Saturday, February 7, 2009

Living in 60's Art

Living in 60’s Art

Well Marcello, if you can imagine me in blue and white 1" striped bell-bottom pants. And a Red white and Blue button down shirt with stars and stripes all over them and my hair long and fuzzy below my shoulders and my curly red beard that was half way down my chest, you might be able to take what I will report to you as having some validity.

There were the early 60's and there were the later 60's into the seventies. I guess I should start out when I graduated from High School. It was 1958 and still very much the 50's. Hot rods, girls, and more girls were the things that were on the mind of my friends and myself. One of my buddies had just bought a 58 Chevy Impala that was white with a red interior. And I can't begin to tell you how "Cool" he was. And it was "Cool" not sweet or some other word of exclamation. We even had the sleeves of our white tee shirts rolled up with 4 folds exactly the size of the seam in the end of the sleeve. Who would believe that the world would change in 2 short years? Kennedy was elected president and we were headed for the Moon. I would have to say that John F. Kennedy sparked new hope and the world could be better than it had been and there was hope. I mean real hope.

The first real movement that I remember that struck the "New Age" actually began in the San Francisco bay area. I even bet that you and many of your generation haven't heard of it. Or have heard very little. It was the era of the "Flower children". It was an amazingly positive and free sharing of ideas and times between every age and walk of life in the bay area. One of the main events that would take place was the gathering that came to be called "Be Ins". Some word would be passed around that there was to be gathering in some park in one of the towns in the area on Saturday or Sunday. When that day arrived people would began to appear from everywhere. This hope of change and a new age of togetherness and acceptance of others was so strong among the individuals of the time that everyone would just walk up to others and begin talking and sharing. One of the things that was so special was that whole families would show up together as well as single people. And if you showed up by yourself and started talking with another group or family you would be invited to sit and join them in their celebration of the day. I believe the movement became know as the Flower Children because many would show up with flowers. Maybe in their hands or the women would have flowers in their hair. Too show how diverse the group would be; The Hell's Angels of the day would show up and mix right in with the rest of the groups. They often brought a bread that they baked in 2lb. coffee cans. They would share it with anyone who wanted it. And believe it or not it did not have any drugs mixed in. I'm sure no one would believe that today. In fact during the "Flower Children" period drugs were not a part of the scene. This period lasted for maybe 2 or three years.

Once again the world changed in a very short period of time. War, Kennedy being shot, drugs. And another thing that really changed during this period of this was the invention of the birth control pill. Some might even say that it was the birth control pill that changes the Flower child into the Hippie. Free spirit became free love. I have to step back into the 50's and before for just a moment because I don't believe that the current generations have any idea of what it was like before the birth control pill. Something we all wanted, and we still do, had such a different meaning. Sure there were ways to prevent pregnancies but they were in no way fool proof. The fear of pregnancy was in everyone mind and how the real chance of it could change your life forever. That may sound a little dramatic, but that's the way it was.

What does being pregnant have to do with the art of the 60’s? This is probably a stretch, but in retrospect, I think not. It was a time of rapid change and new ideas. The fascination of going to the Moon and the science it would take affected a blend between Science and Art. The “Pill” and free sex gave new stresses to social morays and what had been appropriate, to what would be. The assassination of a President the first in many years, and weren’t we more civilized than people were when the last was shot? Hadn’t we, or maybe not. A war was on that was politics at its worst. American Capitalism and it’s rule on the world of commerce was the answer to all things money. From Flowers to War and everything in-between gave rise to many artistic forms of expression.

Art flourished during this period of time. And in my opinion there were two thing that influenced it more that all the others. The first was John F. Kennedy and his philosophy. He did more to influence the growth of the arts by government grants and influence. Art schools flourished everywhere. And enrollment grew because art and its expression were seen as important expression of a people and it’s culture. Second it was a time of great changes in a short period of time. From unfathomed hope and goodwill to utter despair.

Some of the movements that took place during this period of time were so in step with what was going on. It is not my intent to give a chronicle outlay of the art history during the 60’s, but to give a reflection of what it was like to be an artist during that time and look back at some of the images that caught my attention.

Op Art one of the fascinations with art and science saw artists playing with images that attempted to express how science had explained how we saw the world around us. And the artist saw the beauty that was hidden in that explanation. The basics of art line, from, shape, color, etc. were simplified to express these ideas. An example would be the illusion of transparency by the juxtaposition of colors. Unbelievable transparency created by the solid opaque colors laid down next to each other.

Kinetic art and sculpture saw the use of contemporary materials and mechanical devices to give sculpture life through movement and time. Materials like aluminum, plastic, light, liquids put to life with motors, wind, sound, and any number of conveyances. These artists were fascinated with the application of the traditional principals and methods of the arts mixed with the magic of the machine.

The Finish Fetish highly influenced, in my belief, by the hot rodder and custom car builders of the 50’s, and 60’s. In this form the materials were the same, Fiberglass, body putty, layer after layer of spray primers, which would be sanded and filled to create the same sensuous forms of the custom car builders. All this would be followed with the most exquisite spray finish of the latest innovative spray paints.

Pop Art saw a wide range of expressions as artist began to feel the need to express the hopes and frustration of a culture beginning to collapse. The soup can to the Hollywood star. An America that had become a commercial or artificial image something to sell not to be, we had become things.

A reactive art form that soon followed was “Conceptual Art” Here it was the expression of the creative process in its most simple form. A situation or event was planned with the idea that when the event was over nothing would be left behind. Only the memory or some minimal residue would remain. An example might be the marks of the black soles of climbing boot left on a wall. It could be said that someone had been here and had ascended this place in a time gone by.

Performance Art was an outcropping of this movement. Where the artist created a performance that expressed a very personal view of his or her existence in the culture that surround them.

It wasn’t long and “Super Realism” became the reaction to the previous forms of expressions. And artist began to compete with the camera and it’s ability to create what we had become to think of as realism. Was the photographic image what was reality or what was it?

Art of the 60’s was an amazing time. When history really looks back, I believe it will seem a time of amazing change and creativity. A time when many people as artist chose to make statements and reflect on there time. As an artist that lived and created during this time I must admit that this view is limited by one who lived and created in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Don East
Masters in Fine Art, Sculpture

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's Only a Tool!

It's Only a Tool!

I come before you tonight,
Because I wish to make a statement.

I would like to share with you ,
Something I have learned.
And finally learned again.

That lesson is what is most
Basic to education?

I teach Art
And Computers.

Each of these deciplines
Uses tools.
A brush
A laptop computer

Learning is not the tools
Not the buildings
Not the new pavement

There are those who would like you
To believe that.

What I have learned again in is
It’s the people
The students
The teachers
The parents
It's the people
People being people to and for people.

As a teacher my greatest reward
Is watching the light go on as student grasps an
Or realization
Watching that glow rise to a full light
Is what it is about!

As a teacher the next important reward
Is when
A student
A parent
A member of the community
Recognizes you as a good teacher.

I ask you to recognize the teacher of
Coalinga/Huron with BRL

Take away
The tools
The buildings
The pavement
And I can still teach.

Take away the rewards
And you take away my soul
An I am nothing.

I ask you!
Think of people
Not things

Think of education
Not castles.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Egg Lady

The Egg Lady

A short story by Don East

Some things seem to last, while other come and go quickly. I had reached into the frig to get the carton of eggs to fix my morning breakfast. There must have been just a few eggs left because the carton was heavy on one end and I almost dropped the carton when I picked it up. Normally I don’t even take notice of the carton in the morning. But, as I fumbled to hold on to in, my minds eye forced in on the carton, and I noticed that the pressed paper carton was the same as when I was a boy. The same medium gray paper pulp formed into a series of 12 small cradles to hold their precious cargo. As I opened the carton there were only 3 eggs on one end of the container the rest were empty. I glanced at one of the empty egg cradles and it seemed to capture my deepest attention. For it seemed to be cradling a raft of memories.

Suddenly I was 6 years old and walking down the road from our wonderful Spanish style house perched on a hill over looking the San Francisco Bay Area. I was carrying a paper bag Mom had given to me to take to the Egg Lady. In the bag were 3 of those gray paper pulp egg cartons. They were empty because my mission was to go the Egg Lady and get them filled with new fresh eggs.

As soon as I use the three eggs, I turned opened the cupboard door under the sink and threw the carton into the garbage. Again my mind flashed back to the 6 year old walking along the winding country road. We would have never thrown those cartons away then. This was one of those memories that need to be played out.

While I watched the eggs sizzling in the frying pan, I let my memory go. The frying pan with the eggs sizzling seemed to disappear and in is place was the paper bag that Mom had given me. It was one of those few chores you do as a kid that you really like. And as I looked at the bag I thought about the empty cartons and how they would soon be filled, filled with more than eggs.

I looked up and saw the house where the Egg Lady lived. It was still a good country block or more away, at 6 years that a long way to walk. And it gave me plenty of time to think about the house down the road. It sat on a lot that was in the middle of a sharp corner. The road that wound around it seemed to cradle the house much like the carton cradled the eggs. From the house the lot fanned out into a large triangle. In the back of the house were the chicken coops. The chicken coops were long narrow house like structures that took up most of the back yard. The house had once been very elegant. It was large. The main part of the house sat up high in the air, and there were stairs that led up to the front door. The space under the house was large. The Egg Lady used this part of her house for many of the things that she used to care for her chickens. There were many plants and trees growing around the house, but they were old and had seemed to have lived beyond their time of beauty. The paint on the house was old also. And in many places the paint was chipping off. It was if the house had lived out most of its usefulness was slowly returning to nature. If I had not been to this place before, as a six year old, the house and its ground would have frightened me. Some times it still frightened me especially if the sky was gray and the wind was blowing. Today it was calm and the sun gave the house a feeling of warmth.

The door bell had a crank that you had to twist in a circle, and it made a funny rattling sound. Some times if the Egg Lady was in the back working with her chickens, it would take her a long time to come to the door. I would stand there wondering if she were home or not. The longer I waited the more I started looking at the old house and I would feel the fear beginning to swell up inside me.

“Donnie, are you here for some eggs”

I jumped and turned, at the base of the stairs stood the Egg Lady with a smile that instantly washed away any feeling of fear that I had been building up.

“Shall we walk around back and find you some eggs?”

As I walked down the stairs, she turned and I knew that I was to follow. Walking behind her I could study her. She was a big woman. At six you don’t know how much a person weighs you just think of words that fit what you see. She was large and round. And she waked with a little sway. The dress she always had on was made out of the feed sacks that came with the chicken food. I knew that because I had seen my Mom make things out of the sacks in which we bought floor. The material was covered with little tiny flowers all over it. The background was a light Robins egg blue. She also wore an apron made out of similar material. And it was tied at the back with a bow. Her dark hair was always tied back to keep it out of her way as she worked. Her apron had two dirty spots on each side where she wiped her hands. And she always wore some kind of slippers. I liked the slippers because the looked as if she had worn them for such a long time that they were perfectly molded to the shape of her foot. And they were surly old friends. I also liked the sound they made as she slid them along the ground in an effort to keep them on her feet.

When we reached the chicken coops, she turned and I could see her face. It was like a soft brown leather that had been wrinkled with much use. On her right cheek she had a large dark brown mole. It rode on her cheek when she smiled like a boat bobbing on the sea. At the door of the coop sat a galvanized pale which she used for collecting eggs. She picked it up as she opened the door. It was at this moment she truly became the Egg Lady. Her eyes sparkled as spoke to the chickens. They all knew her and they were her family. One by one she would check the cages. Draw out an egg inspect it, wipe it clean on her apron and then place it in the bucket. Her hands were round and the joints of her fingers were much like the eggs she was finding. They were large hands and when she held an egg, the egg seemed so small. However she handled each one with the greatest of tenderness. As she talked to the chickens she would laugh. Her laugh was deep like a man’s voice but soft like a woman’s. As we moved our way slowly through the coop she would tell me about each chicken. Most of what she talked about I didn’t understand. But I liked to listen to her because I could tell she was kind and liked each chicken. I often felt she was asking each one for permission to take its egg. It was wonderful to share her happiness. When the pale was filled with enough eggs, we would walk through the coop towards a small room that was under the back of her house. I liked that walk. The chickens would cock their heads as I went by. Giving me a one eyed, Hi. In the room under the house she had a table one old chair and on the table was a small metal box with a hole in the top. When she flicked a switch a light would shine out of the hole. One by one she would place the eggs on the top of the box. The egg would then glow a warm yellow orange color. Some eggs she would place in the gray pulp paper cartons I had brought and others she would place in a special box next to her that also had a light on inside.

She explained to me that the eggs that went into the box were special would become chicks. The ones she gave to me were for eating. The ones that went into the light box had a slight red glow when they were placed on the light.

When the cartons I had brought were filled she would wrap them all up in a heavy brown paper tie a string around them with a bow. Then they would be placed in the bag my Mom had given to me. I would give her the envelope with the money.

She would then place one hand on the table and the other on the back of the chair in which she had been siting. I remember how slowly see seemed to get up. The whole time she would be talking to me and explaining about the chickens and the eggs. As she talked she would lead me into the room where all the new chicks were. When as she opened the door there was a cacophony of peeps. She would reach in the box pick one up have me put my hands together. Then she would place the soft yellow chick in my hands. I would giggle as its softness tickled my hands and she would laugh her deep soft laugh.

Finally she would parade me through her house and to the front door. Her house was filled with many things. There was stuff everywhere. I remember that her house was always warm inside. A lot like the place where she kept the baby chick.

As I slapped the omelet I had just cooked onto my plate, I looked at the carton that had carried the eggs I had just cooked. I realized that she was a lot like her house rugged and weathered by time on the outside but soft gentle and warm on the inside.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Flapper

A remembrance by Don East


The Flapper

It was generally about mid summer when the Flappers came. Some summers they didn’t, but if it had been a hard and wet winter it was almost a sure thing. The first clue that this was going to be a year of the Flapper was when you weren’t paying attention and you would trip over something small. You’d be so busy doing your own thing that you’d probably ignore it. Then in a couple of days when you were getting dressed in the morning you might catch your finger on something. This part of the summer would always drive the mothers crazy. But us kids thought it was the greatest!

As I remember it was between 1947 and about 1953 those were amazing years in America. No wars, or at least that we were aware of, and the new American economy was in full swing. The great WWII general decided that we needed highways everywhere in this country and they were being built everywhere. I even lost my girl friend because her Dad had to move to the great state of Washington to help build one of the greatest dams in the world. We even saw a B36 bomber fly over our house one day. It was so large it filled the whole sky. And the sound of 10, yes 10, engines droning all at the same time. It so impressed me that it burnt a sound in my memory. I can close my eyes right now and still hear it.

Oh yea, the Flappers! As kids we didn’t dress to look like the latest fashion, or to impress someone. We just wore clothes because our Mothers told us to. I’d sit at the side of my bed at bedtime and slip my clothes off just so. First my shoes, next I’d let my pants slide off so they would be piled right on top of my shoes. I’d sleep in my shorts and T-shirt and socks. This all had a purpose. As soon as I woke up in the morning I’d sit up, swing around and slip my feet through my pants and into my shoes, bend down and pull up my pants. I could be out the door and into my days adventure in seconds. Let me digress to the shoes. We didn’t have Keds or Inverness or sport shoes we had shoes made of leather.

Some even had leather soles and heels. And the soles were sewn to the shoe tops. On a particular day in mid summer early in the morning I was putting on my shoes. As I ran my hand over the front bottom of the toe I noticed something. Ah yes! It was going to be a good summer. The sole on my right shoe had worn down enough that the stitching was coming loose. If I would spend the next couple of days dragging my foot I would soon have a Flapper!

A Flapper is a well-used leather shoe where the sole has come un-sewn from the toe to the center of the arch area, using the right walk performs Flapping. You can see a Flapper walking long before you can hear the sound, because of the style of the walk. It’s a toe drag with a sliding motion thru the middle of the stride with a quick kick out toward the front of the step. The kick action is similar to the use of a bullwhip. When done just right “flap slap” is heard. Well if you don’t have rhythm, you soon will. The maximum affect and rhythm tic style would be achieved when both shoes became Flappers.

The second part of this “art” is keeping the fact that your shoes have become Flappers from your Mom. I never understood why she didn’t like Flappers. If you had rhythm you were so cool. Keeping the Flappers form being discovered by Mom required the acquisition of a second walk. This one was more of a glide. The trick was to keep the loose sole in contact with the floor at all times to prevent any slapping noise. It required that one walked slowly with relative small steps. If you looked like you were ice-skating, it was a dead give away. The biggest problem with this technique was that once you had found rhythm it was too easy to slip into Flapping.

You guessed it. Flapping never lasted long. I don’t know what it is about Moms, but they seem to know everything. Even when they are in the other room and can’t see you. Once discovered it wasn’t all that bad, because you got to go to the shoe repair shop and get your shoes repaired.

The shoe repair shop was a place of magic. The first part was when you opened the door. The smell of leather and dyes would float out the door and be the greatest treat your nose had known for days. Then there was the shoe repairman. I’m sure that he was older than the shop he ran. His hair was gray and thin. It was so thin that it moved about his head with the slightest breeze or movement. He tried to keep it in place with the leather visor he wore. My guess was that he had to continually move it about his head, because it was covered with multiple colored fingerprints form all the different dyes he used. He also wore a leatherwork apron that had pockets for special tools. It too displayed many, many years of work. He would slump over his machines as he worked. But when he moved away and walked across the room he was still slumped. The machines filled the small shop. They were all run by great leather straps that came out of the ceiling, when he would start the machines the belt would flap and slap making the noise of shoes with loose soles. Not just one pair of shoes, but the sound of many. I think that he was really a wizard. And he was employed by Moms to steal the sound of flapping from small boys shoes.

The real magic was that he could take that pair of shoes you had worn for at least a year. He’d measure, cut, sew, buff, and do many other things that you couldn’t really watch. And then he would reappear at the counter. And wow they looked new again. They even had a shine.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I Walked the Streets of San Francisco

I walked the streets
Of San Francisco.

Amongst a hundred thousand
Eyes that never met.

Faces walking afraid of meeting
With expressions – Fresco.

Eyes down, counting sand
Or avoiding gum still wet.

Herds moving thru Valleys
Of man made egos.

Taller, Bigger – replacing the old
With glass and plastic faces.

Graffiti everywhere by those….
Who once played with Legos.

Screaming out in paint so bold
Searching for what or who “goes”.

I walk in the Valley
Of buildings that want my soul.

And the homeless beggars
Who want my change.

Master Charge, Discover, and Visa
Hands are out, from the tall plastic faces.

18 cents more for bus fare, 80 cents for Yogurt
or just spare change.

I walked the streets
Of San Francisco.

Thru the Valley's of nameless faces.

Amongst a hundred thousand
Eyes that never met.

I looked up
At tall buildings that
Wanted my dollars.

Then down at beggars
Who wanted my change.

As I walked thru the
Valley’s and plateaus.

I recognized that same
Black spot.

Its’ shape had become familiar.

Sidewalk Mosaics
Of blackened dry gum.

Windows big and small
Plastic and glass with aluminum faces.

I walked the streets
Of San Francisco.

In a place of many faces.

Eyeless faces
Laced in plastic or glass.

And found my own soul
Encased in glass.

copyright Donald Y. East