Category Archives: The Black Dot Museum of Political Art

“Cherry Flowers” in “Spring”

I made a video for the Mecca Normal song “Cherry Flowers” (Dovetail, K Records, 1992) fairly spontaneously. It’s a pretty song about springtime and I did a cherry blossom painting recently, so it occurred to me to connect them. But, as I was putting the elements together, I recalled more about the song’s meaning, which I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about or expressed.

That got me to thinking about all Mecca Normal’s songs and the various meanings tucked up into them, so I listed all the songs, created a song meaning legend and assigned codes to most of the songs with a note saying that some of the songs need to be reviewed due to their nature, which might be psychological, poetic or complex.

As for “Cherry Flowers” (1992), it is about the geography of borders, clandestine crossings in vehicles (row boats heading for the united caves of america) laden with cherry flowers. Feel free to interpret what the cherry flowers are (maybe art and music?), but, in the song, “seven men in white shirts watch the needle on the gauge, rise and fall, swing and dive, on the border” using specialized equipment to assess the validity of those attempting to cross.

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“Spring” (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel). $100 USD plus shipping.

$100 USD Paintings Currently Available

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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.

 

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#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.

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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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Discovering Utopia, 2010

20 Questions: Calvin Johnson of K Records, Verbicide Magazine, October, 2016

Verbicide: What song really hits you in the feels and makes you cry?

Calvin: “Malachi” by Mecca Normal.

One painting in the series “Discovering Utopia” (cover art for the Mecca Normal 7″) is still available.

The 7″ cover was included in an exhibit about Malachi Ritscher in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

 

 

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“Malachi” 7″ on K Records


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“Discovering Utopia #3″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

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“Discovering Utopia #4″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

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“Discovering Utopia #5″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

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“Discovering Utopia #6″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. $250 USD plus shipping.

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Making Political Art

I was on an upswing with the painting before the election results. I’ve been making a living painting $100 portraits for almost a year which I hope to continue. Upheaval as a self-employed artist is problematic. You can’t just keep going to a job and getting a paycheck which is how I’ve mainly supported myself in the last 15 years… before which I was a “professional” musician.

It was weird; just as the election results started to come in, a guy in San Francisco bought five paintings. A record sale. Then action dropped off entirely, in part because my FaceBook page is my “storefront” and I didn’t want to just keep posting paintings unrelated to what was happening politically. That seemed trite. My FaceBook friends are almost all connections through music, art and activism so, my newsfeed is basically 100% political from a leftist perspective. Interjecting paintings of mostly Caucasian women seemed disconnected if not downright absurd.

I don’t think I actually painted for the first few days, and then, when I did, I painted five or six total duds (which is highly unusual for me). A week or so later, I felt quite “human” about that. It seems my basic ability to create art is affected by what goes on in the world, but that’s a scary thing when you’re self-employed. How long would I be making lousy paintings? I aim to paint one a day, but I consistently fall short of that. I sell half of what I paint, which is exactly what I need to pay my bills. I can’t afford to do subpar paintings.

I had been switching back and forth between people and animals around the time of the election, and suddenly animals seemed like a viable direction considering how I felt about humans.

It’s weird how many animals are used to define human characteristics – including the fox (foxy, clever) – but the whole fox-hunting thing in England with a bunch of snobs (including the royal family) tracking foxes is pretty awful as far as sports go. It’s right up there with bullfighting as far as tormenting an animal and then killing it as part of the outcome is nuts.

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“Fox #4” $100 USD

Yet, I didn’t want to be steered off course, so I returned to the painting people. I had thought that animals for Christmas might be a thing sales-wise, but now I’m not so sure that’s what I should be doing. I created a FaceBook Event page offering gift certificates,  wrapping and hand-painted cards, but it didn’t get any reaction. Anyway, I’m a painter, not a card maker. I need to stay on track. Maybe discounts and free shipping are of little interest to people interested in buying a painting.

Prior to the animals, I did five or so of Standing Rock Water Protectors with 15% going to the Red Warrior Camp. The ones based on the composition below (with varying degrees of abstraction) felt appropriate in terms of both “bearing witness” and documentiation. It was September at this point, before the reaction to the water protectors became more physical. I did one in late October of the cops drenching people with water cannons, ice hanging off the razor wire, but I wasn’t happy enough with it to post it.

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“Standing Rock  Water Protectors #3” SOLD

The act of creating non-political art in public places (including online) during times of international upheaval reminded me of being on tour with Unwound and Thrones during 9/11. We were supposed to play Boston that night, but that show was canceled, partly because of the club’s name (the Middle East) and our band name being “Mecca” Normal. Evidently they got some threatening phone calls because of that. The club owner fed us an excellent meal and then we all sat around in the band room trying to figure out what to do. Continue or pull the plug on the remainder of the tour and head home. We decided to continue. Our Manhattan show at the Bowery Ballroom (9/12 I think) was canceled, so the next show was Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ which is basically considered a NY show. I desperately wanted to perform relevant songs! I felt completely ridiculous going up on stage to sing about interpersonal relationships. It was interesting though. Phones had been out in the area so people didn’t know what was going on with their friends. The show turned out to be a gathering point. People went to the show to connect with their community, to see if friends were OK, to hear what had happened to them. We were on first and because it was the first show since the attacks that many people were going to (I think it was 9/13), everyone talked through our set, which is something that would normally bug me, but, in this case, I felt like we were providing some sort of service. It felt good to be the kind of band people could talk over. No bass and drums. It felt relevant, but I never would have thought of it in advance. We played our regular set and no one listened and that was, in that moment, fine. Not totally great as a band promoting an album on tour 3000 miles from home, but… whatever.

The incredible thing about both Thrones and Unwound were that their sound took over in a way that I’d never experienced before. Visceral. The low end was therapeutic. Like some sort of massively thorough massage. The volume was like a flood of dopamine or whatever. Endorphins. I didn’t expect this. How the music felt.

Back to present day. After the recent election results in US, I made one of my paintings of a Caucasian woman “political” by painting “anti-fascist” and “sloganeer” “tattoos” instead of eyebrows (below). I’d been thinking about Woody Guthrie’s “this machine kills fascists” and came up with that idea. I marked it “not for sale” at the time because I felt like my paintings should somehow be a reaction to what’s going on, but I didn’t want to be trading on people’s emotions. Weeks later I marked it for sale.

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“No Hat 111” $100 USD

I’ve been thinking about artists who are in the middle of projects, in either creation or exhibition mode. I wonder what it feels like to be making work that isn’t related to current upheaval, work that has been in progress for a long time and needs to continue. Certainly artists can’t drop what they’re doing to respond to current events, but I’ve been wondering how those artists must feel. My approach is to continue with what I was doing with variations made based on my understanding of what’s going on around me. I’m not normalizing or ignoring, but just not stopping. Not giving up. Integrating new ideas as they arrive.

I have, in the last week or so, been painting non-Caucasian faces which is, in part, a reaction to recent events in the USA. Of the six African American faces I’ve painted two have sold.

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“The Hat #46” SOLD

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“The Hat #47” $100 USD

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“The Hat #48” $100 USD

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“The Hat #49” $100 USD

“No Hat #116” (below)  got a tremendous reaction on my FaceBook page. 141 “likes” and “loves” and 20 comments yesterday! It sold a few hours after I posted it.

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“No Hat #116” SOLD

For me, this kind of turning away from representing white people feels appropriate, but it means having to “learn” new color pallets and figuring out how to paint features that are different than the ones I’ve been painting since I began the series back in February, 2016.

There’s a point in art-making when finding new territory to explore increases motivation to work and that’s where I’m at now.

I’ve just posted “No Hat #117” (below) on my FaceBook page and I plan to paint from the same source photo at least once more.

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“No Hat #117” $100 USD

The high point so far as a political artist was in 2014 when David Lester and I were  interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about a Mecca Normal 7″ (with a song about war protester Malachi Ritscher) featuring my painting “Discovering Utopia” on the cover (below) being included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

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“Discovering Utopia”

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“Standing Rock Water Protectors”

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“Standing Rock Water Protectors” (acrylic on birch panel 20 x 24 x 1.5″) September, 2016. $600 USD plus shipping. 15% donated to Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock.

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“Standing Rock Water Protectors” (acrylic on watercolour paper 11 x 14″) September, 2016. SOLD. 15% donated to Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock.

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“Standing Rock Water Protectors #2″ (acrylic on watercolour paper 11 x 14”) September, 2016. SOLD. 15% donated to Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock.

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“Standing Rock Water Protectors #3″ (acrylic on watercolour paper 11 x 14”) September, 2016. SOLD. 15% donated to Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock.

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“Standing Rock Water Protectors #4″ (acrylic on watercolour paper 11 x 14”) September, 2016. $100 USD plus shipping. 15% donated to Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock.

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A brief history of Mecca Normal

A brief history of Mecca Normal in TV news clips and live footage to give background and context to Jeans Smith’s ongoing $100 painting series.

“I made this for Dan Seward’s Bunnybrains event during TBA: 16  at PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) 511 Gallery in Portland, Oregon on September 15, 2016.” – Jean Smith

Part of Makeup on Empty Space, curated by Kristan Kennedy. Co-presented with PNCA’s 511 Gallery & Director of Center for Contemporary Art and Culture, Mack McFarland.

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Video: all the paintings

Jean Smith portrait paintings

No Hat #79 800“No Hat #79” (acrylic on canvas board 11 x 14”) August 21, 2016. SOLD

Below, in the video, all the paintings in Jean Smith’s ongoing series of $100 paintings. As of September 3, almost 80 of the nearly 170 paintings have sold. Paintings currently available

Music by Mecca Normal (Jean Smith and David Lester), from the album Empathy for the Evil (2014, M’Lady’s Records) “Wasn’t Said” and “Between Livermore and Tracy” (both produced by KRAMER who also plays bass on these tracks)

At the very end (after the credits) Jean gives a brief visual demonstration of how Mecca Normal got started.

Mecca Normal‘s “Man Thinks Woman” (1987) was recently (August 8, 2016) included in Pitchfork’s story of feminist punk in 33 songs with a great write-up by Douglas Wolk

“Mecca Normal break rules like they never noticed them in the first place. The Vancouver-based duo of singer Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester are anarchist-feminist activists and constant experimentalists, implying a rhythm section with negative space alone. Always an intense presence onstage, they’ve become the most tenacious of D.I.Y. road warriors, touring and recording for 32 years now. In the early ’90s, they popped up on most of the biggest American indie-rock labels (Sub Pop, K, Matador); by their 25th anniversary, they were on the road with a performance-and-lecture project called “How Art & Music Can Change the World.”

Smith’s lyrics often foreground her political perspective; their anthem “Man Thinks ‘Woman,'” released in 1987, started out as a barbed dissection of gender normativity: “Man thinks ‘woman’ when he talks to me/Something not quite right.” The song kept expanding its radius from there, encompassing both bitter poetics and a disarmingly funny account of a drunken makeout gone weird. Kathleen Hanna has cited Smith as an early inspiration: “When I saw her,” she told The Fader, “I was just like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m sold.” – Douglas Wolk

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