When I first moved to Oakland about a year ago, I was instantly fascinated by the prolific street art. One of the first buildings I encountered was this bright pink building just as safely enclosed with chain link fence as the yard of beautiful chickens next door. A year later, I finally found the time and inspiration to do drive around town documenting some of my favorite pieces and found this building to have changed its message. After some research, I can only presume that the original slogan, “It only takes a pair of gloves,” was present until sometime this August. I found a great blog post from Oaktown Art illustrating the mural’s original message. The original empowering image, fashioned after the stance of two African American Olympic medal winners of 1968, remains the same but the caption now reads, “born with insight a fist,” an abbreviated version of lyrics from the 1992 song by Rage Against the Machine, “Know Your Enemy.” The lyrics were originally “born with insight and a raised fist.”
Both captions are abstract enough to keep their meanings elusive. While the original seemed to have a more empowering and positive slant, it appears the times have changed enough for optimism to dim a little. What was once, in my opinion, a celebration of an empowered moment and sign of progress has become a call for another act of boldness. Rage Against the Machine’s lyrics are often anti-war and anti-authoritative sentiments, which considering the political dynamics in not only Oakland but the entire nation, are not surprisingly poignant. The image on the side of the building, a robot succumbing to a natural entanglement, keeps the hopeful glimpse of progress alive through the statement’s evolution. What seems so mighty can be overthrown. Nature has it’s own usurping power.
Whoever is responsible for this building has something to say. The community is paying attention.
Visiting my old stomping grounds in Burlington, VT this past week, I came across the new paint job (as of 2011) hiding on the back wall of the Handy’s service center across from the UPS Store on South Winooski Ave. Unless you’re coming out of the parking garage, you may miss this one completely.
Every time I’m in town, I like to stop by this spot to see what’s going on there. There isn’t much other graffiti found in the city that has any staying power. I very much appreciate the new apocalyptic cerebral theme sporting a portrait and quote from Albert Einstein, “to let the people know a new type of thinking is essential…”
With a little bit of research, I discovered an article in the Burlington Free Press in which the artists, Brian Clark and Scottie Raymond, were featured:
Raymond and Clark tapped into a controversial issue last October when they helped create a mural behind Handy’s Texaco facing the Bank Street entrance of the parking garage in Burlington. The mural, inspired by the artists’ opposition to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, features a giant green-faced Albert Einstein and incorporates Mother Earth, windmills, and imagery referencing the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
“The concept behind that piece was about nuclear energy and the power of knowledge,” Clark said of the mural. “It isn’t the knowledge that is dangerous; it is how you use it.”
Einstein’s quote is from his plea while acting as the chairman for the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists in 1946 at a time when atomic weapons were becoming the new destructive force on the horizon. It’s not just a time of military dominance and war anymore that promotes overall world chaos. We’ve entered an age in which real patriotism is equated to terrorism, real food is scarce and GMOs thrive in its place. There is a reason society is currently obsessed with apocalyptic themes.
In extreme contrast, not more than 500 feet away, on the other side of the parking garage is a new mural (as of August 2012) commissioned by the Church Street Marketplace depicting 400 years of Vermont history in a realistic trompe-l’oeil style. This gargantuan, 124-by-16-foot mural, stands as the epitome of traditional patriotism, labelled “Everyone Loves a Parade!” and gleaming with the bright colors and sharp lines of optimism.
I find the trompe-l’oeil style quite suitable for this particular piece considering the general idea is to give a sense of three-dimensionality to an obviously two-dimensional medium. But what is interesting is just how flat it falls ideologically. While his technique is undeniably amazing, Pierre Hardy’s over-the-top smiling portrayal of all the major Vermont success stories is very difficult to swallow. It leaves the viewer no space to contemplate but I believe that’s the point. It’s supposed to be pretty and attract the eye of tourists and consumers, people who will stop for 30 seconds, take a few photos and feel enriched, walking away to go buy something and think nothing more about it. Among all the congested beaming smiles spewing off the wall, there isn’t room for critical thinking. And let us not miss the irony of this piece being produced not by a Vermonter but a Quebec artist.
Compared to Clark and Raymond’s piece around the corner, it becomes quite clear the extreme dichotomy between what we are really facing as the economy fails and general entropy builds and what is socially acceptable and promotable. The rift between the rich and the poor, those in power and those that are not widens with each seemingly unconscious decision made by even the local governments. I feel art is not the luxury that it is widely claimed to be but rather an indicator of our current situation, socially, economically, etc. Take a walk through those back alleys once in awhile to gain some perspective. The truth is around the corner!