Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pop Art Wars

            Many would argue my art was government sanctioned.  Stroud, my mentor, fully supported my expression and output and she ensured my benefactor and patron received the art with an open mind, often directing them to experience the intent of the journey, disregarding anything they felt might be an error.  She challenged them to simply enjoy the creativity and expression of the artist; not trying to fit the artist into a pre-conceived notion of the intersection of prose and art.  Most of my peers felt words were enough to convey the complex emotions within their writing.  I felt I needed to add a more visual representation of my voice.  My words needed vibrant color to allow maximum comprehension of my inner turmoil, the thing which powered my creativity.

Stroud challenged me, sometimes she gave specific guidance, other times she just let me create; free form.  Words, pictures, codes, it didn’t matter.  I was to go where my brain took me.  Some have said it was as if she had assigned me to create.  Her rules were there were no rules other than being present, in the moment, preferably working quietly as to not disturb the other gifted and talented second graders in the trailer on the upper playground of East Side Elementary School in Winnfield, Louisiana.

My initial assignment, dated Sept. 6, 1977, when I was but a lad of six, started a productive period spanning nine months (until May, 1978), demonstrating my evolution as an artist and national commentator on subjects as varied as witches, raindrops, why policemen wear blue and what made me giggle.  At such a young age it seems I understood the nebulous line between art and commerce, oftentimes co-opting commercial art to masquerade as an academic exercise.  Also, I was partial to magenta.   

As an avid reader, viewing this body of work, I was reminded of someone else who in the late 70s was mired in indecision, pondering what was more important; creativity and discovering the new or focusing on the acceptance of the existing to ensure financial viability for the future.  Andy Warhol was, in 1977/1978, just starting to be comfortable in his own shoes as a person, an artist and a social arbiter between the talented and the monied.

My funding stream, the parents, allowed for a remarkable lack of tension and stress, often necessary for true creativity.  I feel if I had to fend for my finances, I may have been less happy but more productive.  As it stands, I was comfortable both with my output and the quality thereof as well as my child-like reliance on brevity and transparency.  I felt no reason to hide anything from my audience including my incessant need to draw lines and immediately color outside them.  I wonder if this was a passive-aggressive recognition of observed boundaries and my cavalier intent to disregard them. 

I refer to this time as my invisible war with Mr. Warhol as he and I seemed to have an agreement to not acknowledge the work of the other.  But there are too many parallels to now ignore.  Although I existed outside the mainstream art scene nationally, my increasing reliance on the marriage of style (words) and art, my move toward an almost crass consumerism as well as my disturbing adoption of the vernacular of the party scene in NYC begs the question, who was influencing whom?

Whatever the case may have been, Mr. Warhol seemed to make a specific point not to mention me in his diaries and I wonder was it professional courtesy, lack of awareness of a fiercely competitive peer or simply the journalistic peccadilloes of his editrix, Pat Hackett?

Over the next few months, I will share with you these stories and accompanying illustrations juxtaposed with Mr. Warhol’s entries in his diary to see how closely he and I were in annotating the world around us, not as we saw it but as we intended it to be seen and wished it to be.  I fully expect this competition to provoke rigorous debate but in the end we shall see who emerges victorious.  Who will win the Pop Art Wars?

This first piece is undated but contains no prose and is not labeled, hallmarks of my oeuvre.  As such I feel it may have been my first attempt at establishing my personality as an artist and the acceptance and interpretation (even I am unaware of its intent) caused me to begin the practice of dating and labeling.

The multi-colored scales seem to nod toward an animal of a fantastic nature.  Note the use of vibrant color and movement.  Also note both people’s bodies are a deep pink.  Were the protuberances wings?  Were they bubbles?  The pink people, I know, are male based on their haircut.  As this was the 1970s and societal norms dictated gender assignment based on the at-least-since-the 1950s-code of short hair denotes male, long hair denotes female.   As my brother had just turned three during the summer of 1977, I’m unsure if he is the other male; I feel fairly certain I incorporated myself into the work.  If it’s not my brother it may have been any of my friends from that time (Jason, Kyle or JJ) or even my cousin Jody. 

To the perceived movement of the bodies, I wonder if we are floating?  Hopping about in zero gravity?  Jumping?  As we are smiling one can assume we are not falling or being flung from the back of this candy-colored creature. 

I know not the source of my fascination with flamboyant fauna, but it became a touchstone of sorts and continues to this day, although at the age of 44 11/12ths, I have become said fauna thanks to Brooks Brothers and Bonobos.  But we aren’t here to discuss my sense of style or Mr. Warhol’s although he did start the trend of wearing tuxedo jackets with jeans and that alone is a worthy legacy.

This exercise is supposed to compare our respective works for both creativity and output.  Much as I, Mr. Warhol was reliant on the use color, almost too much if you listen to critics of pop art (both his and others like Rauschenberg, Oldenburg and Lichtenstein).  Unlike Mr. Warhol, I stayed within the boundaries of my own lines.  He traced many of his subjects and purposefully printed them off-center.  Most of his work didn’t have to be labeled as they were silk-screened prints, not free-form drawings.  His experimentation with color was advanced; he would often invite visitors to urinate on some paintings to change the colors, which, while vulgar, is creative.

                There is no date for direct comparison and my drawing is freehand while his were typically traced, so a soup can to soup can comparison is not possible.  Even though he was creative, the fact I, as a child of 6, was able to refrain from urinating on my own art gives me a decided advantage. 

The Pop Art War score thus far is Dusty 1, Andy 0.