A few posts back, I focused on the murals of Chicano Park in San Diego, but I forgot to post a whole section of pictures that are just across some trolley tracks from Barrio Logan where Chicano Park is located. These seem rather distinct from those at Chicano Park, both in terms of thematic content and color palette. As an outsider, I am rather prone to lump them in together with those of Chicano Park, but these do seem like they probably have a story of their own. I just don’t know what it is.
I looked around a bit, but I haven’t found anything to explain this particular batch of street art.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently spent some time in San Diego. Whenever I get down to civilization, I tend to look for street art. San Diego had plenty of it. One location in particular stands out, Chicano Park. Many of the murals express explicit historical commentary, a fact all the more significant in light of the history of the park itself. It is the product of local unrest, a local community outraged at a series of developments diminishing the quality of life for its residents. The community had been separated from the waterfront by Naval installations, bisected by freeways and zoned in a manner hardly conducive to residential living. Plans to develop a highway patrol station seem to have been the final straw. It took an occupation to create the park as it presently exists.
And more of course!
Honestly, the stories I found here are a bit beyond me. So, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. That, and perhaps a link or two.
In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner published his famous paper, “The Significance of the Frontier in American history.” In it, Turner bucked the prevailing historical wisdom of the day to say that American history was in fact quite distinct from that of Europe, and that this was due to the existence of the frontier. The opportunity to move freely into unoccupied land, and the struggle with nature to carve civilization out of that land, that wilderness, gave America and Americans a unique character.
…according to Turner, at any rate.
Suffice to say, the Turner thesis caught on, not just in the historical professions, but also throughout American popular culture. One can hardly imagine western fiction without it, or even the lyrics of mainstream country music. So, when I say, according to Turner, I of course mean, “and a whole lot of other people right along with him.” The Turner thesis has become so ubiquitous it would be hard to find a single genre of artistic expression or a vein of American politics it has not influenced, or for that matter a person who doesn’t invoke its themes from time to time.
To say that all of this is problematic is putting it rather mildly, and countless books have been written exploring the many problems of the frontier thesis, just as countless books have been written applying it to various aspects of American history.
Needless to say, Native Americans have come up a few times, particularly in reference to that notion of free and unoccupied land so central to the frontier thesis. We’ll save that for another post.
…or maybe 10 other posts.
One of the most interesting problems with the frontier thesis has to do with the timing. See, most people would reckon that the frontier was basically closed by 1893, not too long before that, to be sure, but by most accounts, it was certainly closed by 1893. So, if that frontier is what makes America and Americans unique, then what do we make of everything that comes after its closure? If the frontier was the driving force in American history, then what is significant about America and Americans long after the became an ex frontier?
To raise the question in a more practical tone; if the original is already gone, then can we find another? What is the new frontier?
Yes, that question has been asked many times by many people.
Various answers have been offered.
What has me thinking about all this today is a recent visit to a museum, The Spirit of the West Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona. More specifically, I am thinking of one of the exhibits on the second floor of this museum. It is entitled, “From the Mountains to the Moon,” exploring the life work of the artist Paul Calle. The man was an amazing artist, and the exhibit carries a good deal of his work, much of which deals with themes quite closely connected to the frontier, but what specifically gives the exhibit its title is the contrast between his many paintings of mountain men, and his depiction of the Astronaut, Neil Armstrong, taking man’s first step onto the moon. This might seem a Hell of a leap, from Mountain Men to the moon, but of course, there are certain elements of continuity.
You can see these traces of continuity in at least two of the paintings in this exhibit, along with the narratives attached to them. The first of these is entitled “The Great Moment.” It is most remarkable for its presence in an exhibit otherwise filled with western Americana (and a few other things to be sure), but the mere presence of this great painting alongside so many depictions of mountain men, Indians, and western landscape creates an interesting juxtaposition. It is enough to get someone asking, how and why did this piece get here?
“This painting of my friend Neil Armstrong by my friend Paul Calle combines for me the best of two worlds. NASA’s technological achievements and an artist’s exquisite interpretation of it. It looks as beautiful today as it did forty years ago, and it will one hundred years from now.” – Michael Collins, Apollo 11, Command Module Pilot
So, how and why did that painting get here?
Well, the best explanation can be found alongside one of Calle’s more typical pieces.
“I have always liked the image of mountain man John Colter his moccassin clad foot first stepping on the newly fallen snow of the Yellowstone Valley to the Moon boot of Neil Armstrong stepping in the dust of the Moon’s surface at the Sea of Tranquility. Two worlds apart, yet each of a new frontier. – Paul Calle
“When I first viewed Ken DeRoux’s ‘Be Afraid,’ it was wrapped up around a cardboard cylinder with bubble wrap, evoking the qualities of both protection and vulnerability I associate with art. As I watched it unfurl, I saw each ‘stripe’ with its symbols or partial quotation revealed as carefully as it was doubtlessly assembled.
“You are seeing it suspended, specifically by safety pins. From an artist who devotes himself to the language of representation – light, shadow, horizon, perspective – I assume purpose for each element of this work.
“Suspend your evaluation for a moment while we look at the language of representation. This is not a flag, it is a banner. Specifically, it is a confederation of ‘banners’ in the newspaper sense of lead quotations. This is cloth, not tapestry. There is no weaving or even binding of the images; they are held together in loose collage by the beautifully ironic safety pins.
“The left edge of the banner is significantly more irregular than the right, suggesting the effects that wind has on a deployed banner. That, in conjunction with the purposeful irregularities in the body of the banner, is effective in portraying an image of embattlement.
“I don’t look at art to ‘figure it out.’ So I don’t pretend that subtle observations were intended by the artist except to the extent that he certainly expected observations. Here are a few observations. The largest quotation, and one of the two written bottom to top as opposed to left to right, is from Condolezza Rice. I suspect the reason for her prominence is that her quote is far more specific in items to fear than the generalized warnings of the other figures. In that sense, her observation has the stark qualities of a symbol, most of which appear at the periphery of the banner. By the way, the only other citation written vertically is also from the State Department. Is this because the execution of foreign policy must take a different, more specific direction than the more generalized ‘slogans’ of elected officials?
I am fascinated by the safety pins. Is our ‘safety’ only possible by considering the compilation of these warnings and symbols? Is our ‘safety’ the coming together symbolized by the clear visual reference to the American flag – the symbol of our Union? On the other hand, do the safety pins represent the current status of our union as a people, as in ‘only held together by safety pins?’
“Despite the title of the work, the symbols do not appear to be aimed at fear. They seem almost cartoon like, as does the sole terrorist figure. It seems to be more a work of inquiry than intimidation, to the point that the title ‘Be Afraid’ could as easily be “Be Aware.’
“The prediction is that this work will be controversial. I think it will be conversational if we enjoin one another to hold our evaluation until we are done thinking.”
Moni is trying to brush the sleep from her eyes. Leaning forward as far as the seat belt will let her, she cranes her neck around to see if she can see why I have pulled over. The more she sees, the more she realizes how very right she is. As I recall, this place was already closed over ten years ago when I used to drive through Gray Mountain on my way to work. It’s well past closed now.
“Why are we stopping here?”
After a moment, she realized the answer to her question.
(Click to embiggen. …You know you wanna!)
The reddish figure has been there awhile. Each of the other murals seems to have replaced earlier pieces.
I thought I’d share this little gem currently on display in the Anchorage Museum. It’s called “The End of Everything” by Thomas Chung. I’m sorry, the photo-quality is really crap. Just thought the content was worth sharing despite that. Anyway, here is what Chung has to say about it:
“The painting explores why we may, at times, dehumanize others. It reflects our current political times, which are brewing with hatred and conflict. The cowboy character riding the bomb represents the male American ideal, while the cherubs represent the many living forms of bigotry from the past and present. The graffiti on the polar bear comes from posters repeatedly disseminated around the University of Alakas Anchorage’s campus this year by white supremacists as part of a larger campaign.”
Rosie the Riveter is one of those proverbial gifts that just keeps on giving. So, was Elizabeth Peratrovich. She would have been a contemporary of the many women who inspired this icon, which makes it just a little more interesting to see her standing in here for the women (whose real name was Naomi Parker) most of us envision when thinking about Rosie. This poster is part of the Unsettled exhibition currently showing at the Anchorage Museum.
Elizabeth was a major figure in the movement to combat discrimination against Alaska Natives in the 1940s. She is memorialized every February 16th, the day in which the Alaska Territorial Government signed the Anti-discrimination Act 0f 1945 into law. You can learn more about her work on civil rights at Alaskool.org. The quote featured in this poster is commonly thought to have been part of her testimony at the Alaska Territorial Legislature during hearings over the Anti-Discrimination Act. It isn’t entirely clear whether or not these were her exact words, though it probably says something about her actual testimony that it has become something of a legend in itself. The wit would certainly be right at home with other things that Elizabeth clearly did say.
Seriously, the woman kicked ass!
Apayo Moore, the artist behind this particular piece has the following to say bout it: