Category: Prints - Posters

“Bombs Not Bread” - Dia de los Muertos

My silkscreen poster “Bombs Not Bread“, was directly influenced by the works of the great Mexican satirical printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada, as well as the Chicano arts movement of the late 60s/early 70s. Created in 1983 as a Day of the Dead poster, my artwork depicts a military “calaca” - Mexican/Chicano slang for skeleton - along with text that serves as a mocking inversion of the peace movement’s slogan, “Bread Not Bombs”.

Poster by Mark Vallen, 1983.

[ Bombs Not Bread - Mark Vallen. 1983. Silkscreen street poster. 14" x 20". ]

My poster was printed on cheap paper and utilized as street art when it was first published. “Bombs Not Bread” was also included in the 1984 traveling antiwar exhibit, End of the Rainbow, organized by the Los Angeles based performance art group, Sisters of Survival (S.O.S.). The End of the Rainbow exhibit traveled from California to New York, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and finally to Canada. Some of the artists in the show included Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, Jerry Kearns, and Judy Baca.

To celebrate Dia de los Muertos 2008 and the 25th anniversary of issuing my artwork, I am offering a limited number of these original 1983 edition hand-signed prints for $25 apiece. Being printed on inexpensive paper they are slightly yellowed with age, but the humorous take on Generalissimo Death still rings true. You can purchase the prints here.

Doug Minkler: A Passion for Prints

His silkscreen prints can not be found in museum collections and his name does not appear in the art press. He is not a household name and his artworks are not sold for exorbitant princes at auction houses - but Doug Minkler is famous nonetheless. You could say Minkler is one of the most famous unknown artists in the San Francisco Bay area of California, where he lives and works. He is famous with his friends and associates, and those with a keen eye for socially conscious art. In a recent article about him that appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet, he was referred to as “an artist who, print by print, has painstakingly documented every political battle that matters for decades.”

Art by Doug Minkler

[ Chico Mendes - Doug Minkler. Silkscreen. The following caption was written by Minkler. "Chico Mendes (1944-1988) pioneered the creation of rainforest preserves. These preserves are for collecting sustainable forest products such as rubber and Brazil nuts. A father of three, a union organizer, and founder of the Alliance of People of the Forest, he was eventually murdered by the cattle barons and plantation owners who opposed his efforts to hold the land in common." ]

The unique visual language Minkler makes use of in his silkscreen prints is entirely of his own creation - though one might compare his style to that of the Fauvists, Primitivists, and Expressionists. However, what has most influenced Minkler is the tradition of social activism found in printmaking, and his own words make clear his motivations: “Corporations want artists to glorify their wars, their products & their philosophies. I make posters for my own preservation, that is, planetary preservation. My prints are inspired not by rugged individualism, but by the collective humor, defiance, & lust for life exhibited by those on the margins.”

Art by Doug Minkler

[ The Beast - Doug Minkler. Silkscreen (detail). The following caption was written by Minkler. "This poster was designed to begin the dialogue with children about man's destructive tendencies." ]

I first met Minkler at his Berkeley, California, studio in the early 1980s - though his reputation certainly preceded him. Prior to our introduction I was already familiar with Minkler’s darkly humorous and pointedly political posters since his works had some limited circulation in Los Angeles during the Reagan years. Vaguely suggestive of angry punk aesthetics with all of those quirky jagged lines and explosive colors, I was immediately interested in Minkler’s art, and since making his acquaintance all those years ago - we still remain good friends.

Art by Doug Minkler

[ The Victors - Doug Minkler. Silkscreen. The following caption was written by Minkler. "To the victors go the spoils; to the U.S. goes the oil." ]

While in San Francisco to attend the opening of the War & Empire exhibit at the Meridian Gallery, a show that also includes a print by Minkler, I had the opportunity to reunite with my steadfast printmaking friend. Every Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm, he sells his silkscreen prints on Berkeley’s famous Telegraph Avenue, right in front of the now out of business Cody’s Book Store. As I watched Minkler sell his prints on the avenue for $10 and $20 a piece, I contemplated the irony of today’s so-called “street artists” selling their artworks for unheard of prices to celebrity obsessed collectors. Better to commission a poster from Doug Minkler than contribute to that decadence.

May 68: Posters from the Paris Rebellion

Among the many graffiti slogans scrawled upon the walls of Paris during the rebellion of May 1968, perhaps the one that best summed up the temper of the time was “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible”. But poetic, politically pointed graffiti was not the only thing to adorn the walls of Paris in 68. Anonymous street art posters augmented the May uprising, leaving behind a legacy of socially conscious graphics that to this day have not been outdone in terms of political sophistication, simplicity, and effectiveness.

Beginning of a prolonged struggle - May 68 poster

[ Mai 68: Début d'une lutte prolongée - "May 68: Beginning of a prolonged struggle". Silkscreen street poster created anonymously by members of the Atelier Populaire, 1968. ]

Produced anonymously by the workers and students of the Atelier Populaire (Popular Workshop), the posters of May 68 Paris have been enormously influential over the years despite the fact that they have never been made commercially available. My understanding of how art can have an impact on public opinion was in part shaped by exposure to those posters the year they hit the streets. Years ago I wrote an online illustrated article that traced the history of the prints, an examination that remains one of the largest archives of May 68 Parisian posters to be found on the web, so I’m pleased to see the posters of 68 receiving a long overdue reappraisal.

May 68: Street Posters from the Paris Rebellion, opened on May 1st, 2008, at the Hayward Project Space in London. It is the first exhibition of Paris 68 posters to be organized in the UK, displaying 46 of the original posters created by the Atelier Populaire. The poster exhibit runs until June 1, 2008. You can read an interview with the exhibit’s curator, Johan Kugelberg, at the Creative Review website.

Meanwhile in France, a collection of over 250 rare May 68 posters produced by the Atelier Populaire, went on exhibition and sale at the world famous Drouot auction house on April 5, 2008. While I’ve not yet read about the results of the poster sale, I did get word that starting prices for individual prints began at 100 Euros (around $150 yankee dollars) - that such influential and historic posters could be priced so low invokes a number of tricky questions.

It should be evident that there is a tremendous difference between a historic May 68 poster and a street art stencil print created by a contemporary artist. How is it then that Bonhams London auction house sold a single Banksy stencil print of a Chimp for £228,000 ($449,000), while the starting price for any May 68 poster on the auction block at Drouot was so abysmally low? We should be aware of the forces at work here, and the Atelier Populaire itself had some instructive words regarding the commodification of political street art. As I noted in my previously mentioned essay on the Atelier Populaire, the poster making collective took an unequivocal stance regarding their works. “To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect. This is why the Atelier Populaire has always refused to put them on sale.”

Kurt Brian Webb & the Dance of Death

War: Dance of Death in Black, White, and Blood Red All Over, is the name of a timely exhibition of woodcuts now on view at Los Angeles’ A Shenere Velt Gallery. Printmaker Kurt Brian Webb’s blunt, no-nonsense graphic style makes clear an unequivocal opposition to the forces of war and militarism through prints that are at once honest, sardonic, and mordantly funny. The pale rider of course stalks every one of us, but Webb chooses to focus on the military figures who have danced with Mr. D., and in so doing the artist reveals the human condition.

All of the prints in Webb’s exhibit are hand-carved from blocks of wood and printed in two colors on Japanese rice paper. Webb updated this venerable technique by printing his designs on faded images of corporate newspaper stories pertaining to the conflagration in Iraq - and the blending of traditional techniques, jarring imagery, and mass media detritus makes for some searing antiwar artworks.

Woodcut print by Kurt Brian Webb
[ Marching Infantry Corporal: Death toll in Iraq war reaches grim milestone - Kurt Brian Webb. Two-color woodblock print. 10” x 8”. 2006. ]

Marching Infantry Corporal: Death toll in Iraq war reaches grim milestone, depicts a doomed infantryman as he trudges along, burdened by heavy combat gear and a skeleton that rides him like a pack mule. The print was created in 2006 when U.S. military fatalities in Iraq had reached 822. That the toll has reached 4013 as of this writing only makes Webb’s print that much more foreboding.

There is a timeless quality to Webb’s prints, which not only attests to the artist’s considerable skill but also to his having tapped into a well established tradition in print making that makes use of death imagery for purposes of social commentary - José Guadalupe Posada comes to mind. At the turn of the 20th century the famous Mexican printmaker created over 1,600 satirical prints that featured calaveras (skeletons) deriding the pillars of society as well as the landless peasantry. But Kurt Brian Webb found his inspiration in the medieval prints of Europe.

Woodcut print by Kurt Brian Webb

[ Staff Sergeant Depending on Prosthetic Limb: Amputation rate for U.S. troops twice that of past wars - Kurt Brian Webb. Two-color woodblock print. 10” x 8”. 2006. ]

While traveling in Germany years ago I purchased a book titled, Der Tanzende Tod (Dancing Death), a compilation of woodcut prints by various German artists from the medieval period illustrating their views of death. The glumly humorous prints depicted skeletal figures and decaying cadavers mocking everyone from Cardinals and Kings to Knights and commoners. Such prints were widespread throughout Europe in the middle ages - an epoch of brutal feudalism, peasant revolts, religious wars, and of course the Bubonic Plague. Kurt Brian Webb has updated the medieval view of quietus and the Angel of Death, to frame imperialist war as our epoch’s plague.

Medieval German Woodcut

[ Tod und der Kaiser/Death and the Emperor - German woodblock print from the 1480s. From the book Der Tanzende Tod. ]

War: Dance of Death runs at the A Shenere Velt Gallery until Sunday, May 4, 2008. The gallery is located at the Workman’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles 90035 (Click here for a map to the gallery).

Pressed in Time: American Prints

I cannot recommend highly enough, Pressed in Time: American Prints 1905-1950, the current exhibit at The Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Made up of 163 prints created by 82 artists during the first half of the 20th century, the show encapsulates American art as it was before the ascendancy of abstraction; an epoch when realism, meaning, compassion and technical mastery reigned supreme in the world of American art. The artists in the exhibition range from the well known to the obscure, but all the works on display are superlative examples of the art of printmaking.

Etching by Douglas Gorsline

[ Brooklyn Local - Douglas Gorsline. Engraving 1945. Gorsline’s portrait of a fashionable young woman actually documented the movement of American women into the nation’s urban workforce. Depicting an office worker, the title of the print also refers to a popular subway stop. ]

The period represented by Pressed in Time, has always been of particular interest to me, as so many artists of that era made social themes the focus of their art. The term “Social Realism” was given deep humanistic meaning by American artists, and in part it was their cue that inspired me to become a contemporary realist given to social commentary. All of the artists in The Huntington’s exhibit were brilliant painters, but they were also populists whose democratic impulses led them to create multiples; prints that would help make art accessible to the masses - and it’s that concept that these prints still manage to achieve. Whether you’re interested in aesthetics, history, politics or sociology - this exhibit will speak directly to you.

One group of artists well represented by Pressed in Time, are those attached to the so-called “Ashcan School” of early twentieth century New York. These artists who brilliantly painted the city’s working poor and immigrant populations, were disparaged and mocked by hostile art critics who chastised them with the insulting label of “ashcan” - a reference to the trash bins found in urban slums. I’ve long been stirred by this particular circle of artists, and so I was thrilled beyond reason to learn that two of the Ashcan painters, John Sloan and George Bellows, had a number of prints in the exhibit. For now I’ll reserve comment on John Sloan, as I’ve had it in mind to write a long essay about him and his influence on my own work - so instead I’ll take this opportunity to gush effusively over Mr. Bellows.

I think of George Bellows as one of America’s greatest painters. Most famous for his paintings of Boxers, like the jaw-dropping Stag at Sharkey’s, Bellows had an eye for capturing the American scene. A stunning lithographic version of his famous Sharkey’s is thankfully part of the Pressed in Time exhibit. It’s the largest print in the show, but it’s not size that makes the work commanding - it’s the artist’s mastery over the art of lithography and his genius at composition that makes Sharkey’s a tour de force. But Bellows also had an eye for controversy - and after watching the exaggerated antics of a popular fundamentalist preacher at a New York City revival meeting, he made the fire and brimstone Bible thumper the subject of several mocking artworks. The Huntington exhibit includes two of these - 1923 lithographs that depict the preacher, Billy Sunday.

Etching by George Bellows

[ Billy Sunday - George Bellows. Lithograph 1923. ]

At the beginning of the 20th century, Sunday was the most powerful evangelical Christian preacher in the United States. A conservative Republican, Sunday was an unwavering backer of World War 1 and a supporter of Prohibition. He opposed teaching evolution and stood firm against the “godless” frivolities of dancing, reading novels, and playing cards. Sunday became incredibly wealthy delivering frenetic over-the-top sermons to millions of people across America, and it should come as no surprise that he was courted by the country’s mighty financial oligarchs and formidable politicians. Bellows’ opinion of Sunday could just as easily be applied to today’s televangelists:

“Do you know, I believe Billy Sunday is the worst thing that ever happened to America? He is death to the imagination, to spirituality, to art…. His whole purpose is to force authority against beauty. He is against freedom, he wants a religious autocracy, he is such a reactionary that he makes me an anarchist. You can see why I like to paint him and his devasting ’saw-dust-trail.’ I want people to understand him.”

The Huntington wisely mounted in a side room of the main exhibition hall, a special exhibit that fully explains for the general public the printmaking techniques on display in the show. Presenting various stages of prints in the making as well as the tools and materials required to create the artworks, the display is of great educational value for the novice puzzled by the confusing array of print types. For instance, the process of Intaglio (etching) is put in plain words, with the description enhanced by showing actual etched copper plates. Variants like soft and hard ground etchings, engravings, Aquatints and Mezzotints are also thoroughly described. For connoisseurs and professional artists already familiar with the traditional techniques of etching, woodcut, and lithography, Pressed in Time offers a dizzying array of gorgeously executed prints, but it’s also evident that some of the artists in the show were experimenting with relatively new techniques for their day.

Serigraphy, or screenprinting, can be traced to the textile industry of ancient Japan, where screens made of silk or hair printed stencils with assorted motifs and patterns onto kimono fabrics. The process was advanced in England during the early 1920’s, and used mostly for commercial printing, however, the serigraphic print would not be elevated to a high art form until the 1960s. Nonetheless, the Pressed in Time exhibit clearly shows American social realist artists using silkscreen printing to great effect. The Hitchhiker by Robert Gwathmey is one such serigraphic print.

Silkscreen print by Robert Gwathmey

[ The Hitchhiker - Robert Gwathmey. Color screenprint. 1937. The artist’s rumination on race and class in depression era America. ]

Gwathmey’s 1937 print is modernist in the extreme, angular forms and flat colors arranged so that the negative space filled by a blank sky becomes oppressive - just like the hot summer’s day the artist meant to suggest. But the topic of the print is not stifling weather, it’s racial and class oppression. Two black men looking for work are depicted hitchhiking along a road, the fact that they are going in opposite directions tells you that their quest is a luckless one. The backdrop to their bleak pursuit is a series of roadside billboards advertising wealth and luxury; on the right a giant lobster can be seen - a promise of foods never to be tasted by unemployed workers. The two remaining billboard images are of fashionable blond women, reminders that those with dark skin are not included in America’s vision of success.

Robert Gwathmey (1903-1988) was born into a poor white family in Richmond, Virginia, but he devoted a large part of his art towards presenting the dignity and beauty of African Americans, as well as portraying their plight of being denied full human and civil rights. Like so many of his contemporaries, he focused his considerable talents on presenting the realities of the day, the Great Depression, racial and social injustice and the brutalities of poverty. Gwathmey was wholly dedicated to the honest portrayal of the working class - black and white. When he was awarded a fellowship from the Rosenwald Foundation in 1944, he used the grant money to arrange his living on a tobacco farm for a year, where he worked the fields with Black sharecroppers and created artworks that depicted their lives and struggles.

Like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, artists whose impressive prints are also included in Pressed in Time, John Steuart Curry was a leader of the American school of painters who came to be known as the Regionalists. Curry devoted his considerable talents to an examination of his native state of Kansas, believing that the very essence of America could be found by telling the stories of the heartland’s humble working people. His most well known paintings were those created as murals for the Kansas Statehouse. The most famous of those murals, the remarkable Tragic Prelude, portrays the radical abolitionist John Brown against a backdrop of a gigantic tornado and a raging prairie fire. Curry utilized the tornado as “a biblical pillar of clouds to guide John Brown in his struggle for a free Kansas.” Flanking Brown and facing each other are the anti and pro-slavery militias that waged the fratricidal clashes that would be the prelude to the Civil War.

Lithograph by John Steuart Curry

[ John Brown - John Steuart Curry. Lithograph 1939. A thundering portrait of the radical abolitionist. ]

Pressed in Time includes three significant lithographs by Curry, the thundering portrait John Brown - based upon the Tragic Prelude mural, and two other prints that have to do with Blacks held in bondage. Man Hunt shows an armed mob of whites with packs of frenzied blood hounds, searching the woods for a Black person on the run. The subject here is not the fleeing soul (who you don’t even see), but the inhumanity and bloodlust of the white racist hooligans. A chilling companion print, The Fugitive, cuts closer to the bone. It depicts the conclusion of the mob’s hunt, where a Black man has attempted to save himself by climbing up a tree to hide in the branches. The racists have not yet found their exhausted prey, but the end seems near. The terrible finale is symbolized by two Luna moths settled on the tree - that particular type of moth lives only one day after emerging from its cocoon.

Lithograph by Pele deLappe

[ Rumors of War - Pele deLappe. Lithograph. 1939. ]

Rumors of War, a 1939 lithograph by Pele deLappe, portrays the growing concerns held by Americans as the country slid towards direct involvement in the Second World War. The artist depicted a room full of people, two men and two women (the standing woman in the background is the artist’s self-portrait), paying rapt attention to a radio broadcast. What terrible news might they have been listening to? In 1939 the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in March, and the Italian fascists occupied Albania in April, the same month the Spanish Republic fell to fascists under General Franco. Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler would sign a non-aggression pact in August, and the Nazis would invade Poland in September. There was plenty of bad news to be heard - and the gloomy looks on the faces of the characters drawn by deLappe seem to tell us that they’ve heard it all. Warplanes fly past the open window of the room they inhabit, an omen of what was to come - the USA would officially enter the war in 1941.

For those unable to take in the exhibit, an informative and beautifully illustrated catalog book is available. Pressed in Time: American Prints 1905-1950, is on exhibit until January 6th, 2008, at The Huntington Library’s, Boone Gallery. Admission is free to all visitors on the first Thursday of every month - but you must reserve a free day ticket. Otherwise, general admission is $15 for adults, or $12 for Seniors and $10 for students. More information about the exhibit can be found on The Huntington’s website.

Baskin: Graphic Force, Humanist Vision

The American painter, printmaker and sculptor, Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) once said “Art is content, or it is nothing.” As a teenage artist searching for role models, I discovered Baskin in the late 60’s - and I took his words to heart. A figurative realist shaped by the earthshaking events of the 1930’s, Baskin would first be recognized for his sculptures, but before long he was acknowledged as a master of lithography, etching, and monotype printing. Eventually, he would become most well known for a biting social criticism and a command of woodblock prints, works that would come to deeply influence me, so it pleases me immensely to know that the Portland Art Museum in the state of Oregon, is presenting Graphic Force, Humanistic Vision, an exhibition of some 50 prints and drawings by Baskin.

By the time the 50’s rolled around, message art from realists like Baskin fell out of favor in elite art circles, which were increasingly dominated by abstract painters and a predilection for non-narrative artworks. As the Portland Art Museum put it, “When movements such as Abstract Expressionism all but eliminated the human form in painting and sculpture, Baskin championed it.” Throughout his career and against all odds, Baskin persisted in creating realist artworks, but he was interested in much more than simply figuration. In the 1970’s he chastised the Photorealists for their disinterest in addressing social themes by saying: “Photorealism is the same thing as minimal abstraction. Both are unwilling to say anything about the nature of reality, about their own involvement with reality.” Two of Baskin’s most important works on paper will be on display at the Portland Art Museum, Man of Peace, and Hydrogen Man.

Woodcut by Leonard Baskin

[ Man of Peace - Leonard Baskin. Woodcut 1952.]

Man of Peace (1952) seems almost like an X-Ray of a partially clothed man, which is fitting considering the work was created at the dawn of the atomic age. Baskin’s subject is caught in barbed wire, and appears indistinguishable from it, in fact the man looks as though he could be made of wire himself. The subject holds a dove of peace that struggles to fly free. The print alluded to the genocide committed against the Jewish people by the Nazis, but seeing as how American society was mesmerized by a hysterical form of anti-communism at the time of the print’s creation, it’s easy to see how the art, and the man who created it, would come under suspicion. It’s instructive to remember that a year prior to Baskin creating Man of Peace, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted in a U.S. court of spying for the Soviet Union, a conviction that fuelled the anti-communist witch hunts lead by Senator Joe McCarthy. A year after Baskin pulled his print - the Rosenbergs were put to death in the electric chair.

The U.S. exploded the first hydrogen bomb on March 1st, 1954. Baskin would respond by creating a life-sized woodblock print he titled, Hydrogen Man. The subject of the artist’s apocalyptic vision, a flayed and mutilated man, was a not so subtle reminder of the costs of atomic war and a warning that humanity was courting obliteration. Baskin said of his monumental prints, “Man has not molded a life of abundance and peace and he has charred the earth and befouled the heavens. In this garden I dwell, and in limning the horror, the degradation and the filth, I hold the cracked mirror up to man - and yet, and yet I hold man as collectively redemptible… he has endured.”

Inkworks: Visions of Peace & Justice

Professional artists and students of design, historians, sociologists and enthusiasts of poster art, all will go mad over the latest collection of political posters compiled into book form - Visions of Peace & Justice. With over 400 full color reproductions, the anthology presents more than 30 years worth of archived posters printed by Inkworks Press, which also happens to be the publisher of the book and one of America’s oldest worker-run print shops.

Poster by the San Francisco Poster Brigade.
[ Support Striking Miners in Stearns, Kentucky - Poster design by Rachael Romero of the San Francisco Poster Brigade. 1977. Street poster announcing a benefit concert and film showing for Kentucky’s coal miners. ]

Flipping through the pages of this anthology is like taking a walk through recent American history, and whatever your politics, you’re sure to be impressed by the scope of issues addressed by the posters as well as their overall sophisticated aesthetics. Divided into sections based on theme, the book organizes posters under the chapter headings of: Internationalism & Peace, Labor Movement, Racial Justice, Women’s Liberation, Queer Liberation, Environment & Public Health, Elections & Reforms, Arts & Culture.

Poster by Rupert Garcia
[ Mother Jones - Rupert Garcia. 1989. Garcia’s portrait of the American radical labor organizer, Mother Jones, was commissioned by Mother Jones magazine. ]

Inkworks Press was founded in the San Francisco Bay area of California in 1974, well past the high-water mark of 60’s activism, but you’d hardly know that by looking at the wide array of posters in the collective’s self-published book. Just about every issue, cause celeb or world event near and dear to progressives is represented in this sweeping collection. While the worker-run shop printed posters for groups and individuals from outside of the Bay area, most of the cooperative’s jobs were printed for local clients - making this anthology an indispensable documentation of the Bay area community’s leftwing culture between the years of 1974 through 2007.

Poster by Leon Sun
[ La Peña: 15 Years of Cultural Activism for Social Justice - Leon Sun. 1990. Poster celebrating Berkeley’s famous cultural community center. ]

I have my own growing collection of political posters and flyers that I’ve been vigorously accumulating for decades now, and a good portion of my archives are comprised of works that come from the San Francisco Bay area. I’ve had the good fortune to acquire original silkscreen posters by Doug Minkler, Rupert Garcia, the San Francisco Poster Brigade, the Fireworks Graphics collective, and many other notable artists and art collectives from the region - and all have outstanding entries in the published compilation by Inkworks. The volume also features insightful essays by author and archivist Lincoln Cushing (editor of the book), photographer David Bacon, activists Angela Davis and Anuradha Mittal, the director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Carol Wells, and others. You can purchase the book from

Whatever Happened To The Future!

Silkscreen print, Vallen 1980

Whatever Happened To The Future! - Silkscreen print. Vallen 1980.

In 1980 I created a silkscreen print that captured the apprehension many were feeling at the time, the general malaise over the state of society and a fear that atomic war with the Soviet Union was imminent. My print, Whatever Happened To The Future!, was a street poster that became a cover illustration for the August 8, 1980 edition of the L.A. Weekly. It appears those feelings of anxiety have returned with the recklessness of the Bush neocons and their plans to nuke that old bugaboo, Iran. My artwork was inspired by two disparate sources from the 1960s, the paintings of American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein and the art of the French Stituationists. Lichtenstein lifted his images directly from American comic strips, and the Stituationists altered images generated by the status quo by adding their own subversive texts in a process they termed, detournement.

Painting by Roy Lichtenstein

Why, Brad Darling. Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein said in 1963 that “Pop Art is an involvement with what I think to be the most brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture, things we hate, but which are also powerful in their impingement on us.” Early on I appreciated Lichenstein’s willingness to take things most foul and shape them into mirrors reflecting the actual face of a vapid culture - but his works were never true critiques. However the Situationists, who spoke of the “commodity spectacle society,” offered an assessment that brilliantly described the glut and overindulgence of late capitalist society.

Anonymous U.S. Situationist graphic, circa 1960’s.

U.S. Situationist graphic, circa 1960’s -Anonymous. Q: Why are you against us, do you want to be treated as a sex object? A: No, but to discover that you are an object doesn’t mean you have to remain one. I don’t want to reform capitalism. I want to change life.

What interested me about the artworks of Lichtenstein and the Situationists was that they both suppressed “personal style,” albeit for different reasons - it was the philosophy behind the images that was of paramount importance. The contradiction of course is that Lichtenstein actually became well known for his paintings of gigantic comic strip panels, but still the notion of artistic anonymity held great appeal to me at the time - resulting in my own brief 1980 experiments with the detournement of American comic images. Since then the practice and methodology of detournement has been picked up by everyone from Barbara Kruger to Adbusters, and the times have never been more fertile for such artistic undertakings - or as Situationist Guy Debord wrote in 1956, “The premises for revolution, on the cultural as well as the strictly political level, are not only ripe - they have begun to rot.”

Paris 1968 - 2006: Up They Rise

Atelier Populaire poster - 1968

[ Université populaire été 68 - Silkscreen poster published by the autonomous Atelier Populaire in Paris, 1968. The simple image is of a student carrying a book, but also a worker’s tool - indicating complete solidarity between students and workers. The slogan reads: Popular University Summer 68. The poster is stamped in the lower right corner, "Atelier Populaire." ]

On March 16th, more than 300,000 students marched across France to show their opposition to a new law that allows companies - without reason or explanation - to fire workers age 26 or under. Students organized strikes and disruptions that hit 64 of the country’s 84 universities, and in the western city of Rennes students seized and occupied the town hall. At the end of the gigantic march in Paris, riot police attacked protesters with teargas and water cannons - a tactic that is becoming routine as the student movement grows in popularity and intensity. On the 14th, tens of thousands of students marched through Paris, and at the College de France in the capital’s Latin Quarter, students chanting “We’re not young flesh for the boss!” were tear gassed by heavily armed riot police.

The so-called First Employment Contract (CPE) is designed to garner super profits for business owners by denying young workers any possibility of obtaining benefits or long-term employment - the CPE even denies severance pay for young workers who are fired. Last week in Paris, more than 140,000 students and union members poured into the streets to demand the overturning of the CPE - which is now widely mocked as - Capitalisme, Précarité, Exploitation (Capitalism, Precariousness, Exploitation.) This past Saturday, hundreds of students briefly seized the historic Sorbonne building at the University of Paris, defiantly blockading themselves inside to protest the CPE until they were forcefully ejected by riot police.

The government’s clumsy attempts to suppress the anti-CPE movement with tear gas and truncheons has only caused it to expand further. Tens of thousands on the streets of Paris chant “police everywhere, justice nowhere,” while the unpopular Prime Minister Villepin refuses to back down in the face of the growing popular revolt. The newspaper Libération wrote in an editorial, “Within five months France’s Government has succeeded two times in driving its young people into the street - the government is incapable of offering any future to young people except for precariousness. Whether they have a degree or not, whether they fail or succeed at their studies - youth today are discriminated against.”

To the informed observer today’s events seem like déjà vu, bearing remarkable similarity to the Paris of May 1968, when workers and students in their millions united in massive demonstrations and strikes that nearly toppled the conservative government of Charles de Gaulle. Today’s demonstrations have not reached that level of intensity - yet, and while times have undeniably changed, certain dynamics and conditions remain the same. In 1968, the Atelier Populaire, a silkscreen poster workshop run by striking students and workers, produced brilliant graphics that were plastered on walls all over Paris in support of the uprising. Now some of those very images have been spotted once more on the streets of Paris, and hopefully in the weeks to come - we’ll see a new Atelier Populaire rise to the occasion.