Sonoma’s Underground Public Art Movement

david_sensoredThough Sonoma boasts a statue here, a mural there, the Valley’s relative dearth of public art may account for an increasingly apparent faction of rogue artists who have come to fill the void.

Aesthetic renegades, Sonoma is their canvas, though the DNA of their work is a complex, if often controversial, double helix of graffiti and artistry. “Street art” is an oft-used term, though the work seldom appears on the streets as much as it does sprayed, stenciled or wheat-pasted onto walls. That said, “wall art” suggests the generic prints hawked by Ikea for college dorms. If Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen had a franc for every “Chat Noir” print sold in the past decade, he could have hired a publicist so as to not forever be mistaken for Toulouse Lautrec. The artists I’ve noticed effervescing around the fringe of the local scene won’t have this problem. They don’t sign their work, seeing as much of it has been installed illegally.

venus_sensoredConsider the stenciled pseudo-mural applied to the rear wall of a building on the west side of the 500 block of Broadway. It’s a fairly faithful rendering of both Michelangelo’s David and the Venus De Milo, applied in bold strokes of black spray paint in striking 2-D. In lieu of the fig leaves that sometimes accompany more modest depictions of these sculptures, bold censorial banners obscure certain parts of David and Venus’ otherwise nude anatomy. Written on the banners is the word “Sensored,” which I believe is a misspelling of the word “Censored.” While in the throes of creativity, the artist apparently neglected the difference between a sensor and one who censors (one senses the other is nonsense). Further confounding interpretation of the tableaux is the illustration of a surveillance camera focused upon the figures. I suspect the artist was groping toward an Orwellian-hued commentary a la Big Brother or at least Big Step-Brother: “I’m watching you – except for your naughty bits.” Perhaps the artist intentionally misspelled “censored” to suggest what techies call a “sensor deviation” which can result in a “sensitivity error” when measuring for various data. Unless Michelangelo’s inspiration was not like the other boys, he probably endured a sensitivity error at some time or other, so perhaps here the artist made his point – or not, as the case may be.

With both a nod to post-Beatle era John Lennon and Fluxus, the intermedia art movement, an interesting specimen of conceptual art recently appeared on the bulletin board at Starbucks.

imagine_flier_artNestled within the clutter of visual white-noise advertising all manner of live music, yoga classes and personal services, is a simple epigram in plain black and white: “Imagine – Imagine wonderful things, imagine a better tomorrow.” The artist completed the instruction with a vamp on ye olde guerilla marketing technique of fringing a flier with pull-tab takeaways. Instead of the usual phone number, however, there is a reiteration of the “Imagine” message.

Cynics like your dismal columnist might find the enterprise trite, admonishing or even vague. However, when I envision the artist – and I’m not being glib with the term here – strolling into the hurly-burly of a busy coffee franchise and sticking the product of their inspiration to the wall with little more agenda than to inspire a healthy moment of reflective Zen, I cannot help but forgo my snark and applaud the effort. In this regard, the piece is a success. How do I know? I sensored myself.

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