By Don Cook
The leading numbered sections below are mostly about my process in creating pieces. The later numbered sections are more about this piece.
The surfaces of all my paintings are worn, bent, warped, sometimes folded and sliced, multiply perforated sheets of corrugated plastic signage originally used for electoral politics. Both sides have been whitewashed. One side bears a painting the other an activist message which has at some time been displayed to the public. I never keep track of or recall the campaign candidate, office, issue or whatever the surface originally marketed. I may or may not have supported it; usually not. The surface for this specific piece was collected after the off year election of 2015.
In 2003, at the end of the fall election cycle, after working as a local political activist in Houston supporting candidates running for local office, I and others began collecting campaign signage after the polls closed on election day. We mostly collected yard signs, but a few four feet by four feet and four feet by eight feet signs were also collected with the intention of repurposing them for future political campaigns. As it turned out they were also useful in peace and justice marches, rallies, and demonstrations.
By 2006 peace protesters had come up with a new form of demonstration against the war which they called “freeway blogging.” The idea was to hang a banner or sign with an anti-war message over or near a freeway or highway were hundreds or thousands more could see it, to then take a picture of it and post it to a blog where hundreds or thousands more could see it. In Houston this evolved to holding signs in hand (to avoid legal consequences for “permanently attaching” them to something) during rush hour when traffic was heaviest. These “blogging” signs had to be bigger than the smaller yard signs effective at rallies and marches in order to be legible to freeway drivers whizzing by. Many in Houston have looked up from rush hour traffic to see such signs supporting many causes, though not always the progressive causes which attract me, especially on the bridges over the trench section of Houston’s Southwest freeway between Main and Shepherd, but also on other freeways about town under bridges or overpasses.
In 2009, I and others began using these surfaces on car-trailer “floats” with activist messaging and painted decoration in some parades: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, Art Car Parade, Pride Parade. . . . It was natural to reuse the four feet by four feet and four feet by eight feet sheets of plastic we were familiar with, and I began to think about doing something more with these surfaces.
I originally began painting surfaces with half inch and smaller acrylic paint markers using only the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow plus black and white. I have since also begun using a half inch acrylic green marker. That is the basic acrylic palette of First People Peace & Justice. (I am considering an acrylic orange and violet for future work.) I have also since begun additionally using fine point watercolor marker over the acrylic paint.
For my personal meaningfulness it is necessary that there be linkage with progressive activism. The reuse of environmentally unsound, functionally indestructible plastic surfaces itself makes an environmental statement. No longer electoral signs, they are whitewashed over and painted with progressive activist slogans and informational material, themselves also meaningful, then finally repurposed as paintings where, theoretically and hopefully at least, they will have a functionally unending existence and never wind up in a landfill. Painting, in this Postmodern period, is in many if not most instances, absurdist (meaning not at all meaningful), but it is important to me that my paintings generally, and this painting especially, should be meaningful.
5) Not a Portrait
I have had occasion to explain before, and so it is with this painting, that an apparent portrait is not in, fact, a portrait. First People Peace & Justice is inspired by the pending (at the time of this writing) visit of Chief Arvol Looking Horse spiritual leader of the Oglala Sioux and the Standing Rock Water Protectors, to Houston, Texas to be honored by the Houston Peace and Justice Center at their 2017 Annual Peacemaker Award Dinner. Looking up information about Chief Looking Horse on the internet, I found the small color photograph which is the basis of this painting. This painting, similar to other apparent portraits I have painted, is not a portrait, except possibly a portrait of a photograph. A small photograph in this case. The subject of the photograph did not sit for the painting. Chief Looking Horse did not sit for this painting. Subjects sit for portraits. I have not met the subject of the photograph, although I hope to soon, and while a general similarity to the small photograph was sought and is hopefully noticeable, an effort at a likeness would have been absurd, and was not attempted.
6) Steps in creation of First People Peace and Justice
The small, one inch by three quarters of an inch, photo, was the basis of a three inch by four inch watercolor marker sketch. The sketch was photocopied in order to lay a pencil grid over it to facilitate transferring the sketch to the four foot by four foot surface. Lateral panels of stripes celebrating the acrylic marker colors used on the painting (blue, red, yellow, green) were added, a thing I do with my acrylic paintings on plastic surfaces, when there is room left over.
7) The performance part of the process
On Friday, November 3, 2017, from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm (during rush hour) this painting will be held up on the Montrose Bridge over the Southwest Fwy. in Houston, TX. All are welcome to be present, either on the bridge or in the traffic below it for for this the performance part of the work. To the left of the painting will be a four foot by eight foot plastic surface painted to read:
CHIEF ARVOL LOOKING HORSE
SPIRITUAL LEADER OF THE
SIOUX NATION & STANDING ROCK
To the right of the painting a four foot by eight foot plastic surface reading:
CROWNE PLAZA 2712 S.W. FWY.
SAT NOV 11, 6PM FEW TICKETS LEFT
A similar message, condensed from these two messages and modified to fit the four foot by four foot format, was, and is, on the obverse side of the painting for the benefit of foot traffic on the bridge.:
CHIEF LOOKING HORSE
HPJC ANN. DINNER
2712 S.W. FWY.
SAT. NOV. 11, 6PM
Just as the bridge display is the performance part of this piece, the message on the opposite side of the painting is part of the work also.
8) Display of this two-sided planar object
There is no frame on this picture, but it could easily be framed to any owner’s taste. And any owner can favor one side over the other, and effectively suppress or hide one side with a traditional framing. But as I say, I consider the written message on one side of this piece as valid, in principle, as the pictorial representation on the other side, and will be happy to discuss display options with the purchaser should she or he wish.
Proceeds of all initial sales of my work are donated to others, and First People Peace & Justice is no exception. The winning bid will be divided between and donated to the Houston Peace and Justice Center and Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s designee.