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

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