Friday, November 16, 2012

Artwrit article on Community Art in Mid-America

Here's a link to Kyle McKenzie's (assistant on the mural The Butterfly Effect) latest article for Artwrit on Huffington Post. It's titled Community Art in Mid-America and includes portions of an interview Kyle did with me in September.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

R.I.P. for Quinton's murals "Sunflower Cycle" and "Ignorance, Pride and Fear"

Some murals don't last forever, especially when they're done for a retail business.

Back in 1992-93, I painted my first murals in Lawrence at Quinton's bar and deli on Massachusetts St. I was in grad school at the time, but my commitment to it was fading. I was having a hard time finding purpose solely in studio work - I wanted to make art for an audience outside of academia and art galleries. Then one day another painting grad student, Connie Erlich, mentioned to me that this new bar in town was looking for someone to paint a mural outside in their beer garden. I went to visit the bar. After some haggling, we agreed. I would get to use my own design. The owners would pay for paint and for lunch while I worked. 

"Sunflower Cycle" 1992
Sunflower Cycle (which came before the bike shop down the street), was an idea I had while working on a farm in upstate New York during the summer of 1990. Over the course of that summer, as I worked planting garlic and harvesting broccoli, I saw giant sunflowers grow, bud, blossom, and then slowly collapse under the weight of their mammoth seed heads. They marked time, were beautiful and seemed to emerge in the fields like lighthouses among the waves of vegetables. I made drawings of them and imagined painting a mural of their cycle on an old semi-trailer parked in one of the fields. I never got around to it (I was asked to paint giant garlic on the semi instead), so when the Quinton's opportunity came along, in my new home in the 'Sunflower State,' I had the design pretty much ready to go.
"The Garlic Express" painted in 1990 at Rose Valley Farm in Rose, NY
There were no classes on mural painting at KU, no internet to find a tutorial, and no muralists in the area that I knew of,  so figuring out how paint the 17' x 35' foot wall was a serious challenge. Fortunately, there was one good book at the public library. It was aptly titled "The Mural Manual" written by Mark Rogovin. A great primer on organizing and painting community murals, it gave the most practical step by step advice and I still use it today. With the Mural Manual as our guide and help from my friends Irene and Angus, we went at it.

Mural helpers Angus and Irene

At the time, there were few murals in town. Sunflower Cycle, which could be seen all the way from 6th Street, really stood out and people were excited. So much so that the owners of Quinton's wanted more. This time they wanted a mural for the inside of the bar and this time they were going to pay -$800. I was beside myself. I'd never been paid close to that much for an artwork. When I asked what they were thinking of as a subject, they said  "We love what you did out back, so do whatever you want." Really.

Where Sunflower Cycle was a design I'd been carrying with me since my time on the farm, the mural inside was going to be a new idea taken from my thoughts about grad school, Lawrence, and my new interests in the great Mexican muralists Orozco, Rivera, and Siquerios. Ignorance, Pride and Fear was a pretty straight forward idea - 'We're all trapped in psychological boxes of our own making that feed off of ignorance, pride and fear' - but it gave me the chance to paint big figures in a style akin to Orozco, I hoped.

Irene and Angus helped again, this time posing for two of the three figures by curling up underneath the kitchen counter in my apartment. To help paint, I asked my friend Mike Han, who was an undergrad in the painting program at KU. We transferred the design to the wall using an overhead projector and then painted in the mornings before the lunch rush. The figures were symbolic types - a student, a businessman, and a farmer each trying to break out of their boxes. I was concerned that the owners might balk at such a dark theme, but to their credit they stuck with it. That was twenty years ago.

"Ignorance, Pride and Fear" 1993
A few weeks ago, Ignorance, Pride and Fear was painted over to make room for beer advertising, while Sunflower Cycle has been gone for a couple years now, spurred by the city's new smoking ordinance which forced bars to build elaborate outdoor decks. First Quinton's built a two story deck that obscured a large part of the mural, later it was replaced entirely with a painted rendition of the  Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City.

Today, a much newer, and in my mind more significant, mural is in danger.  The Pollinators mural on New Hampshire Street, which serves as a backdrop the Lawrence Farmer's Market, is threatened by a proposed new upscale development.

"Pollinators" 2007
This mural is particularly important to Lawrence and the region.  In addition to it being a unique celebration of and monument to great African-American artists from Kansas, Pollinators has risen to become an identifying feature of our local food movement and a beloved symbol of the city. It is also an important outreach of the Spencer Museum of Art, which commissioned and owns the mural.  I believe that losing Pollinators would be a tragedy for the community and those working to celebrate and remember our shared cultural heritage.

"Sunflower Cycle" wall 2012
"ignorance, Pride and Fear" wall 2012
Losing the two murals at Quinton's, and the threat of losing the Pollinators, means that Lawrence loses a few more places where art can occupy civic space amongst the wealthy interests of developers and the sloganeering of advertisers. Whether they are murals I have worked on, murals by other Lawrence artists, public sculpture, graffiti, or improvised art interventions, we need to take care to protect our downtown from this kind of cultural erosion. Without public spaces for art, we lose part of our particular, personal, idiosyncratic Lawrence character and style.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Reject Brownback" posters available

Hot off the presses, these very sharp 11" x 17" posters are available for just $2 a piece. You can find them at the Lawrence Percolator or directly from me - just email me how many you'd like.