Category: Year in review

A New Year message: Hope & Beauty on leave of absence

Mark Vallen, Sept., 2015. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

Mark Vallen, Sept., 2015. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

In 1627 the French Baroque artist Simon Vouet created the remarkable oil painting, Time defeated by Hope and Beauty. The masterpiece depicts Father Time dragged to the ground along with his scythe and hourglass; he has been vanquished by the paragons of Hope and Beauty.

Father Time is menaced by a grappling iron brandished by Hope, while the fierce grip of Beauty seizes the long grey tresses atop Father Time’s head as she prepares to drive a spear into him. The joyous faces of Hope and Beauty belie the implied violence of the canvas.

This year poor Father Time looks bedraggled like never before. The elderly bearded man is bruised and gaunt; his robe is in tatters and his sash bearing the old year’s date is ripped and splashed with human gore. But where are the paragons of Hope and Beauty? Unhappily, the political flapdoodle of “Hope” as advanced by a certain Folitician, sullied the good name of Hope the celestial being; she is taking a long hiatus from our fool’s paradise until humanity comes to its senses. And as for that immortal that goes by the name of Beauty, well… the art world betrayed and abandoned her long ago.

As tradition has it, Father Time appears every New Year’s Eve with an angelic infant, an allegorical newborn that represents what is to come. But this year everyone is suspicious of the angel-faced bambino, and it is assumed that the toddler will grow up to sow endless war, terrorism, pestilence, and economic collapse. We are frightened and skittish for good reason; a sense of foreboding envelopes us. But while Hope and Beauty are on leave of absence, they slyly left their metaphorical tools behind. I have added Hope’s grappling iron and Beauty’s spear to my stockpile of paints, brushes, pens, pencils, and canvases. With such an armory, this artist is ready to join the great battles of 2016.

A Happy New Year to almost everyone! And to help you locate the sanctuary of Hope and Beauty, here are a dozen of my web log posts from 2015 to guide your way:

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Twit

Twittering Like A Bird (2015/01/31)

I took the plunge into social media and opened a Twitter account at the beginning of 2015.

“I have an aversion to the Orwellian truncation and mangling of English words and their meanings. Last year Lake Superior State University came up their 40th annual list of words that should be banished for their mis-use or uselessness; words like swag, foodie, curate, and enhanced interrogation. I would like to add to that list the words twitter and tweet. As a lover of the avian world and a keen bird watcher, I know that tweeting is something birds do. Nope, you can’t fool me.”

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"Arts Champion"?

Obama’s 2016 Arts Budget (2015/02/03)

“Let me put it this way. Our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president has put forward a ‘defense’ budget for FY 2016 that will total $620.9 billion. His proposed budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), you know, the U.S. government agency that is ‘dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts’ from sea to shining sea… is a mere $148 million. Here I must add that Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has grossed, in just a three week period, $31.9 million dollars; the film is expected to generate $249 million in domestic sales.

When announcing his FY 2016 budget, Obama said: ‘Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?’ The answer to that should be obvious; the financial aristocracy is grinning from ear to ear.”

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Linda Christian

El Retrato de Linda Christian (2015/02/09)

El Retrato de Linda Christian (Portrait of Linda Christian) has until recently been an oil painting by Diego Rivera that was virtually unknown to the general public, especially outside of Mexico.

As it stands, the painting has once again disappeared from public view, slipping back into obscurity as an expensive trophy in a private collection. Oh pobrecito Diego. ¡Oh pobres de nosotros!”

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Art not Oil

LACMA, BP & the Oil Workers Strike (2015/02/11)

“I always viewed LACMA’s relationship with BP as an ethical dilemma for the arts community, from BP shaping an arts institution to LACMA being a partner in the oil giant’s “greenwashing” propaganda. However, the nationwide workers’ strike against BP adds a new wrinkle to the entanglement - revealing once more the difficult interface between art and capitalism.

If thousands of workers are on strike against BP because of deplorable working conditions that are literally taking workers’ lives, and BP is a major contributor to LACMA… what then does that make the museum? Is it really an impartial institution? Does it actually need to be said which side LACMA is on - with the workers, their families and friends - or with BP?

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Art that resists

“It feels as if art is failing us” (2015/02/21)

“On Nov. 27, 2014, the chief film critic for the New York Times, A.O. Scott, wrote an essay that broached the question, Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?

He stated emphatically that ‘we are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us.’ Scott pointed out that in decades past, ‘all the news you need about class divisions’ could be found in painting, theater, movies, and literature. Here he explicitly wrote that he was ‘waiting for The Grapes of Wrath. Or maybe A Raisin in the Sun, or Death of a Salesman, a Zola novel or a Woody Guthrie ballad - something that would sum up the injustices and worries of the times.’ Mr. Scott will be waiting for a long time… all we get is 50 Shades of Grey, Justin Bieber, and some ludicrous balloon dogs from the vacuous Jeff Koons.”

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Wave-making art

The Left Front: Defying Established Order (2015/04/01)

“In the ten year period covered by The Left Front exhibit, artists created works against racism, poverty, and the drive towards war, that is… the very same problems we have today. But what of the present?

Who wins favor with the art establishment? Why are artists failing so miserably in addressing the world’s problems? Those in The Left Front show entrusted to us a people’s history and a record of resistance. They bequeathed to us images of transcendent beauty, unbreakable spirit, and deep humanism in the face of bottomless cruelty and inhumanity. Now it is our turn.”

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Diego, Frida, & the Motor City

May Day with Diego & Frida (2015/05/19)

I flew to Michigan in May to see and review the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit organized by the Detroit Institute of the Arts. This unique photo-illustrated essay was the result.”

Art critics and reviewers have written positive appraisals of the DIA exhibit, but they have done so with little understanding of Mexican history, and absolutely no sympathy for the politics embraced by Rivera and Kahlo. As an artist that has been involved with Chicano art and politics in Los Angeles since the late 1960s, I have a different take on Rivera and Kahlo.”

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The painter's craft

Robert Henri’s California (2015/05/22)

“Robert Henri’s California dazzles on several fronts. It awes the viewer with Henri’s skill as a painter and brings to life craft as an essential part of painting. It produces a sense of admiration regarding Henri’s ability to capture the essence of people in formal portraiture, revealing the deep humanism Henri possessed. The exhibit also affirms something little known about the man usually thought of as a ‘New York’ realist painter - his deep and abiding love for the lands and people of southern California.”

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No postmodern swamp

In the Land of the Tlingit (2015/07/31)

“Fortune smiled upon me and I found myself in the land of the Tlingit from June 7th to June 14th, 2015; I made an all too brief journey to Southeast Alaska and witnessed many wonderful sights during my brief sojourn.

The indigenous Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people all live in the region, but this article will place emphasis on the enduring Tlingit people as I encountered them during my visits to the Alaskan communities of Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, Juneau, and Ketchikan.

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Be more than a witness

I Did Not (2015/09/07)

A rather flowery autobiography of sorts, posted when I turned 62:

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

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

007 Ayuda Ayotzi

007 Ayuda Ayotzi

007: The Spectre of Ayotzinapa (2015/09/15)

“Cinema has always been an art form that easily conveys ideology on the sly, but Spectre seems to have broken new ground when it comes to state generated propaganda.

It is unprecedented for an American motion picture studio to have taken large amounts of foreign money in exchange for rewriting a film. The Webster dictionary defines propaganda as ‘ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.’ If one thinks about it for a moment, that entails quite a bit of what we experience in today’s modern society, including our cultural preoccupations. Spectre certainly fits the bill.”

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Diego Rivera censored again

Diego Rivera mural blocked from public view! (2015/09/29)

“As a working painter and printmaker in Los Angeles, I write this open letter on the subject of Change the World or Go Home, an installation of scaffolding and fluorescent lighting by Mexico City-based artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda, now on exhibit in the SFAI’s Diego Rivera Gallery.

I write to express my dismay that Mr. Pereda’s installation unnecessarily blocks public viewing of Diego Rivera’s 1931 mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City. I also have misgivings about Pereda’s installation being placed so close to Rivera’s delicate fresco mural; I believe it poses a threat to the mural’s preservation. More to the point, I hope to explain why I believe that Pereda and the SFAI have denigrated the legacy of Rivera and his fresco mural.”

Out With the Old, In With the New

I am continuing with my tradition of writing a “year in review” column, a habit that I have inflicted on the masses since 2008. So here are ten articles from this artist regarding cultural events of the past year; a collection that comprises my “Best of 2014.”

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Lost Horizons

Lost Horizons: Edward Biberman
“Biberman (1904-1986) was an American realist painter that carved out a place for himself in mid-20th century Los Angeles, despite the ascendancy and domination of abstract expressionism.

His figurative paintings examined social inequality, racial oppression, and the plight of workers, placing him in the school of Social Realism. But his paintings focusing on the architecture of Los Angeles and the new - at the time - freeways of L.A., exposed his modernist side.”

Agony of Ukraine

Agony of Ukraine

The Agony of Ukraine
“Stepping into the quagmire stoked by super power geo-strategic interests, are a number of artists, arts organizations, and arts publications, some of which I will criticize in this article.

Oddly enough, none of the artists or artworks mentioned in this article present a cogent reason for exactly why Ukraine’s integration into the EU would result in a more prosperous and democratic Ukraine. This is especially interesting since millions of people from Spain to Greece have been demonstrating in opposition to the tough austerity measures of the EU.”

Screamer

Tomata du Plenty

Who was Tomata du Plenty?
“As for the query regarding Tomata’s identity, answers might be found - to some extent - in a surprising exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, Boxers and Backbeats: Tomata du Plenty and the West Coast Punk Scene.

The show is an examination of Tomata’s naïve paintings in the context of the original 1977 L.A. punk rock milieu, and having been one of the earliest admirers of Tomata and the Screamers, it is a unique honor for me to have some of my drawings included in the exhibit.”

Police State

Police State

Police State
“In 1973 I created a drawing in my student sketchbook that was meant purely as an exercise; I never intended to show the sketch to anyone. Considering our tenuous collective future, I think it is important to show, and explain the artwork. I made the freehand drawing with a “rapidograph” technical pen, a tool I used often in those days. Symbolic of mute terror, the angst ridden face in the ink drawing was left without a mouth. A wordless homage to the Viennese savage, the face was loosely based on a photo of Kokoschka by Danish photographer Erling Mandelmann. But Kokoschka and his fellow Expressionists were not the only thing on my mind during those days.”

Picturing Mexico

Picturing Mexico

Alfredo Ramos Martínez: Picturing Mexico
“I have long admired the works of the Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871-1946), and over the decades I was fortunate to see a handful of original works by him. I was always puzzled that so few in the U.S. remembered him, especially those of us living in Southern California where Martínez came to live and exercise considerable influence. Once a renowned and much sought after artist, the sands of time have buried Martínez, but an amazing exhibit of his works at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), Picturing Mexico: Alfredo Ramos Martínez in California, should stimulate a new appreciation for his art.” Also read: Ramos Martínez & The Flower Vendors.

TRAC 2014

TRAC 2014

Roger Scruton at TRAC 2014
“My day at TRAC 2014 began with the keynote address delivered by British conservative philosopher, activist, and author Roger Scruton. Well-known in Britain, Scruton remains an obscure figure for most Americans, apart from those conservatives that take pleasure in reading weighty cultural/political criticism.

He is perhaps best known, at least in artistic circles, for his 2009 BBC documentary, Why Beauty Matters, which hauled postmodern art over the coals while praising the virtues of traditional representational art.” Also read TRAC 2014: Part II.

... oh, please

... oh, please

Newseum: Super-Sized R-Rated Version
“On Nov. 14, 2013, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. opened what it hoped would be a ‘blockbuster’ show, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - The Exhibit. If there was ever a more blatant abuse of a museum’s mission, I cannot think of what it might be.

Slated to run until Aug. 31, 2014, the exhibit was created in partnership with Paramount Studios to promote its latest movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, written and directed by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

Prometheus

Prometheus

Prometheus: José Clemente Orozco
“The first modern fresco mural to be painted in the U.S. by a Mexican artist was titled Prometheus, and it was painted in 1930 at Pomona College in Claremont, California by José Clemente Orozco.

I photographed the mural in late January 2014, and those photos are the focus of this web post: close-up details that show the artist’s hand and the technical bravura of Orozco’s fresco painting.”

Serigrafía

Serigrafía

Serigrafía: Chicano Art at the PMCA
“As I have argued over the years, Chicano art is a well-spring that may help to invigorate the long dormant genre of American social realist painting.

While Serigrafía focuses exclusively upon silkscreen prints, it is worth noting that a number of the exhibiting artists are also painters (including this writer), and that Chicano/Latino print circles have long had very close association with the creation of public murals. If Serigrafía has a weakness as an exhibit, it is that it freezes its artists in a moment of time, and does not even hint at broader artistic production outside of poster making.”

¡Pobrecita Frida!

¡Pobrecita Frida!

Frida in Dubai-landia
“Let me be frank in my appraisal of contemporary Chicano art. It is far from its origins, and that in part is what this article is about. The roots are still viable, though the foliage is looking peculiar and in need of pruning.

The greater part of Chicano art is mired in tired clichés, as if portraits of ‘exotic’ Latinas wearing traditional clothes and posing with antique pistolas says anything meaningful about our past, present, or future. The school has largely reduced itself to painting those scenes of lush tropical jungles filled with colorful birds and happy peasants that David Alfaro Siqueiros detested and refused to paint. Something more is required today, and that is also a reason for this article.”

“What Lies Behind Us” - 2013

When reflecting upon the year now passing, as well as mulling over what is to come, it is perhaps best to remember the wisdom of the great American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) when he said: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” I regard Emerson’s words, not as an appeal to abandon the world for a personal retreat into the inner-self, but as an invitation to contemplate how we should respond to the world’s big questions. In that spirit, I offer the following twelve essays written in 2013, thoughts concerning world events, artists, and aesthetics.

bernstein4

Leonard Bernstein

Beauty is truth, truth beauty ( Jan. 19 )

“Given the abysmal level of cultural literacy in the U.S. at present, it is utterly astonishing that some 50 years ago a nationally televised popular show like Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concert series even existed on mainstream TV. By comparison, today’s television broadcasting only provides further evidence that we have slipped into the New Dark Ages. (….) The high arts, which include classical music, prepare one for lofty thoughts, ideals and dreams, and without these we cannot hope to create a better world.”

Merlin's "Black Legion"

Merlin's "Black Legion"

Maurice Merlin & the Black Legion ( Jan. 24 )

This article is a review of the exhibition, Maurice Merlin and the American Scene, 1930–1947, mounted by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, January 19 to April 15, 2013. “That Merlin’s work remains unknown gives evidence to the ahistorical nature of the contemporary art scene; The Huntington show is the perfect antidote. The exhibit includes some 30 works by the artist covering a wide range of mediums - oils, watercolors, screen prints, drawings, woodcuts, and lithographs.”

Iraq: 10 years ago

Iraq: 10 years later

The Invasion of Iraq - Ten Years Later (March 19)

“March 19, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. war against Iraq.

To commemorate the somber occasion I am presenting fifteen separate articles pertaining to the Iraq war that I wrote for this web log from 2004 to 2009, starting with the earliest post and ending with the most recent. Each piece discusses individual or cooperative artistic responses to the imperial war… all writings express this artist’s disdain for the war and its instigators.”

Maggie Dead

Maggie Dead

Iron Lady: Rust In Peace (April 19)

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

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

Painting by Barthel Gilles

Painting by Barthel Gilles

Echoes of Weimar ( June 8 )

“Barthel Gilles (1891-1977) was one of those artists overlooked by history, he was a fabulously talented painter who lived during the rise and fall of Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-1933), not to mention the ascendancy and demise of the Nazi regime.(….) Since the Nazis tightly controlled the museum and gallery system as well as all other aspects of cultural production, those who criticized the regime were hounded, banned from making art, imprisoned or worse. How many of us could withstand such persecution? Ultimately it is a question of one’s own humanity, do you keep it by resisting or lose it by consenting to the most despicable outrages. That Gilles collaborated with a genocidal regime to save himself is his shame, that many of us today accept the unacceptable is ours.”

Brave New World

Brave New World

A Postmodern 4th of July (July 2)

“(….) The crisis we face is much more than a ‘political’ question, it is also cultural paralysis and torpor that confronts us. In fact, the two have always been intertwined.

(….) While U.S. society teeters on becoming the surveillance state depicted in George Orwell’s 1984, it has already become the conformist, ahistoric, consumer-oriented and sex-obsessed social order from Huxley’s Brave New World. Perhaps President Obama’s mass surveillance of U.S. citizens is not such a bad thing… providing that everyone looks hot.”

Image by Kimball

Image by Kimball

Ward Kimball - Art Afterpieces (July 7)

“I never forgot Kimball’s Art Afterpieces, though it seems the rest of the world did. Searching online for evidence of the book’s existence turns up almost nothing, scarcely even a mention.

More baffling is Kimball’s persona non grata status in the elite art world, where kitsch aesthetics are all the rage and lowbrow art regularly, if mystifyingly, fetches astronomical prices. Today’s museum curators, gallery directors, arts writers, critics, art historians, and wealthy art collectors pay no attention to Kimball, but I say, give credit where credit is due.”

bad joke

Bad joke

Farewell Mr. Deitch (July 26)

“In 1750 the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writing in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, observed that ‘the arts spread flowery garlands over the iron chains of law, inducing consent without obvious coercion.’

Rousseau’s critique seems pertinent here, given that corporate power and men like Mr. Deitch are turning the art world’s remaining shreds of autonomy and integrity into exceedingly bad jokes.”

The way forward

A way forward

Chicano Park & Chile (Sept. 11)

“The young artists that created the murals in the Logan Heights Barrio, painted their spiritual, political, international, and Chicano visions onto the walls for all to see.

Those murals continue to be a great source of community pride, moreover, they stand as examples of an authentic ‘people’s art,’ the very antithesis of today’s detached, elite, postmodern art. Rather than being frozen in the past, the Chicano Park murals embody a way forward for today’s artists.”

The fight back

The fight back

Protest at the Detroit Institute of Arts (Oct 5)

“History was made on October 4, 2013, when hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in Detroit, Michigan for a demonstration against city plans to sell the museum’s world-class art collection. The city has paid Christie’s auction house $200,000 to appraise the DIA’s holdings. The process is now underway to prepare for a massive auctioning off of the museum’s cultural treasures in order to pay down Detroit’s multi-billion dollar debt.”

Muse Costume Ball

Muse Costume Ball

LACMA Halloween Nightmare (Oct 25)

“Hallowe’en… what fearfu’ pranks ensue! This October 26, 2013, the trendy vampires and way-out ogres of Los Angeles will shamble and hobble their way to the 10th-annual ‘Muse Costume Ball’ thrown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

(….) LACMA’s monster mash is not for bête noire proletarian miscreants, it is strictly for upper-crust bloodsuckers and villainess socialites. At $100 per general admission ticket, what is a poor working ghoul to do?

Art Is For Everyone! (Oct 18)

“In some quarters art has become a cynical intellectual exercise that is incomprehensible without an art degree and knowledge in dubious and obscurest theories. Things are really much simpler; making and appreciating art is what makes us human. Art is but one facet of an ordered human community, it has always been so. If you want to know what mathematics are all about, you might want to ask a mathematician. If curious about the stars in the heavens, talk to an astronomer. It follows that if you want to know about art, you should ask an artist. Leave the critics to argue amongst themselves.”

So Long 2012!

The American poet Ogden Nash once wrote, “Every New Year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a long line of proven criminals?” This past year certainly had its share of iniquitous events, in spite of that, we can still find evidence of joyous affairs and incidents in the wreckage of the year now passing. Yes… “life is good.” As we dust ourselves off and prepare to shamble into 2013, here is my annual offering of this blog’s top posts from 2012.

Gustav Klimt: At The Getty
“I felt compelled to write this article when confronted with captions the Getty provided for Klimt’s so-called Faculty Paintings, descriptions that merely stated the works had been ‘destroyed in 1945′, while the catalog book mentioned that the paintings had been ‘burned in a fire’. Amazingly, no further details were offered.”

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

The Cradle Will Rock!
The Oberlin Summer Theater Festival (OSTF) of Oberlin College in Northern Ohio, requested permission to use my painting Amanecer (Dawn), in the promotional campaign for the Oberlin’s summer season production of the rarely performed musical, The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein.

For Greater Glory: In the name of Christ
“This article is a critique of For Greater Glory, the latest film by director Dean Wright that purports to tell the ‘true story’ of the Cristero War, the armed uprising of Catholics against the Mexican government that began in 1926 and lasted until the late 1930s. Touted as a ’sweeping historic epic’, the film presents only the viewpoints of the fundamentalist Cristeros (Fighters for Christ), an outlook that distorts a complicated period in Mexico’s history.”

Ray Bradbury, Flame of Metaphor & Myth: R.I.P.
“Ray Bradbury, the great writer of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories, died on June 5th, 2012 at the age of 91. (….) A favorite author of mine, Bradbury penned numerous short stories and novels, but it was his 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 that continues to haunt me.”

Coit Tower Crisis
“I visited San Francisco, California in late 2011, for the most part to photograph the impressive murals in the Bay Area that were painted in the 1930s and 1940s. (….) In months to come I will publish on this web log my photographs of a number of the murals, along with biographical information on those artists responsible for their creation.”

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

“Wal-Mart certainly wants the ‘public limelight’ when it comes to their new museum, but when it comes to exporting America’s industrial base to China, bribing shady Mexican government officials for special treatment, or buying favor with U.S. politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties… not so much. No matter how sophisticated the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art might be, nothing can conceal the pernicious crimes of Wal-Mart.”

Elizabeth Catlett: dead at 96
“The largest part of her oeuvre was given to tender and compassionate observation of humanity. Catlett’s works spoke of, not just oppression and injustice, but the capacity of people to create a better world. When searching for an artist with a deep-rooted commitment to social justice and equality, one need not look any further than the immortal Elizabeth Catlett.”

On the Death of Thomas Kinkade
“Here is what is so perplexing; while the elite art establishment dismisses Kinkade’s work as so much vapid kitsch (though Kinkade was unaware of his being a kitsch artist), major art museums are exhibiting and acquiring vast collections of - vapid kitsch (albeit from artists who self-identify as being kitsch). Such is the state of today’s art world.”

LACMA’s Levitated Mass at a Rock-Bottom Price!
“Instead of paying $10 million for Michael Heizer’s 340-ton granite boulder, LACMA can purchase my 100-ton, 10-foot high boulder, titled ‘Alleviated Masses‘, for the amazing low price of only $1 million - that is an incredible savings of $9 million dollars! With such a sweeping reduction in expenditure LACMA can take the amount left over to help create a critically needed first-rate arts curriculum for Los Angeles school children, put into action an expanded artist residency program, and have enough left over for the purchase of artworks from contemporary artists having a hard time due to the economic downturn.”

Faraway, So Close: ’80s L.A. Photos
I exhibited six never before shown photos at Faraway, So Close, a group exhibit of photographs on the theme of Los Angeles as it existed between the years 1980 and 1989. The show ran from February 4, 2012, to March 31, 2012 at the Morono Kiang Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Also featured were the photos of Sara Jane Boyers, Edward Colver, Ann Summa, May Sun, Richard Wyatt, and Willie Middlebrook. Sadly, Middlebrook passed away soon after the exhibit, and typical of the ever shifting landscape of Lost Angeles, the gallery no longer exists.

Review: Four Los Angeles Exhibits
“I started 2012 by taking in four exhibits in the Los Angeles area; Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation and The Colt Revolver in the American West at the Autry National Center, as well as Places of Validation, Art & Progression and The African Diaspora and The Art of Miguel Covarrubias: Driven by color, shaped by Cultures at the California African American Museum. What unites these seemingly unrelated exhibits are the deep insights they provide into the American experience.”

Enter 2012

The Road: the author walking in the sand dunes of Carmel, California, Sept. 21, 2011. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

The Road: the author walking in the sand dunes of Carmel, California, Sept. 21, 2011. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

American columnist and author William Vaughn once wrote, “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” I do not count myself amongst those who always expect the worst, but this year even the Associated Press titled its New Year’s celebration coverage, “Bid Adieu to a Tough Year.” As for 2012, well, hang on to your seats… it is going to be a bumpy ride. Call me a gloomy Gus, but, watching Lady Gaga and Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg lead a crowd in a countdown for the dropping of the famed Times Square crystal ball did not exactly fill me with unbridled optimism.

Hours before the “Fame Monster” led the glitzy escapist exercise in Times Square, President Obama signed a colossal $662 billion “defense” bill that contains the so-called National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows for the arrest and indefinite detention of U.S. citizens - all without charges, legal representation, or even a trial. National Lawyers Guild president David Gespass, called the NDAA an “enormous attack on the U.S. and our heritage” and a “significant step” towards fascism. Happy New Year. While we ponder our collective future, here’s a look at a dozen selected Art For A Change web log posts from the year in passing:

1) The Broad Boondoggle (Jan. 8 )
“On January 6, 2011, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad unveiled the architectural plans for his new downtown L.A. art museum - which will of course be named, ‘The Broad.’”

2) My Tribute to Ronald Reagan (Feb. 8 )
As my beloved country undergoes another bout of historical amnesia that is every bit as debilitating as the Alzheimer’s disease our acclaimed 40th President was known to have suffered from, a comforting blanket of forgetfulness descends upon the land.

3) Download Egypt Freedom Poster (Feb. 10)
Inspired by the heroic Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy against the 30-year old U.S. backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, I created a digital artwork titled ‘Freedom‘, so named because the word appears in my graphic in Arabic, Spanish, and English. My creation is dedicated to the people of Egypt, with hopes that their democratic aspirations will soon be realized.

4) Sotheby’s Orgy Of The Rich Disrupted (Feb. 16)
“Just as Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art was taking bids on yet another oh-so-expensive Warhol silk-screen, chaos broke-out in the auction hall as a dozen art activists set off alarms, shouted, screamed, and threw counterfeit money into the air.”

5) LA Punk ‘79: The Lost Linoleum Print - Pat Bag (March 26)
“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.”

6) Obama and the Budget of Sparta (April 13)
On April 8, 2011, President Obama largely capitulated to his Republican opponents on a “compromise” budget deal that will cut an additional $38.5 billion from his 2011 austerity budget.

7) An end to oil company sponsorship of the arts (April 20)
“In marking the one year anniversary of the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I signed a letter of protest along with 165 other arts professionals and activists that appeared in the Guardian on April 20, 2011. Titled Tate should end its relationship with BP, the letter calls on the Tate Gallery of London ‘to demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable future by ending its sponsorship relationship with BP.’”

8 ) Paul Fuhrmann’s “War Profiteer” (June 12)
“The type of artist portrayed in Paul Fuhrmann’s War Profiteer is with us today, though perhaps in far larger numbers and with a greater capacity for self-delusion. Metaphorically speaking, the most notable aspect of today’s art scene, from top to bottom, is the fashionable wearing of rose colored glasses. Fuhrmann’s admonition to the artist is more pertinent than ever.”

9) An Exorcism at Tate Modern (July 20)
“On July 5, 2011, I received word from Reverend Billy and & The Church of Earthalujah that he was taking his flock to London in order to ‘lay hands on the Tate Modern, and cast out the evil demon of BP’s oil sponsorship.’”

10) Standing on the shoulders of giants. My obituaries for Gilbert “Magú” Luján, Lucian Freud, and Gil Scott Heron.

11) The Firing of Zahi Hawass (July 31)
“On July 17, 2011, the world’s best known Egyptologist, Zahi Hawass, was fired from his position as Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities.”

12) Nagasaki Nightmare (Aug. 6)
Regarding the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan.

2010: Another year passes

Photo of this writer from his "Journalism in Wonderland" post of March 12, 2010.

Photo of this writer from his "Journalism in Wonderland" post of March 12, 2010.

It is not just another year that passes, but an entire decade. And what can be said of the past ten years, aside from the fact that it has been an extraordinarily bleak period. A stolen election, 9/11, an “endless war on terror”; promises of “hope and change” morphing into predator drone attacks, escalating war, rising unemployment, and tax cuts for billionaires.

I am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, The Hollow Men, where the modernist poet penned, “We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men (….) This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.”

While the circumstances I mention portend what can only be described as the New Dark Ages, I am simply sketching the outlines of empire in decline; a long drawn out process that is never a pretty sight. All that notwithstanding, a few good things were accomplished in the world of art, where despite the level of folly, a semblance of sanity might be said to prevail - well, almost. The following even dozen articles offer insight into some of the noteworthy events of 2010.

The Good Soldier Schweik (Feb. 4)
My review of a rare presentation of Robert Kurka’s antiwar opera, The Good Soldier Schweik, performed on Jan. 23, 2010, at Barnum Hall in Santa Monica, California on Jan. 30, 2010.

Obama Reduces Arts Funding (Feb. 12)
This article details the cuts made to the arts by President Obama in his 2011 budget. Budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were slashed by Mr. Obama, all while he increased military spending.

Millard Sheets: The Early Years (Feb 24)
My review of Millard Sheets: The Early Years (1926-1944), an important exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art that ran from Feb. 14 to May 30, 2010. Sheets was one of the leading California exponents of the social realist “American Scene.”

Journalism in Wonderland (March 12)
“The Los Angeles Times abandoned all pretense of being a serious newspaper guided by high journalistic standards, when on March 5, 2010 the daily ran a full color paid advertisement as its front page rather than headlines and photographs  from the news stories of the day.”

American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life (March 27)
In this essay I review American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915, an exhibit of 103 paintings that recorded the American experience from the colonial period to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

Siqueiros: América Tropical Press Conference (April 3)
My coverage of the March 31, 2010 Press Conference where the city government of Los Angeles announced its commitment to the preservation of the world famous Siqueiros mural located on L.A.’s historic Olvera Street.

BP’s Oil Slick: LACMA Woes (April 27)
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico on April 26, 2010 - the beginning of the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. This was the first article appearing on the internet in the wake of that catastrophe to bring further attention to BP funding the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Goya: Los Caprichos in Los Angeles (June 20)
My review of Goya: The Caprichos Etchings, displayed at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Museum in Glendale, California, from May until August, 2010.

Let Me Tell You About MusicaLatitudes (August 7)
My essay details the abiding impact Latin America’s “New Song” movement has had upon my work as a visual artist.

Levi Artists: Lay Down Your Brushes (August 27)
Levi Strauss & Co., one of the largest clothing manufacturers on the planet, opened an art printmaking workshop in San Francisco. This article offers a critique of the ever tightening control corporations exercise over the art world and public space.

Siqueiros: Confronting Revolution & Censorship Defied (Sept. 25)
I was a participating panelist in A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, an event sponsored by the Autry National Center, organized by the José Vera Gallery, and held at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock, California. This article reviews the event, as well as the exhibition of Siqueiros paintings at the Autry - Censorship Defied.

The Madonna of the Napalm (October 6)
“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.”

2009: Year in Review

Ah, 2009, when the bold slogans of “Hope” and “Change” morphed into sighs of “Disappointment” and “Business as Usual.” Now is the time to cast away political illusions and resume the work of creating new realities! What better place to start than a “Year in Review” presentation?

On a brief personal note, I have been working on a large body of new paintings and drawings, most of which have not been shown to anyone, and if everything works out a major showing should be in the offing by mid 2010.

This past year two of my oil paintings were featured at the Bakersfield Museum of Art during the museum’s Dia de los Muertos exhibition (September-November). I also had successful showings of my works at the Chicana/Chicano Biennial at the MACLA gallery in San Jose, California (June-August); at the Brand Library Art Gallery & Art Center in Glendale, California, during the gallery’s Man’s Inhumanity to Man exhibit (April-May); and at Avenue 50 Studio’s 365 & Counting exhibit (November-December). Also of note, in June of this year my web log was re-launched in Wordpress, which has proved a boon to creativity.

I’d like to offer readers best wishes for the holiday season. I’ll resume my regular writing schedule come the new year.

(January 3) Waltz with Bashir - This was the very first post of the new year, a review of the brilliant animated film from Israel, Waltz with Bashir. “Based on Israeli director Ari Folman’s real life experiences as a soldier in the Israeli army when it invaded Lebanon in June ‘82, Waltz with Bashir is only the second animated feature film to be produced in Israeli cinematic history.” (January 10) A New WPA Arts Program? - During the first month of the Obama administration I contrasted the Depression era arts programs of the WPA to the present, posing the question; “Will the Obama administration offer even a substantially scaled-down WPA-like arts program for today, let alone provide any significant budget increases for already existing arts programs?”

(February 3) Charles White: Let The Light Enter - In praise of the great African American artist, Charles White (1918-1979). “What I always found so impressive about White was that he never abandoned his artistic vision in order to follow the dictates of what was fashionable. Despite the ascendancy and near total dominance of abstract art in the 1950s, followed by the successions of Pop, Minimalism, and all the vacuities of Postmodernism - White remained true to his style of figurative social realism.” (February 11) My Take on Things - My dialog with an art student from Western Kentucky University, and the subject of “Art as Activism.” (February 17) Spencer Jon Helfen: California Modernist Painting - My review of an important exhibition of American Modernist paintings at Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, California. The review focuses on two giants of the 1930s California Modernist movement, Victor Arnautoff and Francis De Erdely. (February 23) Edward Biberman Revisited - Now almost forgotten save for aficionados of the California Modernist school, Biberman was the subject of a fascinating retrospective at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park.

(March 3) Zombie Banks, Art Museums, & War - Wall Street crashes, Obama bails out the banks, museums close while arts organizations layoff 10% of their work force, all the while war funding increases. (March 31) Man’s Inhumanity to Man - I exhibited a suite of four black and white drawings at the Brand Library Art Gallery & Art Center in Glendale, California, part of a group show that examined human rights violations from the 1915 Armenian genocide to the present.

(June 12) The Death of Franklin Rosemont - My eulogy for the American surrealist artist, historian, author, poet, and activist, Franklin Rosemont. (June 22) The Death of Motor City - Reflections on the demise of Detroit and the great tradition of American social realism. (June 25) Artist’s Responses to Homelessness - My review of Hobos To Street People: Artist’s Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present - a traveling group exhibit on the subject of homelessness.

(July 5) Mexican Prints at University of Notre Dame - My review of the exhibit, Para la Gente: Art, Politics, and Cultural Identity of the Taller de Gráfica, with a special focus on the Mexican artists of the 1930s Popular Graphic Arts Workshop. (July 14) Art Hate Week! - For purposes of giving UK bourgeois art institutions “a necessary kicking.”

(September 2) Guayasamín: Rage & Redemption - My in-depth examination of Latin American master, Oswaldo Guayasamín, and his retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California.

(November 25) The Mona Lisa Curse - My review of The Mona Lisa Curse, a documentary film by art critic Robert Hughes that offers a devastating critique of contemporary art and it’s over commercialization.

(December 1) LBJ, Obama & Afghanistan - In this article I announce the publication of “Hey, Hey, LBJ…“, a web exhibition I curated on the subject of posters from the 1960s that protested the Vietnam war and the policies of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. My article was published the day President Obama announced he was sending an additional 30,000 combat troops to Afghanistan.

2008: Year in Review

The waning days of 2008 represent more than just a tumultuous year coming to an end, they bring closure to decades of extreme political reaction and backwardness, at least in the U.S. - or so it appears. Whether or not we are on the threshold of a new progressive era depends upon people in their tens of millions becoming actively engaged in visualizing and building a different type of society, and that is not simply a matter of political action. Art has an enormous role to play in such a process as it allows us to dream and imagine, as well as to reveal hidden truths and possibilities. What is more, art encourages critical thinking, it provokes, challenges, and dares one to visualize the impossible - a mindset we are sorely in need of today.

This year I have written a number of articles on art and artists both past and present, I offer a selection of these writings here as a “Year in Review” presentation:

(January 15) The Los Angeles Art Students League - Seed of Modernism at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. An important show on the roots of modernism in L.A. during the years 1906-1953.

(February 20) The Unveiling of Robert Scull - When money became “an overbearing influence on contemporary art.” (Feb. 29) Apostles of Ugliness: 100 Years Later - The centennial of America’s very first avant-garde art movement, the so-called Ashcan School.

(March 19) Artists Against the War: A Review - To mark the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the New York Society of Illustrators mounted an exhibit titled Artists Against The War. I wrote of review of the show for the Foreign Policy in Focus website.

(April 19) The Newspeak Newseum - The latest cultural institution to be added to the U.S. capital; “The Newseum provides the clearest look yet of a cultural institution in the service of big business.” (April 26) Edward Hopper: A Retrospective - “As a youngster Hopper’s paintings provided me with an entry point into the art of the Great Depression period.”

(May 1) May 68: Posters from the Paris Rebellion - “Socially conscious graphics that to this day have not been outdone in terms of political sophistication, simplicity, and effectiveness.” (May 14) Robert Rauschenberg 1925-2008 - Eulogy for the iconoclastic Pop artist. (May 24) The Harvey Milk Public Monument - “The memorial bronze of Harvey Milk placed in San Francisco’s City Hall should be a constant reminder of what has yet to be achieved.”

(June 13) The Cologne Progressives - “A bloc of artists that represented the radical outer fringe of the Expressionist movement of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933).”

(July 4) The Orientalists: Then and Now - The Lure of the East, British Orientalist Painting at the Tate Britain. Questioning the West’s accepted wisdom regarding the Islamic world.

(September 13) War & Empire/Art of Democracy in San Francisco - “A new and vibrant social engagement in American art.” (Sept. 18) An Art World Mesmerized by Bling - “As the world burns and international financial institutions fall like so many dominoes, impulsive oligarchs and imprudent investment bankers continue to put their money into the overheated contemporary art ‘market’.”

(October 17) I wrote a review of the War & Empire exhibition for the Foreign Policy in Focus website.

(November 7) The Enduring Works of Goya - The Los Caprichos etchings and the continuing influence of the Spanish Master. (Nov. 2) Art and the Global Economic Meltdown - The “unavoidable political topic is on the lips of everyone in the art world these days.” (Nov. 21) L.A.’s MOCA in Meltdown - “MOCA’s dilemma is indicative of the crisis now rippling through the world of elite art institutions, a disaster that will only intensify as late capitalism careens into worldwide depression.”

(December 2) Josep Renau: Commitment and Culture - Celebrating the 100th birthday of the Spanish painter, poster designer, and muralist. (Dec. 4) Making a Killing in Central America - My 1989 drawing depicting two of the many thousands killed by death squads in Central America during the 1980s.