Reviews, Essays, Blogposts
From exhibition text for "Rebound: A Survey of Contemporary California Book Art", Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, curated by Simon Blattner
The amount of art that Arthur Hazelwood has produced in the last ten years is simply astonishing. Not only has it been voluminous in quantity but also the quality and variety of his art has to be seen to be imagined. While he is primarily known as an artist with a strong lefty political bent his work covers the map in its grasp of history, depth of information and formidable energy. In the work presented here Hazelwood has taken the book arts to new places, in this case the stage and opera that he calls “Tora Bora”. This piece is ever more interesting since the demise of the main character, Osama Bin Laden. In earlier works the artist has taken not only the US government to task but with work fringing on character assassination others whose positions and politics don’t fit his matrix. His work is in many private collections throughout the United States and Europe and he counts Stanford University, St. Mary’s College, the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library among those institutions and individuals who have collected his work. There are some who even say liking his work is “an acquired art. You may or may not like the art he makes but we can all agree that he has a passion for what he is doing and the way he is doing it.
Simon Blattner, 2011
"Art, Artists and Activism-- 1930s to Today" , by Art Hazelwood
"Art and Activism: 1930s and Today" This Huffington Post article was a collaboration between Art Hazelwood and Paul Boden. A shorten form of the above essay.
Hobos to Street People, by Art Hazelwood, The Arts Politics, pdf (250 kb)
"Opinionated Art": A Window into the Fine Art Print Collections at the Library of Congress, Martha H. Kennedy, Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Art, 2010, based on a presentation and discussion by Katherine L. Blood, Curator of Fine Prints. http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/opinart.html
Annex Galleries features a profile called, Art Hazelwood: The Art of Politics/The Politics of Art
Solano Community College Review. http://www.solanotempest.net/arts/more-than-meets-the-eye-1.1271747
Art Hazelwood at the INFERNO Gallery reviewed on 10/14/09 by DeWitt Cheng in the East Bay Express
Several Reviews of Hobos to Street People: Artists' Responses to Homelessness From the New Deal to the Present . Curated by Art Hazelwood
East Bay Express, October 29 Review By DeWitt Cheng of We’re all Outside the Green Zone ,
Imperial Delirium -Art Hazelwood and Sol Aquino bring another war back home . pdf file
Art is Moving Blog video interview with Art Hazelwood at the Art of Democracy show at the Meridian Gallery
Article by Mark Vallen about the exhibition Art of Democracy War & Empire, in Foreign Policy in Focus
Juror's Statement for student print show at Chico State University, 4/25/2008
PRINTS OF WAILS, Art Hazelwood: Instead of just screaming at the TV, artist vents his anger in political linocuts . Matt Villano Thursday, May 24, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle
About the "I" Word. Political Artwork blog spot has an essay about my impeachment poster, on Wednesday,May 23, 2007.
www.artbusiness.com website has a bunch of photos of art openings and some commentary. You’ll have to scroll a bit.
Political Art Timely and Timeless, speech by Art Hazelwood at a panel discussion at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston.
Five Reviews of Hubris Corpulentus in Rhode Island
Art Hazelwood: A Graphic Witness of America by David Berona at the online journal Image and Narrative
Review of Iraqopoly Exhibition: by Jonah Owen Lamb in the Marin Scope May, 2005 (pdf file)
Article about Richard Correll and Frank Rowe Exhibition: by Robert Taylor in the Contra Costa Times January, 2005 (pdf file)
Artists Role in Social Change Blog : Mark Vallen
Hubris Corpulentus in Muncie, IN: The Star Press
Art Hazelwood Radio Interview on Indiana Public Radio Download the Real Player file (2.2 Mb)or go to IPR's web site and scroll down to the October 7, 2004 show for Windows Media Player version.
Hubris Corpulentus Review: by DeWitt Cheng
Hubris Corpulentus Review: SFGate, by Alison Bing
Juror's Statement on Artist As Activist at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, by Art Hazelwood
Artist As Activist Review: by DeWitt Cheng
Eye Object Review: by Cheryl Halde
Text of Panel Discussion on Political Art at the Meridian Gallery 2/14/04
Rabelais and Gargantua in the Vineyards: Essay by U.C. Berkeley literature professor Timothy Hampton
Juror's Statement Student Print Show California State University
All Genius varies Thus. Devils are various. Angels are all alike.
William Blake, 1819
In the process of looking through the submissions to this print show I was immediately struck by the power and diversity of the visions. The approach to subject matter and technique was exciting. The work showed a great facility across different media. And even work that evidenced a beginner level technique had a strongly developed point of view.
It is not only the variety and individuality of the work that made me think of the above quote of William Blake. In much of the work that I looked at there is a sense of dealing with dark forces, of decay and violence. There is a feeling of impending doom sometimes just on the horizon, sometimes arising from below; sometimes boldly obvious and sometimes presented with subtlety.
This sense of dread seems to take on two different points of view, the political and the personal. It is sometimes hard to separate these feelings out in one print, and they mix in different quantities in several prints. The political point of view moves more towards addressing direct issues, such as biodiversity, the protective function of mycelium, militarism, the protests of Burmese monks, immigration, abortion, oil wars, and Hurricane Katrina. The personal sense of dread is manifest in works of gore, violence, amputation and destruction of beauty. Often in these works there is an existential dread being evoked through the imagery. But it also takes on the form of urban isolation, the unclear path ahead, and the futility and desolation of life.
It is more uncommon among these prints to come across an unadulterated gesture of beauty. The argument that art must be about beauty seems to have been roundly ignored here. The work in general cries out to say that art can be about many different things. Yes, there is beauty but it is deceptive – witness the color woodcut of a nude showering in blood. Yes, there is beauty but it is threatened – the black and white woodcut of a pelican in the ocean near an oil spill. Yes, there is beauty but it is violated – the color lithograph of a nude devouring a skull.
The political and the personal dread that I see in these works, where does it come from? Is it a reflection of a culture of violence? Slasher flicks and video war games? Or is it the result of the times we live in? Slasher reality (including budget slashers) and real war? Or is it just the youth of the artists here? They’ll grow out of it and become angels all? Or lastly is this just the result of the jaundiced eye of the juror?
I have focused on what I perceive as a sense of dread in much of the work, and I should say that there are other considerations among the art work here. There are esthetic considerations. There are prints for which I can honestly only say, I don’t know why I like that. But, you have read my point of view which is perhaps tainted with my own sense of doom, don’t let that prevent you from a profoundly moving brush with devils here.
Art Hazelwood 4/25/08
OCTOBER 14 - 20, 2004
MARK LOWERY, 32: "I think people need to get out to the new exhibit at Mitchell Place downtown. Very thought-provoking stuff."
WHAT: "Hubris Corpulentus" by Art Hazelwood WHEN: Hours. noon-5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday WHERE: Mitchell Place Gallery
Artist reveals pride, hubris of U.S.
MUNCIE — Art Hazelwood is a long way from home. The San Francisco artist was mingling with art lovers recently during the opening of his exhibit "Hubris Corpulentus" at down-town's Mitchell Place Gallery.
The question was bound to come up. "Why are you in Muncie?" It seems Ball State University arts prof Scott Anderson called on his friend to be a visiting guest artist for his class. So, Hazelwood packed up his art and will be in town for two weeks to discuss his technique with students. And he thought since he was going to be in town, ^perhaps a local gallery would be interested in exhibiting his prints. "Of course we wanted his work!" Pamela de Marris of Mitchell Place exclaimed during the reception on Oct. 7. "Just look at it!"
It is very detailed large and small-scale pieces with a satirical edge. He takes jabs at high school shootings, urban professionals, addiction and, most notably, politics.
" Right before the election, it's good to offer something slightly political," the tall, soft-spoken artist said with a grin. He said the exhibit shows our country's "overweening pride." He pointed to an engraving that carries the title of the exhibit, Hubris Corpulentus. The piece shows hefty soldiers and bloated artillery. One soldier holds a chicken wing on one hand an a gun in the other.
" It really represents the hubris of the country," Hazelwood said. More than 30 of this artist's prints, some as large as 15 feet long, are on display at the gallery. His print techniques include woodcuts, linocuts, etchings, engravings, lithographs and book projects. War is one of the bigger themes.
" I did not attempt to portray
the photographic reality, nor the horrors of war, he said. "My experience is limited in this regard to news consumption. I focused instead on the metaphorical and satirical nature of the enterprise. Liberty Brought to Baghdad portrays a bound and blindfolded lady liberty, roughly treated by troops dragging her off to her newly intended. The Four Horsemen portray the classic four figures of death, war, pestilence and famine striding above the globe while below ineffective peace protesters march in ant-like swarms."
The series Requiem For Dionysos is a large, colorful linocut print. Hazelwood said it was inspired by Euripides' play the Bacchae. The monumental print book Gargantua in the Vineyards, based on Francois Rabelais, also uses literary themes as its inspiration. The book unfolds to display a narrative measuring 25 feet in length. The satirical writings of Rabelais are put to use in this print which mocks the wide gamut of authority figures.
" His pieces are so detailed," said Scott Mason, who stopped by the reception to check out Hazelwood's work. "And the social commentary is right on. "
HUBRIS CORPULENTUS: Prints by Art Hazelwood
Jan. 15-Feb. 28, 2004 T-Sat 11am-5pm
Meridian Gallery (www.meridiangallery.org)
545 Sutter Street (at Powell), SF
I believe if one looks around at the culture one sees romanticized violence and sexualized war, and that is what I am attacking.
In 1996 Presidential candidate Bob Dole, anent some quaint Clintonian scandal or other (I disremember now), demanded, "Where's the outrage?" (Perhaps he was invoking Walter Mondale's rousing 1984 "Where's the beef?") In light of the hypocrisy and religiosity, arrogance and ignorance, stupidity and cupidity on display these days, it is gratifying to hear, even in the liberal wacko bastion of the Bay Area, that the Emperor is, well, sartorially challenged (though, admittedly, buff in the buff after all those workouts); and it's heartening to see artwork that dares to examine reality not just with a cool conspiratorial wink, but a satiric angry gimlet eye.
Art Hazelwood's scathing prints (Hubris Corpulentus translating as "overweening pride") continue the proud tradition exemplified by (Breughel, Holbein, Cruikshank, Gillray, Hogarth, Goya, Daumier, Posada, Orozco, Nast, Steinlen, Kollwitz, Barlach, Beckmann, Dix, Picasso, Rouault, Heartfield, Bellows, Gropper, Grosz, Shahn, Levine and Coe)of criticizing social ills, telling the truth to power and to the powerless. They are moralizing in the best sense (not that of the professional Bible-thumpers)and call us to our better selves, stripping away our masks and patriotic finery, looking beneath the hectic shibboleths and bland platitudes. It's strong stuff, not our usual recycled art feed, but good medicine, and tonic for what ails the body politic in '04.
It would be selfish to reveal too much about the imagery of these wood- and linocuts, etchings and lithographs, depriving viewers of the shock and awful joy of recognition, but discussing a few examples may be useful.
Ship of Fools revives the late medieval conceit (also employed by Bosch and Beckmann) of mankind as self-absorbed punters abandoned to private follies, and oblivious to their common peril; Hazelwood updates it, adding soulless sports, firepower and sex to the traditional target of religious hypocrisy.
In the Coliseum depicts the contemporary version of the Roman bread and circuses: fans and athletes fight on and off the field, flanked by cheerleader/model/actress caryatids under a sky crisscrossed by advertising airplanes.
Liberty Brought to Baghdad shows a winged allegorical figure bound and guarded by two soldiers who eat and floss (good hygiene, banal evil), in a secular parody of the Roman soldiers gambling at the Crucifixion.
The central figure in Paranoia stands bewildered, paralyzed by the threats of modern life, e.g., Teletubbies, The Gay Agenda, Ebola, Satan in Toys, and is not appreciably reassured by the video surveillance cameras on either side.
Finally, Romance of War, depicting a coalition of the bikinied draped over (manning?) a cannon, all gas-masked and ready for action, indicts our voyeurism and hypocrisy: sure, we're freedom-loving, peace-loving and just plain loving folks, but isn't violence fascinating? Sex, too(Seen any action-revenge-hottie movies of late?). The Private Lynch story has it all: guns, girls and, in Hazelwood's words, the "eroticization of the war made flesh." The richest and most powerful nation in world history hypes a docutainment video to manipulate public opinion. Wasn't there already a movie made about our crusade against the Albanians? Or was it Grenadians?. (Romance is also a satirical restatement of Goya's etching Que Valor! from The Disasters of War, commemorating the Spanish heroine of the Peninsular War against the French.)
Those who are alarmed at the current political and social situation should see this show. It is probably too much to ask supporters of the status quo to make the effort, but they are losing an opportunity to save themselves from sheepish apologies in a few years' time ("You don't understand what we thought."). Let's all spare Errol Morris and ourselves the blockbuster sequel film "The Fog of War 2: Hindsight 2020."
Copyright DeWitt Cheng 2004
Top of Page
545 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
"Hubris Corpulentus," prints.
Those presumed lost have a way of turning up alive and well and living in San Francisco, as Mark Twain once famously observed, and so it is only fitting that revolutions that may have been presumed lost have also turned up alive and well at S.F.'s Meridian Gallery (not to mention at city hall this week). Art Hazelwood's dynamic, Expressionist-inspired prints feature bloated businessmen and corpulent soldiers in woefully inadequate World War I helmets who would seem right at home in early 20th-century protest prints by the likes of Otto Dix, but for Hazelwood's topical allusions to the current war in Iraq, merger mania and the distractions of the Super Bowl. In "Hubris Corpulentus," chubby soldiers disembark from a plane waving tiny machine guns around menacingly yet ineffectually, like B-movie extras who seem set up just to be shot down. In "Merger Mania," two businessmen and one businesswoman rush at one another like NFL players, flailing their briefcases wildly as a woman cradling a baby watches warily from the sidelines. This is the kind of spectacle that gives cause for speculation not only among Wall Street traders but also with conspiracy theorists such as the one featured in "Paranoia." Here, a bug-eyed figure in Birkenstock sandals tentatively peeks through a doorway, only to be confronted with a phalanx of security cameras and long lists of fears: "Teletubbies," "Kenneth Starr," "mad cow," "Vote Nader," "alien autopsy" and "Social Security is doomed." Here, as in the show as a whole, Hazelwood finds a moment of truth amid the prevailing paranoia, and suggests there is yet a choice to be made: Surround ourselves with fears, or slam the door on them with a resounding bang. In a city that has galvanized global attention with mass protests, mass weddings and political art of the caliber of Art Hazelwood, bet on the bang.
Alison Bing, special to SF Gate
Top of Page
In jurying this exhibition it has been my honor to review the patriotic gestures of my fellow Americans. Every damn one of them is true to the spirit of what makes our nation the greatest on the face of the planet and better too! This is the kind of exhibition that would never happen in the Cheese Making countries of Old Europe where the taste of the Freedom Fry does not ring in their mouths. Indeed, those who are not with us (they must surely be against us) could never appreciate this show?they hate us for our freedom, and our Freedom Fries. Here you will find no sickly dispiriting whine but the yelp and bugle blare of the call to battle. It's heroism, plain and simple, and it brings a tear to this old soldier's eye. I salute you brave artists of the greater Sebastopol area.
I would be remiss in my duties as juror if I didn't mention a few of the heroic themes expressed in this show to point them out to the viewer. I was at once pleased and thrilled to see so much chest thumping flag waving concerning the glorious wars of our Republic. The viewer will notice many a stately Old Glory waving in the art displayed. No constitutional amendment needed in this upstanding community! The flag and all it implies is also seen in several pieces which recount the exploits of our troops in battle, and even during their R and R.
Turing for a moment away from battle one also sees a goodly and wise consideration of strategy for engagement with the enemy. Several artists chose to represent the enemy as having feelings just like American's do. This cleverly points out to citizens how we must remain ever vigilant! Other artists represented the sorrow and weeping that accompanies our valiant struggle! While the White House has informed us that it doesn't want actual photos of these events leaked, the artistic representation lends backbone without letting us get bogged down in particulars.
Outside of the war, or wars, there were many themes to choose from. There is much artwork in praise of capitalism and its honorable and inevitable progress. The uplifting of the poor, no doubt due to welfare reform, was a strong theme. The importance of the oil industry in producing the basic stuff that keeps our engines and politicians running is a theme seen often. There is in the work always a strong moral compass that never swerves from serving the State. Other themes include health care, religious tolerance, loving portraits of our Dear Leaders, even in a few cases portrayals of the exalted position in which art is held in our society. One painting comes to mind that shows the fate of those who oppose the State. While this is a difficult theme to portray correctly (after all we have suspended habeus corpus) it is good and right for the artist to show us what fate those internal enemies justly deserve.
Artists employed many techniques and methods to portray their messages. You will witness a wide variety of media. The methods are all truly American and not the least bit like Old Europe Cheese Making artwork. Indeed the artists seem to exalt the nation through all the best of emotions, nothing degenerate and absolutely never with irony.
Top of Page
ART HAZELWOOD, Juror
ARTIST as ACTIVIST
June 17-July 25, 2004
Sebastopol Center for the Arts
6780 Depot Street, Sebastopol CA 95472, (707)829-4797
ADJUSTING REDS TO BLUES
"The methods are all truly American and not the least bit like Old Europe Cheese Making artwork." Juror's Statement
In the late 1940s, as the freeze set in between the US and its former ally, American artists were divided by esthetic controversy. Abstractionist artists and critics denigrated the social realist painters of the Depression as naïve idealists or jingoistic mythmongers; in the climate of postwar prosperity the formalists won the ideological battle and have held sway ever since. This election year, however, with war being fomented by religious zealots on both sides, sequestering oneself in the studio "adjusting a red to a blue" (to quote Philip Guston) seems at best solipsistic, at worst complicit with the nutcases. Engaged art has resurfaced as political protest has heightened. This show, juried by the artist and activist Art Hazelwood, a serious ironist (see his statement), presents eighty works by fifty-nine northern California artists who denounce the religious fantasies of the oligarchs and try to recall us to our senses after the shock of the terror attacks. They use satire to deflate pomposity and hypocrisy; symbolism and myth to connect with past cultures afflicted by war; and empathy for the unfortunate to remind us that history is not a movie; that problems endure even in America; and that the conversion of the Reds to democracy and capitalism, much touted by former Red-baiters in recent weeks, has not ushered in the millennium any more than the improbable conversion of the Muslims will.
"Here you will find no sickly dispiriting whine but the yelp and bugle blare of the call to battle. I was at once pleased and thrilled to see so much chest thumping flag waving concerning the glorious wars of our Republic." Juror's Statement
Ideological forests encroach on the White House, the grammatical thickets impenetrable, and superheated rhetoric is on its way this fall. This is a job for satire: time to clear the brush, chop the wood, and prune the topiary (or dystopiary. rather: bushes run amuck). This defoliation is handled with contagious zest in Jesse Hazlip's screenprint "Expendable," with its skeletal soldiers marching to glory; Chris Hataway?s collage "The American People Have Spoken," with its rabidly moderate marchers demanding "Whatever the Pope Says"; William Nellors' "Self-Portrait" as a junk food junky prisoner of his appetites; Rod Emilio's "Got Oil?," an ink-and-collage US map as a well-oiled but infernal gearbox; Roberta Loach's acrylic of alpha consumers "Dancing in the Dark," ignoring the dark doings in Iraq that support their high self-esteem; Mario Uribe's sculpture "Seat of Power," a zero-levity military toilet with an obstruction beneath the lid; Anthony Ryan's woodcut "Empire," with a portrait bust of Bush stunned by defeat amid the ruins of the capitol; Carol Fannings? mixed-media "Something Wicked This Way Comes," a Falwellian nightmare of Teletubbies gone evil; and Edward Stutz, Jr.'s ceramic "Ponder(ing) George W.," an apotheosis of dim but resolute simplicity.
SYMBOLISM AND MYTH
"nothing degenerate and absolutely never with irony."
Many of the artists in this show transform imagery and/or text from older sources to comment on politics with wit and feeling. Maria Blue Gonzalez's ghostly earth mother in the ceramic "Laurels for the Dead" mourns her mutilated self and her transformed children, while Marianne Aaronsouth's allegorical "Peace Gardener" plants anew for an eternal future. Chris Hataway's ominous oil "The Dove of War" recalls both Picasso's peace doves and Magritte's predatory stone birds, graphically illustrating the dictum that War is Peace. Judy Hiramoto's digital print "Nuclear Culture II" matches mesmerizingly beautiful mushroom clouds with apposite quotations from scientists, writers and artists: "[Nuclear test] (Bravo) looked to me like a diseased brain up in the sky"; "They treated us like matter." Judith Farrin's array of ceramic/raku plaques, "War is Never the Answer," like an Aztec skull rack, makes a timeless statement about war's futility and its atavistic appeal. Miranda Bergman's oil "Haiti: The Struggle Continues" depicts a Haitian painter at work; her allegorical picture, with its fallen statue, hand groping skyward, and dove set free, is itself pierced and bleeding. Finally, Anio Nagai?s untitled mixed media diptych contrasts the worst of the Western tradition, Hermann Goring on manipulating the masses into war, against the best of the Eastern tradition, a Buddhist sutra: "May all beings be happy. Let us cultivate infinite good will to all."
"There is much artwork in praise of capitalism and its honorable and inevitable progress. The uplifting of the poor, no doubt due to welfare reform, was a strong theme. There is in the work always a strong moral compass that never swerves from serving the State." Juror's Statement
Much of the artwork makes common cause not only with past cultures, but with the unfortunates of the present and the recent past. Lucien Kubo's monoprint "Japanese American Internment" reminds us of the injustices inflicted on loyal citizens after Pearl Harbor, and Charlie Maier's dynamic collage "Ain't No Easy Road" honors the struggles of organized labor, spattered blood running into rivulets and into the flag?s red stripes. Pamela Borne's oil "Homeless in California" shows a mother and child huddled in a vacant lot. Pat Fitzgerald's mixed media "All the News That's Fit to Print" depicts an American soldier in Iraq lost in a sandstorm of contradictory news headlines. Suzanna Duffy-Tajeldin's oil diptych "Oceans and Skies Know No Borders" asserts that humanity transcends cultures: American and Iraqi mothers stand posed identically in their respective landscapes, equally stricken by war and death. Joe Palso's mixed media "Untitled" contrasts a visionary President Bush gazing into the future with a wailing, beseeching Iraqi woman, both glimpsed through the tatters of a charred and smoldering flag. Graham Lloyd's acrylic "The Dissident," portrays a naked man, dark-skinned, kneeling, assailed by screaming demons; it recalls depictions of the passion of another troublemaker, as did the electro-crucifixion photo from Abu Ghraib. Bobette Barnes' mixed media "Hero" portrays one of New York City's finest on 9/11, spattered, grimy and exhausted, but undefeated.
I am the smash'd fireman with breast-bone broken
Tumbling walls buried me in their debris,
Heat and smoke I inspired, I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades,
I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels,
They have clear'd the beams away, they tenderly lift me forth.
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
The artists include: Marianne Aaronsouth, Don Ajello, Kai Guterman Anderson, Bobette Barnes, Nancy Bellen, Miranda Bergman, Julian Blair, Margaret Bolt, Pamela Borne, Terry Brown, Arlene Houshton Buch, Margie Burke, Brent Bushnell, John Valganon Caulfield, M.R. Chase, Suzanna Duffy-Tajeldin, Linda Edwards, Ernest Eiler, Rod Emilio, Carol Fanning, Judith Farrin, Pat Fitzgerald, Barry Forman, Maria Blue Gonzalez, Rebecca Graham, Catherine Graves, Jan Hansen, Chris Hataway, Jesse Hazelys, Judy Hiramoto, Carolyn Horan, Terrence Howell, Colin Irwin, Nina Krebs, Lucien Kubo, Deborah LeSueur, Graham Lloyd, Roberta Loach, David Mack, Ani Magai, Charlie Maier, Lin Max, Tom McQuaid, Pieter Myers, William Nellor, Jann Nunn, Joe Palsa, Stephanie Paul, Matt Rebholz, Anthony Ryan, Denise Savell, Cricket Seagull, Joan Shepherd, Tony Speirs, Edward Stutz, Jr., Mario Uribe, Carlene Van Sluizer, Jeanne Wick, and Leslie Zumwalt.
A related panel discussion on "The Artist's Role in Time of War," moderated by Art Hazelwood, featured Bay Area artists Eleanor Dickinson, Doug Minkler, Barbara Milman, and Jan Nunn
Top of Page
February 19 - April 3, 2004
Santa Rosa Junior College Art Gallery
Santa Rosa Junior College
1501 Mendocino Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA 95401-4395
An exhibition of prints, which deal with the political and social issues of our time.
Curated by Suzanne Lacke
In this day of de rigueur jingoism, "Eye Object" is an interested survey in what has been considered political art in the last decade or more. The body politic contingent is represented beside brightly colored propagandist posters, next to elegant old school etchings mocking the powers that be. Religion, war, racism, gender identity, unconscionable capitalism, imperialism, crimes against homosexuals, homelessness, classism, consumerism, the Patriot Act, the environment are all considered by the curator, Suzanne Lacke's wide lens.
Linda Lee Boyd's large scale expertly carved woodblocks are an homage to the working class, Jos Sance's colorful posters are biting and engaging, M. Louise Stanley tackles homelessness and misguided vanity in Fashion Victim, Pele de Lappe's beautiful Street Scene with silky lithographic blacks, shows a woman cloaked in material security stepping disdainfully over the street's émigrés.
Enrique Chagoya's etchings, Loyalty, Flight, and People in Bags, elegant lines and formal blacks are aesthetically arresting as well as satirically biting. They are classically political prints: dramatic, sophisticated, and intelligent enough to be reminiscent of Goya. While enjoying the pleasure of seeing an idea well executed, I find I have to step over a young man sitting cross-legged on the floor, head in hands in front of Chagoya's The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals.
This color lithograph/woodcut is a strange amalgamation of imagery, fair Jesus in a dress asking where his husband is among them, made me want to giggle. It engendered a fleeting sensation that I was a five year old Mexican child in my abuela's living room trying to decipher my indoctrination in to a world of Catholic piety and telenovellas, lacking the maturity to discern and compartmentalize.
Backing up again, not to be discouraged from viewing the print by the distressed young man on the floor, who does not find The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals humorous, but instead a painful assault on his faith. I am surprised and touched by his reaction. There is something satisfying about witnessing outrage at an artist's work versus the "yes I agree, only more so!" responses that one usually meets with, at political art openings.
Political art requires an active audience to be valuable. As in the age-old question, "if a tree falls in the woods, with no one around to hear, does it make a sound?" No. The sound is created in the ear that hears. Likewise political art depends on an artist willing to risk offending, and a viewer willing to be engaged. The power of the image, unlike a narrative, has the ability to make a sudden emotional and lasting impression. Nowhere is political art more at home than in the print, with its history of illuminating world affairs to the people who live with the decision maker's dictates.
The broadness of the show begs the question, What exactly is political art now? In the era of the patriot act, where environmentalists are placed on the no-fly list and after supplying us with years of sleaze and satire Howard Stern is ostensibly being pulled off the air for bad taste directly after he began his piquant litanies on Bush. The body politic that we embraced in the 1990's does not hold the vibrancy that it once did. Being referred to as a 'Chick' based on my vagina ownership pales in comparison with the assault on the Bill of Rights and corrupt invasion of another country. Art Hazelwood faces these issues head on with his Liberty Brought to Baghdad.
Hazelwood's political commentary sings in the form of the print. The viciousness of the line, the moodiness of the blacks, the iconographic subject matter are enough to make one pause and think, 'Thank God someone is doing this - and doing this well,"
Top of Page
On February 14th, San
Francisco?s Meridian Gallery held a panel discussion entitled "Functions and Uses of Political Art Now" in
conjunction with its exhibit, Hubris Corpulentus: Prints by Art Hazelwood
(January 15 - February 28, 2004). Anne Trueblood Brodsky, director of
the Meridian Gallery, introduced the panel to the audience, crowded into
one of the gallery?s three exhibition rooms.
The panel moderator was Peter Selz, Art History Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley; former curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum; and a distinguished and prolific art writer (Art Nouveau. Art and Design at the Turn of the Century, Alberto Giacometti, Emil Nolde, Ferdinand Hodler, Mark Rothko, Max Beckmann, Nathan Oliveira, Impressionism & European Modernism: The Sirak Collection, Art in Our Times: A Pictorial History, 1890-1980, and Sam Francis, etc). He is currently working on a book covering postwar political art in California. The panel comprised three Bay Area artists. Art Hazelwood, a San Francisco artist, has exhibited in Japan, Europe and the US. Among his numerous art activities, he has produced satirical images for Street Sheet, San Francisco?s newspaper on homelessness, for ten years, and has served as board member and newsletter editor for local arts organizations including the California Society of Printmakers. Jos Sances, founder and art director of Berkeley?s Alliance Graphics, a union screen print and design shop specializing in work for progressive causes, maintains a steady output of art on personal and political issues. Jos co-founded Mission Grafica at the Mission Cultural Center as well, and serves as an Art Commissioner for the City of Berkeley and chairman of the Public Art Program. DeWitt Cheng, a painter exhibiting primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, has written on art and culture for The California Printmaker, Artweek, Art Papers, and several art websites.
The panel addressed five questions prepared in advance by Art Hazelwood on the nature and relevance of political art today.
1. Art should not be about anything specific. It should especially not reflect current events. Specificity is opposed to the immortality of art.
2. Art should not be negative. It should be uplifting. Art should be about beauty, should take us away from our worries.
3. Art should not be about ideas. If I want ideas I?ll read a book. Why should I turn to artists for ideas or to be informed?
4. Political art needs a base of viewers and a platform; otherwise it is pointless. What would Daumier be without the newspapers that published him? Political art in the gallery or museum is just preaching to the converted anyway.
5. Political art for me is propaganda for you. Propaganda cannot be art.
The panel adopted these questions as a basic framework, and the discussion was lively and informative even when disagreements arose. The following summary is based on a transcript made from notes and an erratic audiotape. Statements are paraphrased for the sake of brevity. Apologies for any unintended inaccuracies in this reconstruction due to faulty memory or Memorex.
Art and Politics
PS: Is all art political? How does one even define "political art?"
AH: Even the Impressionists, considered apolitical nowadays, could be seen as political, since they and their work depicted and supported the bourgeoisie of 19th century France, against the ruling classes.
JS: Art is both political, reflecting the issues of economics and class; and nonpolitical, based as it is on the accidents of the artist?s life: "one can almost always trace a direct relationship to a private factor or cause behind creation." Political art espouses very specific political causes. Propaganda is a narrow category of political art, if it can be considered political art at all..
AH: Visual art could be construed as a continuum with political art at one end, fading into propaganda art, which in turn grades into abstract art and "wallpaper" at the other end of the spectrum.
Art and History
DC: I agree with Jos on the socioeconomic basis of art: artists serve the power structures of their times. However, this doesn?t mean that art of the past can?t be alive and relevant to modern eyes. For example, Renaissance religious triptychs are still interesting to us "even though we don?t believe that the donors are going to be in heaven with the saints." We all go to museums. The fact that we are questioning political art today is interesting in itself. It is only in the past fifty years that visual esthetics have gone abstract, formalist and anti-political. According to Bram Dijkstra?s book, "American Expressionism," the socially conscious artists of the Works Progress Administration in the Thirties were demeaned after the war by abstractionists on the esthetic left as retrograde illustrators, and by conservatives and corporations on the cultural right as bums, mongrels, perverts and communists.
PS: I heard Dijkstra speak recently in Berkeley and had some disagreements with his thesis, but the McCarthy period was so "dire and horrific that it would have taken a person?s full time computation or energy to be engaged in the struggle to document it; and that is why the arts, which do not have that energy, turned inward for expression." Abstract art was exhibited in US embassies around the world by the State Department for ideological purposes during the Cold War, demonstrating the freedom of expression enjoyed in America.
AH: "An artist has to be engaged with life or you end up living in an ivory tower." I make political art as well as nonpolitical art, so it?s complicated. Times and viewpoints change, too: Reginald Marsh, who, attacked at the time for insufficient political relevance, wearily asked if he should paint people with gas masks; now he looks pretty socially engaged.
DC: In the Fifties, after a generation of turmoil and crisis, depression and war, everybody (including many of the social realists) was ready to change gears and enjoy the postwar prosperity. Abstraction was thus an understandable emotional as well as esthetically logical development; it was the Zeitgeist, spirit of the age. Gorky expressed this need to move on with his famous putdown of Thirties social realism, "poor art for poor people."
Art as Information or Symbol
PS: One common objection to political art: art should not be about ideas; people don?t look to paintings to become informed.
AH: I?ve often heard people say that to learn about the political situation, you read Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
JS: And very few people actually read political critique. They pick up political ideas from a number of sources in many media, as I do, from Fox News to alternative radio, only one of which is art.
AH: Well, of course an image is not as informative as an article, but it has an emotional impact, which is more important in some ways. We can actually carry those ideas with us.
Efficacy in the Real World
PS: Another familiar argument: political art speaks only to the converted, to those already receptive to its conclusions (which is not necessarily bad). Artists, historically, have advocated ideas not yet accepted by mainstream society, and art is a safe place to air possibly dangerous ideas about political change.
AH: Here?s an example of art-driven social change. The interest of many artists in racial and sexual identity in the Nineties brought the concerns of previously unseen, unconsidered minorities to a wider public and broadened their appeal among mainstream Americans, changing the political climate.
PS: Yes, that?s true. But the media climate has changed. Years ago, art statements potentially had enormous power. Today an image has to make a pretty strong statement to create an impact.
JS: I read Mad Magazine as a kid. To this day, I?m still influenced by its subversive humor and critical outlook. We should continue to look at politics critically and with humor. Contemporary artists are unaware of the power of their images: for example, when a simple street poster gets into a newspaper, "an image of humble origins can be seen by a million people and can have an effect."
AH: Homemade art displayed at recent antiwar demonstrations in San Francisco reached large audiences through the eye of the media.
DC: To play devil?s advocate for a moment, Robert Hughes said that a painting never saved anyone?s life. He may be right, although I prefer to agree with Art that strong imagery can change the political climate. Remember the Vietnam photo of the little girl running away from a napalm attack naked and screaming; and the photo of a Viet Cong prisoner about to be executed. Those are strong photographs.
AH: Those photos might have saved lives by altering the way Americans felt about the war.
DC: I think so, although I doubt that politicians pay much attention to imagery per se.
PS: Perhaps they should. William Carlos Williams said in one of his poems that thousands of people die every day for lack of poetry.
JS: And I don?t think any painting ever killed anyone.
Purism and Pragmatism
DC: What do you think about making political art vs. becoming a full-time activist? Leon Golub was active in opposing the Vietnam war and knew many people willing to go to jail for their beliefs. He, however, believed there was a greater need for him make art than to go to jail. Bearing witness and making work that expresses one?s feelings, to me, is a valid way of serving.
AH: There?s a dearth of political art in journalism today. So why make political art if no magazines will print it?
PS: The Romare Bearden exhibit is now up at SFMOMA. When I saw the exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, there were three times as many viewers at the Bearden exhibit as at the adjacent Picasso exhibit.
JS: Yes, but African-American artists always complain that SFMOMA shows work by artists of color only in February for Black History Month; besides, Bearden was given much less space than Diane Arbus had just been given.
PS: I saw the Bearden show as well in Washington; it was given a better installation there, with more space. Bearden was an extraordinary man, having grown up in the Harlem Renaissance, and a marvelous artist who pushed the technique of collage farther than anybody else to reach a fantastic synthesis of art and politics.
DC: Considering the adoption of modernist styles (cubism, expressionism, surrealism) by political artists, as detailed in the Dijkstra book, I wonder if anyone can think of serious political artists continuing to work in traditional Renaissance-based realism. PS: No one comes to mind immediately, but there are probably people who may not have emerged yet.
Audience Member: Recently at the UN a tapestry copy of Picasso?s Guernica was veiled during the deliberations on the Iraq war. Any comments?
PS: This proves that some in power are aware of the power of imagery, not unlike the commissars of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia who prohibited so-called Degenerate Art.
JS: "When a society allows political art to be made without censorship, it?s a sign of real strength." Only insecure societies and those in jeopardy feel the need to crack down on expression. "All censorship is completely un-American." Furthermore, if artists today don?t take advantage of the freedom of speech we have, it will be taken away. "These freedoms exist because we use them."
AM: Many post-thaw Soviet dissident artists are in the curious position of having won the political battle while losing their reason for protest and thus the basis of their art.
JS: When I visited a number of studios in St. Petersburg during the disintegration of the Soviet Union, many artists told me that, ironically, socialist realism was now popular in the West as kitsch, notably statues of Stalin. So the dissident artists have lost out twice.
DC: Those statues were probably by Lev Tarbel, a prominent and prolific Russian political sculptor, who made (I think) the Saddam Hussein statue recently pulled down in Baghdad. Political art is complicated! I?d like to read a statement made in 1951 by Ben Shahn which describes the current political moment as well. "If either art or society is to survive in the coming half-century, it will be necessary for us to reassess our values. The time is past due for us to decide whether we are a moral people or merely a comfortable people, whether to place our own convenience above the life-struggles of backward nations, whether we place the sanctity of enterprise above the debasement of our public. If it falls to the lot of artists and poets to ask these questions, then the more honorable their role. It is not the survival of art that is at issue, but the survival of the free individual and a civilized society."
AM: In 2001, convinced that the US was going to war with Iraq, horrified about what it had done to Afghanistan, and apprehensive about the Patriot Act, I created a poster and sent copies to friends, who posted them around the country. I was very heartened by the general level of protest activity, and I encourage others in the audience to continue. It was only when dissenting East Germans realized that the secret police could not possibly keep track of large numbers of people that the regime fell.
AH: During the Clinton years there were also political issues at stake. Although it is heartening that there is much more interest now in making political work, I hope it will continue after Bush is gone as well.
JS: Interest in political art has waxed and waned over the last thirty years: "It?s kind of the fashion part of capitalist art."
AM: Isn?t it ironic that Paul Robeson, a very political artist, who was considered so dangerous at one time that he lost his US passport and emigrated to the Soviet Union, has been commemorated on a US postage stamp?
AM: Art today in galleries and museums has been co-opted by corporate tastes. The most ostensibly daring trend in the art world in the last ten years has been sensationalistic art like Damien Hirst?s sectioned carcasses. Such works merely masquerade as transgressive or revolutionary art. The art business today is insidious and political, bereft of humanistic values.
AM: Is there a difference between political art and art in general? How is political art expressed in the US and in other countries? Are there any new unique trends in political art expression in the US and other countries?
AH: There is a sort of universality or uniformity to art today, for better or worse. "An MFA show in Bangkok is very similar to an MFA show in San Francisco." Aside from the question of style, there is political work being done out of inner necessity all over the world, but it is not often exhibited, so "one might have to dig deep" to find adversarial art, as opposed to art based on opportunity, i.e,. more accessible work. Maybe that?s the contradiction in the Zeitgeist between that which goes along with what is opportunistic as opposed to that which is being done underneath, out of necessity.
PS: The humanist quality of work by Bill Viola can be considered deeply political.
AM: If you pay attention to what is going on in the political realm and the Bush administration, it appears there is no basis in reality for the Patriot Act and many other new measures. Artists always try to do something new and creative, but what the average viewer needs, and what is needed to compete with the Bush Administration, is a reminder of what is normal.
AH: Art is the basis of culture. There is a struggle to preserve it in the face of the destruction that is all around us in every society.
JS: Politics does not motivate me, but a utopian vision of the world does. Life could be made better very easily without changing a whole lot of things. I work in a union print shop that I founded, where there is no boss, and which works on the collective principle; I make my living in this way. In terms of cutting-edge artwork, I see groups of young people who make artwork for the environment and against the war, and a lot of people who get involved continue to make art, and that is very rewarding and cutting-edge. Going to galleries year after year, all that ever happens is that styles change. Those are places where people are selling artwork to those with lots of money and turning artists into home decorators for the rich. That corrupts art. The gallery system will never really be cutting-edge because all one wants is to decorate a wall. Most artists understand that dynamic and do not put a lot of stock in it. Thirty years ago I started making screen prints because it was inexpensive and accessible art; I could make multiples and disseminate them all over. It was a great way to get lots of art to lots of people. Cutting-edge could be defined by returning to what was described a century ago as being "bohemian".
AM: I?d like to recommend an exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Mark Lombardi: Global Networks is a series of diagrams illustrating the connections between, for example, Oliver North and the Bush Dynasty, among others. Political art should be in the world in a way that is much more assertive. Work in galleries should also be proactive. Work that is reactive is more problematic because is will always be one step behind. What would have happened if Picasso had created Guernica before the Spanish Civil War began? It might have suggested an alternative and been proactive.
AH: Five directions in political art might be described:
moralistic (war is evil);
journalistic (war is evil and brings out evil in men);
parallelistic/postmodernist (war is as evil now, just as it was in the time of Nebuchadnezzar);
satirical (if war is evil, what is war against evil?).
PS: How do we reach a wider public?
AM: In ?89, there was an open invitation to the creative community of poets, painters and playwrights to become experts in depicting imagination. Artists needed to be in a place where their work would be more integrated. The reason why Mark Lombardi?s work is so effective is that contains both social and cultural components, along with being stunning artworks.
DC: Does the beauty of the diagrams detract in any way from the political message?
AM: The beauty acts as a window for the work. The artworks were made, amazingly, with only a number 2 pencil.
AH: Can beauty can be used as a tool in political art?
JS: Artists use all kinds of tools, including beauty, which is of course relative and subjective.
PS: Richard Misrach has made very paradoxically beautiful photos of atomic bomb test sites in the Nevada desert. The beauty draws you in.
JS: There is a point to making things discordant, though. If you take a corpse and make it into a beautiful dead body, does that serve the corpse? If you look at the woman holding the baby in Guernica it is not pretty, but that?s what makes the piece effective.
PS: Otto Dix's paintings of the World War I battlefield are very difficult and horrible to view, but extremely well done; he is now considered a major artist. For some artists, in order to produce politically passionate art, engagement in the struggle is necessary.
AM: What about popular art? Political cartoons are the only form of political art that most people ever see.
AM: Yes, what about the late cartoon-based paintings of Phillip Guston?
PS: Guston was a realist painter in the Thirties and Forties who moved to abstraction in the Fifties. In the late Sixties he changed again; and with his controversial Ku Klux Klan paintings he became a great and influential painter.
AH: I'd like to end the discussion by reading from a poem by Bertolt Brecht.
What times are these
When a conversation about trees is almost a crime
because it implies a silence about injustice.
And he who walks calmly across the streets,
is no longer in reach of his friends who are in need
Top of Page