Mark Vallen's Newsletter. June. 2004
Art Activism & Social Change
Artworks by Mark Vallen
A R T  F O R   A  C H A N G E


1) - MORE THAN A WITNESS... Mark Vallen's upcoming solo exhibition and retrospective
2) - ART UNDER ATTACK... Thugs terrorize San Francisco Art Gallery out of existence
3) - ERNST FRIEDRICH... Krieg dem Krieg!
4) - GRAPHIC AGITATION II... Vallen's artwork included in new book on Political Graphics
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Oil Painting by Mark Vallen



A retrospective exhibition encompassing thirty years of socially conscious artworks.

("Masked" Oil painting by Vallen)

Known as the advocate of a new social realism, Vallen's thought-provoking artworks confront the public with a myriad of political and social issues. With paintings, drawings, and prints, Vallen documented the upheavals and social realities that helped to shape the face of L.A. The topics addressed by the artist range from the Vietnam War to the battlefields of Central America, and the resulting waves of immigration these conflicts engendered. Vallen submerged himself in the city's original 1977 punk rock explosion, and created portraits of the fans and musicians involved. The artist's brush railed against apartheid and the Cold War of the 1980's, and captured the Rodney King riots of 1991. This solo exhibition will present a chronology of studio works, pieces created as public art, illustrations produced for books and newspapers, and artworks never before shown.

The A Shenere Velt Gallery of the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring in Los Angeles will be presenting the Vallen retrospective starting July 12th and running until August 26th., 2004. The Artist's Reception will be held on
Saturday July 17th, 6 - 9 pm

Thugs terrorize
San Francisco Art Gallery
out of existence

On May 16th, Lori Haigh opened a show at her Capobianco Gallery that featured the works of established artist Guy Colwell. The exhibit displayed the artist's realistic and quasi-abstract oils known for their keen social observation and
technical proficiency.

Photo of Lori Haigh by Jeff Chiu
Gallery owner Lori Haigh, assaulted and terrorized

One of Colwell's paintings, titled Abuse, depicted the torture of Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. jailers at Abu Ghraib prison. The painting was placed in the gallery window, and two days later all hell broke loose. First eggs were thrown at the building and trash dumped on the doorstep... then came the obscene calls and death threats left on the gallery's answering machine. One such caller said, "I think you need to get your gallery out of this neighborhood before you get hurt."

Haigh removed Colwell's painting from the gallery window but the harassment continued with new death threats recorded on her phone machine. Then one day a man entered the gallery, stepped up to Haigh at her desk... and spat forcefully in her face. But the worst came a few days later when another unidentified man threw a hard punch at Haigh's face when she answered a knock at the gallery door, leaving her with cuts and bruises and a terrible black eye.

Photo by Mike Kepka
Colwell's art being removed from the Gallery

Feeling vulnerable and isolated, and out of security concerns for her two children (ages 14 and 4), Haigh decided to close her gallery. She requested of exhibiting artists that they remove their works from the artspace, and then permanently closed the doors. An upcoming exhibit by artist Winston Smith had to be canceled. For the first time in recent U.S. history, an art gallery has been terrorized out of business by violent thugs motivated by political reasons.

This shocking assault upon our first amendment rights carries with it profound implications, not just for the arts community... but for all Americans. Will galleries, curators, artists, and museums rally to defend the Capobianco Gallery, or will silence and indifference encourage attacks upon others? Will artists be cowed and coerced into producing "safe" artistic statements, or will they rise to the occasion to become honest and fearless social critics? The time for fence sitting has long since past.

The San Francisco Examiner interviewed Guy Colwell, who had this to say about the attacks: "I was very upset about the revelation of abuses and torture happening in Iraq -- so upset that I almost immediately sat down and began painting a picture, which I happen to consider to be a form of protest. Apparently, people are quite shocked by my painting, I don't know why they are not equally or more shocked by the pictures they are seeing on television of the actual torture taking place. I have worked for peace and justice most of my life. I think that is a very American thing to do. I am not anti-American, I'm anti-torture. I'm anti-cruelty. I'm anti-hypocrisy. I don't want to be lied to any more by our government, and I stand by my work."

View a large version of Guy Colwell's controversial painting.

Krieg dem Krieg!

In the Germany of the 1920's, Ernst Friedrich was already well known for having produced a book of WW1 photos captioned with pointedly anti-militarist captions. In his book, "Krieg dem Krieg" (War against War), Friedrich juxtaposed photos of horribly maimed soldiers against insipid quotes from his nation's bellicose leaders.

An art gallery destroyed by fascist terror
Before and after Nazis destroyed Friedrich's Antiwar Museum

The book infuriated Germany's elites, but inspired artists like Otto Dix, George Grosz, and others in the Expressionist movement. Emboldened by the success of his book and the influence it had, Friedrich opened an Anti-War Museum in Berlin. The gallery/museum quickly became a center for cultural activities during the early thirties, showing paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs of a pacifist nature. In March 1933, Nazi storm troopers seized his Anti-War Museum, destroyed it's contents, and transformed the building into what was to become one of Berlin's most feared torture chambers. In their quest to shape by fist and club a national art that extolled homeland, hearth, and racial purity, the Nazis had attempted to eliminate people like Ernst Friedrich. Luckily Friedrich escaped going to a death camp and went into exile (He lived and worked in France, where he died in 1967).

Hitler's ideas about art were clear, "It is not the function of art to wallow in dirt for dirt's sake, never its task to paint the state of decomposition, to draw cretins as the symbol of motherhood, to picture hunchbacked idiots as representatives of manly strength" (Nüremberg rally 1935). Hermann Goering, Commander in Chief of the Gestapo, expressed his attitude towards the non-state sanctioned arts by saying, "Whenever I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver." The meaning of those words made it perfectly clear that art was regarded by the Nazis as the realm of subversion and madness, a space occupied by "parasites" who were "anti-German", "unpatriotic", and undermining the strength and purpose of the state.

It is wholly inaccurate and beyond the pale to compare the United States with the fanatical nightmare society that was Nazi Germany, which makes it all the more unacceptable that some Americans would agree with the Nazi definition of art. When violent men succeed in forcing an art gallery out of business because they don't like the paintings on the wall (as is the case with the Capobianco Gallery in San Francisco), then we should all be hearing the echoes of a terrible past.

Today the work of Ernst Friedrich continues. His Anti-War Museum reopened in Berlin in 1982, and is run by his grandson, Tommy Spree. Visit the museum, at:


"Graphic Agitation 2"

GRAPHIC AGITATION II: SOCIAL & POLITICAL GRAPHICS IN THE DIGITAL AGE is Liz McQuiston's latest book on the subject of protest art. Published by Phaidon Press and comprehensively illustrated, the book presents dissident artworks from the traditional to the shocking, from high-tech to no-tech. Paintings, drawings, and posters are displayed side by side with street art, postcards, t-shirts... even screen grabs of websites.

Mark Vallen's 1991 anti-Gulf War silkscreen poster, New World Odor is included in this essential and exhaustive study of modern protest art.

Already available in Europe, Graphic Agitation II is scheduled for distribution in fine bookstores across the United States come late June. You can pre-order your copy of the book at:
Mark Vallen's ART FOR A CHANGE website serves as a resource center for Art Activism. It encourages and promotes the creation of artworks that envision a just, peaceful world. Please inform others of this site, and forward this notice to all appropriate lists and individuals. If you wish to be added or removed from the AFC mailing list, or if you'd rather receive a text only version of this mailing... send an e-mail request to
"Democracy, I would repeat, is the noblest form of government we have yet evolved, and we may as well begin to ask ourselves whether we are ready to suffer, even perish for it, rather than readying ourselves to live in the lower existence of a monumental banana republic with a government always eager to cater to mega-corporations as they do their best to appropriate our thwarted dreams with their elephantiastical conceits." ~ Norman Mailer