American Civics: A Lesson of Legends
By Genie Davis
Just closed at Subliminal Projects is a golden and orange glow of photography-based art. The collaboration of Subliminal Projects co-founder Shepard Fairey and the late photographer Jim Marshall, this is an inside-out look at history and culture. Jim Marshall is renowned for his iconic and intimate photography of musicians; Fairey’s large scale public works include the 2008 “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama.
The first collaboration between the two artists, the exhibition interprets Marshall’s 60s era photography through mixed-media works on canvas, serigraphs, and the photographer’s original works. Adding to the intense mix are Fairey’s artworks based on today’s political scene. The pairing of the two artists work is seamless in design.
Legendary subjects receive a legendary treatment: here viewers absorb cultural icons such as Johnny Cash, Cesar Chavez, and Fannie Lee Chaney; these are intensely issue-related works dealing with a wide range of topics from Voting Rights to Gun Culture.
Fairey’s “Gun Culture” is a stencil, silk screen, and collage work on canvas, a large scale work that’s red, white, a dull blue, a deep gold. A car is parked on top of the American flag. A child slouches against the back bumper of a car, clutching his weapon desultorily. Lines of text float to his right, including “Americans love guns more than their children.” The terrifying thought riffs on the sanctity of life or lack thereof. As with each of these works, there is a precision much like a wood block print. The color scheme throughout is this burnished, near-sepia tone, aflame with gold, orange, red, along with black and brown outlines as charred as burnt charcoal.
“Mass Incarceration” deals with our prison culture in the form of a brooding Johnny Cash in what appears to be a Folsom or San Quentin prison yard, a line from the “United Prison Union Bill of Rights” sharing space with the words “Public Enemy” and small mug shots. The message here aches with portent. No matter how much larger than life we may appear – as does Cash – we are vulnerable to this system. We can yet be swallowed up by it.
Current cultural zeitgeist is caught in the red, white, and blue images of “We the People,” including the now often seen image of a woman whose hijib is an American flag.
Each of the works here is equally charged.
We are looking at an America landscape that is visually and emotionally on fire, divided but perhaps reconcilable, tattered ideals clung to, if precariously indeed. With the idea of reconciliation in mind, the artistic collaboration’s proceeds are in part being shared with NAACP, No Kid Hungry, the UFW and more.
The works are layered both in terms of topic and political portent, and technique. Text overlaps the central image and backgrounds. We can literally read meaning on a variety of levels and topics. There is a strong feeling that the images could scramble into motion and move off the canvas itself.
If Fairey’s work has transformed how our urban landscape looks in terms of public art, and Marshall’s images have captured quintessentially American moments in time, then this exhibition represents a near-perfect fusion of the message and medium, things of beauty and loss; moments memorialized but fraught.
For more information on Fairey’s work, visit www.OBEYGIANT.com.
Subliminal is located at 1331 Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park.