Tuesday, April 4, 2017

New Website and Blog

I will not be adding any new posts to this blog although it will still be available to view and search.

Please check out my new website -  http://www.daveloewenstein.com/


 And my new blog - http://www.daveloewenstein.com/blog/ 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Friday, September 16, 2016

No More Snake Oil!

In solidarity with the Water Protectors of the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior Camps in North Dakota, who are on the front-lines in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Feel free to copy, print and post. #NoDAPL, #waterislife, #nomoresnakeoil, #lawrencestandswithstandingrock

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Stop the Pipeline!

Here are two posters I made in solidarity with the many nations gathered to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the public health and welfare of the Standing Rock Reservation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tree Ghosts

In East Lawrence where lawns are let to grow, the spirits of long lost trees arise.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The heartbreaking story of the Cowalligator

In the summer of 2001, there was a new fad making its way across the Atlantic. No, not Harry Potter or Emo, this craze was being driven from east to west, from cow town to cow town, bringing artists and pun makers together to populate our cities with a hot new brand of public art. What began in Zurich, Switzerland in 1998, arrived in Chicago and then New York, and finally our cow town was next – The CowParade was coming to Kansas City!

Artists of all stripes were roped in. I struggled to getaway, but it was no use. I was nearly broke. Selected artists would each get $1,000. My resistance weakened. Nevertheless, I felt if I was going to participate, I needed a way to approach decorating a fiberglass cow where I wasn’t completely being taken in like a lemming. So, when I applied, I submitted a design that gently satirized the whole enterprise. I was pretty sure it would be rejected.

My idea was a version of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, except in this case the wolf would be an alligator and the sheep’s clothing would be a cheaply made cow disguise. At the time I was just developing a habit of layering maybe one too many metaphors on top of each other, so with the cow I felt one level of symbolism was not enough. I added the Jonah and the whale story. Jonah was played by an artist (me) who had been lured in by the cowporate CowParade only to be consumed whole (by the alligator in cow disguise) and sentenced to live within the belly of the beast. I called it the Cowalligator.

I even came up with a definition for what I imagined could be a new word.
Cowalligator - noun: A person (animal or entity) who does a poor job of masking their bad intentions.

To my surprise, the design was accepted (along with a number of other Lawrence artists), which meant I actually had to paint the heifer. In a vast warehouse in the West Bottoms of KC, my friend Greg and I picked up the great white bubble wrapped whale-cow, and I imagined that all over the KC metro heads were turning to see stiff white utters and legs emerging from the backs of pick-up trucks and strapped to the tops of station wagons. 

Painting the bovine became a group effort. Lots of passersby stopped by to help, and I even began to enjoy it.  A photo at the time shows the wide range of projects I was working on including a mosaic for a restaurant in Iowa and stencil installation for a show at the Bourgeois Pig. I can't quite recall what the "Frogs for Dave" sign was about.

The freshly painted cows were installed throughout the KC metro in herds. The Cowalligator was part of small herd in Shawnee-Mission Park. Kansas Citians were mad about the CowParade, and it turned out, a few got really mad at the cow parade. Some artists protested that it wasn’t art. The Municipal Arts Commission of Kansas City even voted to kill the entire exhibition, but the city went forward with it.

It was fun to go cow exploring (maybe a little like the current Pokémon Go mania). I went with friends to the park, and to see other cows on the Plaza and downtown. One hot summer day, I took an old friend to check out the Cowalligator only to discover that...it was gone. Lost. Vanished. The concrete base and small plaque were all that was left. We looked around. The rest of the herd was there. The Cowalligator was the only one missing.

Was it theft? A few had been stolen in other cities. Had it been vandalized? This was more common, and damaged cows were removed for repairs. I called the CowParade home office to report a runaway. “Mr. Loewenstein, we thought you knew. Your cow is fine. It’s at Sandstone tonight….for the Tom Petty concert.” They went on, “We’re getting the band to sign your cow. Other cows are being signed by pop stars, pro-athletes and celebrities, you know, to help increase their value for the upcoming auction. She’ll be returned to the park next week.”

I mean, I guess if the Cowalligator was going to be abducted for a celebrity, it couldn’t have been better one. But I wondered if there was a reason Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were signing mine and not someone else’s. Did they choose it? Was there something about the wolf in sheep’s clothing theme? Maybe it was the alligator, since Petty is from Florida. Those mysteries remain unsolved, but the most important question was answered – did they really autograph it?

A couple of weeks before the big auction, I went back to the park to investigate. As promised, there she was up on the hill, and as I got closer I could tell there were...signatures! Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell on the forehead, the other bandmates on the utters. 

That was the last I ever saw of her. Later that October, the Cowalligator was auctioned off, although to who I never discovered.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Construtores de Pontes dos Sonhos - Builders of Dream Bridges

Água Branca. It sounds like a New Mexico spa or a white water rafting outfitter along the Colorado River, but here in São Paulo it’s a comunidade hidden behind a trucking company and packed in between the Marginal Highway and the polluted Rio Teite. It’s a community of 3,000 people you wouldn’t run into unless you were looking for it. And, it was the site of my final project in Brazil this spring. I was invited by Parede Viva and the Revivarte project to add to the series of murals they had been making with local residents. On my first day, I was escorted in a U.S. Consulate SUV across a tiny portion of this city of nearly 20 million. The graffiti artist, and my counterpart/interpreter, Kaleb met me there. 

After brief introductions, a group of us, Fel, Kaleb, Joyce from the Consulate and Ana who runs a neighborhood salon, took a walk around. As we wove our way down narrow alleys and in between buildings in different states of construction, Ana told us about neighborhood struggles (gentrification, drugs, poverty) and triumphs (Revivarte, a new playground, improved housing). All around us there was wildly inventive painting on walls, vehicles, trashcans and light poles.

We walked along the edge of the comunidade, bordered by a narrow creek lined with banana trees and shacks perched perilously over the water. At one end there was a small bridge (ponte) over the creek.  It led to the heavily gated backside of a big box store like Home Depot, but clearly wasn’t accessible to Água Branca folks. 

The site for our mural was at the main intersection entering the comunidade on the brightly colored walls of their pre-school. Just inside, giant angry paper mache mosquitos hung from the rafters. They were warnings about Dengue, much more prevalent there than Zika. Next door was a scrap yard where catadores brought their carts (carocas) full of gleaned metal, plastic and wood to sell for a few reales.  Parede Viva artist Mundano has been leading a project called “Pimp my Caroca” that supports these and other São Paulo catadores by painting their carts and helping to share their stories.

Pontes (bridges)
The next day Kaleb picked me up. Negotiating morning traffic, he thought out loud saying that we (artists) act as a kind of bridge when we come to work with comunidades like Água Branca. I wondered, if we bridges flow in both directions or just one. And what do we span? From where to what? Is there a toll? And what’s underneath?

In a small casita at the back of the school we gathered for the first time. Our team was made up from local kids who joined us after school (they only go half-days), Kaleb, plus two teachers Ana Carla and Ana Karla. There was a good mix of girls and boys and a range of ages from about 7 to 17. We went around and introduced ourselves (with Kaleb’s animated translation) and said our favorite color. I wrote them down and asked which of these colors should we use in the mural? “All of them!” they demanded. I agreed.

I had planned on showing some images of my murals but we couldn’t get the projector to work, so instead I asked the team about that tiny bridge down the street. What does it connect to? Who uses it? What goes under? They wanted to show me, so we walked over, and immediately the kids started playing on under and atop the bridge. One pirouetted along its spine like a gymnast, others nestled inside its rounded openings becoming new pillars holding it up. We looked at the creek in both directions, first towards the comunidade (relatively clean and healthy) and then the opposite direction past the scrap yard toward the highway (trashed). I asked if there were animals or fish. “Sim, sim” even turtles they say. And looking up we saw in the distance a lone white egret perched motionless in the water awaiting a meal.

It was just a brief adventure, but it completely changed the vibe. By shifting our perspective, by asking a few basic questions, questions that because they were asked implied that they were worth answering, we started to see that bridge in a new way - from overlooked and common to a unique and identifying characteristic of the comunidade. Bridges (or the lack of them) both literal and symbolic were ever present. There are many essential places you simply cannot get to without a car. And the bridge out of poverty is still more of a dream than reality for many in Água Branca.

For a few years now, a quote from James Baldwin’s essay “The Creative Process,” has followed me around. “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” And it occurred to me again here in Água Branca, if the bridge was an answer, what were the questions?

Back in our casita studio I proposed, if you could build a bridge, what would it connect? Who would it be for? What would it look like? They charged ahead, drawing in teams of two, first pencil and then color. We took a break for almoco (lunch) of little empanadas and soda. After, we presented our bridge (ponte) designs to each other.

(In the news, a vote was imminent in the House on whether they would proceed with an impeachment trial of the President. My new friends were wary. They feared that many people did not understand the implications and motivations behind this push. Like in Kansas where so many vote against their own self-interest out of fear and ideological pressure.)

These short projects mean that we only have a day or so of drawing before a design needs to be composed – that was my homework for when I got back to the hotel.

Our mural design is of a vision in the making. We see the hands of artists creating it. In the center, the Água Branca bridge is reinforced by the kids who sit within it, while their aspirations occupy the space above. Flowing underneath is a mixed message – the creek is populated by turtles, fish and…trash. The adjoining wall is a blueprint for the future, composed of all of their bridges interconnected, allowing everyone access across the city.

The next day we made quick work of squaring –up the design with a chalk snapline (the simple builder’s tool was a revelation to many). And then it was time to paint, but we had to wait… for the Consul General, Ricardo Zuniga. Following protocol, he would be the first to paint. We had met earlier in the week when I was invited to join his family at a new exhibition of Tim Burton drawings.  At the show, me and the Consul General, who had a major hand in opening relations with Cuba recently, discussed our favorite Burton films and agreed Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice were the best, while the recent remakes of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were overblown disappointments. 

Painting went quickly. The early fall weather cooperated, storming dramatically at night. People on the street parked their chairs on the sidewalk to watch the progress. My Portuguese was still terrible, but I knew the important colors – vermelho, laranja, azul and a few directional words like up, down, more and less. The rest was communicated by example and culturally appropriate hand gestures (I learned they weren’t all the same as in the U.S.)

The Consul General and mural team in action.


The day before we finished, the media giant Globo TV (the same Globo that had been fanning the flames of impeachment) came to do a feature about our project. We were prepared. We had talked about how to share our story. It aired the next day. We watched and cheered when the deep voiced news anchor intoned Água Branca with a gravitas rarely heard, and then, just like that, it was time to say goodbye.

"Construtores de Pontes dos Sonhos - Builders of Dream Bridges"
We finished the last details, and then I quickly washed the brushes before our dedication ceremony. To each of the painters, I handed one and said, “This is a symbol of our work, but it still has life in it. You can choose to use it by yourself and do a little, or you can work with your friends and do a lot.”

"Construtores de Pontes dos Sonhos - Builders of Dream Bridges"

After cake and sodas and many cheers of Parabens!, we jumped into a VW van and headed to the movies to see Superman vs. Batman. It was dubbed in Portuguese - probably all the better for me. During the movie, the design team was rambunctious and excited, waving their paint brushes in the air at the climax of each battle between superheroes.

A few weeks after getting back to Kansas, I received a fantastic surprise in my email. The crew from Água Branca, along with Kaleb, had muralized the bridge - a small but significant gesture, completing an idea and reinforcing the notion that art is not disconnected from life. 

(And since my return, President Rousseff has been relieved of her position while the congress proceeds with an impeachment trial. The interim president, Temer, quickly reformed his cabinet to include only white men and shut down the Ministry of Culture, which was only reinstated after massive protests.)

I am grateful to all of the folks from Água Branca who welcomed me and gave their time for our project. Also, muito obrigado to the Meridian International Center, the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo, Parede Viva, Revivarte, filmmaker Adriano Choque and my friend Kaleb.