Category: Prints - Posters

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. 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]