When the rains drove me off the streets a couple of weeks ago, I proposed to Spain Rodriguez, that we paint each other. The resulting works are still incomplete, but I am posting them anyway because one of our concurrent conversations dealt with a show at the Oakland Museum of California that closes March 8th. I'm hoping we will inspire some of you to visit the exhibition 'L.A.Paint'. It will be worth your time.
Spain was in the midst of a project illustrating the life of the American soldier, Smedley Butler. Smedley's career enforcing America's global power is a perfect example of why the world needs heroes like Ché Guevera. There is poetic symmetry to the fact that Spain's last published work was Ché: A Graphic Biography which he wrote and illustrated himself. It is is already being published in seven languages.
Working with Spain for a couple of afternoons was a great experience. We share a passion for history - history in the Italian sense of the word 'storia' which in Italian signifies both history and story. Spain inhabits history in an immediate and personal way. A long time ago, he rode with a motorcycle gang. He chronicles that period in the same way he chronicles the life of Ché or Smedley Butler. These are all men of action. Spain may prefer one to another. But he doesn't let on. He permits them to tell their story. The stark elements of his design: white and black add verve and depth to his riveting compositions.
Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon Spain grabbed his paper and pencil and began sketching me. He'd been waiting for an image to gel in his mind. I'd been painting him all along. While we worked we talked about Zap Comix and one of Spain's partners in that enterprise, Robert Williams, who is currently showing paintings with ten other L.A. artists at the Oakland Museum of California.
Phil Linhares, who curated this show, writes that Robert's work was denigrated as 'illustration' by the faculty of the Chouinard Institute. Spain and I both chuckled over the strictures of the contemporary art establishment. I remarked that Giotto was criticized for his illustration of the biblical stories which brought religion down to earth, drawing on local models rather than stylized Byzantine traditions. The local congregation flocked to the Arena Chapel in Padua to see themselves depicted as biblical figures on the walls. Their donations enriched the Vatican's coffers. The Vatican, consequently, sided with Giotto against his critics. In our time, Robert Williams and other gifted artists side stepped the art establishment and made a living producing underground comics. Spain and I agreed that comics are direct descendants of Giotto's frescos.
Esther Pearl Watson was another favorite of ours. I was impressed by her use of color which creates an atmosphere at once mundane and magical; a perfect foil to the story of her eccentric father obsessed with building backyard spaceships. This story delighted Spain who is also familiar with her comic illustrations.
Spain also praised Steve Galloway's work.
"It's a little too polished for me, lacking grit...It isn't derived from direct experience. It's an alternate reality." I responded
"But I enjoy alternate realities."
"Well I suppose we're going to need alternate realities to escape into, soon." I admitted.
"Yeah, the way our present reality is collapsing."
I showed him the reproduction of Hyesook Park's work. He shrugged.
"Look, I studied abstract work at school. I know what it's about. Maybe they're right. But I've never wanted to do it.'
"I feel much the same. It definitely has an effect. But to take up so much space achieving this effect. I've never wanted to work like this either."
We both agreed that Don Suggs concentric circle paintings are riveting. Even though his process of selecting his colors from western masterpieces struck us both as absurd, neither of us could argue with the results. I noticed when I was visiting the exhibition that middle school children were equally struck by Suggs' work.
The school kids had a very different response to Loren Holland's work.
"What's that lady doing without her clothes?" one of them asked as they all hurried on to Robert William's work.
Spain liked the juxtaposition of the female figure with all the modern consumer detritus.
We both agreed that this was an excellent and thought provoking exhibition. Try to find the time to see it before it closes.