With "Defining America," the Sun Valley Center for the Arts proved that it is possible for a nonprofit organization to present a diverse multidisciplinary cultural event that maintains popularity over a period of months in the Wood River Valley.
With "Paradise Paved," the Center reaches high again, this time with a dynamic approach to the vibrant, often chaotic world of neo-graffiti as expressed in urban subcultures and specifically, the skateboard culture.
"Paradise Paved" opens on Nov. 25 with a "big hoopla" party—translation: catering, kegs of beer and music, said Visual Arts Director Jennifer Gately. The show continues through Jan. 18 at the Center in Ketchum with corollary events scheduled around the valley throughout the eight-week program.
The Center's approach for "Paradise Paved" differs from "Defining America" mainly through a heavier focus on interactive, creative events for the community. There are lectures and films, of course, and also group ventures in which the artistically inclined can create everything from customized trucker hats to underground comic books.
The Center gallery will be a visual cacophony as street artists Andrew Schoultz and Mark Mulroney complete site-specific installations, namely murals, on the interior walls.
"I have no idea what he is going to do. They are going to improvise on-site," said Gately of the Center's impending interior overhaul.
Schoultz will arrive in the Wood River Valley on Nov. 16 and is scheduled to talk in high school art classes the morning of Nov. 17. From there, he will begin the weeklong installation in Ketchum.
Schoultz is shipping some pre-painted panels to meet him in Idaho, but most of the installation will be original, site-specific art. Throughout the hopefully prolific week, the Center will be implementing an open-door policy, encouraging all to walk through and witness the creative mural process in action.
Mulroney, who joins Schoultz on Nov. 19, is a member of the RVCA (pronounced Roo-ka) Clothing Artist Network Program, a group of progressive visualists affiliated with the Southern California surf and skate clothing company.
Along with Mulroney's original installation, the show will feature designs by other RVCA artists—including the New York graffiti artist Neck Face—and examples of the creative process inherent in designing original clothing. Displays will cover the RVCA process from corrected preliminary sketches through the intelligent design of a final wearable article.
Schoultz and Mulroney spent their formative years, both artistic and personal, during the late 70s and early 80s and much of their art is shaped by the political and environmental issues familiar to anyone who was alive and growing up during that era.
Schoultz's murals can be playful, hearkening back to days of cartoon and video game imagery. A world is created, edgier than Dr. Suess's Lorax, and more human than successive generations of Nintendo system games. And this world is not without its clear fables.
Schoultz's murals can be pointed commentaries, fraught with mankind's increasingly difficult relationship with the natural world. Suess's words, delivered through the Lorax, are recalled and relevant again in Schoultz's work: "Unless someone like you ... cares a whole awful lot ... nothing is going to get better ... It's not."
But Schoultz's work is more than a clichéd, Earth Day-era environmental statement. It is also a self-commentary on the relevance of urban graffiti in the larger non-urban world.
A statement produced for a 2004 Schoultz exhibition at the prestigious underground Black Market Gallery explores these tensions. "In his depictions of flocks of birds and floating city blocks, exploding domestic structures and whirlwinds ... in the frenetic quality of the line itself lies a metaphor for the fractured, frantic and sophisticated quality of urban life."
The idea of a prestigious, yet underground gallery sounds like a contradiction, but has become the norm for a growing movement of urban artists. The credo here: We create anti-establishment, sometimes revolutionary images that fight the status quo of our oppressive free-market capitalist system, now come and buy them.
Many of these visualists, who often and openly employ computer-generated graphics, have been inspired by Shepard Fairey, the 35-year-old former owner of Black Market Gallery and the artist-entrepreneur behind the "Obey Giant" phenomenon.
Fairey was the definition of a struggling artist—$30,000 in debt when he developed his Andre the Giant stencil—before eventually commodifying much of what had started as an underground, profitless propaganda campaign revolving around a stylized, ominous stamp of the deceased French wrestler's huge face.
To the great chagrin of loyal Fairey fans who had been obeying an image presented without context or description, Fairey began selling his skills as a hip marketer with a pulse on young urban culture to corporate giants. His "Giant" joined appropriated populist images such as Che Guevara in an ironic call for young, market-driving capitalists to revolt through mass purchase-power.
In the yet unborn "Paradise Paved" murals, the political messages will remain as unknown as the colors, lines and subject matter, until the artistic process begins.
By the show's opening, Gately said, the main paradox will be that some of the finest art in Ketchum will not be for sale.
"Paradise Paved," a multidisciplinary project of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts dealing with art, design and movies and inspired by street cultures of the '70s and '80s, opens Nov. 25 and runs until Jan. 18, 2006.
Schmooze with the artists at the gallery exhibition's opening party during Gallery Walk on Friday Nov. 25, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Center, corner of Fifth and Washington, in Ketchum.
Lectures, classes and a film festival part of "Paradise Paved" begin on Dec. 1. Visit www.sunvalleycenter.org or call 726-9491 for more details.