Buckingham, David: Clean, Sober and Politically Incorrect

Through May 3, 2008; David Buckingham “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People”
MM Galleries, 101 Townsend St. @ 2nd Street, Suite 207, San Francisco
Hours: Tuesday - Friday: 11am - 5pm, Saturday, 12pm- 4pm, phone: 415.543.1550
email: info@mmgalleries.com, http://www.mmgalleries.com/

Click here to see images from the show: http://www.mmgalleries.com/artists/buckingham.html

It’s hard to tell you’re in San Francisco when you arrive at “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People” and are welcomed from across the room by David Buckingham’s assemblage sculpture made of welded found metal, ”English, Motherf*cker!” No, this is not angry commentary against illegal immigration; this is an homage to the movie Pulp Fiction.

Kit Schulte, co-director of MM Galleries, thought that she’d found an out-of-town buyer for “English,” the most expensive piece in the exhibition. But, on the day that Buckingham’s show opened, she received a call from the potential British buyer who sheepishly backed out of the deal. According to Schulte, “his wife wouldn’t let him buy it.” Chicken.

Blam!” transcends the adolescent humor of mere recitation of movie lines and is a great example of Buckingham perfecting his metalworking craft. “Blam!” (lettered the Marvel Comics way) is framed by two layers of spiky explosion behind it, a triple layer cake of joyful kidstuff. (Someone please tell Berkeley comics-loving writer Michael Chabon that this piece is calling his name.)

"(Star)f*cker", a 10-foot vertical lamppost of a piece, and "Lisp", letters spelling out the sound gag "homothexual," were crafted with an L.A. audience in mind. Not all of Buckingham's work relies on incendiary wordplay. There are some more restful G-rated pieces, such as polka-dotted color studies of candy colored metal laced with rust streaks that look like futuristic board games.

‘How to Talk Dirty and Influence People” is the perfect name for the exhibition of the work of this jaded former ad man. It’s a direct lift from obscene, 50s satirist Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, which itself is a riff on the 1937 best-seller self-help book by sales guru Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Surprisingly, Buckingham is not a native of Los Angeles, although his life sounds like a Hollywood story.

Buckingham’s art is made more compelling by his personal history, which is marked by cycles of nadir and rebirth. Originally from New Orleans, for years he was a peripatetic advertising creative director hooked on heroin before planting roots in L.A. He learned the craft of welding from Ray Kelly, founder of New York City’s Rivington School, a loose association of free spirits who hung out in the early 90s and believed that anyone could be an artist and anything could be art.

Buckingham hit rock bottom in ’99 doing time in a California jail. He’s been clean ever since. He speaks with a jittery, jumpy cadence that comes from too much coffee and too many cigarettes. He doesn’t disagree that his art saved his life.

The artist’s studio in downtown Los Angeles is a corrugated steel shack that is stiflingly hot and smells of stale cigarette smoke. A rotating standing fan offers no relief but instead stirs up metal shavings every few seconds. Sheared, colored metal dusts the floor, the aftermath of his blowtorch.

When he requires new raw materials for his art, he jumps into his rusty pickup truck and sputters off into the L.A. desert, collecting old car doors and road signs that litter the desert floor, and a few that are still tacked up. In describing this process, Buckingham hints at Deliverance-style danger as he risks his personal safety poaching metal in the lawless desert. "What I look for are old, battered, colorful metal things that have had a previous life and have the scars to prove it. I want to make art from things that have a story to tell," says Buckingham.

Buckingham was featured last year in a group show at the Riverside Art Museum called “Greetings From the American Dream,” a show examining the de-mystification of American consumerism. His piece “Holy Triptych”, three near-identical two-dimensional dollar signs fashioned from No-Trespassing signs from the California Aqueduct, was labeled as “neo-Warholian pop art.”

The word art sculpture grew up late last year when he was tapped to do the illustration for William Safire’s annual mea culpa-themed “On Language” column in the New York Times on December 23, 2007. A piece that normally would take a week or two to make was rushed to completion in three days for photographing:

Buckingham will have additional dealer representation in L.A. this summer when he joins the ranks of Peter Mendenhall’s new gallery on Wilshire Boulevard (and hangs side by side with Oakland’s Squeak Carnwath). The artist accepts commissions if you want to see your favorite movie quote in repurposed road signs. This is his first solo show with MM Galleries.

21st Annual Solo Mujeres Show, "Women on War": These Artists Will Not Be Voting For McCain

Through March 29, 2007; Women on War: Solo Mujeres 21st Annual Juried Show; $5 admission; Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission Street @ 25th Street, San Francisco; hours Tues-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-10pm; 415-821-1155

Looking at political art doesn’t have to be the cultural equivalent of eating your vegetables. “Women on War” is a satisfyingly varied show featuring works of art that have great range in scale, tone, and craft. The prescient show organizers chose the theme for this year’s 21st annual “Solo Mujeres” (only women) show at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts long before the Republican candidate for President shared his vision for a 100 year sleepover in Iraq.

This year the Mission Cultural Center invited the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art to participate in their annual "Solo Mujeres" show. Both these groups have a long history of activism. The MCCLA was established in 1977 in San Francisco’s Mission District in order to preserve and develop the Latino cultural arts. The art gallery is just one aspect of their programming which also includes contemporary and folkloric dance, music, printmaking, and youth programs. Themes for “Solo Mujeres” in recent years have been “Tactics & Strategy” and “Visionary Women.”

WCA was founded in 1972 in San Francisco during the 61st College Arts Association conference, to protest the lack of women in the ranks of that national professional organization for visuals arts teachers. The Northern California chapter, one of the oldest, was formed later that year. That was long before the masked performance art troupe “Guerilla Girls” were beating their chests in frustration over male domination of the art world.

Karen Tsujimoto, Senior Curator of Art at the Oakland Museum, juried the show and picked an array of work by 25 artists, culled down from over 200 submissions. Tsujimoto is a 25+ year veteran of the Bay Area art world, and an expert on California art. She has published books on Wayne Thiebaud, Joan Brown and Peter Voulkos, to name a few. She made her selections based on the artistic merit of each work in combination with the artist’s statement about how each piece relates to the theme of war.

Tsujimoto says she was impressed by the variety of war-related subject matter represented including WWII Japan, manifest destiny, women in the military, and the desaparecidos (the term for people kidnapped and murdered at the hands of various South American military dictatorships, never to be found by their loved ones). Each artist’s words are posted next to her piece to provide context and insight for the viewer.

Nuala Creed’s “Babes in Arms” ($1,600) are sweet ceramic babies outfitted with machine guns, helmets, and gas masks. Creed started this series after the irony of her participation in the 2002 White House Christmas Tree project struck her: three months after she took part in that innocent tradition we invaded Iraq. (The first babe in the series was sold to famous, droll, conceptual/message artist Jenny Holzer, whose most widely recognized work employs scrolling LED message signs as her canvas.)

Claudia Chapline of the eponymous Stinson Beach gallery (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year), did a wall installation of dozens of small crosses made of found materials ($150-$1,500). The dense aggregation of homespun devotional objects looks like those spontaneous shrines that show up at the site of tragic car accidents, gang killings, even the one for Diana that piled up outside Buckingham Palace in the immediate days after her death.

"Nightmare 1,2,3,4" ($600) by Eileen Zevallos, is called out by the show’s organizers as a seminal piece in this artist’s maturing career. This hauntingly beautiful mixed media piece has a dreamlike quality; collaged photographed figures wander ghost-like through a watercolor crimson fog.

Also going on at the Mission Cultural Center is a retrospective of the work of Yolanda Lopez, an American Chicana, painter, printmaker, and filmmaker. Lopez was a student at S.F. State in the early 60s and the morals of the civil rights movement affected her deeply. Her work varies from the strong stuff of United Farm Workers strike propaganda to a loving celebration of her own family’s blue collar matriarchy. The connection between this exhibition and "Women on War" is that Lopez is the 2008 recipient of the Women’s Caucus for Art lifetime achievement award.