Subject: A pleasure to meet you all!
Date: 5/3/98 10:22 PM
It was a pleasure meeting at the EFS mural site this fine Sunday evening with you, your instructor, Nan, and your classmates, Nelly and...was it Amy?
I thought about the style of our mural and realize that it can best be characterized as photographic realism. It does not have the flavor of many Hispanic murals which are colorful, stylized, have a high degree of historical and mythological symbolism, and sometimes have decorative borders. Think about the black and white photography of Ansel Adams. Think about the masters of realism, including Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Carravagio, and David. These are the "schools" of art John, Armando, and myself were heavily influenced by at the time.
I feel you helped me as much as I may have helped you. You helped me focus on the reasons art is created. You posed some challenging questions that deserve more than just a few minutes of thought. How art is "read" by different people is important to me, and if there are some who cannot readily understand the message of a work such as the "Hunger" mural for EFS, then I shall have to ponder ways of creating iconic or allegorical images that are more universally understood. This is good for me to be challenged in this way. I do not want to dismiss what Nelly was saying about some poor Spanish-speaking people who did not understand the meaning of the mural. It is important that I communicate effectively to a broad spectrum of society. I do not want to use stereotypical images. Nor do I want to offend the very class of citizens whose story of injustice I want to tell. I aim only to offend and challenge those who persecute others through intentional acts of domination and exploitation, or who prolong social injustice simply by their indifference.
How does one portray injustice? How does one put a face on hunger and other basic human deprivations?
When asked if I would change anything in this specific mural, which was completed in late summer, 1985, I said I didn't think so. A work of art is created at a unique moment in the life of the artist(s) and the life of the community. And in that particular moment, a sponsoring organization and/or a patron who funds a piece of public art has a distinct vision or message that may change with time. The EFS "Hunger" mural was appropriate at that time, and it is most gratifying that some people still think the mural conveys an important social justice issue still unresolved in 1998.
There is a respect that most artists feel must be afforded to a work of art which requires that the artwork not be modified or second-guessed in any way. I did express to you, however, my feeling that my paintings at St. Matthew's Church could use some further development. They were produced over the course of three short months by Craig David and myself, and in meeting a strict deadline for their dedication I had to "cheat" on some areas of the paintings -- not giving them the full treatment I had envisioned. For the past few years I have had an urge to set up the ladder and ascend with oil paints and brushes to do the necessary finishing work. But no one else is pressing for this...it's just my own sense of artistic pride. Sometimes I regard my "West Side History" paintings as being too realistic and stiff. I wanted to create more fluid and expressive compositions, with individual elements softly weaving and flowing into each other. I feel the elements within each of canvasses are a bit constrained and cold, despite the warm palette of colors I used.
If I were given a blank wall and a commission to create a mural on the theme of hunger or some other social justice issue today, 13 years later, it may very well be a much different imagery that I would produce. There's a complex dynamic that ought to be at work when creating a piece of public art -- a dynamic involving the originator of the concept, the artist and apprentices, the sponsor, and the general public (who express their opinions at various stages of the creation of the art). If there is not a rich interaction, then the artist may be seen as either an arrogant and self-aggrandizing prima donna in the one extreme or, in the other extreme, an uninspired "commercial graphic artist" whose brush strokes echo the mission statement or whims of the sponsor rather than the artist's own personal vision. As an artist, I try to keep myself somewhere between these two extremes. Because I have had some rich experiences and relationships these past 13 years since completing the "Hunger" mural, I would have to say that a similar commission now would yield a better piece of public art. My inclination is to insist that I would not collaborate with another artist of equal stature on the project. In this way I could hope to achieve a unity of vision and style. This is not to say that I would not employ apprentices or understudies. I would insist on control for the sake of a producing a cohesive piece of art.
That's enough blathering. Thanks again for reawakening some artistic passion in me. We'll see where it goes from here.
Best of luck to you and your classmates as you venture out into the post-graduate world!