Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Life is curious when it is reduced to its essentials.
- Jean Rhys, "Good Morning, Midnight" 1939

Saturday, October 22, 2016

After the Play

We emerge from the peculiarly
stifled pink velvets and curtains,
at this hour the late spring downpour had
dispersed the gawking throngs and
you, out from under a neon awning,
unhesitatingly step off the curb
into a vivid future, breaking to
a sprint in your talon-clawed boots to
dodge the drops, and I,
like it or not, do the same.

The next morning the lilacs,
still drunk with rain,
beckon to me leeringly
from their corner in the courtyard.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Police Cars Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 and Police Car Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 are painted representations observing and memorializing the events that took place during on the evening of May 21st, 1979.



Police Cars Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 (oil on canvas, 36" x 48", 2016)


 Police Cars Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 (oil on canvas, 36" x 48", 2016) (Detail).


Police Car Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 (oil on canvas, 36" x 48", 2016)      

The White Night Riots
       San Franciscans were shocked and horrified by the light sentencing of former army sergeant, policeman, fireman, and San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White (1946-1985). White had been convicted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter for the November 1978 double murders of City Supervisor Harvey Milk (1930-1978) and Mayor George Moscone (1929-1978). The prosecution had hoped for the death penalty, but this was not to be. At the time in California this verdict meant that with good behavior White could be out in as little as five years, and in fact he did serve only a total of five years, one month and nine days as punishment for the double homicide.
        The events of what came to be known as the White Night Riots began when the Dan White verdict was read in the courtroom at 5:28 p.m on Monday, May 21st, 1979. News of the sentencing was spread by radio, television, and word of mouth. As the court's decree became known an angry crowd began to gather in the Castro neighborhood at Castro and Market Streets. At around 7 p.m, with their numbers swelling, they set out marching and chanting heading northeast up Market to city hall. What was described as a "quiet march of shocked and grieved gays" by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Katy Butler quickly deteriorated into chaos as demonstrators reached nearer to civic center plaza and evening fell. The mood of those in the crowd became darker, angrier and disorganized as they  finally reached the locus of civic power itself, city hall, which was also the scene of the White murders. The intensity of the ensuing evening's actions was amplified by the years of repression and systemic abuse the San Franciscan gay community had suffered at the hands of the local police force. The result of long term oppression  is violence and  aggression By the time the marchers confronted the elaborate and highly polished beaux-arts brass doors of the city's headquarters they were five-thousand in number. Long simmering anger boiled over and an angry protest march turned into outright violent rioting.
       The entire area of civic center plaza became a battleground. The police, outfitted in full riot gear, were outnumbered as well as totally unaccustomed to blatant displays of anger and physical violence from the Castro district's gays, who collectively sensed that the balance of power had shifted in their favor. Initially they merely stood by, unsure of how to react and with only orders to "stand their ground" from police chief Charles Gain (b. 1923). The demonstrators tore the metal work from the front of the building and used it to smash the glass doors and windows of city hall. Rocks were thrown and fires were lit in trash cans and at some point during the general chaos a police car's windows were smashed and its interior set on fire. As the car was left to burn the gas tank exploded and the fire spread to some twelve police cars in total.
       Eventually the officers moved in to break up the riot by attacking the crowd with tear gas and bully clubs. However, instead of dispersing the crowd fought back with make shift weapons picked up off the street or torn from vehicles and buildings. Lasting some four hours, not since Stonewall some ten years earlier had such a violent encounter between the police and the LGBT community occurred. Charging through smoke while being pelted with rocks and bottles the police were forced to make several attempts to disperse the crowds. They finally succeeded just after midnight, but they were not finished for the night.
       Humiliated and incensed by the retaliation of the demonstrators and their refusal to back down
the police officers, many with their badge numbers covered, staged retaliatory raids in the Castro. They set upon patrons at the Elephant Walk bar at 18th and Castro beating them and smashing the windows. From here the police moved back into the street, attacking without discretion anyone who appeared to be a member of or show support for the LGBTQ community. The police continued to randomly attack bystanders and pedestrians for two hours.
Police Car Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 (oil on canvas, 36" x 48", 2016) (Detail).

Police Car Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 (oil on canvas, 36" x 48", 2016) (Detail).

Police Car Burning, San Francisco, May 21st, 1979 (oil on canvas, 36" x 48", 2016) (Detail).

The Paintings
       The burning police cars are presented in a neutral fashion, almost statically, suggesting that the  events they depict are distant and removed from the viewer. There is no sign of human existence in either of the two works, the human presence is only implied, not depicted. The graphic nature of the images and the events they portray exist remotely, passively, their emotive aspects are blunted and minimized by means of the oil paint medium. The scene deals with issues of political power, violence and rebellion, and by extension civil rights and sexuality. The images of burning police cars is one that directly reflects riots of the 1960s as well as  recent events in the United States, images that will perpetually incite fear in the hearts of those in society who possess power nominally: the middle classes. This was true during the Nixon years and it is just as true now during our current dystopic Trumpian era. Nonetheless, there is little observable connection to the external world, despite the volatility of the events shown here. It is the medium of oil paint, imbued with its transformative and multidimensional art historical factors that fosters a re-categorization of  the events themselves. Transforming them pictorially from an act of subversive rebellion into elevated acts that stands as a record of a civilization and informs us of our past.
       The images of the paintings remain in solitude, in a sort of stasis, distant from the physical acts they illustrate. There is a rejection of imagic metaphor; no allegorical reference is at play here; the burning cars are presented without judgment, and devoid of moral inference. They are simply cars burning. The works were rather clumsily painted in China  by artisanal producers of images that usually deal with mass tastes- reproductions of Rembrandts, Van Goghs, Monets and the like for the decoration of bourgeois homes the world over. The use of distant Chinese assembly line production means is intended to mimic the globalized serialization techniques of mass production, with the prototypical Art piece of Duchamp's Fountain (1917) leading the way as a historical reference point.
       The method of execution cannot be removed from the work itself. A capitalist consumerist society only thrives when its manufacturing sector is based in making objects that are desired but not needed. But these works serve neither equation of desire or necessity. The paintings were made in a  painting factory, thus, like silkscreens or works painted by assistants they were mechanically produced. The traditional role of the a manufactured good is to make life more comfortable and convenient, however the image chosen for these works, while inherently passive, is also meant to allow for a confrontation with the viewer. The use of an industrial process serves as a rejection of a personal and directly realized experience, creating a dichotomy between the events they depict and the way they are perceived. In the end we might ask ourselves: What is the difference between mechanically reproduced art versus art that is mechanically produced?