"Go Ahead. Build That Wall" 2018. Painted sticker on main wall of the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery at UNLV March, 2018. From "Fauxism," an MFA exhibition. Photo/ Art Ed Fuentes
In 2017, KCET selected contributors to post an essay in response to “how the incoming president will shape, change, and redefine the future.” This was first published on January 20, 2017, Inauguration Day. A year later this contribution was on my mind while planning my MFA exhibition at UNLV. The above work was seen at The Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery and will soon to be revisited at the Riverside Art Museum.
If things don’t go as planned and jobs don’t come to the Rust Belt, those who voted for Donald Trump may want to look to Latino street artists. They can ask them to share techniques — how to use paint as a protest tool, a practice that came from the barrios, where villagers rose up with brushes for pitchforks and paint as torches.
They can get advice from those in underserved communities who have always spoken up by writing on the walls of their neighborhoods, demanding for better education and shared civic liberties. Those artists know how to operate under a long legacy of Chicano muralists and the visual conversations seen in places like East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, methods that reinterpreted David Alfaro Siqueiros’ “America Tropical” and expanded a movement championed by the Chicago Mural Group and Antonio Bernal who painted the wall of El Teatro Campesino's building in Del Rey, California.
At that time murals became a representation of an alternative and real Los Angeles and redefined what art could be for a city. That work is ongoing.
Art on the border fence depicting the struggle between the U.S. Border Patrol and migrants, on the Mexican side of the wall separating the United States and Mexico. As many as 2000 migrants a day, most from Mexico, cross the border illegally into the USA by going around, over, and through the fence between the two countries. This feat is made easier by the fact that in some places the fence is no more than a single strand of barb wire. Referred to as "illegal aliens" by some in the USA, economic hardship drives many Mexicans, and Central Americans, to risk their lives for a chance at to thrive in the United States.
It’s now all hands on deck to withstand a presidency that branded itself as a movement, rebranded media coverage as a failure, and keeps tossing in social media chatter to add complexity to “truth.” These realities all give street artists more causes to focus on. Of course, this is not to say every piece of art in public space must have intentions of protest infiltrating its composition. The world needs beauty, a break from chaos. But if there is a message to be found in an artwork, there is an obligation to focus on an issue with informed thoughts, be it in murals with long-form storytelling, or the small pieces of street art that mirror assertions in repetition.
And it’s the stencil that may be best suited to match the masterful regurgitations of Trump surrogates who target, state, rinse, then repeat.
If the fears become real, count on artists to find ways to vent frustration through visual symbols in the streets. It’s a First Amendment right that is shared with the press but has the privilege to send a direct message of grievance. It is strong opposition when used with calm and robust thinking.
If voters from the Rust Belt, or anywhere across America [including roughly 800,000 federal workers in 2019] grow dissatisfied from being ignored again and again and want to join in, a spot on the wall can be saved for them.
Original Disclaimer: The information, statements and opinions expressed here are solely those of the respective authors and do not reflect the views of KCETLink. KCETLink makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy or reliability with respect thereto for any purpose. This first appeared at KCET.org in January 2017.
These look like the hands of a working sculptor who migrated from the Midwest: thick with nicks. They are the paws of David Rowe, and one recent evening they look a little worn. That is no surprise. He has been busy with projects since last summer. When he is not making big wooden or resin things, in between teaching undergrads about art objects, his ideas and projects dispatch him out of state.
Back in September, at Ball State University, Rowe lectured on how those big wooden things “exists at the intersections of landscape, history, and the transitory spaces within the American psyche.” His sculptures were also seen in “Someday, Everything” at Dairy Arts Center (McMahon Gallery) this past October and November. Going further back to the summer of 2018, he was a PlySpace Summer Term artist-in-residence where he created work “focused on documenting social, political and environmental change on the American landscape.”
These hands of a tinker and thinker also have the grip of a poacher. Rowe is not shy about recruiting the right students from the constant pool of painters and designers who take his sculpting courses. I will admit that "poach" is too severe a word. We can call it an arts educator encouraging students to expand their practice. Either way, many have dived in, a response by how he teaches. Some stayed in his material world.
Soon after we first met he made the pitch to me. Nice try. Yet, I liked the way he thought about art. It had me begin to look at all work through a different lens, both as an artist and as a writer so I invited him to be the chair of my committee. It was a legitimate reason to talk, debate, disagree and agree about exhibitions, the state of contemporary art in Nevada, and other related issues.
These informal aesthetic debriefings often came with a side of wings and held at what I call the underground art legacy table. You see, in the evening, Rowe and I sit where some UNLV alum were known to gather occasionally on selected late mornings. That was a habit passed on since their earlier days as grad students, when they migrated from across the street after hearing a lecture by art critic and pirate Dave Hickey, who preferred to pontificate in a former retail space in a small strip mall.
When Rowe and I talked about meeting somewhere off campus to think deeply on ideas and art, I suggested this place. It reeks of anti-academic, pro-art talk. It also has disruptive creative mojo on tap.
Photo: Rebecca Holden
Rebecca Holden is a visual arts specialist with the City of Las Vegas. On Facebook, she shared photos from the 2009 dedication of 'Atomic Passage” in the Arts District. That is a public art project most in the city know of; the embedded designs in the sidewalk paired with custom white benches. What was news to me is how the design on top of the benches mark the original 18 blocks, aka 18b, that once designated the Arts District. Now there is talk the name is obsolete because creative-themed businesses expanded beyond the 18b. That should not matter. The 18b is still the center that branded an area that reflect art. But that is for another meeting in another time and place.
Back to the star of this public art project; the star itself. As I noted three years ago, almost to the day, the star used in the design gives Las Vegas a distinct visual reference.
My POV came about when Richard Hooker, curator, artist, and the former senior cultural specialist for the City of Las Vegas, was giving a tour of public art. We crossed paths and he asked me "What do you think is a symbol for Las Vegas?" I had an answer. I've seen on sidewalks and signs. It’s that four-pointed star, I said. Later I wrote:
"Atomic Passages" (2009) are stars on sidewalks and benches benches credited to Atomic Industries and artists Danielle Kelly, Adam Morey, Aaron Sheppard, and Erin Stellmon. Casino Center Boulevard between Charleston Boulevard East Colorado Avenue. Photo: PaintThisDesert
Neon sign on Fremont Street has four-pointed stars homage. Photo above and below: PaintThisDesert
Meanwhile, back at Holden's Facebook post, she wrote that the "benches have recently received some much-needed love and attention, including the removal of layers of paint/debris and a fresh coating of paint, topped with an anti-graffiti coating. We're fortunate to now have the resources and materials to maintain and conserve these works of art." She recommends that if you see something amiss on the benches, like graffiti, stickers, random garbage, and so on, you can let the city know by emailing PublicArt@LasVegasNevada.gov.
ABOVE: Gig Depio
“Through the Muddy”
2017-18 480” x 144”
Oil on Canvas
An Online Arts Journal
February 2 – March 31, 2019
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