash & Burn policies, none more so than the present lot. But for now, we can have a drink and a dance and propose a toast to the demise of someone who blighted so many people’s lives for so long. If we must show a little reverence and decorum at this time, then so be it. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of all Margaret Thatcher’s victims.”

The wealthy and the powerful of this world mourn Thatcher’s death. Prior to her April 18, 2013 funeral, Prime Minister David Cameron told BBC Radio 4, “We are all Thatcherites now“. Offering a timid rebuke to the remark, Cameron’s Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Party co-conspirator Nick Clegg squeaked, “I certainly wouldn’t call myself a Thatcherite. I am a liberal. She wasn’t a liberal.” Ah yes… a liberal. In an official statement, President Obama said “The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the class divide, street parties celebrating Thatcher’s death took place throughout England. The largest occurred in London’s Trafalgar Square, where upwards of 3,000 people drank Champagne and sang “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” from the classic Judy Garland The Wizard of Oz movie. The song became a sensation with anti-Thatcherites, who succeeded in making the song the number one hit on U.K. iTunes “top ten” category. Hundreds turned their backs on Thatcher’s funeral procession as it made its way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, while in the former coal mining village of Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire (its coal mine closed in 1994 due to Thatcher’s policies), residents gathered in the village square to burn Maggie in effigy.

The following is pertinent, so please bear with me. Just prior to Maggie’s death I viewed the classic American film-noir, Ruthless. Starring Zachary Scott, the 1948 flick told the story of a predatory capitalist’s rise to power, and how he mercilessly crushed all those in the way of his acquiring endless profits… going so far as to abandon the woman who loved him, Martha Burnside (played by Diana Lynn).

Scott’s character of Horace Vendig met his match in the equally venal oligarch, Buck Mansfield (played by the incomparable Sydney Greenstreet). Without giving away the end, a character who witnessed Vendig’s downfall, said of him: “He wasn’t a man… he was a way of life”. Likewise, consider this essay regarding Thatcher, not as an attack on an individual, but as a critique of “a way of life”.

Thatcherism is alive and well, but so is the resistance.

From Valenzuela to Vallen: A Eulogy

"Portrait of my father" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 10 x 14 inches. 1979.

"Portrait of my Father" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 10 x 14 inches. 1979.

On February 7, 2013, my father Joe Vallen passed away at the age of 88. Multiple medical problems led to his death, but his primary difficulty was a weak heart. I was at his side at the final moment, whispering my goodbyes into his ear. He died peacefully.

On October 28, 1924, José Jesus Valenzuela was born in Guaymas, a coastal city in the state of Sonora, Mexico. When he was around 2-years-old “Jesusito” came to the United States with his mother and grandmother to settle in San Diego, California. An amazing world opened up to José when he came to Los Angeles at around sixteen years of age to work in the city’s restaurant business at the behest of his uncle, “Alex” Maytorena. At the time, Alex worked as chief bartender at Perino’s, one of L.A.’s original elite restaurants. Alex helped my father land his first restaurant job as a busboy.

My father married Patricia Schneider in 1951 at the Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. José officially became a U.S. citizen and anglicized his name to “Joe Vallen” ten days before I was born on September 7, 1953. Patricia’s mother, Anita Murieta, came from Mexico to the U.S. presumably around 1918. Anita married Edward Schneider, a Maitre ‘D at Victor Hugo’s in Laguna Beach, CA. Pat knew little about her father, who died when she was a baby.

Without formal education, and from a solidly working class background, Joe and Pat strived to live the “American Dream” in a Los Angeles very different from the city we know today. They eschewed their ethnic backgrounds in favor of the upwardly mobile, Euro-centric vision that dominated 1950s McCarthyite America; it was a lifestyle they never challenged until the turmoil of the 1960s confronted them.

In the early years of his extraordinary career Joe worked hard as a waiter, sometimes working two shifts a day. He landed a job at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel. Because he could speak Spanish, he was asked to act as poolside translator for Charlie Chaplin and famed Mexican actress Dolores del Río during their first encounter at the club. Joe was later employed at the world famous Brown Derby restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. He worked his way up through the restaurant world to become a Maitre ‘D at some of the city’s most elite establishments like The Cave Des Roys private club on La Cienega Boulevard, The Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and The Friars Club of Beverly Hills.

As Joe worked in the leading restaurants of Hollywood’s Golden Age, there was hardly a studio boss, actor, entertainer, or politician that he did not meet. Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mel Torme, Ronald Reagan, Conrad N. Hilton, Howard Hughes, and so many others were charmed by my father. Mention a celebrity’s name in casual conversation and Joe’s usual response was to recount having served the person, how well they tipped, whether or not the individual’s disposition was friendly or sour, and general observations regarding comportment, style, and manners. For years I urged my father to write down his remarkable experiences as a Maitre ‘D; he always promised that he would, but he never penned a single line. Now it is too late.

Despite his rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, Joe was a simple working class man. Unbelievably his waiter’s salary enabled him to buy a home and three apartment complexes in the San Fernando Valley - such was a testament, not to Joe’s wealth, but to a once vibrant economy gone to ruin. Joe also purchased land in the then undeveloped Southern California mountain community of Big Bear, where he built a beautiful “A-frame” cabin - virtually with his own hands. Some of my life’s fondest memories involve that wonderful cabin.

On May 5, 1961, my father and I watched on national television as NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to be launched into space. On November 22, 1963, we watched the live Walter Cronkite broadcast announcing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, two days later we witnessed the televised murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. My father and I watched the first televised performance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964 - marking the moment the “generation gap” opened up between us (Joe mocked the “mop tops” while I was inspired by them). This pattern was repeated over and over as my father and I watched the triumphs and tragedies of late 20th century America unfold before us.

We certainly had our differences, and we fought only as a devoted father and son could. The rebellious 1960s drove a wedge between us, and it became harder and harder to understand one another; it was a gulf that was never really closed. In the late 60s Joe loved Frank Sinatra while I was passionate about The Doors; come the late 70s Joe still revered Sinatra while I acclaimed The Clash. Funny thing is, with the ascendancy of the totally vapid corporate-created pop singers of today, Mr. Sinatra is not looking so bad to me. Perhaps father and son finally came to terms.

After 61 years of marriage Joe and Pat were inseparable. They met the vicissitudes of life with grace, perseverance, and no small degree of courage, but life takes its toll. In 2012 Joe underwent surgery for a pacemaker, and at 87-years-old it would be his third defibrillator implant. At 91-years-old Pat began having trouble taking care of herself because of dementia. My wife Jeannine and I devoted much of 2012 to taking care of my parents, until at last it became necessary to admit them both to a skilled nursing care facility. Despite the best of care, Joe lasted but a few months, and is survived by his devoted wife, who now remembers less and less of the world.

There is so much more to say, but words cannot express my sense of loss. I mourn the passing of the big-hearted man that raised me, and who eventually came to understand - as best he could - this wayward, bohemian, artist. But I also lament the passing of the world my father once knew and was a part of. I carry it within me; this true son of El Pueblo de Los Ángeles will not forget.


"Out of the glistening night... Trashman" - Spain Rodriquez. Original cover art for "The Collected Trashman" Vol. 1, No. 1. 1972. The tabloid was published by the Red Mountain Tribe, the same radical collective that produced and distributed the Berkeley Tribe underground paper in Berkeley, California.

"Out of the glistening night... Trashman" - Spain Rodriquez. Original cover art for "The Collected Trashman" Vol. 1, No. 1. 1972. The tabloid was published by the Red Mountain Tribe, the same radical collective that produced and distributed the Berkeley Tribe underground paper in Berkeley, California.

When Spain Rodriguez died on November 28, 2012, it was my friend and associate Lincoln Cushing who informed me by e-mail of the untimely passing.

I am certain a torrent of similar e-mails were exchanged around the nation as people shared their collective grief over the passing of a talented artist and illustrator who helped to shape the 1960s counterculture.

In the late 60s the cartoons of Spain loomed large in the eye-popping and vividly colorful pages of “underground” psychedelic publications. Zap Comix, that groundbreaking comic book magazine of the freak counterculture, published Spain’s cartoons in 1968, along with satirical works by Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Rick Griffin and other notables from the youth culture.

Members of my generation were liberated, or seriously warped - depending on who you talk to - by the material that appeared in Zap Comix. But is was Spain’s “Trashman” comic character, the one and only American superhero I would ever be a fan of, that left the deepest impression on me.

 "The Origin of Trashman" - Spain Rodriquez. 1970. Pen and ink. Page one from Subvert Comics #1.

"The Origin of Trashman" - Spain Rodriquez. 1970. Pen and ink. Page one from Subvert Comics #1.

Developed in 1968, the Trashman comic story takes place in a totalitarian American future, telling the tale of a working class fellow named Harry Barnes. When Barnes discovers state forces have murdered his wife, he goes underground to escape their clutches.

Barnes is soon recruited by a shadowy anarcho-Marxist underground organization called the Sixth International, which trains Barnes in the use of weaponry, but also instructs him to make use of the “para-sciences”. Once Barnes masters clairvoyance, shape shifting, and other super powers, he is reborn as Trashman to wreak havoc upon fascist police and military forces and their wealthy ruling class paymasters.

Panel from the Trashman comic as published in 1968 on the pages of New York's underground newspaper, the East Village Other.

Panel from Trashman as published in 1968 on the pages of New York's underground newspaper, the East Village Other.

Spain Rodriguez was a superlative draftsman, his pen and ink drawings done in black and white, whether sparsely or lavishly detailed, were always evocative.

I have an eternal appreciation for artworks created in black and white, a style of work not easily mastered, but Spain made it look easy; his unmistakable drawings were always a perfect balance of black and white.

Spain’s meticulous renderings of urban landscapes could be breathtaking in detail; his portraits of various characters revealed all of the decency or darkness of the human heart with just a few strokes of the pen. Unlike the works of other underground artists in his circle who were creating zany cartoons, Spain’s art possessed a certain seriousness - even when dealing with the improbable.

Spain’s Trashman antihero story became ubiquitous in certain counterculture circles in the late 1960s. The tale was no doubt an extension of Spain’s own world view and politics, but truth be told it was also a shared fantasy. Spain’s comic was born in a period of mass protest, government repression, and imperial war. Mind you, the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy were recent murders, and the May 4, 1970 National Guard fatal shootings of antiwar student protestors at Kent State University was on the horizon. It was easy for young readers to believe that the Trashman comic was a look into our collective future.

Berkeley Tribe cover art, Aug. 15, 1969 edition. The underground newspaper's radical editorial stance encouraged cultural and political dissidents to practice armed self-defense. To that effect the broadsheet's provocative headline appropriated the U.S. Army recruitment slogan of the day, "Join The New Action Army".

Berkeley Tribe cover art, Aug. 15, 1969. The underground paper's editorial stance encouraged cultural and political dissidents to practice armed self-defense. To that effect the provocative headline appropriated the U.S. Army recruitment slogan of the day, "Join The New Action Army".

Many underground papers of the day carried the art of Rodriquez, indeed, in 1972 I acquired The Collected Trashman as published by the Red Mountain Tribe, the same radical collective that was printing and distributing the Berkeley Tribe underground paper in Berkeley, California. It is funny to think that as a teenager I could find the Berkeley Tribe and other radical newspapers at a local news stand in my quiet southern California neighborhood. Today that news stand is long gone, so are the area bookstores, all replaced by yuppie cafés and boutiques in a wave of late 90s gentrification. The one bookstore in my locale, a corporate chain, carries Batman, Spiderman, Avengers, X-Men, Superman, and all the rest… but no Trashman. Big surprise, eh?

Lincoln Cushing conducted an interview with Spain Rodriguez on September 28, 2010. Wanting to document Spain’s “important contribution to movement art”, Cushing included the interview in his book, All Of Us Or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area. The book’s 300 or so 60’s posters came from the massive All Of Us Or None (AOUON) poster archive collected and maintained by the brilliant Michael Rossman (1939-2008). There are six of Spain’s posters in the archive, and I am honored to say, six of my own print creations reside there as well. In the wake of Rossman’s untimely death, Cushing administered the AOUON collection until helping to arrange its donation to the Oakland Museum of California. Cushing granted me permission to publish his AOUON interview with Spain, an edited version of which follows:

Lincoln Cushing: “Who among underground comics artists did you find a connection around politics?”

Spain Rodriguez: “I always drew, and I went to art school. Underground cartoonists tend to be either left or apolitical. Gilbert Shelton is one who had political insight, a worthy hero and a better artist than he realizes. Now he’s over in Paris. I kind of got this generally good reception. The underground comics movement has a certain sort of camaraderie that is not specifically political. Crumb also has a progressive political outlook, somewhat more so in those days than today. His recent Genesis has an enlightening aspect to it. What Crumb did with Zap was turn it into a collective. He might have had some regrets about that later on, but we – the artists – own Zap. And that’s a big step. It’s a collective form by the most uncollective guys you can imagine.

A lot of us came from New York, and we all knew each other from the East Village Other – Bill Griffith, Art Spiegelman – and Trina Robbins, too, though she regards us as ‘those obnoxious male cartoonists,’ which is good, that’s what we are.

I’ve been political from very early on. In Buffalo [N.Y.] as a kid I knew something was extremely fucked up. I remember seeing this picture of a Mexican mural, with all these bigwigs sitting at a table, and one guy had one of those scientific funnels on his head, they were all pontificating and eating their little cakes, and all around them were these Mexicans with crossed bandoliers fingering their weapons in the doorways, and it instantly hit me. Suddenly I understood things.  I drifted into the Socialist Labor Party. That was my early education. I had a philosophical inclination. When I read Marx that seemed to describe the world best.

Early on a guy named Ed Wolkenstein put out this little leaflet called ‘The Spirit and the Sword.‘ I did artwork for him, licked envelopes, did all that stuff to get it out. He took us out to the University of Buffalo, where I just assumed that people would tell us to never darken their doorway again, but we got this good reception. And of course this was the beginning of the antiwar movement. Me and Ed put up the first antiwar posters in Buffalo, 1965-1966. Maybe even 1964 – we did one on Goldwater’s election. I first came to the Bay Area in January of 1969, went back to Buffalo in March, then I came back in December.”

Lincoln Cushing: “Tell me about your view of 1950s culture”.

Spain Rodriguez: “It was certainly boredom, and the pressure to conform. I have my high school yearbook, and I’m the only one with sideburns. I went through a bunch of shit over that. I’ve always had a tendency to find the excitement, to find the cool thing. But that’s when rhythm and blues, and rock and roll started, so that certainly wasn’t boring. And in the neighborhood I lived in, there was a lot of stuff happening. There was pressure to conform, but there were also people that wouldn’t conform. With me it was always a struggle, being the nail that stuck out, getting pounded down.

There was also EC comics, which were real significant, and really hated and stabbed in the back by the whole comics code, which was one of the most repressive documents in history.

The Spaniards had this big empire, and then the Inquisition comes up. From a certain vantage point, the fact that they had the inquisition is a positive thing because they had something to ‘inquisit.’ The cultures they conquered didn’t have an inquisition, people readily accepted that if they didn’t go up and get their hearts cut out the sun would stop. No one said ‘Hey, let’s give it a try, don’t cut out my heart.’ In Spain you had this incredibly repressive thing, and you have to look at what prompted that.

EC comics had a social content. In fact my early thinking was shaped by that. The shock-suspense stories always had a social point, either the Ku Klux Klan or political corruption. They had a definitely liberal political angle. All these guys who came out of the Army and had G.I. Bill free college, a lot of them became artists, so there was this pool of great artists. Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, Severin, Elder. And the stuff sprang out for a few years, until ‘the hand’ crushed that.

Did you ever hear of the Resurgence Youth Movement? It was in the Lower East Side of NY, started by Jonathan Leek, who was in YPSL. When Kennedy was assassinated [11/22/1963] he issued a 12-page manifesto calling for all revolutionaries to go forth with pistol and dagger and put to death all public officials. Well, they booted his ass out. Then he got connected with the Wobblies, and they would put out this great stuff – ‘I dream of the days when motorcycles will roar down Park Avenue and the junkies will shoot up in your bathroom and the queens will prance on your lawn!’ – and all of that sort of came true.

You’d see him at antiwar demonstrations and there would be all the leftists on one side, and the Nazis on the other, and these guys would come in and attack the cops, and of course the cops would kick their ass. But I got to know those guys, and after smoking about nine joints they said ‘Yeah, we’ll kidnap Mayor Wagner’s son and we’ll try him according to people’s justice!’ and another guy would jump up and say ‘Yeah, then we’ll chop off his head with a guillotine!’ One guy was nuttier than the next.

All these historical things, they’re like some weird dice throw, and at some point it just comes to a boil. We’re living in interesting times. I’m not an anarchist, but I’m a libertarian – no one gets to run my personal life. I don’t believe the personal is political. I believe that the personal is nobody’s business. I’m not gay, but I support people’s right to live their own life as they see fit.”

While Trashman was unquestionably Spain’s most famous creation, it was certainly not his only one. Intensely interested in history, Spain created comic books about diverse historic figures from Marine Corps general Smedley Butler to Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He was a contributing artist to Wobblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, and the author of several original graphic novels. Really, his accomplishments are more than I can list.

The Burchfield Penny Art Center at Buffalo State College in Buffalo, New York is currently presenting the exhibit, Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels, & Revolution. Beginning Sept. 14, 2012 and running until January 20, 2013, the exhibit features original drawings and reproductions from Spain’s complete body of work. Spain’s wife, Emmy-nominated filmmaker Susan Stern, produced a short film on Spain’s life and work for the Burchfield Penny Art Center exhibit; the insightful video can be viewed on YouTube. At the closing moment of Stern’s film, Spain made the following avowal, one that summed up his optimism: “I’ve seen many cool scenes, I have hope that cool scenes will keep on coming - I have faith in the revolution.”

Many an obituary will be written about Spain, most will focus on his being a mover and shaker in the world of comics, conveniently leaving aside his left-wing libertarian politics and thoughtful humanism. Paul Buhle, author and Senior Lecturer at Brown University, has possibly written the best published death notice on Spain for Dissent quarterly. Another insightful obit, Death of an American original, can be found on Salon.

What makes the Salon obituary so interesting is its ending, which presents two previously unpublished cartoon panels from Spain finished just prior to his death. The cartoons deal with the real-life story of cotton plantation slave James Roberts and his fellow slaves being enlisted by U.S. General Andrew Jackson to fight the British in the War of 1812. Though only eight panels long, the cartoon cuts like a knife. I must admit that I did not know the history revealed in Spain’s illustrated romp into the annals of America’s past, but that is the extraordinary thing about Spain Rodriguez; he continues to teach things to myself and others, even after moving on. Perhaps that is the best obituary I can offer.

.... takatakatakataka sparat spat spat

Robert Hughes: the last art critic

“Some think that so much of today’s art mirrors and thus criticizes decadence, not so – it’s just decadent, full stop. It has no critical function, it is part of the problem. The art world beautifully copies our money driven, celebrity obsessed, entertainment culture; same fixation on fame, same obedience to mass media that jostles for our attention with its noise and wow and flutter.” - Robert Hughes.

Robert Hughes died on August 6, 2012, at the age of 74. He passed away at a hospital in New York following a long unspecified illness. There are more than a few obituaries written for Mr. Hughes… you can ignore them all. Let Hughes’ sharp-witted writings and proclamations be his obituary; his lacerating words are enough to understand why he is still an indispensable force in today’s money besotted art world.

Photo of Robert Hughes by Australian photographer, Julian Kingma

Photo of Robert Hughes by Australian photographer, Julian Kingma

The quote that opens this remembrance of Mr. Hughes came from his 2008 documentary film for Britain’s Channel 4 television, The Mona Lisa Curse. The film explored, in the words of Hughes, how “the entanglement of big money with art has become a curse on how art is made, controlled, and above all - in the way that it’s experienced.”

The great majority of obituaries for Hughes rightfully mention his 1980 book and TV series, The Shock of the New, or his 1997 book and TV series American Visions, conversely, few if any mention his last major documentary, The Mona Lisa Curse. While many commentators laud Hughes for the vital contributions he made to the public’s understanding of art, they fall silent when it comes to The Mona Lisa Curse, a work that so upset the postmodern apple cart that it has been cast into oblivion.

Soon after its Sept. 18, 2008 broadcast on British TV, I found that The Mona Lisa Curse had received virtually no attention in the United States; the blackout affected the mainstream press (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, etc.), the art press, and the blogosphere. Mercifully, someone posted the entire documentary in twelve parts to YouTube in November of 2009, whereupon I immediately wrote a web log post about the documentary. My post provided a link to each of the twelve streaming video segments on YouTube, gave a summation of each part, and included pull quotes from Mr. Hughes.

Since my post was apparently the only article in existence that directly linked to The Mona Lisa Curse video on YouTube, I would like to think that thousands were exposed to Hughes’ masterwork due to my efforts.

As of this writing the U.S. press remains mute when it comes to The Mona Lisa Curse. The film is unavailable on and because it has not been released as a DVD by its producer C4/Oxford Film & Television. The company has provided no information on when the documentary might see the light of day. For all practical purposes Hughes’ most profound and deeply pertinent work continues to be unheard of; his polemics certainly did not win him any favors, but then, they were not meant to - his aim was to banish a curse.

In The Shock of the New TV series Hughes spoke of modern architecture and how its visual language serves the needs of state power; it was an analysis that foreshadowed the formidable critique to come later in The Mona Lisa Curse. Hughes’ survey included critical observations regarding the imperial architectural designs of fascist Italy and Germany from the 1930s, an aesthetic he recognized in the style of corporate architecture found in the 1980s. The concluding words of my short eulogy to Robert Hughes were uttered by the great man himself during his televised Shock of the New exposition on architecture:

“As far as today’s politics is concerned art aspires to the condition of muzak, it provides the background hum for power. If the Third Reich had lasted until today the young bloods in the party wouldn’t be interested in old fogies like Albert Speer or Arno Breker, they’d be queuing up to have their portraits done by Andy Warhol. It’s hard to think of any work of art of which one could say, ‘This made men more just to one another’, or ‘This saved the life of one Jew or one Vietnamese.’ Books perhaps, but as far as I know… no paintings or sculptures. The difference between us and the artists in the 20s, is that they thought that such a work of art could be made. Perhaps it was their naïveté that they could think so - but it’s our loss that we can’t.”

Ray Bradbury, Flame of Metaphor & Myth: R.I.P.

"Fahrenheit 451" - Joseph Mugnaini. Pen and ink. 9" x 5 3/4". Illustration for the 1961 edition of Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

"Fahrenheit 451" - Joseph Mugnaini. Pen and ink. 9" x 5 3/4". Illustration for the 1961 edition of Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury, the great writer of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories, died on June 5th, 2012 at the age of 91. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, Bradbury came to the City of Los Angeles with his parents in 1934, where he settled permanently to become one of the city’s illustrious adopted sons.

A favorite author of mine, Bradbury penned numerous short stories and novels, but it was his 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 that continues to haunt me.

Written in the year of my birth, Fahrenheit 451 tells the chilling tale of a future American society where the population is kept under control by the uninterrupted broadcasting of frivolous entertainment; in which endless trivial amusements and diversions are found on giant TV screens located in all public and private places.

Instead of extinguishing bonfires, the state’s well organized and omnipotent firemen ignite them; the firemen burn books, all of which have been banned. The libricide helps to cultivate the ignorance and anti-intellectualism that the government counts on to prevent dissent.

Yet, Bradbury always insisted that Fahrenheit 451 was not so much about government oppression as it was about the dangers television posed to the written word; that and how easily people embrace mind-numbing conformity. In 1966 director François Truffaut produced a compelling film based upon Bradbury’s prescient tale.

 "Baroque with Red Mama" - Joseph Mugnaini. Etching. 11" x 17". I received a copy of this print from Mugnaini when I was a student of his in the early 1970s.

"Baroque with Red Mama" - Joseph Mugnaini. Etching. 11" x 17". I received a copy of this print from Mugnaini when I was a student of his in the early 1970s.

I do not intend this article as an obituary for Mr. Bradbury, that can be found elsewhere; the L.A. Times published a notice of his passing, as did the L.A. Weekly and likely many others. Rather, this commentary will reveal one of the long forgotten episodes of Bradbury’s memorable career, his collaboration with artist Joseph Mugnaini (1912-1992), a fabulous L.A. artist that illustrated several of Bradbury’s books.

"Portrait of Bertrand Russell" - Joseph Mugnaini. Ink wash and conte crayon. 12.5" x 10.5" inches.

"Portrait of Bertrand Russell" - Joseph Mugnaini. Ink wash and conte crayon. 12.5" x 10.5" inches.

As fate would have it, I was a student of the irascible Mr. Mugnaini when he taught printmaking at L.A.’s Otis Art Institute in the early 1970s.

Brilliant and short-tempered, Mugnaini was an intimidating figure, but he was also a superlative and inspired printmaker that I learned a great deal from; an unforgettable character, he possessed a rugged face that is forever etched in my mind. One day in class Mugnaini gave me one of his etchings, Baroque with Red Mama. I still have the print in my collection.

Born in Italy, Joseph Mugnaini moved to the U.S. with his family when he was but an infant. He grew up in L.A. and attended Otis Art Institute in 1940-1942. After serving in the Army during WWII, he returned to L.A. and became an instructor at Otis, where he remained as a professor and head of the Drawing Department until he retired in 1976.

"Ulysses" - Joseph Mugnaini. Lithograph. 8.5" x 6 1/4" inches. From a 1963 edition of The Age Of Fable, by Thomas Bulfinch.

"Ulysses" - Joseph Mugnaini. Lithograph. 8.5" x 6 1/4" inches. From a 1963 edition of The Age Of Fable, by Thomas Bulfinch.

Mugnaini created the illustrations for Icarus, a 1962 animated film based on a story by Bradbury; the short film was nominated for an Academy Award (you can view the entire film on YouTube).

Aside from his collaborations with Bradbury, Mugnaini was a multifaceted artist that eschewed abstraction, favoring a loose and fanciful style of realism when creating his drawings, paintings and prints. His narrative works were filled with references both historical and literary.

Needless to say Mugnaini’s adherence to realism, however whimsical, put him at odds with the art establishment, at the time slavishly devoted to non-objective abstract expressionism, and later the lowbrow offerings of Pop art.

Mugnaini also wrote several textbooks on making art, including: Drawing: A Search for Form (1965); Oil Painting: Techniques and Materials (1969); and Hidden Elements of Drawing (1974). His works are found in the collections of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.

In this essay, Bradbury himself will have the last words on Joseph Mugnaini. Bradbury’s remarks were published as the foreword to the 1982 book, Joseph Mugnaini: Drawings and Graphics, a compendium of various artworks by Mugnaini. Four artworks from that book illustrate this article. Like a character in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, I have memorized passages found in Mugnaini’s books, reeling them off publicly as an act of resistance against a society so dumbed down that masses of people cannot survive without “tweeting” about the latest pop culture gossip. The words are now passed on to you. Bradbury’s praise of his artistic collaborator are as follows:

“The custom of artist-illustrator and mythologist (which is what a good writer should be) working together is as old as the Greeks, Romans, or name any other culture of some two-thousand-plus years ago. They are amiable cross-pollinations of one another. The history of literature and art is full of these fabulous speaking-writing-painting children. And indeed they are children, for if they are not that first, they cannot be the wild creatures that seize and freeze life, later. The sad thing about the cultures of the twentieth century is that often, perhaps because of Abstract Art lumbering on the scene and crushing Metaphor and Myth under its nihilistic rump, we have had little bedding of artists and tellers of tales. Our art galleries hence have been filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Joe Mugnaini and I have tried to revive the ancient tradition. It all came about by accident, some twenty-nine years ago. Passing a gallery late at night, I saw a lithograph of an old house, the sort of place a beast like myself might want to live in. With what little money I had, I rushed to buy the print the next day, and saw, on the walls, yet further metaphors of ideas and stories much like those inside my head, but not yet put down on paper. Who is this genius, I asked myself, who clones my concepts, without ever having met me? The answer was: Joe Mugnaini, of course. I went to see him, bought his paintings, got him to paint the cover and do the interior illustrations for my next book, The Golden Apples of the Sun, and the rest is a damn jolly good history of friendship and collaboration.”

Elizabeth Catlett: dead at 96

A few words must be said concerning the passing of Elizabeth Catlett, one of the greatest African-American artists and printmakers in the history of the United States. When I received the news that Ms. Catlett died on April 2, 2012, I felt more than a pang of sadness. I discovered her art when I was a teenager embroiled in the civil rights and antiwar movements in the late 1960s. During those years I became familiar with a number of social realist artists of Catlett’s stature, including Charles White, who was briefly married to Catlett in the early 1940s. I have long credited White “as a major influence in my life as an artist“, and it is fitting that I also credit Ms. Catlett as a personal inspiration as well.

In today’s context it is difficult to describe the impact Catlett’s prints had upon many of us in the late 1960s. She had of course been creating her style of social criticism since 1946, when she moved to Mexico City and began producing amazing lithographs, wood and linoleum cut prints with El Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP - The Popular Graphic Arts Workshop). Activists in the 1960s discovered Catlett’s older works, and since her graphic narratives were as relevant to the 60s as they were in the 1940s, they were given life and meaning by a new generation.

However, Elizabeth Catlett was not one to rest on her laurels; she met the challenges of the late 1960s with uncommon artistic ferocity and political clarity, producing images of unparalleled beauty and compassion. I was 16 in 1969 when I first saw Ms. Catlett’s linoleum cut print Malcolm X Speaks for Us; the work was certainly a reflection of the times, but it also was a lightning rod that led many to discover Catlett’s wider body of work. Her focus was on the African-American experience, though Catlett’s voice was universal. She addressed the hopes, dreams, and problems of her adopted country of Mexico with a good deal of empathy, nonetheless, Ms. Catlett’s works exemplify a clear and profound love for all of humanity.

"Harriet" - Elizabeth Catlett, Linoleum cut print, 1975. 12 x 9 3/4 inches

"Harriet" - Elizabeth Catlett, Linoleum cut print, 1975. 12 x 9 3/4 inches

The provocative nature of Catlett’s overtly political works is embodied in her masterful 1975 linoleum cut simply titled Harriet, a tribute to Harriet Tubman, the heroic African-American abolitionist. For eight years Tubman led an “Underground Railroad” network that liberated hundreds of blacks from slavery states in the South, helping them to escape to freedom in the North. The print was a reworking of an earlier linoleum cut by Catlett from 1946 titled, In Harriet Tubman I helped hundreds to freedom, which was part of the artist’s I am the Negro Woman series of prints from that period.

Catlett’s updated 1975 print was aesthetically superior to her original linoleum cut; she applied impressive skills in holding delicate lines in Harriet while giving an elegant appearance of form in Tubman’s dress. Catlett worked amazing textures into the newer print, from coarsely gouged to finer engraved-like lines. But politically, the changes made by Catlett were more important - and volatile - than the artistic ones. She portrayed the leader of the underground railroad as an armed freedom fighter carrying a rifle, a brazen act given the political atmosphere in the early 1970s.

Historic illustrations from the late 1800s usually pictured Harriet Tubman with a rifle, and though it is hard to be certain, that long gun was most likely an 1803 Harpers Ferry rifle chambered in .54 caliber. Tubman is also known to have been armed with a large revolver, in all probability the six-shot .36 caliber 1851 Colt Navy Revolver. When Tubman ran her underground network, Blacks were forbidden by law from owning or carrying firearms, it was even illegal for Whites to furnish guns or knives to Blacks that had been freed from slavery.

Elizabeth Catlett portrayed Harriet Tubman as a great hero and defender of human liberty, an indisputably accurate depiction. Tubman in fact became known as “Moses” to her people for having rescued hundreds of slaves from inhuman bondage. Even so, Tubman’s daring and courageous acts could not have been possible without the use of firearms; with rifle and pistol she defended her people against the unspeakable cruelty of slave masters, bounty hunters, and all others who profited from human bondage. Tubman worked with the Union Army to defeat the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War, and actually became the first woman in U.S. military history to prepare and help command an armed military assault, the Raid at Combahee Ferry in South Carolina; the military operation freed more than 750 slaves.

By emphasizing Tubman carrying a rifle in the cause of freedom, Catlett was directly addressing millions of African-Americans over the question of armed self-defense vs. non-violent action. Of course, most of Catlett’s art was not as confrontational as Harriet, the largest part of her oeuvre was given to tender and compassionate observation of humanity. Catlett’s works spoke of, not just oppression and injustice, but the capacity of people to create a better world. When searching for an artist with a deep-rooted commitment to social justice and equality, one need not look any further than the immortal Elizabeth Catlett.

On the Death of Thomas Kinkade

On Good Friday, April 7, 2012, the American artist Thomas Kinkade died of natural causes at the age of 54. He was known for his overly sentimental paintings of tranquil landscapes filled with country cottages, and for schmaltzy renditions of a pastoral Americana that never existed. He marketed himself as the “Painter of Light”, and by the end of his career labeled himself as the most collected living artist in the United States - which was no doubt true.

An oil painting indicative of Thomas Kinkade's larger body of work. Date and title unknown.

An oil painting indicative of Thomas Kinkade's larger body of work. Date and title unknown.

Kinkade published the first reproductions of his paintings in 1984, an edition of 1,000 that sold for $35 each. By the time of his death his paintings and reproductions were bringing in some $100 million dollars a year, and it has been said that his works have found a place in 10 million American homes.

As any astute observer of cultural matters will tell you, profits and popularity have little to do with quality and profundity, and the works of Kinkade serve as a perfect example of that truism.

I did not like the works of Mr. Kinkade, in fact, I found them embarrassingly mediocre and downright reactionary. In the many art circles I pass through in the city of Los Angeles, Kinkade was always the brunt of jokes, and continually held up as the very antithesis of a serious artist, an opinion undoubtedly held in professional arts circles throughout the nation. However, I will say that I believe Kinkade was sincere in his efforts, unlike so many of the charlatans found in the contemporary art world. While many of today’s artists are contemptuous of a general public unschooled in the arts, Kinkade embraced that audience; he painted images that millions of people understood and responded to in a deeply personal way. While I considered Kinkade a nemesis… his philosophy of bringing art to everyday people is something every professional artist should be concerned with.

In a brief item I wrote about Kinkade in 2004 titled Shipping Out with Thomas Kinkade, I chided the “painter of light” for producing war propaganda. I vowed it would be “the one and only time you’ll find a painting by Kinkade posted on my web log”. With his passing I am breaking that declaration, and hope this brief article adheres to the tradition of not speaking ill of the dead.

One of the great ironies of Mr. Kinkade’s career was that despite his overwhelming popularity and tremendous financial success, he was shunned by the art establishment. His works are not found in museum collections, to my knowledge he never had a museum show, and it is highly unlikely that any museum anywhere in the world will ever present a retrospective of his paintings. But here is what is so perplexing; while the elite art establishment dismisses Kinkade’s work as so much vapid kitsch (though Kinkade was unaware of his being a kitsch artist), major art museums are exhibiting and acquiring vast collections of - vapid kitsch (albeit from artists who self-identify as being kitsch). Such is the state of today’s art world.