Sunday, January 22, 2017

First They Came for the Mexicans...

This weekend, while many of the more thoughtful people in the world were gathering in their millions to demonstrate their commitment to the principles of equality and freedom, I was planting seeds in my garden in the hope that they would germinate into manifestations of hope that would sustain me through the confusion of the next few months.

Bill Bramhall - Cartoon in response to Trump's announcement that he would deny entrance to Muslim immigrants - New York Daily News, December 7, 2015

As I worked the soil, I was pondering something Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in 1938 to the Daughters of the American Revolution, a nativist group of women who trace their ancestry to the founding fathers. Today it seems particularly apropos: "Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."

Thomas Nast - "The Chinese Question" - Harper's Weekly, 1871

If I investigate my family tree, I guess I have as much right to be a belligerent nativist as any white American. I have at least one direct ancestor (Francis Cooke) who arrived with the Pilgrims on the famously cramped and miserable voyage of the Mayflower in 1620, not to mention John Winthrop, who became Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629, and Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, a 12-year-old indentured laborer who arrived in 1637 and later became one of the founders of Brooklyn (his house still stands on Clarendon Road in Flatbush, the oldest surviving structure in New York City).

Fred Packer - Cartoon about the turning away of 900 Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis - New York Daily News, 1939

Over the years, these early birds in my genealogy were joined by a slew of unpopular German and English Protestants (who intermarried occasionally with French or Polish heretics of one stripe or another) looking for a place where they could be free, prosper and procreate. Finally, the Irish Catholics and Swedish Lutherans showed up to the party, fleeing famine and oppression on a perilous journey to our shores in the late 1800s.

Thomas Nast - "Every Dog (No Distinction of Color) Has His Day" - Harper's Weekly, 1879
The truth is that unless we can identify as Native Americans, whose ancestors crossed the Bering Land Bridge and adapted to the demands of this continent 20,000 years before the Europeans arrived to virtually exterminate them, we are all immigrants. Who are we to judge the imperiled migrants who arrive on our shores, regardless of their religion or circumstances? Our ancestors were just like them, considered dirty, ignorant, heretical and dangerous by the people who happened to arrive here before them. Many of them were debtors or criminals, and a vast number of them were forced to come here against their will. Nearly every wave of new immigrants was greeted with fear and derision, as evidenced by these political cartoons.

Thomas Nast - "The Chinese Question" (detail) - Harper's Weekly, 1882
Even our newly installed Dear Leader is the son of an impoverished foreign worker named Mary Ann Macleod, who arrived here from Scotland in 1930 with $50 in her pocket, hoping to find work as a servant, and the grandson of Friedrich Trump, who came from Germany to seek his fortune in 1885 at the age of 16—though he pretended to be Swedish throughout his life to avoid negative stereotypes about Germans that might impact his business. Young Trump found work in Manhattan as a barber before venturing west to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush, cleverly choosing to separate prospectors from their gold in various mercantile enterprises, including a few brothels. Seems like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! One might also say that the tree's roots are only a few inches deep.

George Keller - "The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them?" - The Wasp, 1878
So united we must stand, because that is literally the bedrock of our society. We are a nation of hardscrabble, down-on-their-luck immigrants, built on the tenet that every human being has the right to strive for success, regardless of their background or beliefs. That's all anyone coming to our shores is asking for—a fair chance to make their way in the world on their own terms. Our nation must continue to be a beacon of hope to the world, a "shining city on a hill," to quote Very-Great Granddad John Winthrop (via President Reagan, using the phrase in his farewell address), who wrote those words aboard the Arbella en route to the New World, envisioning the society he would build there. As a nation, we have often fallen short of that mark, but it remains the aspiration and foundation of this great American experiment.

Thomas Nast - "Which Color Is To Be Tabooed Next?" - Harper's Weekly, 1882

So never forget that your ancestors were a bunch of badass, devil-may-care, stick-it-to-the-man rabble-rousers, dissenters and revolutionaries who were prepared to lay everything they had on the line for a chance at liberty and opportunity. The least we can do is stand as a bulwark against the erosion of the principles that made that freedom possible. 

"First they came for the Socialists, 
and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Socialist. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, 
and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews, 
and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me."
-- Martin Niemöller

Thomas Nast - "The Union as it Was" - Harper's Weekly, 1874

Friday, September 9, 2016

Edwin Ushiro's "We Were Here Before, Not Now, But Somehow We Will Return Again”

Thought you guys would appreciate Edwin Ushiro's latest creation—a ghostly greyhound, delicately drawn in layered pen and ink on wood panel, currently showing at Thinkspace's LAX/ORD show at Vertical Gallery in Chicago.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Andrew Hem at the Long Beach Museum of Art

This Friday, July 15th, don't miss the opening of Vitality & Verve: In the Third Dimension at the Long Beach Museum of Art, in collaboration with Thinkspace and Pow! Wow! Among the many murals you'll be able to experience is this extraordinary installation by Andrew Hem – perhaps the first mural of an interior scene he's ever painted.

If you can't make it on Friday, the exhibition will run through October 16th. And if you head down there before it gets too late, make sure to check out the dozens of other murals that have recently been added to the walls of the city itself through Pow! Wow! Long Beach, including a new collaboration between Andrew Hem, Edwin Ushiro and Yoskay Yamamoto!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Andrew Hem's "Mountain Full"

Get ready for Andrew Hem's next solo show, which will open on Saturday, May 14th at Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York. I've seen the work and can attest that it's going to be another terrific show, full of mystery and beauty and new adventures in color and form. I'll be heading to New York for the show, so I hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Join The Great Los Angeles River Cleanup this weekend!

It's Earth Month, which means it's time for the annual Great Los Angeles River Cleanup. On three Saturday mornings in April, thousands of people join together to prepare the river for summer recreation, to improve the habitat of the waterbirds, turtles, frogs and fish that live in the river, and to prevent debris from reaching the ocean, where it would endanger marine life.

The cleanup is organized by the Friends of the Los Angeles River, whose dogged advocacy on behalf of the river over the last 30 years helped bring about its recent reclassification as a navigable waterway and the opening of the river to recreational use, which gave the river the concurrent Clean Water Act protections that the EPA extends to recreational waterways. That means that the river will get healthier every year, as long as we continue to use it recreationally.

The Glendale Narrows, looking south from the 134 Freeway. (Photo by Mark Boster courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

This Saturday, April 23rd, we'll be cleaning up the Glendale Narrows, the fascinating natural-bottom section of the river that runs for 11 miles from Glendale through Atwater Village and Elysian Valley to the Arroyo Seco confluence. When the wild river was constrained into a concrete channel in 1938 to control flash flooding, the engineers left the bottom open on this section because they believed the water table was too high to support concrete. 

The wild Los Angeles River from Hyperion Bridge, circa 1937.

As a result, this segment of the river and the natural springs bubbling up beneath it nourish willows, sycamores and cottonwoods, as well as shrubs, grasses and aquatic plants that provide food and shelter for wild creatures.

A natural spring bubbling up through the concrete riverbed. 

For the past few months, I've been exploring the east bank of the Glendale Narrows nearly every weekend, and I've fallen in love with its weird beauty and the unlikely sense of stillness it engenders, despite running through the heart of a city of millions. The bright notes of running water build over the bass drone of the freeway that parallels the river, somehow orchestrating a soothing isolation that allows one to pleasure in the surreal landscape and the crazy energy it encompasses. Though almost universally derided as a polluted concrete drainage trench, the river secretly harbors a rogue wilderness that is finding its own way to thrive in the face of daunting challenges, and there is adventure and wonder aplenty waiting for those bold enough to venture into its bed. 

A latter-day cool cat makes for a possibly coincidental tribute to Leo Limón.

Living just a mile or so from the Glendale Narrows, I've believed in the vision of a more natural Los Angeles River for a long time. In 2001, when President Bush sent everyone a $300 bribe, I immediately donated the tainted money to a Los Angeles River restoration project. I've also been intrigued by the strange underground cultures our captive rivers cultivate, from my first years in the city glimpsing Leo Limón's legendary cat faces adorning the storm drain covers facing the 5 Freeway, to later discovering the work that graffiti artists like Chaz Bojórquez and Saber had risked life and liberty to execute on the beckoning canvas offered by those endless concrete expanses.

Canada Geese unruffled by my presence.

Today the Glendale Narrows is nearly graffiti-free, courtesy of a concerted cleanup effort by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2009, but it is far from sterile. In the past month I have encountered Great Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Canada Geese, American Coots and Black-necked Stilts, as well a wide array of ducks. As dusk falls, flocks of swallows swoop overhead, scooping up the gnats that hover over the water's surface, and Black-Crowned Night Herons soar down from the trees to begin their evening hunt.

A Great Blue Heron decides to put a little more space between us.

Two weeks ago, I watched hundreds of carp engaged in an epic struggle to mount the shallow ramp to the concrete-bottom section of the river and head upstream to spawn, and also witnessed a man catching a 30-pound carp with his bare hands and wrestling it to submission. Some days I've walked for miles along the riverbed without seeing another human being, and on others I've shared it with a colorful assortment of runners, bikers, dog walkers, horse riders, lovebirds, duck feeders and fishermen, not to mention the intrepid hobos who pitch their tents on the river's more hospitable islands.

Carp squirm up the ramp onto the concrete -bottom section. 

The vibrant energy of the Glendale Narrows is incontrovertible proof that life will find a way, even in a concrete drainage channel largely filled with treated waste water. Though the river has lost all of its native riparian species, such as the steelhead trout and red-legged frogs that once thrived here, an abundance of hardy creatures has taken their place. Protecting and improving the river will expand their habitat, and enrich the lives of us Angelenos, as well. Our city is notoriously park-poor — less than a third of us live within walking distance of a public park — but that may soon change. In the coming years, the public land that borders the river will slowly be connected into a continuous 51-mile-long greenspace and bike trail that runs all the way from Canoga Park to Long Beach. River advocates hope that the concrete bottom of the river will one day be removed entirely so we can reintroduce the endangered trout and frogs that were once native to the river, but require a natural bottom for spawning and hibernation.

Cheerful flotsam at the high water mark on a rainy day. 

But right now, the winter rain has carried the debris of the city down into the river channel, and plastic bags, tarps and clothing have gotten tangled in the trees; bottles, broken toys and dead balloons have become mired in the mud; and half-sunken shopping carts are making sad perches for egrets. So come down this Saturday and have an adventure with us as we remove tons of trash from our very own urban wilderness and prepare it to present its best face to this summer's loverskayakers, and maybe even some devil-may-care swimmers. They may have paved paradise, but they can't take away our dreams.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Andrew Hem, Ekundayo & Edwin Ushiro at Pow! Wow! Hawaii

It's been two months since I returned from my trip to Honolulu for Pow! Wow! Hawaii, so I guess it's time to share a few of my pictures from the production of Edwin Ushiro's first mural and Andrew Hem and Ekundayo's largest collaboration to date.

Andrew and Ekundayo's mural is based on the Hawaiian honi, a greeting in which two people press their noses together and inhale, exchanging their ha, the breath of life, as well as their mana, or spiritual energy. 

Edwin's mural depicts a girl surfing her bike along a wave of water, vapor and energy.

Slinkachu's installation at Edwin's mural site.

Edwin's completed mural on the side of the BikeFactory store.

The festival's commemorative Montana spray can.

Andrew and Ekundayo's completed mural on Lana Lane. (Awesome photo courtesy of Brandon Shigeta)