Updates… the future is here

Reconstructing my entire web constellation.

Reconstructing my entire web constellation.

As a reader of my Art For A Change blog and a potential user of my websites markvallen.com and art-for-a-change.com, you may have noticed that my tiny corner of the web universe is in dire need of technological renovations. If you have been paying attention to my web empire the last few days of July 2022, you witnessed inaccessible pages and other glitches… those are the growing pains of new, technically revitalized and redesigned websites. This ongoing modernization is long overdue.

Behind the scene an amicable digital genius is collaborating with me in reconstructing my entire web constellation. In the near future you can expect major updates in design, functionality, and content—with new paintings and drawings and a steady stream of my “Last Train to Snarksville” style of art criticism. It’s a long term project that will have noticeable effects coming just around the corner. Buckle up time travelers… the future is here.

Shinzo Abe RIP

Regarding the ghastly assassination of Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (1954-2022). I found the illustration for this essay in a far corner of the internet. Created by New Zealand based illustrator Joseph Qiu, it’s an artwork created in the style of a traditional Japanese woodcut.

Shinzo Abe as triumphant Samurai warrior. Courtesy of artist Joseph Qiu ©

Shinzo Abe as triumphant Samurai warrior. Courtesy of artist Joseph Qiu ©

The red-sun in the background alludes to Abe’s brand of Japanese nationalism, the crashing ocean waves are evocative of works by artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), while the dragon, a common motif in Japanese art, references the Chinese Communist Party. Holding a deadly katana, Abe is depicted as a victorious Samurai warrior who has tamed the beast. Qiu rendered his faux woodblock print with the digital applications Procreate and Photoshop. On his Instagram account he said he wasn’t a fan of Shinzo Abe, but was “sorry for what happened to him and his family,” noting that he wished “the world could be a better place.”

I have always been infatuated with traditional ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”), those woodblock prints created by Japanese master artists of mid-18th century Edo (now Tokyo). I wasn’t the first artist to note the aesthetics of ukiyo-e. At a very early age I discovered that great European artists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt also shared my passion for the bold and colorful woodblock prints.

As I grew older I studied master artists like Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), who gave the world stunning portraits of beautiful women—and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), who gifted us with observant looks at landscapes and everyday life in old Japan. Then there was the aforementioned Hokusai, best known for his tour-de-force print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.

My favorite ukiyo-e master was Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). He worked in Japan as Westernization began when an American naval officer named Matthew Perry landed US ships in Tokyo harbor in 1853. Yoshitoshi was an artist that depicted the ugly realities of his day with the same attention he gave things beautiful. He created incredible prints of war scenes, showing feudal armies fighting with swords and spears along with bows and arrows; these were savage portrayals of combat. He produced a print series titled Twenty-eight Infamous Murders with Accompanying Verse, that presented abhorrent, pitiless crimes committed by people from all sectors of Japan’s 18th century society. These daunting works were replete with decapitations, cruel torture, and blood splattered kimono.

The artist was also interested in ghost stories (kaidan), and he produced the ethereal, bone-chilling woodblock series, Thirty-Six Ghosts. Yoshitoshi had the most influence on me since he portrayed real life—no matter how unpleasant, with a courageous stoic realism; he turned heartbreaking matters into exquisite and profound works of art. In small part I credit him for my embrace of social realism in art. Which brings us to the matter at hand, the monstrous assassination of Shinzo Abe.

Abe was shot in broad daylight on July 8, 2022 while giving a campaign speech in Nara City supporting candidates of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), this was just before the scheduled elections of July 10, 2022. The assassin used a crude double-barreled “shotgun” made of two short lengths of pipe, fixed to a wood plank with black adhesive tape, and fitted with a battery powered firing system. At the time of this writing it’s not known if the killer concocted his own explosive charges or somehow managed to acquire shotgun shells in a country where any interaction with guns is illegal. The assassin fired two shots, one missed but the second felled Abe. He died in the hospital that same day.

Detail of Shinzo Abe. Courtesy of artist Joseph Qiu ©

Detail of Shinzo Abe. Courtesy of artist Joseph Qiu ©

Not much has been reported about the 41-year-old assassin, but I don’t expect to hear the truth anytime soon. Abe had many enemies. He considered the Chinese Communist Party to be a serious adversary and he repeatedly defended Taiwan as an independent nation, sovereign, democratic, and free—Abe strengthened Japan’s military, infuriating both Communist China and Japan’s left. He created a solid working relationship with former President Trump—leaving American liberals apoplectic. Liberal National Public Radio (NPR) in reporting on Abe’s murder, referred to him in a tweet as a “divisive arch-conservative,” which interestingly enough was the stance of the Chinese Communist Party. Because of the massive negative online feedback by stunned Japanese and American citizens alike, NPR deleted their tweet.

Former President Trump immediately offered condolences to the family of Shinzo Abe; Trump actually issued two heartfelt statements regarding Abe’s death. This was followed by condolences from world leaders. *President Biden was belated in offering condolences; don’t think the Japanese didn’t notice. In his message Biden said: “While there are many details that we do no yet know, we know that violent attacks are never acceptable and that gun violence always leaves a deep scar on the communities that are affected by it.” Except there is no “gun violence” crisis in Japan. According to the National Police Agency of Japan in 2021 there was a single gun-related death in Japan. Again, don’t think the Japanese didn’t notice Biden’s bewildering remark, which was really aimed at American liberals.

On July 10, 2022 Japan’s voters gave a sweeping two-thirds supermajority in Japan’s parliamentary elections to the Liberal Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and current Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. The win clears the way for the LDP to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution, which forbids the nation from having armed forces that can operate overseas, and bans the “use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” With Communist China making its muscle felt in the Indo-Pacific region, it seems most Japanese are feeling nervous about not having a modern army, air force and navy.

The murder of Shinzo Abe was more than an attack on Japanese democracy, it was another indication of civilization sliding into chaos and war. Abe’s killing was a huge shock to the people of Japan, and its repercussions will be felt globally. On the night of Abe’s killing, Chinese on the controlled social media of Communist China celebrated his death, calling the assassin a “hero.” Japanese twitter was full of grieving messages comparing Abe to John F. Kennedy, the US President killed by an assassin in Dallas, Texas on Nov. 22, 1963. I watched the TV news coverage of JKF’s murder in real time in ‘63 as a 10-year-old. His slaying marked the start of a violent age—I’m getting an unpleasant sense of déjà vu.

If you have never heard of “Duck and Cover,” don’t worry, it’s back. On July 11, 2022, officials of the New York City Emergency Management Department launched a public service video recommending what “important steps” people should take in the event of a nuclear attack. The advice sounded as if officials expected only minor structural damage and a few burned trees. At the end of the message the video’s young black female presenter said: “All right, you’ve got this.” Oh yeah, sure… we’ve got this. Nuclear War? There goes my career! I’ve got news for you, if a Russian Sarmat hypersonic missile with its 10 or more atomic warheads ever slammed into the Big Apple, New York and the entire US East Coast would be obliterated. Communist China is presently working on its own hypersonic atomic missiles.

The present is beginning to look a lot like the past. The tired old adage attributed to Mark Twain is applicable here: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” That notwithstanding, the free verse of today’s poetries are like marching boots and thundering missiles blotting out blackened skies. Take another look at Joseph Qiu’s artwork of Shinzo Abe as Samurai warrior. The dark clouds are ominous, lightning streaks the grayish heavens. The sea is stormy and hazardous.

But that dragon… is it slain or merely sleeping?

Detail of dragon artwork. Courtesy of artist Joseph Qiu ©

Detail of dragon artwork. Courtesy of artist Joseph Qiu ©

The 4th of July cancelled in 2022?

This essay will focus on a current poster design for a July 4, 2022 event. But first, a few words about America’s Independence Day.

American revolutionaries announced the separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain when a resolution of independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. John Adams, Founding Father and the second president of the United States, sent a letter to his wife about the auspicious occasion; he wrote:

“The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

As it turned out, after the independence resolution was passed it was drafted as a document that would explain the move to the people; the main author of the document was Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence document was approved by 56 delegates of the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the day Americans have come to joyously celebrate.

As a child the Fourth of July enthralled me to no end. The sky erupting in colorful barrages of pyrotechnical wonders captured my imagination. I have lots of childhood memories concerning the 4th; neighborhood parties with family, relatives, and friends, fireworks displays on the front lawns and backyards of people in my community. I was too young to understand the politics behind it all, I just loved the sparklers, fire fountains, firecrackers, and bottle rockets.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I’m old enough to remember the temporary firework stands that sprang up all across LA weeks before July 4th. The stands were covered with red, white, and blue bunting, American flags, and signs advertising the types and costs of fireworks available for purchase. Some of the stands could easily service dozens of people at a time. During my first year in Jr. High School, groups of male students would come on campus with bags of bottle rockets, firecrackers, cherry bombs. These were freely distributed or sold for pennies.


Black Cat firecracker label.

Needless to say my neighborhood was pretty raucous on the evening of July 4th., but that was true all across America. Jax the Cat was a familiar face in my community. He was the colorful logo of Black Cat Fireworks. As a kid my pockets would be full of Black Cat firecrackers on the 4th, but I also started to appreciate the artful packaging of fireworks, and I started to collect the garish, kaleidoscopic labels of fireworks manufacturers… but that’s another essay.

By the time I reached High School I appreciated the politics behind America’s July 4th Celebrations. I began to read about the Founding Fathers and eagerly studied men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin. Some radicals of the late 1960’s and early ‘70s began to speak ill of the founders, and to be honest I was influenced by their blinkered left rhetoric; but I was not influenced to the point of abandoning the founders. When the 21st century arrived the left had reduced the legacy of the Founding Fathers into an ugly canard of racist oppression, patriarchy, and colonialism.

The disparagement of the Founding Fathers was only the beginning of canceling Independence Day. In 2020 the Fourth of July was officially canceled in California by Governor Hair Gel, I mean… Gavin Newsom. Using Covid-19 as his excuse, Gov. Gruesome banned the display of fireworks across the state. He was joined by the Democratic Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, who also used Covid-19 as the excuse to ban all professional displays of fireworks in LA, issuing a “no fireworks” decree to the population of LA. On that Fourth of July the people of California and Los Angeles responded by setting off endless barrages of illegal fireworks from dusk until way past midnight. I never saw such a glorious display of pyrotechnics in my life. John Adams’ vision of a “memorable epoch” came to life that night.

Democrats tamped down the 4th of July in 2021 as well, with *President Biden canceling Independence Day fireworks at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. For the 4th in 2022, Biden has once again canceled Rushmore’s fireworks. South Dakota’s Gov. Kristi Noem is suing the Biden administration for denying her state a permit to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks. Because of supply chain issues and labor shortages, fireworks displays have been canceled all across this great land, while Biden has sent over $60 billion in aid to Ukraine. For many Americans Fourth of July skies will be dark for the third consecutive year. But the worst part of this cancelation story follows.


Arizona’s Pima County Democratic Party tweeted this "F**K THE 4TH" announcement on July 1, 2022.

Upset about the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, Arizona’s Pima County Democratic Party tweeted out an announcement for a women’s march in Tucson. One graphic featured a woman’s hand holding a megaphone—out of which the following words were amplified: FUCK THE 4TH.

Now I usually edit the F-word on my blog, but the Democrats own this, and I’m giving credit where credit is due. That particular communiqué included the text: “July 4th. We are not celebrating until we get our independence back.”

A second tweet from the Pima County Democratic Party featured a depiction of the Statue of Liberty with fireworks going off around Lady Liberty’s head. Above her text proclaimed: “Let’s Mourn with—FUCK THE 4TH.” Below were the words, “Bring comfortable shoes, water, lawn chairs, posters, and your anger.”

The 2nd "F**K THE 4TH" announcement from Arizona’s Pima County Democratic Party, posted July 1, 2022.

The 2nd "F**K THE 4TH" announcement from Arizona’s Pima County Democratic Party, posted July 1, 2022.

Thats right, because nothing says Happy Fourth of July like boiling rage. Hours after the Democrats posted their anti-American screed, and likely received a considerable amount of feedback from offended and insulted Americans, the tweets were deleted. Ah! But the internet is forever, and like Old Glory these tweets will fly forevermore, come rain or shine.

With a crap-eating-grin the Pima County Democratic Party issued a non-apology:  “PCDP posted a graphic advertising a women’s march which, we agree, was in poor taste. We were eager to share the event, and in our haste we used the graphic provided by the event organizer. That was a mistake, and we will do better. Make no mistake, however. We support the event which will be on July 4 at 7 pm at Reid Park. The event was organized to help women in our community grieve for the loss of their bodily autonomy, which we consider an elemental right.”

Nice try… a “mistake.” Look, I understand the dismay over the Supreme Court ruling, but FUCK THE 4TH is not an unintentional error, it’s a platform, and Democrats have left a trail of evidence. Do they really not care about the Fourth of July? Do they actually hold the Founding Fathers in such contempt? Do they think there are no liberal democrat veterans who would be outraged by such a vindictive statement after having sacrificed so much for their country? Sadly this is not an aberration, a few shameless examples follow.

In 2019 the Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, Nikuyah Walker, led a campaign to abolish the city’s official paid holiday birthday celebration for Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and principal author of the Declaration of Independence. On July 1, 2019, the Charlottesville City Council voted to cancel the Jefferson celebration. On July 9, 2019 Mayor Walker added insult to injury by posting the following to her Facebook account: “Removing Jefferson’s Birthday is not sanitizing history. I’m sure that he’s still able to celebrate his birthday in hell.”

Also in 2019, Nike announced it would release a patriotic sneaker design on America’s Independence Day celebration called the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July. The rear quarter of the shoe displayed a small graphic of the Betsy Ross Flag, the 13 star American Flag made by upholsterer Betsy Ross under the supervision of General George Washington. At the time Washington was the commander of the Continental Army, which was waging a revolutionary war for independence from the British Empire; the flag was adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.

Nike’s spokesman, former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, told Nike the Betsy Ross flag was offensive “because of its connection to an era of slavery.” Nike instantly pulled the red, white, and blue footwear from distribution, while liberals roared approval. Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson went on MSNBC to proclaim “right-wing white supremacists” used the Betsy Ross flag “as a rallying cry,” and that being clothed in that flag was akin to wearing a swastika..Never mind that Betsy Ross was a Quaker, and the pious Quakers—informally known as the Society of Friends, founded the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery in 1775. Ross and her Quaker associates built the moral case for the abolition of slavery. So much for Kaepernick’s reading of history.

“The Birth of the Flag.” Henry Mosler. Oil on canvas, circa 1911. German-American artist Henry Mosler (1841-1920) known for painting colonial themes, depicted Betsy Ross and assistants sewing the first American flag.

“The Birth of the Flag.” Henry Mosler (1841-1920) Oil on canvas, circa 1911. The German-American artist known for his colonial themes, shows Betsy Ross and assistants sewing the first American flag.

On June 15, 2020 a group of Black Lives Matter “protestors” toppled a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon. A few weeks later the New York Times ran an opinion piece that advocated the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. “be taken down and replaced.” In 2020 the frenzy of pulling down America’s public statues went far beyond tearing down Confederate memorials. The new totalitarians expanded their hit list to include statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, and the anti-slavery abolitionists Matthias Baldwin, Hans Christian Heg, and even Frederich Douglass.

In Oct. 2021 I wrote an essay titled, Thomas Jefferson and the Michelangelo of Paris. It told the story of the magnificent bronze statue created in 1833 by French sculptor David d’Angers. It was gifted to the US Congress and today it sits in the Capital Rotunda. However, the plaster statue the bronze was cast from was gifted to New York’s City Hall in 1834; it was placed in the Governor’s Room. In 1915 it was moved to the City Council Chamber of NY City Hall where it stood until 2021. That was the year Democrat Mayor de Blasio and his liberal allies on the city’s “Art Commission” unanimously voted to remove the Jefferson statue.

A Democrat named Adrienne Adams, co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council, enunciated the regard Democrats have for Thomas Jefferson: “As it stands, we’ve been under the watchful eye of a slaveholder. Jefferson embodied some of the most shameful parts of our country’s long and nuanced history. It is time for the city to turn the page and move forward. It makes me deeply uncomfortable knowing that we sit in the presence of a statue that pays homage to a slaveholder who fundamentally believed that people who look like me were inherently inferior, lacked intelligence, and were not worthy of freedom or rights.”

Even National Public Radio couldn’t keep up their pretension of caring about the 4th of July. NPR announced they were breaking with their tradition, started in 1988, of reading the Declaration of Independence live on the air. The custom would be replaced with a discussion on “what does equality mean” in America today. How exhilarating, another opportunity to bash the USA, and on the Fourth of July no less.

The people of America are full of trepidation and worry regarding the nation’s future, and for good reason. Inflation is climbing, the economy is crumbling, energy independence has vanished along with the Southern border, and for goodness sake we’re now fighting a proxy war with Russia. Some 30 years ago in Los Angeles, every neighborhood park, stadium, High School and College athletic field, offered fireworks displays on the 4th of July. Cities along the coastline of Southern California all offered free fireworks displays to the public. This is no longer true.

While things are looking bleak for celebrating the Fourth of July and the Founding Fathers of America, I believe that John Adams’ idea of Independence Day “illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more,” will ultimately win the day.

Hey, what’s that sound outside my studio window? Is that the boom and reverberation of fireworks? Happy 4th America!

An American Idiot Renounces His Citizenship

On June 24, 2022, Green Day’s lead singer and guitarist Billy Joe Armstrong, shouted out an expletive laden proclamation to a fawning crowd at the group’s concert at London Stadium. The bombast was meant to protest the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Billy yowled and blubbered:

“F*ck America. I’m f*cking renouncing my citizenship. I’m f*cking coming here. There’s just too much f*cking stupid in the world to go back to that miserable f*cking excuse for a country. Oh, I’m not kidding… you’re going to get a lot of me in the coming days.”

I hadn’t realized that Green Day’s song American Idiot was an autobiographical confession from Billy, that is… until he squalled out his anti-Americanism to a cheering crowd in the United Kingdom. So long Billy, I won’t miss ya, but since you’ve forsaken America over the Supreme Court ruling—you might want to know a few things about abortion law in Merry ‘Ol England.

"The Old Continentals." Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth. Oil on canvas, 1922. Sorry, no "American Idiots" here.

"The Old Continentals." Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth. Oil on canvas, 1922. Sorry, no "American Idiots" here.

To have an abortion in the UK a woman’s pregnancy must be under 24 weeks. The abortion must be approved by the signatures of two doctors who agree the woman’s mental or physical health would be endangered without the abortion.

Doctors can refuse to conduct abortions based on moral objections, which means searching for more doctors in order to get the required 2 signatures. After 24 weeks abortions are only allowed if the woman’s life is in danger; the child would suffer mental or physical abnormalities if born; or the woman is at risk of grave mental or physical injury. Billy might think it’s worth renouncing US citizenship in favor of UK abortion law, but he’ll find it a costly process.

Renouncing citizenship will require a personal appearance from Billy at a US embassy or consular office to declare his renunciation. There are forms to fill out and a $2,350 fee to pay. That fee is a piffle to a “punk rocker” like Billy, whose net worth is $75 million smackeroos—money plucked from the fingers of “f*cking stupid” mugs in “that miserable f*cking excuse for a country” I call home… also known as the good ol’ US of A. But I digress. Billy’s army of lawyers will give him some bad news, renouncing citizenship also comes with an “Exit tax.” Yup, Billy will have to pay at least 20% on all of his properties.

Billy will also have to read and sign a document showing he understands renouncing US citizenship forfeits all rights and privileges of a US citizen. Another form will advise him of the full legal and practical ramifications of losing his citizenship. The US government will consider his request, and hopefully, God willing, Uncle Sam will give his stamp of approval and strip Billy of his citizenship.

It’s funny that John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols and Public Image fame, became a citizen of the US in 2013, saying: “I became an American because this is a really new country; you have every opportunity not to make the mistakes of all those other old ones I come from.” Lydon went on to say, “I’m now an American, and I’m proud to be an American.” Hey Billy, sod off you bloody wanker. God Save The Queen! Say hello to BoJo the clown for me.

Since Billy very publicly renounced his citizenship in the UK—and he’s not a citizen of that or any other country, he’s in danger of being “stateless.” That may sound fine to a fake anarchist like Billy “F*ck America” Armstrong, but it also means he could have no passport and hence, no ability to enter any country, let alone the US. That might be a problem for fat-cat Billy when he tries to reenter the US in July 2022, that’s when Green Day plays Loser-Palooza in Chicago. But then, Billy might just get a medal from *President Biden. Hurrah, Hurrah.

The Ramones. Washington Square, 1976. Photographer unknown. "Don't talk to commies, eat kosher salamis."

The Ramones. Washington Square, 1976. "Don't talk to commies, eat kosher salamis."

When I say I always hated Green Day, you should listen. I was one of the first Los Angeles punk rockers of 1977. When I saw the Ramones play The Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in ’77, I was reborn. I dove headlong into punk and started hanging out at LA’s first punk club, the Masque—there wasn’t an early LA punk band I didn’t see; Screamers, Black Randy & the MetroSquad, all of ‘em. I was raised on The Germs, don’t give me that Green Day pablum! I saw all the San Francisco bands; Dead Kennedys, Mutants, Avengers, etc. In 1979 I saw The Clash play the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with Bo Diddley and the Dils; that same year I worked at Slash Magazine, the first punk rock publication in California. I eventually created two cover illustrations for Slash. I played a small role in producing The Decline of Western Civilization, the 1980 documentary film on LA’s early punk scene directed by Penelope Spheeris.

Writing about Green Day and Billy helps to define what punk is or isn’t. Seeing the band at the 2016 American Music Awards being idolized and fussed over by Hollywood elites made me nauseous. Punk is supposed to upset established norms, but Green Day supports ‘em. Besides, they’re just a conventional if somewhat “edgy” Pop band.

Battered and bruised but all the wiser, I withdrew from the punk front lines in 1987, the year Green Day was formed. Eyeing Green Day from the shadows, I viewed them as poseurs, pin-up boy retreads that were cashing in on “rebellion.” Nothing has changed, except the levels of falseness.

Green Day took their name from Soylent Green, a brilliant 1973 dystopian science fiction film starring Charlton Heston. In the film, Soylent Red, Yellow, or Green were the synth foods supplied to the hungry masses by a totalitarian state. The popular but little supplied Soylent Green supplement was offered only on Green Day.

Whatever Billy Joe Armstrong offers you… don’t consume it.