Category: Prints - Posters

Ayotzinapa; Between pain and hope

Carlos Lorenzo Hernández Muñoz - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Laila Cohen.

"Carlos Lorenzo Hernández Muñoz" - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Laila Cohen. José Guadalupe Posada's famous La Calavera Catrina can be seen over the student's shoulder along with the Virgen de Guadalupe.

El Día de la Revolución is celebrated every year in Mexico on the 20th of November. The occasion this year marks the 104th anniversary of the 1910 revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. This year however will be different. The government has cancelled the annual military parade that ordinarily fills the capital’s streets. Instead, the Mexican people will participate in a nationwide protest and a general strike on Nov. 20, 2014. They will continue the protests against the government kidnapping and probable murder of 43 students that has outraged Mexico for almost two months.

Leonel Castro Abarca - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Bodox.

"Leonel Castro Abarca" - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Bodox.

This essay is about the Mexican citizens and artists that are playing a role in that uprising. The posters in this essay came from Mexican artists who created portraits of the 43 missing students disappeared by state “authorities” in Guerrero, Mexico. But before talking about the posters, here is some background on the story.

On Sept. 26, 2014 the police in the town of Iguala, located in the Mexican state of Guerrero, attacked students from the all male “Escuela Normal Raúl Isidro Burgos” teacher’s college in the town of Ayotzinapa. The students were preparing to protest against unfair government hiring practices in education. The officers killed 3 of the Ayotzinapa students in Iguala, wounded 25 others, and also killed 3 bystanders.

The police then rounded up 43 surviving students and handed them over to Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), one of the criminal drug cartels plaguing the country. It is presumed the drug gang murdered their captives on behalf of the corrupt police.

The next day one of the students, 22-year old Julio César Mondragón, was found dumped on a street in Iguala for all to see. Whether he was a victim of the police or the gang is not known, but a medical examination confirmed that Mondragón had been tortured to death - his face and skull had been completely flayed and both his eyes gouged out. A student at Ayotzinapa for only a month before his death, Mondragón is survived by his 24-year old wife and their 3-month old baby daughter.

Giovanni Galindes Guerrero - Poster of the missing 20-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Argel Gómez Concheiro.

"Giovanni Galindes Guerrero" - Poster of the missing 20-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Argel Gómez Concheiro.

After the Iguala story broke, the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, went into hiding. They were found in Mexico City and arrested by federal authorities who insist the couple were the “masterminds” behind the attacks on the students.

It is claimed the mayor gave orders to police to apprehend the students before they disrupted a speech to be given by his wife. On Nov. 14, 2014 the government formally charged Abarca for being behind the students’ kidnapping.

Nevertheless, there are far too many open questions regarding the case of the 43 missing students to consider it closed, for instance, where are their bodies?

The Mexican government has unearthed a number of clandestine graves in and around Iguala, but none contain the 43 students. They do however contain remains of dozens of people apparently killed in mass executions. But who were they? Who killed them? Protest signs seen on Mexican streets have some answers - Mexico es una fosa (Mexico is a grave), and Los asesinos están en palacio nacional (the assassins are in the national palace).

At a Nov. 7, 2014 news conference, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam claimed that three members of Guerreros Unidos confessed to killing the 43 students, incinerating their bodies and placing their remains in garbage bags, then dumping the contents into a river. Karam said authorities have retrieved one such bag and sent its contents to a medical lab in Austria for DNA analysis. Meanwhile, the families of the missing students asked the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) to investigate the remains found so far. On Nov. 11 the forensic experts reported that the remains did not have “biological kinship” with the missing students.

"Abel García Hernández" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Jorge Zapata.

"Abel García Hernández" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Jorge Zapata.

What the Ayotzinapa tragedy has revealed about Mexico is that large sectors of the state apparatus - police, armed forces, courts, and politicians - have merged with the deadly drug cartels. This merger is aptly described by the signs now carried in the streets by protestors identifying those that kidnapped the 43 students, Fue El Estado - “It was the state.”

The shadow narco terror state incorporates municipal, state, and federal officials, and spends much of its time in the drug business. A 2012 article by CNN stated that Mexican drug cartels annually move $39 billion worth of cocaine and heroin into the United States. What no one will say is that Mexicans are dying like flies to support America’s drug habit.

The posters displayed in this article came from #IlustradoresConAyotzinapa, a Mexican Tumblr account where over 200 Mexican artists have created portraits of the missing students. The artists began painting the disappeared students to humanize them, to further ingrain them in the public consciousness, and to embolden the Mexican movement for democracy and human rights. The posters on the Tumblr account have been printed out and carried in demonstrations in Mexico and around the world. Some of the posters are produced by amateurs, the majority however are produced by professional artists.

"Alexander Mora Venancio" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by José Quintero.

"Alexander Mora Venancio" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by José Quintero.

While digital media plays a large part in the production of the posters, a variety of artistic mediums are employed; drawings done in pencil, chalk, or pen and ink, watercolors, linoleum and woodcut prints, paintings in acrylic or oils. Even sculptural and embroidered works. A number of posters offer serious treatments of the subject matter, others are humorous and fanciful in the Mexican folkloric tradition. All are touching and deeply compassionate.

The artists at the Tumblr account have apparently inspired others; in this video artists in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero, paint portraits of the students in a public square.

The Ayotzinapa posters bring up an important question for artists everywhere. What is the purpose of art? Is it just a commodity for wealthy elites? The Ayotzinapa posters are perfect examples of art springing from the people, the very antithesis of the detached and “apolitical” postmodern art found in today’s museums and galleries. The posters were done for a pure and noble social purpose, they defy the politics of the so-called art world - obsessed as it is with stardom and ostentatious wealth. Those making the Ayotzinapa posters will likely never appear in museums or galleries, but their creations have deeply worked their way into the hearts and minds of the people, expanding and deepening the very definition of Mexican culture.

"Luis Ángel Abarca Carrillo" - Ink drawing. Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Diego Molina.

"Luis Ángel Abarca Carrillo" - Ink drawing. Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Diego Molina.

A caption that appears on each portrait on the Ayotzinapa Tumblr account asks a question regarding the portrayed missing student, “I want to know where” he is. In other words the person depicted is a desaparecido - one who has been made to “disappear.”

Desaparecido is a Spanish word that describes a type of repression I first became familiar with during the October 1968 Summer Olympics held in Mexico’s capital. Ten days before the Olympic games began in Aug. 1968, the county’s student movement assembled in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco to demand democracy and human rights.

President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz ordered the plaza cleared with 8,000 soldiers and dozens of tanks, the result was the army killing upwards of 300 students. The regime destroyed the student movement by making its leaders and supporters disappear - through kidnapping, false imprisonment, and murder by state security forces. No one was ever brought to justice for these crimes.

For those who march in Mexico today, Ni 43, No 68 (Not 43 or 68) is a popular slogan that refers to the slaughter in Tlatelolco. Mexicans have not forgotten that President Ordaz was a member of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), the same authoritarian party of today’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. In fact, the 43 kidnapped Ayotzinapa students intended to join the annual October 2 protest held in Mexico City to commemorate the events of Tlatelolco in 1968.

"Leonel Castro Abarca" - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Ricardo Peláez Goycochea.

"Leonel Castro Abarca" - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Ricardo Peláez Goycochea.

The regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala disappeared thousands of their civilians in the 1980s, more than 50,000 in Guatemala and 8,000 in El Salvador. November 16, 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the U.S. trained Salvadoran Army’s Atlacatl Battalion going onto the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador, and murdering six Jesuit scholars, their housekeeper and her daughter.

Each were shot in the back of the head. Crimes like these became the subject of much of my art during that period. I imagined that Latin America would someday be free of such tyranny - but in today’s Mexico, there are now some 29,000 desaparecidos.

Addressing the disappearance of the 43 students and the wider issue of government corruption and violence, the students and teachers of Mexico’s National School of Dramatic Arts (ENAT), have been doing public performances - interventions if you will - all around the capital. In this amazing YouTube video of one such performance in the courtyard of the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, the students tell the tale of those gunned down by Iguala police. This is what “performance art” should be all about.

Reading the U.S. media on the current situation in Mexico, one cannot find a single mention that President Enrique Peña Nieto most likely came to power in the 2012 elections due to massive fraud. In poor neighborhoods, the PRI party distributed a purported $8.2 million in pre-paid gift cards for Soriana grocery stores in exchange for votes of Nieto. There were also charges that Nieto and the PRI purchased positive media coverage from Televisa and other media outlets.

"Jorge Aníbal Cruz Mendoza" - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Gabriel Pacheco.

"Jorge Aníbal Cruz Mendoza" - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by artist Gabriel Pacheco.

Before the 2012 vote count was tallied and announced, Nieto declared himself to be the new president. As hundreds of thousands of Mexicans marched in the streets to oppose his sham election, President Obama called Nieto to congratulate him on his “victory.”

In 1990 the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa said live on Mexican television, that “Mexico is the perfect dictatorship. The perfect dictatorship is not communism, not the USSR, not Fidel Castro; the perfect dictatorship is Mexico, because it is a camouflaged dictatorship.”

Perhaps Obama never heard of Mr. Llosa or his description of the perfect dictatorship. Interestingly enough, Obama has currently said nothing about the upheaval in Mexico. Secretary of State Kerry has been silent, as have all other members of the Obama administration. The only person to offer a comment was Jennifer Psaki, the spokesperson for the State Department, who on Nov. 13, 2014 simply said “We urge all parties to remain calm through the process.”

"Jorge Antonio Tizapa" - Woodcut poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Claus López López.

"Jorge Antonio Tizapa" - Woodcut poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Claus López López.

Maybe President Obama is made uncomfortable by the fact that his administration provides $15 million in military aid to Mexico, up from the $3 million it received in 2009.

Evidently it is difficult for the President to justify his arming a narco terror state while it murders its own people, so it was thought best just to keep quiet.

The Mérida Initiative signed by President Bush in 2008 and since extended by Obama “indefinitely,” provides $2.1 billion to Mexican security forces fighting the so-called drug war. Since 2006 the U.S. government has spent $3 billion on funding the Mexican government’s “war on drugs,” a joke if there ever was one.  The US government is indirectly arming the very drug cartels it says it wants to eradicate.

The 2012 election returned the corrupt PRI to power, the authoritarian party that ran Mexico for 70 years. That reign was broken in 2000 when Vicente Fox of the conservative PAN (Partido Acción Nacional) won the presidency, followed by Felipe Calderón of the PAN, who became president in 2006. Calderón will likely be remembered for Mexico’s bloodiest years since the 1910 revolution. In 2006 he supposedly began a war against the drug cartels then running large swaths of Mexico. By the end of Calderón’s six year term, the cartels were stronger than ever and an estimated 110,000 civilians had perished in the conflict.

"Julio César López Patoltzin" - Poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Rodrigo Padilla López. The artist used digital media to replicate the visual effects of traditional Mexican woodcuts, and used the Aztec Náhuatl language to ask the question "Kampa ka?" (¿Dónde está?)

"Julio César López Patoltzin" - Poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Rodrigo Padilla López. The artist used digital media to replicate the visual effects of traditional Mexican woodcuts, and used the Aztec Náhuatl language to ask the question "Kampa ka?" (¿Dónde está?)

Placing the deaths of so may innocent Mexican citizens in context, it should be remembered that during the approximately 17-year long Vietnam war, some 60,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat. Nearly twice that number of Mexican citizens died in just six years of Calderón’s drug war. Since President Nieto took power in 2012, another 29,000 citizens have perished in the war. Then came the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa; it took Nieto 11 days before he said a word about the kidnapping.

During his Nov. 7 news conference announcing the apparent killing of the 43, Attorney General Karam tried to stop questions from the press by saying, “Ya me canse” (I’ve had enough). His words became a rallying cry. Mexican filmmaker Natalia Beristan perhaps said it best when she appeared in a YouTube video response to Karam’s statement. Beristan said: “Señor Murillo Karam, I too am tired. I’m tired of vanished Mexicans, of the killing of women, of the dead, of the decapitated, of the bodies hanging from bridges, of broken families, of mothers without children, of children without fathers. I am tired of the political class that has kidnapped my country, and of the class that corrupts, that lies, that kills. I too am tired.”

There are other filmmakers that share Ms. Beristan’s opinion. On Nov. 11, 2014, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City held its annual film benefit, this time a tribute to Mexican filmmaker, Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Cuaron wrote a collective statement with fellow Mexican filmmakers Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), which was read before the elite audience at MoMA by del Toro. The statement read in part:

“This past September, 43 students were kidnapped by the local police in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. After a period of apathy, the authorities only then were forced to search for them, due to the protestations of citizens across the entire country and the world, and they found the first of many, many mass graves. None of these graves contained the remains of the missing students. The bodies within them were those of other anonymous victims. Last week, the general attorney announced that the 43 students were handed over by the police to members of a drug cartel to be executed and burned in a public dump. But even the identity of those charred remains awaits proper DNA.

The federal government argues that these events are all just local violence — not so. As Human Rights Watch observes, these killings and forced disappearances reflect a much broader pattern of abuse and are largely a consequence of the longstanding failure of the Mexican authorities.

We believe that these crimes are systemic and indicate a much greater evil: the blurred lines between organized crime and the high-ranking officials in the Mexican government. We must demand answers about this and we must do it now. We would like to take this opportunity to ask you all to join us in the pain and indignation felt by the families of the disappeared students and of every civilian in Mexico who is living with this atrocious reality on an every day basis and to at least be aware of this systematic human rights violation taking place so often and so close to you.”

In today’s Mexico there is a modern expression that illustrates the country’s agony; Ayotzinapa; Entre el dolor y la esperanza. In English the phrase translates to “Ayotzinapa; Between pain and hope.” The pain emanating from the place is a distillation of Mexico’s entire blood-spattered history, but it is also an anguish recognized by working people no matter where they live. Likewise, the optimism pouring forth from Ayotzinapa, inspires not just Mexicanos but people all across the globe who dream of a better world.

Dia de los Muertos - Monoprints

"Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43" - Mark Vallen. Monoprint. 6 x 8 inches. 2014 ©

"Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43" - Mark Vallen. Monoprint. 6 x 8 inches. 2014 ©. Printed on Arches watercolor paper with eleven different oil colors.

To mark the 2014 observance of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), I have created a suite of twenty monoprints based upon an ancient Aztec glyph representing death. Essentially a printed painting, no two images are alike. The images were painted directly on a sheet of glass in oil paint, and burnished with a wooden spoon; each color was “pulled” separately.

Working with cadmium yellows, oranges, and reds, I printed starting with the lightest warm colors and worked-up to the darker hues like vermillion and rose madder. I added contrasting cool colors - cinnabar green, emerald green and cerulean blue - with a final dark purple pulling all the colors together and giving form to the calaca (skull) glyph. When buying these monoprints, remember that each stand-alone print is unique, and that I cannot guarantee that your purchase will have anything more than a general likeness to those displayed here. However, I curated the prints and found each one suitable for inclusion in the suite. Each print is hand-signed with the artist’s signature, date, and the title of the print - Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43.

And what is the meaning behind the title of the print?

43 male members of the Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero disappeared on Sept. 26, 2014 after being kidnapped by the police. The cops handed their prisoners to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, who allegedly murdered them. Since then the people of Mexico have held protests and other activities to place the blame on the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto and his allies in Washington, D.C. While dozens of suspects have been arrested, not one has been charged with any crime, likewise, not a single member of the 43 male students has been found. Other mass graves have been discovered in the area, some 12 large graves, but the students were not found in them. Since 2007, some 100,000 civilians have perished in the so-called “drug war.”

Banners, flyers, street art, and graffiti have appeared across the country, some reading Todos Somos Ayotzinapa (You Are Not Alone Ayotzinapa), Crimen de Estado (It was the state), and Vivos Los Llevaron, Vivos Los Queremos! (They were taken away alive, we want them back alive!). The popular slogan Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43, is the title of my monotype series. It simply means, “In Ayotzinapa, 43 are missing.”

With my Ayotzinapa print I mean to bring attention to the current situation in Mexico; the corruption and collusion of government forces like the courts, ruing elites, and the police and army with the criminal drug gangs that run large areas of the nation; the U.S. government arming and training Mexican security forces as well as the drug gangs, and the Mexican democratic masses themselves, who protest at every opportunity against the depravity of the Mexican state. On October 29, 2014, President Nieto met with relatives of the missing students, promising that they would be found, but the relatives were not impressed.

Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43 represents a new period of print experimentation for me, and in the months to come a number of new monotype prints will appear on this web log.

So on this Día de los Muertos, remain vigilant and do not forget… in Ayotzinapa, 43 are missing.

$100. Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43 - Mark Vallen. Monoprint. 6 x 8 inches. 2014.
Purchase your print here.

Artworks by Mark Vallen ©

Four examples from the print series that show the differences in each print.

“The Gaze”: Silkscreen Print

The Gaze - Silkscreen print by Mark Vallen ©The Gaze” - Black & White serigraphic print. 1980
(c) Mark Vallen. Hand pulled by the artist
Dimensions: 17.5″ x 23″ inches
Signed and numbered by the artist
Edition of 16
Signed and number copies of this print can be purchased here

I created this silkscreen portrait print of a young woman in 1980. During that period I was doing quite a lot of work in serigraphy, generally making prints of a political nature. As evidenced in the above, I was also interested in creating works of a more personal disposition. Though trained in modern methods of silkscreen printing, I never liked transferring photographic images onto a screen using chemicals and emulsions or even by means of laboriously cutting paper or film stencils. I have always enjoyed a “hands on” approach to serigraphy; drawing directly on the screen so that the gesture of drawing becomes part of the print.

Because of that preference, I developed a method of drawing directly onto the screen using oil-based lithographer’s pencils and crayons, complemented by painting lithographer’s touche onto the screen with a brush as if I were painting a canvas. Once dried I then flooding the screen with water-based glue. The “stencils” produced bore results akin to lithographic techniques, allowing for great spontaneity, subtle gradations in tone, remarkable textures, and best of all - since one could never fully control the medium - finished prints that were full of surprise and “the artist’s hand”.

While I did create prints in color, I had, and still have, a preference for prints in black and white, which on the whole I feel are more enigmatic and melancholy - which suits me fine. Some of my favorite silkscreen works from that period of experimentation were created by using the method I explained in the above. Of those prints I especially like The Gaze. Similar black and white serigraphic prints I created during those days will be available on this web log in months to come.

MAY DAY POSTER

"MAY 1, UNITE" - Mark Vallen. 1980. © Silkscreen 11.5 x 17 inches. Printed in Day-Glo inks. Bourgeois - You Have Learned Nothing!

"MAY 1, UNITE" - Mark Vallen. 1980. © Silkscreen 11.5 x 17 inches. Printed in Day-Glo inks. Bourgeois - You Have Learned Nothing!

Limited edition, hand-signed prints of MAY 1, UNITE are available here.

I created my print as a celebration of International Workers Day, or May Day, which is observed annually around the world on May 1st. The origin of May Day has its roots in the American labor movement.

On May 1, 1886, workers in the U.S. mounted a general strike across the country in order to win the eight hour day. On May 4, 1886, at a striking workers demonstration at Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, an unidentified assailant tossed a bomb at police who were attempting to clear the square; in response police fired directly into the crowd. When the smoke cleared, four workers were dead and some seventy were wounded, while seven police officers had been killed. Many in the worker’s movement suspected that agent provocateurs were behind the bombing.

State authorities reacted by attempting to break the back of the labor movement, raiding its meeting halls and arresting dozens of its leaders. Eventually eight anarchist activists were charged with the bombing and a kangaroo court found all of them guilty as charged. On November 11, 1887, four of the defendants were taken to the gallows and put to death. One of them, August Spies, yelled out just prior to his hanging, “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!”

Peace Press Graphics: 1984

In August of this year I announced that a number of my early graphic works would be included in the museum exhibition, Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change, at the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). The exhibit is an important showing of over 100 historic posters and flyers published by Peace Press, a Los Angeles collective that once ran a professional print shop serving the local and national needs of activist political groups and organizations. The exhibit will close Dec. 11, 2011, and because of its relevance to current events I wanted to bring attention to the history of one of my exhibited artworks - a flyer titled 1984.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1984. Offset flyer. Used to publicized the Anti-War Art Exhibition held during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1984. Offset flyer. Used to publicized the Anti-War Art Exhibition held during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

The 1984 flyer publicized the Anti-War Art Exhibition, an art show I curated at a venue in Venice, California with assistance from Shock Battalion, the now defunct 80s era arts activist collective I founded during that period. From July 27 to August 13, 1984, the exhibit displayed contemporary and past anti-war art from around the globe; drawings by Japanese atom bomb survivors (hibakusha), children’s art from the war zones of El Salvador, reproductions of the photomontage works of John Heartfield, works from local southern California artists, and so much more. 1984 was one of nine separate flyers I created to publicize the exhibition, all of which are in the Peace Press Graphics exhibit catalog, and five of which are on display at the University Art Museum.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Detail.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Detail.

The Anti-War Art Exhibition was ultimately attended by thousands, but to date, has not yet been properly documented.  I will someday write lengthily about the exhibit, but for now all that remains in the public record are the flyers.

The Anti-War Art Exhibition was intentionally timed to coincide with the highly politicized 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, which had become a victim of Cold War insanity; in fact the show’s alternative title was the Pre-World War 3 Art Exhibit.

In the blackened right-hand margin of the exhibit announcement flyer, I quoted the Los Angeles Times from Aug. 13, 1984; “LAOC (Olympic Committee) officials have said privately that some police chiefs have wanted to prepare not for an Olympics but for, as one put it, World War III”.

In 1980 U.S. President Jimmy Carter barred U.S. athletes from attending the Moscow Summer Olympics because of the 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan; the U.S. led a boycott of some sixty countries that refused to participate in the Moscow games.

In 1984 the Soviets retaliated by leading an international boycott of the Los Angeles Olympiad, charging the Reagan administration with using the games “for political purposes”, of “stirring up anti-Soviet propaganda”, and of taking a “cavalier attitude” concerning the security of Soviet athletes in the U.S.

Some fourteen countries joined the Soviets in boycotting the L.A. games. The Reagan White House hit back with heated condemnations of the USSR for its “barbarous behavior” in Afghanistan; an immense irony considering the U.S. has waged a bloody and costly war of occupation in Afghanistan since 2001.

But the artwork my 1984 flyer was based on had been circulating in Los Angeles a good seven-months before the Anti-War Art Exhibition. Created in late 1983, my artwork was initially a 29 x 21 inch pencil drawing I then reworked into a black and white silkscreen print to be posted on city streets. Around 200 silkscreen posters were published and distributed around L.A. on the eve of 1984.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Silkscreen print. 29 x 21 inches.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Silkscreen print. 29 x 21 inches.

Of course the title of my artwork came from George Orwell’s novel concerning a dystopian society ruled through propaganda, fear, and raw police power. Having first read the book as a 15-year-old in 1968, it did much to shape my political philosophy, and when the actual year rolled around I felt compelled - given the miserable state of the world - to create an artwork that would facetiously “celebrate” our own entry into a nightmare social order.

I am now offering a handful of these rare 1984 silkscreen prints that I had long ago set aside in my archives. The 29 x 21 inch prints have not been seen since I first distributed them in 1984, and the prints have never been available for sale. Intended as throw away street posters, the prints are imperfect and roughly printed but otherwise in perfect condition.

LA Punk ‘79: The Lost Linoleum Print - Pat Bag

"Pat Bag" - Mark Vallen. 1979. Original hand-pulled Linoleum cut print. Edition of 12

"Pat Bag" - Mark Vallen. 1979. Original hand-pulled Linoleum cut print. Edition of 12.

In early 1979 I carved a linoleum block portrait of Pat Bag, the enchantingly sinister-looking bass player for The Bags, one of the first and most notorious late 70s punk rock bands in Los Angeles. At their earliest performances band members wore bags over their heads, and each was assured anonymity by taking “Bag” as a last name. It was in ‘79 that the band posed for me; soon after Pat left the group and began performing under her own name, Patricia Morrison. She eventually ended up joining The Damned, the first U.K. punk band to have recorded a single, an album, and to have toured the United States. I remember their 1977 visit to my home city of Los Angeles helped ignite the L.A. punk scene, so it was fitting that in 1996 Morrison married The Damned’s lead singer, Dave Vanian.

At the Josephine Press atelier, master printer John Greco prepares the "Pat Bag" linoleum block for printing by applying ink with a brayer roller. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

At the Josephine Press atelier, master printer John Greco prepares the "Pat Bag" linoleum block for printing by applying ink with a brayer roller. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

I hand-pulled a single trial proof of my “Pat Bag” print and was pleased with the results, but I never pulled a full edition of prints; the linoleum block has been in storage since 1979 - until now.

Late last year I worked with master printer John Greco of Josephine Press in Santa Monica, California, to finally publish the suite of prints that should have been issued in ‘79.

Each print in the edition was hand-pulled by master-printer John Greco on beautiful heavy white paper (acid free) using Dan Smith traditional relief ink; all prints are embossed in the lower right corner with the Josephine Press logo. Adhering to the time-honored practice in traditional printmaking, a final “cancellation print” was made after I cut a large “X” cut through the linoleum block - signifying the edition is closed and no further prints can be published from the block.

The inking completed, Greco inspects the block. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

The inking completed, Greco inspects the block. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

You can purchase the Pat Bag linoleum block print directly here, or if you live in the Los Angeles area, you can visit the José Vera Fine Art gallery in the historic Eagle Rock neighborhood and purchase the print there. I am pleased to be working with José Vera, as the gallery offers an amazing selection of prints from some of my favorite artists, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Miguel Covarrubias, and Leopoldo Méndez to name but a few.

Greco turns the wheel of his large American French intaglio press to print the block. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco turns the wheel of his large American French intaglio press to print the block. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

In all likelihood “Pat Bag” is the only linoleum cut portrait of a punk rocker to have been created anywhere in the world as punk was actually unfolding.

As an active participant in the punk rock explosion that rocked L.A. and the world in 1977, I was one of the few artists to document the chaotic scene as it happened through a series of drawings and paintings.

It all reminded me of the German Cabaret phenomenon of the Weimar Republic (1918-33), just before the last vestiges of liberal democracy were torn apart by the ultra-right.

Greco reveals the very first print to come off the press. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco reveals the very first print to come off the press. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Having worked with John Greco in the past to create and publish my original lithographs, America Novia Mia (My Beloved America) and El Salvador Presente (El Salvador is Present), I wanted Josephine Press to print my old linoleum block of Pat Bag.

Unfortunately the block had been improperly stored, causing some minor warpage; in addition the linoleum had become fragile in places, requiring some restorative work and minor recutting. Due to the unstable condition of the old linoleum block, Greco and I decided a small print run was the only viable option, hence the edition of only twelve prints.

Owing to his immeasurable experience in all facets of printmaking, and his remarkable dedication to craft, Greco managed to pull a beautiful edition of prints that I am quite proud of.

As Greco re-inks the linoleum block for printing, wet prints "hot off the press" can be seen drying in the foreground. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

As Greco re-inks the linoleum block for printing, wet prints "hot off the press" can be seen drying in the foreground. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco used a 36″ x 60″ American French intaglio press to print my linoleum block.

The heavy press, with its colossal steel and aluminum frame, solid steel roll, and elegant oversized star wheel, is considered the world’s finest press for printing etchings, monotypes, collographs, wood blocks, and linoleum blocks.

Greco calls it his “Cadillac.” In fact, it is so large that when he first acquired it decades ago, he had to cut a large opening in his studio wall in order to bring the press into his workshop.

Entering the Josephine Press atelier is like crossing into another era, where printmaking skills never fell victim to the whims of today’s postmodern fashions. In Greco’s workshop time-honored skills and techniques are perennial; I can imagine some of my favorite printmakers - Rembrandt, Goya, Edvard Munch, Käthe Kollwitz, - working diligently today in some quiet corner of Greco’s studio. Nevertheless, Greco does possess a 21st century vision for printmaking. He coined the term “tradigital” to describe his innovative print techniques combining traditional methods like woodcuts and etchings with archival digital printing. In the near future I will be working with Greco in producing a new series of etchings as well as linoleum and woodblock prints.

Patrick Merrill - R.I.P. 1948-2010

"Laius" - Patrick Merrill. 2001. First panel of diptych. 60"x 30" Woodcut, copper foil intaglio, and collograph. On view at "Patrick Merrill Conjunction: Intaglio and Relief."

"Laius" - Patrick Merrill. 2001. First panel of diptych. 60"x 30" Woodcut, copper foil intaglio, and collograph. On view at "Patrick Merrill Conjunction: Intaglio and Relief."

I first met Patrick Merrill when we exhibited together in a group show in 2005. Conflict: Works on Paper was the thirty-fourth annual juried competition at the Brand Gallery in Glendale California, and Patrick and I both submitted works that lived up to the theme of “conflict.” I had entered two large drawings having to do with the U.S. waging war in Central America and Iraq, and Merrill entered his monumental woodcut, 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine, War, Death, Pestilence. Our works caused quite a stir, and the two of us won the exhibit’s top prizes. Later in February of 2006 Patrick and I exhibited together in another group show, The New Normalcy: Artists Examine the Post 9-11 World, an antiwar exhibition at the former Carlotta’s Passion Fine Arts gallery of Los Angeles.

Needless to say, Merrill and I had much in common, but the one mutual interest we shared with great enthusiasm was our love of printmaking - and Merrill was a master printmaker. I was saddened to hear that Patrick Merrill succumbed to colon cancer on August 31st 2010.  One of his many distinctions was being the Director and Curator of the Kellogg University Art Gallery at California Polytechnic University Pomona, and since he contributed much to the cultural life of Pomona, his passing was fittingly noted in a salient obituary published in Pomona’s Art Colonists.

"Oedipus" - Patrick Merrill. 2001. Second panel of diptych. 60"x 30" Woodcut, copper foil intaglio, and collograph.

"Oedipus" - Patrick Merrill. 2001. Second panel of diptych. 60"x 30" Woodcut, copper foil intaglio, and collograph.

I was recently contacted by Merrill’s wife, Debra R. Winters, who informed me that a memorial will be held for her late husband on Saturday, October 30, 2010, at 2:00 p.m. at the Begovich Art Gallery at California State University Fullerton. The ceremony will be held in conjunction with the Begovich Gallery’s exhibit, Patrick Merrill: revelation, a solo showing of the artist’s print works which will include his woodcut 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The exhibit will also début the artist’s final monumental diptych woodcut print, Alpha and Omega, completed just one week before Merrill’s death. In addition, the exhibit will present Ecce Homo, the artist’s 10 x 6 ft combination woodcut and etching. A panel discussion on the life and works of Merrill will be held at 4:30 p.m., with the public opening for the exhibit running from 5 to 8 p.m.

A separate exhibit of Merrill’s print works will be held at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. Patrick Merrill Conjunction: Intaglio and Relief, will focus on the color prints Merrill created over the past 30 years. According to Ms. Winters, this collection of prints is “more psychological than political,” with the works being “inspired by his recovery from substance addiction and his struggle to understand systems of domination and hierarchy.” No doubt, those who attend the exhibit will be electrified by the technical mastery of Merrill’s intaglio and relief print works. Not to be missed is the artist’s large scale woodcut intaglio diptych, Laius and Oedipus, a contemporary retelling of the Greek mythological figure Oedipus, who fulfilled a prophecy that said he would marry his mother and slay his father, King Laius.

I highly recommend that one and all attend the aforementioned exhibits. In the near future I hope to update this post with other prints created by Merrill.

The Madonna of the Napalm

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Stolen Paper Editions, Mill Valley, California. Offset poster. 1967. 57.5 x 31.5 cm. Sharp's poster depicted U.S. President Johnson, the pro-war Australian Prime Minister John Gorton, and the U.S. backed South Vietnamese Prime Minister, Nguyen Cao Kỳ.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Stolen Paper Editions, Mill Valley, California. Offset poster. 1967. 57.5 x 31.5 cm. Sharp's poster depicted U.S. President Johnson, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, the pro-war Australian Prime Minister John Gorton, and the U.S. backed South Vietnamese Prime Minister, Nguyen Cao Kỳ.

Back on December 1, 2009 I wrote an illustrated article titled Hey, Hey, LBJ…, an essay concerning U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson as depicted in anti-Vietnam war posters from the 1960s. I self-published my treatise on the occasion of President Obama deploying 30,000 U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan.

While there are obvious differences between the Vietnam and Afghan wars, the parallels are striking. This article revisits the historic posters of the 60s that excoriated President Johnson for escalating the war in Southeast Asia, by examining a specific silkscreen print not included in Hey, Hey, LBJ…, - Martin Sharp’s The Madonna of the Napalm.

Sharp’s poster was created in 1967, and it is a good example of how the alternative culture of the 60s meshed with the antiwar activism of the period, however, an evaluation of the poster brings up unavoidable questions regarding the present day U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan. Sharp’s Madonna of the Napalm is a biting condemnation, not just of military conflict, but of third world dictators, the compromised political leaders of Western democracies, religious piety distorted by fanaticism, and the overall decrepitude of “liberal” society rendered insane by imperialist war. We have not seen the likes of this poster since the late 1960s, but given the painful similarity between Obama’s Afghan catastrophe and Johnson’s Vietnam disaster, we ought to see such posters proliferate in the near future.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. U.S. President Johnson is depicted in this poster detail.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. U.S. President Johnson is depicted in this poster detail.

To start with, Sharp’s poster is a gem when it comes to psychedelia. His acerbic but fanciful caricatures were drawn with detailed though fluid pen lines, and when combined with vibrant fluorescent orange and black ink, an eye-popping visual was achieved. Moreover, Sharp’s semi-Gothic, neo-Art Nouveau style was the very epitome of psychedelic aesthetics.

One can only imagine the excitement his poster generated when viewed under the “black light” displays that were so popular during the sixties. But this was not simply another day-glo poster from the Aquarian Age, it was an angry political diatribe against the centers of power and fully intended to help incapacitate the war machine. Sharp’s Madonna of the Napalm represents a sub-genre rarely mentioned in modern-day coffee-table books dealing with psychedelic prints from the sixties - that of the political protest poster.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. Nguyen Cao Kỳ is depicted in this poster detail. Kỳ served as Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, then served as Vice President until 1971.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. Nguyen Cao Kỳ is depicted in this poster detail. Kỳ served as Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, then served as Vice President until 1971.

The central character in the poster is a depiction of President Johnson as an ancient Byzantine Madonna figure, but there is nothing sacred about this icon, who wears an imposing radiating nimbus made from rifles.

Floating in the heavens behind this demonic sham Madonna are skull-faced, black-winged angels of death. The unholy mother of war clutches a mortar shell in one claw, and a deformed puppet general in the other.

The general, with a glowing halo made from the U.S. flag, is none other than the U.S. backed Nguyen Cao Kỳ, who served as Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, and then served as the Vice President until he retired in 1971. Kỳ originally received military training from the French army, who founded the Vietnamese National Army (VNA) to help assist in their colonial control of “French Indochina.” Kỳ served the French well, but in 1954 when they finally departed Vietnam in military defeat, the VNA was reorganized into the American supplied and controlled “Army of the Republic of Vietnam” (ARVN).

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, is depicted in this poster detail.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, is depicted in this poster detail.

The background of Sharp’s Madonna of the Napalm presents some interesting character studies. At bottom left one can see Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense for Presidents John F. Kennedy and LBJ, and a primary architect of the U.S. war on Vietnam.

Starting out with the firm belief that the U.S. could win the war militarily, by May 1967 McNamara informed LBJ that the war was “becoming increasingly unpopular as it escalates - causing more American casualties, more fear of its growing into a wider war, more privation of the domestic sector, and more distress at the amount of suffering being visited on the noncombatants in Vietnam, South and North.” Six months later LBJ would remove McNamara from his post.

Contrast McNamara’s remarks to those made in May of 2010 by Obama’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said; “We’re not leaving Afghanistan prematurely, in fact, we’re not ever leaving at all.”

An anthropomorphized kangaroo figure holding a boomerang is depicted in the upper left corner of the poster; the caricature is of John Gorton, the pro-Vietnam war Prime Minister of Australia who governed from January 1968 to March 1971. Under Gorton’s administration around 8,000 Australian soldiers assisted the U.S. by fighting in Vietnam, but Australian public opinion turned against the war - hence the boomerang.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. The pro-war Australian Prime Minister, John Gorton, is depicted in this poster detail.

"The Madonna of the Napalm" – Martin Sharp. Offset poster. The Australian Prime Minister, John Gorton, is depicted in this poster detail.

On May 1, 1970, over 200,000 people gathered in Melbourne, Australia for a mass protest dubbed the “Vietnam War Moratorium March.” Eventually some 50,000 Australian soldiers would be rotated into the war, around 3,000 would be wounded, and nearly 600 were killed. The last Australian soldiers would finally be withdrawn from Vietnam in 1972.

Since I first published Hey, Hey, LBJ…, on December 1, 2009, there have been numerous developments in Mr. Obama’s ever escalating war. In Dec. 2009 U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan stood at 947, as of this writing 364 U.S. soldiers have been added to that list, for a total of 1,317 killed.

As our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President intensifies his war, those casualty rates are rising. There are now around 100,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan along with 52,000 allied NATO troops. The Afghan war is the longest in U.S. history, The ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan falls on October 7, 2010.

[The Madonna of the Napalm poster image was provided to me by Lincoln Cushing - www.docspopuli.org]

Siqueiros: A Print Dialogue

For those unable to attend the September 18, 2010, panel discussion, A PRINT DIALOGUE: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, this web log will provide coverage of the event, including photos and a rush transcript of the proceedings. Readers can look forward to these updates in the days following the panel discussion. The image used in this short notice is the official public invitation postcard and poster being distributed for the event.

Invitation card to Siqueiros panel discussion