Category Archives: political art

single and double element paintings

One avenue of exploration that runs across several of my series is the positing of women in traditionally male-dominated roles such as astronaut, pilot — and to some degree wearer of hoodie, which then resulted in there being paintings of Black women as astronauts, pioneers of aviation, and Black men and women as wearers of hoodies. There is an intention for emotions and injustices surrounding these images to be visible and understood.

Every now and then I combine themes such as “Bathing Cap” and “The Phone” which, after painting “Bathing Cap and Phone #2” (below) I realized the style of phone indicated 70s or 80s era and the bathing cap referred to a swimming pool and combining the phone (a stationary device in the home at that time) with a pool equaled opulence / wealth because who but the wealthy would have a pool in the 70s or 80s? The personality then became somewhat ominous. Who makes or takes a call during a swim? What sort of shadiness was being discussed on the phone? I believe the buyer asked this last question during the transaction!

Bathing Cap #43 800

Bathing Cap #43

The Phone #13 800 2

The Phone #13

Also, viewing a double-element painting makes it seem like previous single-element (bathing cap or phone) paintings may have been priming the viewer for a narrative yet to arrive. In this way the project feels sequential (in a strange way).

A double-element painting might also have the viewer wondering if there was meaning they didn’t catch in the single-element paintings, because the double-element paintings seem to have a more narrative nature. If there hadn’t been the single-element paintings, I doubt the double-element paintings would feel as narrative as they do.

Deducing the potential for a naturally occurring narrative to come across in my double-element paintings, I decided to paint a Black woman for “Bathing Cap and Phone #3” to see what would happen in terms of my theory that exposure to single-element paintings (“Bathing Cap” and “The Phone”) over time (many months) prepared / encouraged viewers to engage with double-element paintings differently in terms of generating or considering meaning.

Painter Kerry James Marshall talks about using existing works of art featuring white people as models for work featuring Black people in this interview from 2014 in which he refers to a painting called “The Swing” where a white person is on a swing in a tree, and he talks about his series of a Black man swinging a Black woman around in his arms, connecting the paintings, talking about how he didn’t want to do the obvious replacing one person with another.

“Black invisibility is a psychological issue,” Marshall says. “It means that people do not want to see you in the fullness of who you are.”

The paintings in the “Bathing Cap and Phone” series feels vaguely reminiscent to me of how powerful photos taken by Jacob Holdt (a young Danish guy travelling around in the US in the 70s) made me feel years ago when I discovered the book “American Pictures“. I found evidence of it online some years ago.

x Bathing Cap and Phone #2 800
Bathing Cap and Phone #2

Bathing Cap and Pone #3 800Bathing Cap and Phone #3

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Mecca Normal “I Walk Alone” at Tobi’s 50th

Erin Smith’s video from July, 2019 “MECCA NORMAL doing I WALK ALONE at Tobi Vail’s birthday party!! SO beautiful and perfect and intense to be able to see you do this at this time in this town with all of the people in the audience you have influenced so deeply. You were the first band I ever saw play Olympia in 1989, at Reko Muse Gallery with Tobi Vail and @mskathleenhanna in the audience along with me. THANK YOU MECCA NORMAL!! THANK YOU Jean Smith!!! This weekend has been nothing short of INCREDIBLE!!”

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New York Times features on Riot Grrrl


Mecca Normal entry in the New York Times Riot Grrrl Listening Guide

New York Times Popcast: The Return of Bikini Kill and the Long Tail of Riot Grrrl

3 minute Mecca Normal segment of the New York Times Popcast about Riot Grrrl features “I Walk Alone”

We recorded “I Walk Alone” as it was written, and released it in 1986 on our first LP on Smarten UP! — the label I created using the same name as my fanzine (subtitled: a How to Change the World Publication). The album was re-released by K Records in the mid-90s.


The first LP (Smarten UP! Records, 1986) includes “I Walk Alone” re-released by K Records

“I Walk Alone Live” in 2015

Smarten UP! zine by Jean Smith mid 1980s, Vancouver

Smarten UP!, my mid-80s zine was “a How to Change the World Publication”


Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) Network, Toronto, 1992

It was interesting to hear one of the participants in the podcast lamenting the lack of live recordings of some of these bands, which is why David and I are thrilled about the new “LIVE in Montreal, 1996” album (Artoffact Records, 2019) which includes “I Walk Alone” as part of a 3-song feminist medley.

“I Walk Alone” has been in our set for most of the 35 years we’ve been playing. I almost always leave the ‘stage’ to go into the audience to sing it, something that has not been recorded and released until now.

Listen on Bandcamp Man Thinks Woman / Strong White Male / I Walk Alone “Live in Montreal, 1996”

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These Three Together

 Jean Smith contemporary portrait painting $100 USD

“She’s No Picnic #2” (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel). $100 USD plus shipping.


No Picnic #3 800
“She’s No Picnic #3” (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel). $100 USD plus shipping.
Angry #8 800
“Angry Woman in Rock #8” (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel). $100 USD plus shipping.
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In-depth interview with Reality Sandwich by Tamra Lucid, December 11, 2017.

The second in a series of interviews with cutting edge writers, artists and musicians working through Facebook to reach audiences that often don’t expect to find them there.

“I’m painting from photos that were taken for specific purposes – a lot of them are publicity shots or for advertising. It feels like I’m giving misrepresented personalities the opportunity to express a depth of emotion – which is sometimes anger – or maybe it’s the subtle nuances I choose to include.”

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Political Art

FUCK 800“Fuck Your Morals” (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) July 2017. SOLD

FUCK #2 800

“Fuck Your Morals #2″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) July 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

I often feel like I should be doing more overtly political art like my Standing Rock Water Protectors series, that painting faces – women’s faces – isn’t enough. Yet, this concern reflects how a lot of people feel right now, historically. What can I do? What can any of us do to set things on a better course? Maybe it hasn’t been necessary to describe the better course for a long time. Better than what? Better than 1% self-interest. How about the greatest good to the greatest number of people? A utilitarian premise that doesn’t take us too far, but I think that’s what people have in mind as opposed to being fine with the wealthy doing whatever they want to make money at the expense of everyone else.

When I start to question my motivation for not making more overtly political art, I accept that fear is involved. Would people buy political art? Do I paint protestors or faces? I go back to the amount of very direct political content I have created. Must I always sing political songs? Paint political art? Write political novels?

“Fuck Your Morals” was a two painting series. I admit: when the second one didn’t sell, I stopped. If it had sold, I would have continued. I make a distinction between making multiple paintings of political subjects and replicating primarily aesthetic work. It’s very different. If I had a strong sense of political work selling, I’d paint more of it. Painting faces is a way for me to support myself and protect myself from retail-related damage (wrists, back, etc.) so that I can continue to make more overtly political work in the future. There! I’ve justified it! Yet, if painting women from photos whose primary intention was to exploit women in the name of capitalism, if painting those faces with a completely different intention, to populate the world with women’s emotions that they themselves (allegedly) felt – anger included – this is political. It’s also utterly idiosyncratic and it requires some thought. It’s also the work of a cultural activist who has been creating work across a handful of disciplines without ever making it big, but yet, keeps going rather than giving up or selling out.

I sometimes feel that the prettier faces sell fastest, that there’s a demand for youth and beauty, that I don’t want to play into. I’m not searching for something that will sell well and then continue to paint a bunch of those. That isn’t what I’m doing. Even though I get immediate feedback in terms of ‘likes’ and sales on FaceBook, I return to paint whatever I want. Most recently, I’ve been placing more importance on areas other than the face like the hair, neck and shoulders – where I’m doing more abstract work. It’s a way of broadening the work beyond the face.

I think more money-driven artists might go towards what sells, but that’s too much like capitalism – as is raising the price for no particular reason other than it’s the conventional thing to do when something becomes popular. All the years of making music that isn’t about fame and fortune fortifies this approach. I know first hand what else can be accomplished by making something that isn’t essentially profit-driven. Friendship, community, measurable social change. Don’t get me wrong – I want to have money to reduce worry and increase security, but it isn’t what propels this project. Yet again, if the paintings weren’t selling, I’d have to get a job in retail. Grappling with the balance between creativity and commerce is nothing new to me. It’s part of what I’d include in an artist statement, but I think that’s something that will come later.



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Standing Rock Water Protectors

Standing Rock 20 x 24 800
“Standing Rock Water Protectors” (24 x 20 x 1.5″ acrylic on wood) September, 2016. $800 USD plus shipping.

Standing Rock 800 #2
“Standing Rock Water Protectors #2″ (11 x 14” acrylic on paper) September, 2016. SOLD

Standing Rock 800 #3
“Standing Rock Water Protectors #3″ (11 x 14” acrylic on paper) September, 2016. SOLD

Standing Rock 800 #4
“Standing Rock Water Protectors #4″ (11 x 14” acrylic on paper) September, 2016. $100 USD plus shipping.

Standing Rock 800
“Standing Rock Water Protectors” (11 x 14″ acrylic on watercolor paper)September, 2016. SOLD

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Washing Hair

Shower 800

“Washing Hair” sold to the person (now an official collector) who bought “Y-Front #4” back in the summer.

It’s funny; “Washing Hair” looks so simple and confident, but behind the scenes, man, there was a lot of swearing, and I chucked a tube of paint (Caucasian) across the room… an open tube. Never done that before. Had to clean splatters off the cupboards etc. It must have been finished at least a dozen times, but then I had to go and try to make some part of it better (sound familar, women? …and why does the word ‘women’ not work there? Why do gals, ladies, girls sound OK and women doesn’t?)

I wanted the figure to accomplish so much in the big picture – in the history of how women are portrayed, how we are in private, how we feel about ourselves. Painting over and over, wiping and washing sections away. It took a couple of hours, but in another way, it took a lifetime.

To me, this grappling activity is painting. Not filling in areas with pre-determined colours, like you see in YouTube how to paint videos.

Y Front #4 800 a

Y-Front #4

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Gloria Steinem, CIA

“No Hat #138 B aka Gloria Steinem, CIA” (acrylic on canvas board 11 x 14″) January 21, 2017 (not posted until today, February 25, 2017). SOLD

I referred to this painting in a post earlier today, in which I was writing about “No Hat #133”. I mentioned that one of the big skills I possess (in painting) is knowing when to stop and both #133 and #138 B are excellent examples of that.


No Hat 133 800

#138 B (at top) was one of the rare times that I set a painting aside because it felt finished well in advance of what I was intending to do, but I wasn’t entirely sure. With #133 there was no question that it was totally finished. In this case of #138 B, I still wanted to think about it. So it’s been sitting here since mid January and I haven’t had any inclination to add anything to it. Selling “No Hat #133” earlier today (to a radio journalist in Stockholm) has inspired me to call “No Hat #138 B aka Gloria Steinem, CIA” finished as well.

I started painting from a screengrab of Gloria Steinem speaking at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, but… I stopped here because, as I say, I liked it at this point. This is a good example of how I use photos of actual people to whatever degree I need them as a starting point.

After I set the painting aside I ended up doing some research on Steinem, just to refresh my memory on her history. I’m pretty sure I never knew she worked for the CIA. This kinda killed my interest in doing a portrait of her, not that it would necessarily be representattional to the degree that she’d be recognizable, but the CIA connection fortified my interest in halting my involvement with her.

Additionally, a novel I wrote a few years back (The Black Dot Museum of Political Art) has a segment in it about the CIA’s involvement in the abstract art movement in NYC in the 1950s and 60s, so this issue of cultural icons being willing and/or unwittingly participants in CIA activities was unexpectedly back in front of me.

So, while the is painting (#138 B) is at face value a solid composition made up of fairly similar tones with the suggestion of what might have followed (the shape of the head) for those that know my work, the backstory provides intellectual content that can be factored in.

The Hat 53 800

I painted Michael Moore the same day, so it’s conceivable that Gloria would have been similarly obscured had I continued and, as I type this, I realize that it was obscured – even more aggressively, but in a completely different way.
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Hotel / Pizza / Text

I rarely use text in my paintings, but it’s something I may get into. With resistance a prevalent theme, I’ve been considering how to make my portraits more overtly political. Text is probably the easiest way to get a point across.

Last summer, I was asked to paint actress and singer Francoise Hardy, so I found a photo I found of her outside the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. I tend to use photos as starting points, and not necessarily to paint a likeness. This wasn’t a commission, so I felt free to paint the subject the way I normally do. Without slavishly representing her features.

I noticed that putting the subject in front of a hotel sign suggested certain things about the women I painted. I wasn’t convinced that everyone would know it was the Chelsea Hotel where artists, musicians and other creative types lived and congregated, so I changed the iconic hotel sign to a pizza sign — and suddenly it felt like the subject had moved from the hotel to the pizza parlor. Or perhaps there were different women outside both locations.

Because I post my work immediately after I paint it, there is a kind of sequential element built into it. I noticed that added text suggested a possible narrative — at least it did to me.

I’d already painted a few baboons without text when I decided to paint one with the pizza sign. The baboon reminded me of King Kong — perhaps because the Chelsea Hotel sign placed the action in New York. Now, instead of being concerned that the women might be regarded as sex workers, I was worried King Kong was going to grab one of them and carry her up the Empire State Building.

I painted the last one in the series to indicate that the baboon did not harm the subject(s). I’m pretty sure I was the only person caught up in my halting narrative, but adding text to my otherwise language-free portraits was a surprisingly power experience.

No Hat #104 800 ed

No Hat #104 SOLD

No Hat #105 800

“No Hat #105” (acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) November 5, 2016. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat #106 800

“No Hat #106” (acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) November 6, 2016. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat #107 800

“No Hat #107” (acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) November 7, 2016. $100 USD plus shipping.

Baboon 3 800 NEW

Baboon #3 SOLD

No Hat #109 800

“No Hat #109″ (acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) November 12, 2016. $100 USD plus shipping.

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