WOW! – Work of the Week – Leon Polk Smith, Volair, from Constellation Series





Leon Polk Smith

Volair, from Constellation Series

1975

Screenprint

41 1/8 x 29 1/2 in.

Edition of 80

Pencil signed and numbered

About the work:

Considered one of the founders of the hard-edge style of abstract art, Leon Polk Smith rose to prominence in the 1960s with his distinctive shaped canvas series — the “Constellations”.

This week’s Work Of the Week (WOW!) is the 1975 screenprint Volair, from this important Constellations Series

It was in 1936, while attending Columbia University’s famed Teachers College, that Smith was introduced to the geometric works of contemporary European artists. The works of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian caught his eye during his studies. He was deeply inspired by Mondrian’s aesthetics, if not fully convinced by the philosophy behind them. A pragmatic American in his approach, Smith took what he wanted from the aesthetic experience and discarded the theorizing.

However, it would be another few years before the influence of De Stijl, the movement inspired by Mondrian in which pure abstraction is achieved through form and color, clearly manifested itself in Smith’s work. His perceptions of artistic space led to a quest to make color and form one. This quest consisted of a series of intuitive decisions rather than the theoretical, ruminative creative process that preoccupied Mondrian and other members of the De Stijl group.

Smith established his key motif while perusing an athletic catalogue in the late 1940s. Examining the pencil drawings of baseballs and tennis balls in it, Smith began to imagine that from these simple shapes he could create a new kind of space.

As he described:

“It was flat and the same time it was curved. It was like a sphere. The planes seemed to move in every direction, as space does. And so I thought, maybe that is because that’s on the tondo. I’ve got to find out if that is true or not. I’ve got to do some on a rectangle to see if the form and the space still moved in every direction. And it did. So it was exciting to do a painting on a rectangle that seemed to have a curved surface. It was the first time, you see, that I had made an important step myself, or contribution in art.”

While his Minimalist peers during that time were shifting away from Modernism and rejecting relationality, Smith was wholeheartedly advancing the formal and rational elements of the Modernist tradition. By introducing a single curving line, Smith created two pictorial spaces, allowing for the interchangeability of positive and negative space. He developed his signature hard-edge style over the following decade, beginning with creating a series of paintings in which he explores the circle by developing a curvilinear shape within it using two colors, and later experimenting with more colors in oval, rectangular and square shapes.

By 1967, Smith’s circular explorations introduced additional panels and defined his shaped, multi-part “Constellation” series of paintings and drawings, among his most exuberant and inventive compositions.

WOW! – Work of the Week – INVADER, Rubik Six Cubes



Invader
Rubik Six Cube (Blue/Yellow)
2009-2010
Screenprint
27 1/2 x 19 5/8 in.
Edition of 20
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

Invader
Rubik Six Cube (Orange/Yellow)
2009-2010
Screenprint
27 1/2 x 19 5/8 in.
Edition of 20
Pencil signed, dated and numbered


About the work:

Rubik’s Cubes are meant to be solved, right?   Wrong!!  

The art of cubing takes on a different meaning under the 8-bit eyes of Invader. Twisting dozens, even hundreds of Rubik’s Cubes into precise patterns of pixelated pointillism, Invader updates artistic techniques pioneered by Picasso, Duchamp, Seurat and others into a new and distinctly modern form: Rubikcubism.

Billed as the “Urban Seurat”, Invader is the pseudonym of a French urban artist, born in 1969, whose work is modeled on the crude pixellation of 1970s–1980s 8-bit video games. A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Invader initially derived inspiration for his creations from video games from the late 1970s to early 1980s that he played when he was growing up, particularly characters from Space Invaders, from which he derived his name. Games of the era were made with 8-bit graphics, and so lend themselves well to his method of each tile representing one pixel.

Rubikcubism:

One of Invader’s most important innovations was Rubikcubism, a style of mosaic art that uses various Rubik’s Cube configurations to create extremely complex images.

While most try to solve the Rubik’s Cube, anonymous French Street-Artist, Space Invader has come up with another creative use for the toy. Since 2004, he has been using Rubik’s Cubes to create crude-pixelated pointillism artwork. Updating and modernizing a technique pioneered by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, Invader named the movement: Rubikcubism, and has continued to experiment with the style ever since.

This week’s Work of the Week! (WOW!) is Invader’s Rubik Six Cube Series. These screenprints are made up of 6 cubes, all arranged in a specific manner to create an image. In the case of this series, Invader’s trademark Space-Invader, his most  iconic image of the 80’s is portrayed. Coming of age in the 80’s, much of Invader’s artistic identity revolves around the iconic imagery and pop culture of his youth.

Given the difficulty of solving a Rubik Cube, let alone attempting to create images, Invader uses a computer program to work out the precise disposition of the six colors for each image. He then manipulates the nine pixels for each Rubik’s Cube to give the required pattern.

Invader Rubiks_Art_                    Invader Rubiks_Art_2

While this series is made up of the use of six cubes, some of Invader’s creations can use over 300 Cubes.  He has recreated “Masterpieces” where famous paintings by artists such as Delacroix, Warhol, Seurat, and Lichtenstein are given a work over. He has a series of Rubikcubism works entitled “Low Fidelity” based on iconic album art such as “Country Life” by Roxy Music, and The Velvet Underground & Nico.  He has also created a series of “Bad Men” where Invader reinterprets villains such as Osama bin Laden, Jaws and Al Capone.

Invader Rubiks_Art_3

All these works and themes are relative to pop culture, and to today’s world in which we live in, with a touch of nostalgia from his days as a youth.

What does Erno Rubik, the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube have to say about Invader’s use of his famous toy puzzle in his artworks?

When asked he says: “I’m glad the Cube is reaching new generations, who face it with fresh wonder, curiosity and enthusiasm.”   

WOW! – Work of the Week – WARHOL, Paramount, from Ads





Andy Warhol
Paramount, from Ads
1985
Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board
38 x 38 in.
Edition of 190
Pencil signed and numbered

About the work:

One of the last portfolios Andy Warhol would produce before his untimely death in 1987 was his renowned Ads series. The 10 prints that make up the series are based on some of the most popular and successful ad campaigns and logos from Andy Warhol’s lifetime. They are considered to be particularly important because of Warhol’s fascination with advertising, consumerism and commercialism, which were three major facets of his entire body of work. Having begun his artistic career in advertising, Andy Warhol, more than any other artist of his generation, understood how the reproduced image had come to reflect and shape contemporary life in America.

This week’s Work Of the Week! WOW! is Paramount. In this work, Andy Warhol masterfully depicts the snow-capped mountain in white, making the image pop out to the viewer. He also skillfully plays with the yellow, red and green coloring causing the word “Paramount” and the halo of stars to seem three-dimensional or animated. That Warhol chose Paramount over any other film studio is fitting in many ways.

It is well-known that Warhol was fascinated with stardom and fame. He loved being surrounded by the Hollywood elites. One of his most famed images is that of Marilyn Monroe, he was smitten with Liz Taylor, and even promoted his own “Warhol Superstars” such as Baby Jane Holzer, Edie Sedwick and Candy Darling, to name a few. Founded in 1912, Paramont Pictures, is the second oldest film studio in the US.  The story behind the Paramount logo is that each of the 22 original contracted actors and actresses of the studio was honored with one of the stars of the halo atop the mountain peak, which made them the original “movie stars.” There is no doubt that Andy Warhol, the man who coined the famous “15 minutes of fame” phrase, would have loved where the term “movie star” originated from.

The Paramount Logo as a portrait? : A Mysterious Connection

There is another, more personal and less well-known connection between Andy Warhol and the Paramount Pictures Company. In 1980, he met Jon Gould who was a 27 year old vice president of marketing at Paramount Pictures. Warhol was deeply infatuated with the film executive, and over the course of 5 years, the two shared a close bond that defied easy description. They lived together in Warhol’s townhouse until 1985. Jon Gould is the most photographed subject of Andy’s oeuvre, and while Andy created many portraits of him during their time together, those close to Warhol have insinuated that  the inclusion of the Paramount logo in the Ads series, may be considered an abstract portrait of the young man Andy cared for.

WOW! – Work of the Week – WARHOL, Blackglama





Andy Warhol
Blackglama, from Ads
1985
Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board
40 x 40 in.
Unqiue
Authenticated and stamped by the Andy Warhol Foundation on verso

About the work:

WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST?

One of the most famous advertising campaigns of the 20th century began in 1968: the series of full-page, black-and-white print ads for “Blackglama” furs. The campaign was an instant success thanks to the (at the time) new formula of combining a brilliant tag line, with a glamourous and famous icon to promote a luxury item.

“What becomes a Legend most?” is the memorable slogan for Blackglama furs.

Something that has always intrigued people about the brand name is: why the GLAMA in Blackglama, is not GLAMOUR? The whole campaign started when approximately 400 mink ranchers from the Great Lakes Mink Association (a.k.a. GLMA) were looking to revamp the image of their product. Ad executive, Jane Trahey of Jane Trahery Associates in NYC came up with the idea to incorporate the deep black color of the mink and the name of the association. Thus the name and the memorable slogan were born: “What becomes a Legend most?” (the “L” in legend was always capitalized).

Famed photographer Richard Avadon was brought on by the campaign to photograph the most important female celebrities of the time. In the first year alone, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and Judy Garland modeled for the brand. Every model was gifted an $8,000 Blackglama mink coat. Legend has it that Judy Garland left the studio without even bothering to have hers lined.

Here below we see Avadon’s contact sheet of Judy Garland posing in her Blackglama for the ad campaign

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Blackglama, from Ads, featuring Judy Garland by Andy Warhol. Ever the observer of the times in which he lived, the artist, who began his career as a commercial illustrator in the 50’s was fascinated with the commercial world. Warhol glamorized and transformed celebrities and everyday objects like soup cans and Brillo Pads, into works of art. In the mid 1980’s he created one of his most sought after and iconic sets of screenprints: the Ads Series. Andy Warhol’s work explores the themes and the relationship between artistic expression, and the celebrity culture, advertisement, capitalism and consumerism that were prevalent at the time. The cultural force that was the Blackglama ad campaign fit perfectly into his philosophy and was a obvious choice to include into the Ads portfolio.

This particular version of Warhol’s Blackglama is a unique working proof, outside of the regular edition. It is much different from the one that we are most familiar with. In this work, the most notable difference is the background and the colors of Judy Garland herself. In the regular edition, the background is black and the color blue is the most prevalent for the mink, as well as her hair. In this working proof, there are more colors and the detail of Judy Garland’s face, hair and mink are more pronounced. The slogan at the top even has a slightly different hue.

Another noticeable difference is the size of this work. The regular edition Blackglama measures 38 x 38 in. This working proof measures 40 x 40 in. If you look closely at the bottom and left margins, you will see traces of regular edition coloring underneath this unique proof. Warhol did this quite often, working out different color arrangements and schemes until he got it just right.

These working proofs have become quite rare, hard to find and highly sought after. Each proof is different. Each proof is considered a unique work of art. This unique working proof of Blackglama is certified by the Andy Warhol foundation on the verso with its registration number. It is also accompanied with a letter of authenticity by the Andy Warhol Authentication Board.

WOW! – Work of the Week – WARHOL, John Wayne





Andy Warhol
John Wayne FS II.377, from Cowboys and Indians
1986
Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board
36 x 36 in.
Edition of 250, each piece is unique
Pencil signed and numbered

About the work:

JOHN WAYNE. . .  AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE

The saying “as American as apple pie” describes things that represent the best of American culture. People use this expression when talking about things like blue jeans, baseball, and rock-n-roll.

John Wayne is America!  For many, John Wayne aka “The Duke”, symbolizes some one who is a tough, macho, rugged, strong, a fighter, an army man, and a cowboy.

At 6 foot ’4 inches, and an athlete (played football at USC), John Wayne not only had the stature of rough and tough guy, but had the attitude to go along with it.

In his movies, his straight forward, tell it like it is, take no crap attitude resonated with Americans leading up to and during WWII.  He personified American toughness, and American values and ideals.  He was proud of America, and American was proud of him.

There is no artist better to illustrate iconic symbols than Andy Warhol.  Warhol had a knack for choosing figures and images that were uniquely iconic and symbolic to the world of the past, present, and future.

The genius of Warhol was that an iconic image, could say so much that nothing else but that image had to be on the canvas.  Marilyn Monroe is still relevant today, because Warhol immortalized her.  55 years after her death Marilyn is still seen as one of the biggest, if not the biggest sex symbol in the world.    

In this week’s Work of the Week (WOW), Warhol’s image of John Wayne staring at the viewer emotionless with an ever piercing gaze in a cowboy hat, and ‘kerchief around his neck, holding a gun, rugged and ready to shoot on a draw is is one we have seen time and time again in the movies.   But Warhol knew The Duke, will remain a fixture of the popular imagination for as long as the world is watching movies, and for good reason: He wasn’t so much an actor as a symbol of national identity and a point of American pride.

Wether it is a smug portrait of Mao, a Dollar Sign, the Electric Chair, or a Campbell’s soup can, Warhol’s inconic imagery depicted the times, defined a nation, democratized art, made a statement, and sealed his place in art history for ever.  The artist is as iconic as his art!

WOW! – Work of the Week – ALBERS, White Line Squares (Series II) XVI





Josef Albers
White Line Squares (Series II) XVI
1966
Lithograph
20 3/4 x 20 3/4 in.
27/125
Initialed in pencil, dated, numbered and titled

About the work:

“The perception of color is deceiving, we may perceive two different colors to look alike, or two equal colors to look different. This game of colors – the change of identity – is the object of my study.”
Josef Albers

Accomplished as a designer, photographer, typographer, and printmaker, Josef Albers is best known for his work as an abstract painter and color theorist. His approach to composition was very disciplined. He spent 26 years creating and mastering thousands of paintings and prints that make up his series “Homage to the Square.” Through this series, Albers explored chromatic interaction with nested squares. 

His works were always created using the same process: he painted mostly on Masonite, using a palette knife to prime the surface with layers of white gesso, then applying each oil color minimally for maximum effect. He would paint one coat of pure color directly to the canvas from the tube, unmixed, starting from the centre and working his way outwards, just as his father, a house painter, carpenter, plumber and general technician, had taught him – a technique that ‘catches the drips of paint and keeps cuffs clean’ he used to say.

He was known to meticulously list the specific manufacturer’s colors and varnishes he used on the back of each work, as if the colors were catalogued components of an optical experiment. Each painting in the series was composed of either three or four squares of solid planes of color nested within one another, in one of four different arrangements and in square formats. 

Despite their name, the Homages  seem to be less about squares within squares than about the infinite possibilities of the chromatic spectrum. Every last one is an exercise in visual juxtaposition, an exploration of the effect that colors have on the eye and on each other. The size and proportion and the number of the squares vary, but they are always offset towards the bottom of the frame  The arrangement of these squares is carefully calculated so that the color of each square optically alters the sizes, hues, and spatial relationships of the others, and this tricks the eye into a figurative response: they look like luminous corridors receding to a vanishing point.

Our Work Of the Week! WOWWhite Line Squares (series II) XVI is from the “Homage to the Square” series. Its color composition is comprised of three surrounding squares in colors cream, warm ochre light, and brown with a white line square in the middle square of ochre.  The ochre on either side of the thin white line is actually the same hue, however, the placement of the white line creates a shift in color on both sides so that the single color appears as two different colors. 

Albers wrote: “A white line within a color instead of as a contour may present a newly discovered effect: when the line is placed within a so-called “middle” color, even when the color is very evenly applied, it will make the one color look like two different shades or tints  of that color.”

An Interesting Note:  Transferring this idea to lithographs was a complicated process, because the white line was created by the unprinted paper. The square containing the white line could not therefore be printed over an underlying color area. Accordingly, the well known printmaker Kenneth Tyler devised a way to print on plates that accurately abutted one another with no overlap.

Having studied and later taught at the famed Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany prior to fleeing to the US, Albers’ work represents a transition between traditional European art and the new American art. It incorporates European influences from the Constructivists and the Bauhaus. His influence fell heavily on American artists of the late 1950s and the 1960s. Hard-Edge abstract painters drew on Albers’ use of  patterns and intense colors, while Op artists and conceptual artists further explored his interest in  perception. 

WOW! – Work of the Week – GOTTLIEB, White Ground Red Disk





Adolph Gottlieb
White Ground Red Disk
1966
Lithograph
29 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.
Edition of 50
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:

“To my mind certain so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all…on the contrary it is realism of our time.”
Adolph Gottlieb

Growing up during the Depression and maturing throughout the interwar period and rise of Hitler, the American painter and printmaker Adolph Gottlieb was committed to expressing authentic feeling in the face of the traumas of the world. Gottlieb established himself as a pioneer in the movement of Abstract Expressionism and worked actively against the dominating trends of regionalism and realism of the 30’s. He was close with many important artists of the time, Marc Rothko and Barnett Newman for example and together they sought to make American art more experimental 

Gottlieb’s work can be described as a reaction to the times in which he lived, and he is well known for three distinct periods or series. The first, which emerged during the second World War is the “Pictograph” series (1941-1951) comprised of loose grids with schematic forms. This was followed by the “Imaginary Landscape” period (1951-1957), which consisted of semi-abstract landscapes. And finally, his “Burst” period, which is his most famous and which he spent almost two decades exploring (1957-1974) revolved around variations of simplified representations of two shapes – a disc hovering above an explosion of calligraphic strokes. 

This week’s Work Of the Week! White Ground Red Disk is a prime example of his work from the Burst series. 

In the vertical “Bursts,” the series relies heavily on the juxtaposition of forms characterized by an underlining dualism. Gottlieb has brought together, in a single canvas the two poles of Abstract Expressionist painting—the Color Field and Action Painting (or Gestural Abstraction) schools—in a tense balance. 

Color Field painting emerged in the late 50’s, and is known for the use of simple geometric patterns and references landscape imagery and nature. The style is characterized primarily by fields of flat, solid color, creating areas of unbroken surface and a one-dimensional picture plane. The Color Field movement places less emphasis on  gesture , brushstrokes and action in favor of an overall consistency of form and process. In Color Field painting “color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself.”

Action painting, on the other hand, is a style of painting in which paint is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied. It emphasizes the physical act of painting itself as an essential aspect of the finished work or concern of its artist. The images do not portray objects or even specific emotions. Instead, they aim to touch the observer deep in the subconscious mind, tapping the collective sense of an archetypal visual language. This was done by the artist painting “unconsciously,” and spontaneously, creating a powerful arena of raw emotion and action, in the moment.

The dichotomy between the two forms in the work, the disk and the expressive strokes, led the way and formed the bridge for the geometric abstractionists and minimalists such as Frank Stella and Josef Albers. 

WOW! – Work of the Week – WARHOL, Mick Jagger



                                             Mick Jagger FS II. 139  

                                               Mick Jagger FS II. 141



Andy Warhol
Mick Jagger FS II. 139
1975
Screenprint
43 1/2 x 29 in.
Edition of 250
Pencil signed and numbered, also signed by Mick Jagger

Andy Warhol
Mick Jagger FS II. 141
1975
Screenprint
43 1/2 x 29 in.
Edition of 250
Pencil signed and numbered, also signed by Mick Jagger

About the works:

“The thing that he seemed to be able to do was to capture society, whatever part of it he wanted to portray, pretty accurately. That’s one of the things artists do, is show people later on what it was like. If you want to be reminded of a certain period, you can look at what Andy was doing then. He was very much in tune with what was going on. Of course, he was criticized for that, for being sort of trendy. But I think some people’s great forte is being so in touch.”

Mick Jagger at the time of Andy Warhol’s passing

One was the world’s greatest pop artist, the other was the signer and face of one of the most successful bands in history. Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger met at a party in 1964, when the Rolling Stones were on their first US tour. At this time, both idols were rising to fame and establishing their images. The Rolling Stones were viewed as the dirty alternative to the clean-cut Beatles and art collectors may have viewed Andy Warhol in a similar way compared to other artists of the time, such as Wayne Thiebaud, Japer Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. 

The first collaboration between the two artists was for the iconic “Sticky Fingers” album cover in 1971. Today, it is regarded as one of modern music’s more striking pieces of graphic art. The album, which went to number one immediately in both the US and the UK, resulted in a long-lasting business and personal relationship between the two icons who had a great understanding of both art and commerce. 

sticky-fingers-460x460
                                 Sticky Fingers – album cover

Portraits became big business for Andy Warhol around the time of the album release. He was a modern-day portrait painter who could capture all the high society and celebrity personalities of the time, and Jagger, who embodied the sex, drugs and rock and roll world was the perfect subject. At the request of Seabird Editions Company in London, who offered to publish the screen prints, Andy Warhol created a series of 10 portraits of Mick Jagger.

In the summer of 1975, while Mick and his wife, Bianca where staying at Andy’s house in Montauk, Andy and Mick started work on the project. Andy took the photographs of Mick himself. All 10 of the final artworks were head and bare-chested torso shots of Jagger. Andy was interested in capturing the different emotions and personas of Mick; happy, thoughtful, seductive, tough, arrogant, etc. 

Once back in the studio, Andy created the screen prints from the photographs and added hand drawn stylized lines and color patches to enhance the mood of each piece. Both Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger signed the final prints as a savvy marketing move. Jagger’s audience was much larger than Warhol’s collector base, so having Mick’s signature would help increase exposure of his work. For Mick, the portraits would help enhance his image.

Today, the portraits are as iconic as the two men themselves, immortalizing a moment in time. 

WOW – Work of the Week – WARHOL, Birmingham Race Riot





Andy Warhol
Birmingham Race Riot
1964
Screenprint
20 x 24 in.
Edition of 500

About the work:

WARNING:   THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FOUL AND OFFENSIVE WORDS AND VIEWS THAT ARE USED TO PRESENT HISTORICALLY FACTUAL EVENTS ONLY!

THE WORDS AND VIEWS USED IN THIS ARTICLE DO NOT IN ANY WAY REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF GREGG SHIENBAUM FINE ART INC. OR ANYONE ASSOCIATED WITH GREGG SHIENBAUM FINE ART INC.

This week’s Work of the Week (WOW), Birmingham Race Riot is an example of Andy Warhol’s genius, that is often very subtle to the viewer.

Civil Rights photographer, Charles Moore published a photo-essay in Life Magazine covering the brutality black protesters were facing in Birmingham. One photo in particular of a young black protester being set upon by police dogs during the unrest, caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who at that moment was preparing for his first large-scale exhibit abroad, in Paris called “Death in America”
This exhibition consisted of paintings, of subjects such as car crashes, suicides, food poisoning, the electric chair, gangster funerals, and the Atom Bomb, later to become known as the Death and Disaster paintings.

Three of Moore’s photographs were of a dog attacking a black man and although the theme was not strictly “Death”, Warhol was sufficiently aware of their power to want to include them in his exhibition, consistent with his aim of showing the dark underside of the American Dream.  The image is forceful and requires no commentary as the tension, violence and fear are palpable.

In all, Warhol made some ten silkscreen paintings on the theme. They became known as his Race Riot paintings (counterfactually, in reality the images were of a peaceful march disrupted by police), and they represent Warhol’s only overtly political statement, although he himself insisted that Moore’s photographs had merely “caught his eye”.

People who truly understand Andy Warhol, and his art, immediately see the genius of the man and his work.  He never talked about about his artwork in a very serious manner.  Mistakenly described as “aloof”, Warhol took pleasure at that description, and played it up to the critics, and media. 

A perfect example of this, is the way he spoke about the Race Riot paintings. Not speaking about them as a historical, impactful, commentary on the events in American society of the time, but rather downplaying them as images that had merely “caught his eye”, is the exact genius of Andy Warhol.

Warhol did not have to describe his art, or lecture about his ideas, but rather, he preferred that his artwork did it for him.  The idea of turning this photograph of a historically tragic dark time in America, into a work of art, presupposes the importance of the discussion or debate, of that image.

The very fact that he took this image and made it a work of art, elevated the  importance of that image, and the importance of the discussion of this image, in social and political surroundings. 

Done in a very quite manner, but heard loudly all over the world.

The Birmingham Riot of 1963

Birmingham, Alabama     May 10, 1963 . . .

Negotiators for the city, local businesses, and the civil rights campaign had completed and announced the “Birmingham Truce Agreement.”

This agreement included city and business commitments for:

  • partial desegregation of fitting rooms, water fountains, and lunch counters in retail stores,
  • promises of economic advancement for black workers,
  • release of persons who had been arrested in demonstrations,
  • the formation of a Committee on Racial Problems and Employment.

In an afternoon press conference held at the Gaston Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his team were staying, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth read a version of the agreement, after which King declared a “great victory” and prepared to leave town. However, some white leaders, including the city’s powerful Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor, who had used dogs and firehoses against demonstrators, denounced the agreement and suggested that they might not enforce its provisions.

May 11, 1963 . . .

State troopers were withdrawing from Birmingham under orders from Governor George Wallace. Investigator Ben Allen had been alerted about a potential bombing of the Gaston Motel by a source within the KKK and recommended that these troops stay for a few more days.  Ben Allen’s warning was disregarded by state Public Safety Director Al Lingo, who said he could “take care of” the KKK threat.    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left Birmingham for Atlanta, Georgia

KKK leaders from across the South were assembling in nearby Bessemer, Alabama for a rally. KKK Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton addressed the white crowd, urging rejection of “any concessions or demands from any of the atheist so-called ministers of the nigger race or any other group here in Birmingham. He also said that “Klansmen would be willing to give their lives if necessary to protect segregation in Alabama.” 

The rally ended at 10:15 pm.

At 8:08 pm that evening, the Gaston Motel received a death threat against Martin Luther King’s brother,  A.D.King.

10:45 pm.   A uniformed officer got out of his police car and placed a package near A. D. King’s front porch. The officer returned to the car. As the car drove away, someone threw a small object through the house’s window onto the sidewalk, where it exploded. The object created a small but loud explosion and knocked over bystander Roosevelt Tatum.

Tatum got up and moved toward the King house—only to face another, larger, blast from the package near the porch. This explosion destroyed the front of the house. Tatum survived and ran toward the back of the house, where he found A. D. King and his wife Naomi trying to escape with their five children.

Tatum told King that he had seen police deliver the bombs. King called the Federal Bureau of Investigation, demanding action against the local police department.

11:58 pm.   A  bomb thrown from a moving car detonated immediately beneath Room 30 at the Gaston Motel—the room where Dr. Martin Luther King had been staying. The Gaston Motel was owned by A. G. Gaston, a Black businessman who often provided resources to assist the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. The motel bomb could be heard all over town. Also heard was the sound of white men repeatedly singing “Dixie”.

Bryan McFall of the FBI was expecting his KKK informant Gary Rowe to report at 10:30 pm, immediately after the end of the KKK rally. McFall searched in vain for Rowe until finding him at 3:00 am in the VFW Hall near the Gaston Motel. Rowe told McFall, his FBI handler, that Black Muslims had perpetrated a false flag bombing in order to blame the Klan. McFall was unconvinced. However, in submitting his final report to J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, McFall did not identify the KKK as potentially responsible for the bombing, nor did he question the credibility of Rowe as an informant.

Contemporary historians widely believe that the bombing was carried out by four KKK members, including Gary Rowe and known bomber Bill Holt. Rowe was already suspected by the KKK to be a government informant, and other members may have compelled him to assist with the bombing in order to test his fidelity to the white supremacy cause.

Many black witnesses held police accountable for the bombing of the King house, and immediately began to express their anger. Some began to sing “We Shall Overcome,” while others began to throw rocks and other small objects. More people mobilized after the second blast.   Many of them were already frustrated with the strategy of nonviolence as espoused by Martin Luther King, and turned to violence, and began to riot.

A crowd of about 2,500 people had formed and was blocking police cars and fire trucks from the Gaston Motel area. A fire that started at an Italian grocery store spread to the whole block. As traffic started to move, Birmingham Police drove their six-wheeled armored vehicle down the street, spraying tear gas.

The United States government intervened with federal troops for the first time to control violence during a civil rights related riot. It was also the first time the government had used military troops independently of enforcing a court injunction, an action was considered controversial by Governor George Wallace and other Alabama whites. The bombings and police response were a pivotal event that contributed to President Kennedy’s decision to propose civil rights legislation to achieve relief of injustice. It was ultimately passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

WOW – Work of the Week – BASQUIAT, Rinso





Jean-Michel Basquiat
Rinso
1983
Screenprint on wove paper
40 x 40 in.
Edition of 85
Pencil signed by Gerard Basquiat and stamped by the Jean-Michel Basquiat estate on verso, numbered in pencil on front

About the work:

Art or Black Art?

Reluctant to involve himself in black politics, and despite Jean-Michel Basquiat’s own insistence that his work be evaluated in the context of all art, and himself in the context of all artists, critics have consistently focused upon race in his works, making it almost impossible to separate the artwork, and the artist from his message.

Basquiat’s work is known for its primitivist motives, combining anatomical diagrams, commercial art, Black pop cultural history and figures, charged phrases and words, and representations of the body in an emotional and psychologically explosive mixture. His use of bright colors and his line drawings brought to life his experiences in the urban landscapes.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn in 1960.  His mother was of Afro-Puerto Rican descent, his father was Haitian. He grew up in a middle class family, and in a middle class environment.  But Basquiat sought to conceal his less than underprivileged background, by not wanting to create artwork that had any reference to black disempowerment, however, the opposite seems to have been more the case. 

Basquiat himself observed: “I get my facts from books, stuff on atomizers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in the Egyptian style … I put what I like from them in my paintings.”   However, other influences for Basquiat also included the work of Picasso, African masks, children’s art, hip-hop and jazz. The outcome itself has been described as a type of visual syncopation, or “eye rap.”

His paintings are both childlike and menacing, described as “raw”. Frenzied assemblages of crudely drawn figures, symbols like arrows, grids and crowns, recurring words in bold and vibrant colors, and depictions of violence and racial subjugation cover his canvases that is more often than not concealed beneath the competing interpretations that circulate about Basquiat as a figure.  This irony is one that has been applied to the situation of Basquiat himself in relation to a white-dominated art industry.

Borrowing elements of everyday language (brand names, trade marks, consumer clichés, political and racial slogans, etc.), Basquiat created juxtapositions that reveal latent power structures, whose realignment in turn produces ironies suggesting a fundamental arbitrariness within the institutions of social discourse. 

This week’s Work Of the Week (WOW), Rinso, a classic racist metaphor is exposed in the form of a reference to a popular washing powder. The words NEW RINSO(c), appearing above and beside three stylized renderings of Negroes, seem to point towards the word SLOGAN(c) in the centre of the artwork, which in turn gives on to an actual slogan-1950 RINSO: THE GREATEST DEVELOPMENT IN SOAP HISTORY-with an arrow pointing to the words WHITEWASHING ACTION at the bottom. In case the viewer misses the implications of this text, or the possible references to the violence of the 1950s civil rights movements, the words NO SUH, NO SUH written on the left of the work serve to lessen any ambiguity

Inevitably, it seems, these subjects became less and less distinguishable from the autobiographical elements Basquiat worked into his paintings. Success for Basquiat was always fraught with contradictions.  There is no doubt that such criticisms were fueled by the fact that Basquiat was the first black American artist to achieve international fame.  Not to play the role of noble savage or idiot savant could only reveal, to the art establishment, that Jean-Michel Basquiat would assume the position of a successful American artist, usually reserved for whites.  

Basquiat refused this role, even if at times he could be said to have exploited it. He was resented for his success, trivialized and slandered by critics. He sought fame, and like many who have achieved it, he found himself isolated in an often hostile and unpredictable environment.

Other works by Jean-Michel Basquiat available in the gallery: