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Fox/BlackDog Acquired by LACMA, Part 2

“Elvis Ain’t King” (1992)

“Elvis Ain’t King” (1992)

In addition to the work mentioned in my last post, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired seven more of my agitprop screen printed posters designed under the auspices of BlackDog.

Works include “Elvis Ain’t King” (1992), about the Los Angeles Police Department Beating of Rodney King (above); “The Great Seal (after El Lissitsky)” (1998); “Cover Your Head” (1992); “howiloveya” (1998); “Tricky Ollie” (1998); “State of the Union (Where Friends Meet Friends)” (1998); and “End Pollution: Bomb the Pentagon” (1991).

Fox/BlackDog Acquired by LACMA

Two posters I designed in the 1990’s were recently acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of the Marc Treib Collection. Treib is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and his gift of over 500 posters now forms part of the Decorative Arts and Design collection at LACMA.

“Republican Contract on America” (right) is a 1995 propaganda poster screen printed on chipboard. A quote by Nazi Hermann Göring is used to highlight the anti-intellectual, anti-cultural stance of the Republican-controlled 104th U.S. Congress.

“5ive Iconoclasts” (left) is an offset litho poster promoting a series of lectures from the same year. The 1995 AIGA/SFMOMA Design Lecture Series featured an eclectic mix of designers and artists which included Tibor Kalman (M&Co.), Vaughan Oliver (v23), the Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, and Diller + Scofidio. The poster quotes Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky: “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

Fox at the Denver Art Museum

One of my political posters, Kinder, Gentler Carpet Bombing, is now on view in the exhibition “Drawn to Action: Posters from the AIGA Design Archives.” Culled from the AIGA Design Archives at the Denver Art Museum, the 33 posters in this exhibition “demonstrate the inventive techniques designers use to provoke action.”

Using an amended quote from George H.W. Bush’s nomination acceptance speech in 1988, this poster predates the first American invasion of Iraq in 1991. The “GTO” designation in the lower right-hand corner is an abbreviation for Graphic Terrorist Organization, a name suggested by Seattle designer Art Chantry.

This poster is also in the collection of the United States Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Ray Bradbury, Jaron Lanier, and “The Digital Flattening of Expression”

Ray Bradbury,  Fahrenheit 451  (Simon & Schuster), first published 1953

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (Simon & Schuster), first published 1953

Jaron Lanier,  You Are Not a Gadget  (Knopf), 2010

Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget (Knopf), 2010

I had never read Ray Bradbury until I started reading Fahrenheit 451 to my son Lukas last year. About halfway through the 1953 novel there is a conversation between Faber, a retired English professor, and Montag, a “fireman” whose profession now entails the burning of books. Faber is speaking:

“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”

In reading this passage I was struck by its empathy with themes in Jaron Lanier’s 2010 manifesto You Are Not a Gadget. Comparing an artifact with its digital representation, Lanier writes, “A real painting is a bottomless mystery, like any other real thing…. It has texture, odor, and a sense of presence and history.” A digital image or “digital fragment,” on the other hand, isn’t really “distinct from any other; they can be morphed and mashed up.” Like mediocre writing, it turns out that the digital copy has no pores.

Faber continues: “So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.”

The culture that Faber describes is creatively bankrupt because it is disconnected from authentic experience; from life itself. Six decades later, aspects of Bradbury’s dystopian future feel disturbingly present tense. Lanier echoes the image of flowers living on flowers in You Are Not a Gadget when he describes contemporary culture as “effectively eating its own seed stock.” Lanier believes that “Authorship—the very idea of the individual point of view—is not a priority of the new ideology.” Our remix culture, which thrives by cannibalizing older, original works while simultaneously obscuring its sources, is responsible for “the digital flattening of expression into a global mush.”

As visual artists, what can we do to resist this flattening of culture? For one thing, we can continue to create artifacts—physical objects with texture and pores. Original, analog artifacts with quality: sketches, drawings, photographs, print designs, and paintings.

Published in Emigre in 2004, Randy Nakamura’s essay “The Grand Unified Theory of Nothing” posits that, “Yes, design is about analysis and problem-solving, but its fundamental impact on the world (for better or worse) is in the artifacts and form it produces. This is the only way ideas survive in design. To denigrate form and artifact making in design is to destroy its essence and reduce it to a generic role of think tank or consultant.”

As Nakamura notes, “The design artifacts you leave behind will be your ultimate legacy.” Our artifacts will also serve to enrich the larger culture. Go to it!

AIGA 100 Years of Design: 1914–2014

To celebrate the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ centennial, the AIGA asked 100 designers to create “a piece of artwork that makes a social, political or cultural statement about one year from AIGA’s history.”

I chose the year 1958 so I could work with Gerald Holtom’s timeless symbol for Nuclear Disarmament—what would eventually become known as the “Peace Sign.” As this mark has long been appropriated for commercial purposes—one can buy Baby Gap clothes emblazoned with the symbol—it has lost its primary meaning and urgency as a sign. My intention was to remind folks of the symbol’s original meaning and hopefully reintroduce to it qualities of urgency and even threat.

All 100 designs from the project can be seen on the AIGA site.