On, Saturday October 30th from 3-6pm, at 5733 San Leandro St. Oakland CA, The Oakland Cannery Collective will exhibit their work in honor of Arthur Monroe and the remaining Cannery artists in an exhibition space, once an artist home and workspace, that has been purposefully left vacant by the new building owners in an attempt to weaken the community. The remaining artists have chosen to occupy and transform this vacant space. The exhibit will provide the public a sense of the impact of the Cannery Collective and pay tribute to art and Arthur Monroe’s community building.
There’s no “Their”, there.
Oakland has a protracted history of being a place without a “there”, without an identity, an ethos, an epicenter. This was punctuated succinctly by Gertrude Stein when she reduced her hometown to a one liner: “Theres no there, there”.
Before parts of east Oakland were selected to become the “there” of Oakland’s cannabis green zone- the city’s latest attempt at economic redevelopment- the creative community was here . Over the past 40 years these empty warehouses became “their” studios and “their” homes. They were here when there was no there. As in many of America’s most suffering cities when manufacturing pulled out, the creative community filled those voids. Where investment turned tail, accepted losses and bet on a different horse, the creative community became the custodians of entire swaths of abandoned places.
Artists took the detritus of the failing post-industrial cities no longer making brake pads, soup cans, or coat hangers and they produced culture. Our identities, as Americans, are wrapped in that culture, both when it is comforting and proud and when it is hateful and scarring. That culture is a record of who we are, and in that, it is profound and invaluable. Beyond the arts that flourished here, something else happened. The arts community reimagined the possibility of what these vacant properties could become. This is perhaps the most valuable result of these endeavors, they created their own affordable housing.
Arthur Monroe founded these spaces at the Cannery following a similar model he helped start in New York. These repurposed buildings became communities that served both the arts community and the city well. However, while the arts community viewed itself as a vital component of the city, the city viewed that community as a stop gap measure; place holders in the absence of new investment. New investment arrived in 2018 in the form of legalized cannabis. Men and women in suits gathered around a conference table at city hall to discuss the placement of Oakland’s “Green Zone”. They looked to east and parts of west Oakland and said “How about there?” As if these spaces were still vacant and still up for grabs. In that discussion a big part of Oakland’s creative community was all but forgotten. After 45 years they had yet to earn a possessive pronoun. Overnight, the spaces artists built had accrued in value exponentially. Artists, like those here in the cannery suddenly found themselves as an impediment to cannabis investors and a new gold rush.
For close to 4 years, the artists at the Oakland cannery have been enduring constant harassment, code violations and threat of eviction. Arthur Monroe passed away in October of 2019 under these conditions, fighting for the right to remain in the place he had built. Of the 20 studios in the cannery, 9 are now vacant.That number will be 11 in a few months. These vacancies are a result of concerted efforts by cannabis developers, who now own the cannery, to make our tenancy so unpleasant that we simply leave voluntarily.
This exhibit of Arthur Monroe and the remaining cannery artists is an effort to pay tribute to both Monroe’s art and his community building achievements, and at the same time give the viewer some sense of the breadth of the cannery collective . Not long ago, this exhibition space was a home with tenants. It has been purposefully left vacant by the current owner in an attempt to weaken this community. The remaining artists here have chosen to occupy this vacant space, and transform it. What better way to demonstrate and celebrate the ethos of Arthur Monroe and this collective.
The past 18 months, for me, has been a process of constantly adjusting and responding to external forces in an attempt to remain in balance. The results have been mixed, the variables constantly moving and my endurance waxing and waning. This has been perhaps the most trying time in my life, not because of the events that we have all experienced, but more because of what I have been cut off from. The world seemingly and slowly began to recede. I am not my own best company. It made me realize how much I depend on the external for inspiration and the experiences that fuel that inspiration. Like the man said “ all things are contingent and also there is chaos” which is to say… “Shit happens”
Balance in these times is both difficult to maintain and the margin of error narrow. We live in a time of consequences. I suppose this is a collective test of wills. I wish you all balance, some solace and all the required endurance.
As an artist I have always been fascinated with knockoffs. In the 90’s I would peruse the stalls of Canal Street in lower Manhattan sifting through piles of fake Rolexes in search of the best watch $10 could buy. In the 2000’s I would stock up on knockoff Calvin Klein underwear in Hong Kong for $2 a pair versus the genuine article at $22 a pair. In many cases I liked the knockoffs better. For example, real Calvin Klein underwear came only in a few select colors. The knockoffs, however, came in every color you could imagine. The fake Rolexes were available with these cool flex wristbands that Rolex never made. My fascination was with how often knockoffs also evolve. Copying is not just copying, it is also the doorway to creating.
In 2018 I spent two months at Jardin Orange, an artist residency in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen is China’s Silicon Valley, and most likely where your iPhone or laptop were manufactured. It’s been at the center of the ongoing battle over intellectual property theft between the U.S. and China for the past couple decades.
In the 70’s, Shenzhen was little more than a fishing village. Then in 1979, it became one of five special economic zones in China, their first experiments with market capitalism. By the early 2000’s it was manufacturing 90% of the world’s electronics. Today, it is an international hub of tech innovation. It’s difficult to comprehend a city that has transformed itself at breakneck speed for the past four decades. Part of my job as an artist is to attempt to understand the places I travel to, and bring that understanding into my work, but Shenzhen was surreal to me. I am from Oakland, CA. I watched for 24 years as the eastern span of the Bay Bridge was replaced after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake – 24 years to replace half a bridge! In that time, Shenzhen had gone from a city of 647,000 to a city of 10,873,000 residents. By 2020, Shenzhen based companies like Huawei were outselling iPhone, and positioned to dominate 5G technology. Tencent had become not only the world’s largest video game company, but one of the largest social media platforms. Just 10 years ago, Shenzhen was more infamous for it’s “Shanzhai”, or counterfeit electronics; cheap knockoffs aimed at markets that could not afford the Western originals.
Shenzhen is also home to “Dafen Village”. Dafen is a painting village. An urban village, or neighborhood, in the middle of the city. It is the place where, at one point, an estimated 60% of the world’s oil paintings were being painted. Hundreds of shops, usually with 2-3 painters working, line the labyrinth of the small streets. Painters overflow into alley ways, stalls, and onto the sidewalks. The surrounding streets have art supplies, framing, and canvas stretching services. It is a biosphere for painting.
Much of what you see strolling Dafen are copies. Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso – even Keith Haring and Warhol copies sit alongside Chinese favorites Yue Minjun and Chen Wenling. Another big part of what you see is what I call lobby art. The art you see at hotels and office buildings; generic landscapes, florals, abstracts, elephants etc. The art you never notice, because it’s designed to be completely unobtrusive. It only exists because it stands out even less then a completely bare wall. Lastly, there are custom portraits. Wandering through Dafen, you’ll see 40 painters a day staring at cell phone screens, painting wedding and family portraits. I was amazed at how efficient and accurate many of then were. Considering many of them have probably painted 10 hours a day for the past 15 years, it would stand to reason. Painting there seems to be treated more as skilled labor and a source of income than it is as art. The painters range in talent from pretty awful to damn near masterful. The painters at Dafen are like the “Shanzhai” of art. Creating inexpensive knockoffs for a market with more limited budgets.
I decided to do an experiment at Dafen Village to help me better understand Shenzhen as a city. I brought a poster I had designed to Dafen and hired a painter to copy it. It was a poster I had designed years ago, and as a street artist, I had wheat pasted on countless walls around the world.
I chose the poster for specific reasons; first, it had been created on a computer and had never actually been painted before. Secondly, it was mass produced on a web press, an inexpensive printing method generally used for newspapers. The evolution of knockoffs usually takes something of a relatively high quality and reproduces it in a cheaper or lower quality manner. My experiment was the opposite. I took a cheap mass produced poster and commissioned a hand-painted oil painting on canvas. The mere act of copying it in this manner would create something new.
I chose a small painting stall at random from the hundreds of shops in Dafen. Inside was a man in his early 20’s. I showed him the poster I wanted copied. Let me preface this by explaining that I speak zero Mandarin, and these painters, for the most part, speak zero English. However, this was 2018 and technology had already solved this problem. WECHAT, the most popular texting app in China, has a built in translator, so here’s how it works: you walk into a shop and display your wechat QR code on your phone. The shop owner scans it, and you become “friends”– now you can talk. When you type the shop owner a message, they can read it in Chinese, and when they reply, you can read it in English. It’s an odd interaction. You’re standing 18 inches from someone, both looking at your phones texting back and forth. It may seem impersonal, but 20 years ago we would not be able to communicate at all and this entire experiment wouldn’t be possible. We agree on a price of $55 USD to make the painting. He tells me it’ll be done in about a week and he’ll text me. Five days later I get a message. The painter boastfully tells me he is finished and the effect is PERFECT!
It was better than expected for $55 and the cheap poster was now an oil painting on canvas. By copying the cheap poster, we had actually created something of greater value. The evolution needed to continue though. I walked about 2 blocks, picked another random shop and handed the shop owner my newly received painting along with my phone displaying my QR code. “Can you copy this?” I text. He nodded and quoted me a price. The second painter was now making a copy of a copy. I did this for 7 weeks, picking up each subsequent copy and turning it over to another painter. The third painter copied the second version, the fourth painter copied the third version, and so on. By the sixth painting, I had something very different than what I started with. Even when the goal was to produce a facsimile, we unavoidably, either through miscommunication, artistic license or bad technique, had moved far from the original.
A friend in China warned me that if I took work to be copied at Dafen it was likely they would continue to copy it. That seemed unlikely to me. I responded, however, “Wouldn’t that be great? The image would continue to evolve and change in ways I would never have considered”. The artist in me appreciates the philosophy of the “Shanzhai” because within it exists the core understanding that imitation fosters innovation. Imitation is a cornerstone of learning, particularly to anyone who’s studied art. My time in Shenzhen forced me to examine these ideas both in art and in the discourse about intellectual property. At the core of both, there is merely an idea. Ideas should not be heirlooms tucked away and preserved or only occasionally observed. Ideas, should be more like children. Something we give the best of ourselves to and send out in the world to change and grow in ways we never imagined. When we look condescendingly upon the forger, or the counterfeit object as a desecration of the original, we are ignoring the possibility of evolution or innovation. We are ignoring that as individuals, or as a generation even, we have finite resources to cultivate an idea. For any idea to continue growing, whether it be cultural or technological, it will need to be taken up by the next individual or generation and fed a new source of perspectives, skill sets, and inspirations.
Shenzhen and it’s Shanzai philosophy are often debased by Western culture. Partially because, in my opinion, it audaciously stands as the apprentice positioned to surpass the master, in part, because it understands copying is the doorway to creating, if you choose to walk through it.
In July, I traveled from Paris, with Nite Owl, to Lurcy-Lévis in the center of France to participate in Street Art City. Street Art City is a complex of buildings that were once some kind of training facility for the phone company (or something like that), and has long since been abandoned. About 3 years ago the new owners started inviting urban artists to come to the complex and make murals, do installations and create a room at hotel 128. Hotel 128 is an old dormitory type building containing 128 small individual rooms on 4 floors. Every room has been taken over by an artist. Below is mine.
I worked, as much as possible, with existing materials from the room. Shower doors, broken sinks, clusters of light bulbs. An important aspect for me was to reapply sections of the removed wallpaper over areas of the portraits. I didn’t want these to feel as though they had been installed, but rather that these images were always there, under that veneer of wallpaper. I wanted the images to feel as if they perhaps predated the buildings utilitarian phase and were now, after all these years, uncovered. That idea runs parallel to the idea of the salvage portraits. Presenting not an evolutionary change, but a regression. Presenting atavisms. Traits in people that had long been dormant, strands of DNA that still exist is us, but have become obsolete in a post modern civilization. Traits that still exist under the facade of civilized society, which can be reawakened, given an extreme environmental change.
On the radiator in the room I wrote “Entering a period of consequences” as a sort of warning about the fragility of all these structures we have grown dependent on.
It was an interesting week, surrounded by these images in this tiny room, in an abandoned building miles from anything.
Lurcy-Lévis is centered in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Getting cigarettes was a 90 minute walk round trip. Surrounded by Corn and Cows, an ironic place to showcase urban art. It offers many artists a place to work free from the distractions of ordinary life, urban life; it’s peaceful. That said, places like this scare me, rural places. I am not a country person. It’s too quiet, it gets too dark at night- it’s too summer-camp slasher movie for me. It took some acclamation on my part. But being outside of your comfort zone is always a good thing.
I got to spend some unrushed time with the homies Nite Owl and Rachel Riot. Also got to know a few solid guys from Barcelona Sebastien Waknine, Simón Vázquez and Zeso. Making art is obviously the reason I travel as much as I do. The thing I value the most about that travel is the people I meet, the stories they tell and these unlikely little places like Lurcy-Lévis that I would have never seen if I wasn’t making art
As a Pow Wow Hawaii Alumni I was asked to be part of 1xrun’s Pow Wow Hawaii Print Series this year. I decided to do an edition of the piece I did at Pow Wow 2012.
I produced 2 versions of the “Ambition” image as chemical etched metal plates. Each plate is .030″ and 16×20 inches They are available in stainless steel, edition of 100 and Brass edition of 15. Each edition is signed and numbered and comes with a certificate of authenticity from myself and 1xrun. These drop Monday, February 22nd at 12noon PST. The brass edition is available HERE and the stainless steel edition is HERE
The etching process gives the surface an engraved or intaglio of the image which is then filled with paint. I choose this process to give the pieces some weight and dimensionality and create an object more than a print.
This Print drops Tuesday Jan.19th 2016 @10:30am PST. You can get it on Derbby.com HERE
Derbby has a unique model for sales. The print retails for $149, however at the beginning of the sale the price starts at $25 and rises based on the number of sales. Meaning if you get to the site early you can get it for $25-30.
This piece is a continuation of a body of work called “Atavisms.” This collection deals with survival, strength, and adaptability. All of the pieces are portraits designed to engage the viewer in a very direct way and to reflect some inner strength.
The text “Can’t Breathe the Sky” is referencing the fragility of our environment. In language and culture, we place a lot of our hopes and dreams in the notion of the sky. Phrases like “the sky’s the limit” or “reach for the sky” evoke a sense of endless possibility and hope.
From horizon to horizon the sky envelops us. As our environment continues to be diminished, the sky begins to envelop us in danger potentially becoming a hostile environment.
Dimensions & Materials
Dimensions: 16″w x 20″h
Originally Created On: Mixed Media on 30″ x 40″ Wood Panel
This Print Created On: Archival Ink (Pigment Based) printed on 330 g/m2 Epson Hot Press Bright White Paper.