We, Together

With everything that’s been going on in the world as of late and so many emotions stirred up, it’s important not to let one of the most powerful modes of expression go to waste- art.

“The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.”

–Former President Barack Obama

This past week we bid farewell to a president who, although not without glaring faults, made history and overall did well for this country as a whole. Unfortunately, in his place we face a man who has glorified sexual assault, appointed individuals who are laughably ill-suited for major positions, and has recently made it known that he plans to completely cut the funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities- as well as the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Rise Up Thy Young Blood, collaboration between Illma and INDECLINE, donated human blood, 2017

All the money (Shy of $150 million for the Nat’l Endowment for the Arts in 2016) that currently goes to supporting artists and critical art education through grants provided to both individuals and organizations would be completely removed from the federal budget. It’s not like cutting the two will make much of an impact on it either, together they made up a minuscule 0.006% of the total federal budget in 2016, which begs the question- If it makes such an incredibly small impact on the budget, why cut it- especially when schools around the country have already cut arts funding? …Well, honestly, why wouldn’t he? Generally speaking, the art world is particularly left-leaning, and artists themselves can often possess fairly radical ideologies including Marxist, Anarchist, Stalinist, and even Maoist thought, very foreign and likely unsettling to such a staunch businessman and capitalist like himself. So, once the general media is discredited and can no longer speak out against him, it only makes sense to attempt to do the same with the arts.

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We the People triptych, Shepard Fairey (whom I’ve mentioned previously) – created specifically for the inauguration and following protests.

Obviously, we can’t let that happen. The arts- writing, painting, theater, dance, and music- must continue to express the thoughts of the general populace whether the government wishes to support them or not. We as a global community have proven merely two days ago that we are able to band together and look past our differences to stand up for each other, and that can’t end here. There has already been a movement of artists creating art to react against our newly inaugurated President, putting together ‘Nasty Women’ art exhibitions from Portland to Amsterdam- many of which donated the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.

Get out there and pour your heart out. We need your voice.

The Evolution of Street Art

Vandalism is illegal, right? That’s common knowledge, I’m sure. But what about when you take something ordinary and make art out of it? How can society dictate what’s art and what’s vandalism?

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If Graffiti Changed Anything, It Would Be Illegal, Banksy

Street Art began as quite possibly the only truly subversive art form in recent years. I don’t mean that lightly, as the word subversive is tossed around to describe artists from Jeff Koons (you can read my opinion of him here) to Lady Gaga, but very few artists actually deserve the adjective. However, street art- whether it’s “good” art or not, is still illegal on it’s home turf.

Beginning simply as artists tagging public property, the stencils slowly grew more elaborate and the messages in the work became more overtly anti-establishment. Despite how common graffiti has been, it didn’t break into the art scene officially until Banksy’s 2006 solo show in Los Angeles, Barely Legal, which had people lining up outside the doors- including art collectors.

Since then, street art has made a marked move into the contemporary art scene, taking many of the large names out of the streets and plopping them in galleries. Art collectors have since started snapping up works from Shepherd Fairey and Mobstr- and of course Banksy.

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Look mum, look– Mobstr, prints available on his site for £80

Since street art’s recent popularity in galleries, the question still remains- does it really belong there? Does the work being in the gallery (legally) to be viewed by a specific ‘art crowd’ as opposed to being in the street (generally illegally) and viewed by everyone who passes by? Personally, I believe it does detract from the statement of the work, but if allows the artists to make a living doing what they feel they’ve been called to do, does that make it worth it?

Eric Rhein and the Shadow of HIV/AIDS

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I want to discuss something largely overlooked by the LGBTQ+ generation of today- the AIDS crisis.

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Ken and Me – Noon – June 5th, Eric Rhein. Eric had recently made an incredible recovery, whereas his then boyfriend, Ken, was not doing so well.

 

Eric Rhein was a young artist living in the East Village of Manhattan in the 1980s, where he witnessed many  friends and lovers go through the struggle of living with HIV and AIDS. And then, in 1987, he found out he was HIV positive. Out of fear for his career, he kept the information secret for years until he found a few people he felt he could trust, and they helped him feel comfortable enough to be open about his fight. Unfortunately, shortly afterward he took a turn for the worse and ended up hospitalized for a stretch of time.

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Uncle Lige’s Sword, Eric Rhein. Rhein’s uncle Lige was a gay rights activist.

Referring to the time he spent at St. Vincent’s Hospital as his “Artist Residency”, the whole experience was brimming with creativity and inspiration. He felt the presence of everyone he lost to the disease around him, particularly in the leaves he found on the ground outside. Thus, the beginnings of his internationally collected and ongoing Leaves project, in which he dedicates a wire silhouette of a leaf he traced to a friend with AIDS who passed away.

In his own words, “One by one, I picked up leaves until a host of kinsmen was gathered in my arms. In death, they continue to be the teachers that they were in life, generously sharing with me the gifts of their individual attributes.”

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A small selection from Leaves.

Currently, there are over 250 portraits.

We lost almost an entire generation to the AIDS crisis, and since there are so few left to tell their stories, it feels like few talk about it. Please, take some time to remember the history as you celebrate today.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the AIDS crisis in the LGBT community, I highly recommend the documentary We Were Here, available to stream on both YouTube and Netflix.) 

Post-Impressionism’s Resurgence

Van Gogh finally gets his time to shine, a few years too late

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an incredibly large amount of art history thrown onto anything and everything- from Frida Kahlo earrings (I had a pair), Hieronymus Bosch Doc Martens (high on my wishlist), to it’s popularity in meme culture. Art history is everywhere, but there’s one particular movement that sticks out, Post-Impressionism. In particular, Van Gogh.

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#Selfie Van Gogh tee by BootsTees on Etsy, you can get it here.

You can find his paintings anywhere, Doctor Who (this clip made me cry the first time I watched it, fair warning), socks, even my dad had a phone case with Starry Night!  He’s also the subject of the first fully hand-painted movie, titled Loving Vincent, which took over 100 individual artists to complete. Needless to say, the world has an intense infatuation with Vincent, and his work deserves it. The man was a genius.

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Detail of a Self Portrait Drawing, Van Gogh. Look at how he describes the planes of his face through linework.

Vincent’s incredible popularity I believe can be attributed to a host of things, first and foremost being his ingenuity in both color and linework. If you were to take a look at any one of his sketches, finished drawings, or most definitely paintings, you would see that every single line he lays is describing the plane of the surface it rests on. Every single line. In addition, his markmaking is ridiculously descriptive of the textures he is attempting to capture, all while retaining it’s impressionistic feel. Not only does he use the line work of the piece to emphasize form, he also is incredibly skilled in color theory. He meticulously chose colors based on their compliments, even writing about his choices in a letter to his brother, Theo. He chose his colors from the specific color wheel created by the chemist Eugène Chevreul after reading about his take on color theory. He places colors directly, or extremely close to their complimentary colors in order to make the color really pop.

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Wheat Field with Cypress Trees, Van Gogh 1889. One of my personal favorites.

In addition to his creative genius and technical skill, I believe that a part of people’s love for his work reflects a slow shift in society’s contemporary artistic values from heavy abstraction to more of an appreciation for technical skill, particularly when it’s used to express emotion.

All in all, dear Vincent truly deserves the posthumous fame he’s garnered, no matter the reason. Anyone- art lover or not, can enjoy Starry Night, and it’s bringing art back to pop culture. Although to be honest, I just really enjoy buying everyday items covered in art.