As part of the BUFF project I executed a public art “exhibition/ happening” over the course of a weekend as an effort to directly engage the local community and bring attention to the concepts I am trying to hit on with this project, including communication and censorship. As well as serving as a demonstration of contemporary painting.
I chose to have this “exhibition” in Oakland under the CA-24 freeway overpass at the intersection of Claremont and Hudson near Rockridge Bart; a location that is actively patrolled and maintained grey by city workers. Over the course of two days I painted five BUFF paintings next to each other on one of these walls.
Starting Saturday morning I set up a stool and table with copies of my short book, adhered a statement I wrote about the event on the wall next to the paintings and sat there, greeting persons walking by, welcoming any form of dialogue.
Most of the people walking by offered only quick glances in my direction, probably wondering why I was sitting outside underneath a freeway overpass in the cold and wet weather. Some folks would briefly notice the books on the table next to me or the written statement hanging behind me. I greeted one woman who asked me if I was going to be painting a mural. I regret not being quick enough to reply that the painting had already been done. There was a young family who saw me hanging out as they parked in front of where I was. I saw them again a couple hours later when they returned from their excursion downtown and when the husband asked what I was up to I pointed to the wall behind me and replied I was having an “art show”. He looked at the wall and asked if the the piece said anything. “Looks like a 4.” He seemed almost hesitant to devote too much attention to the wall, which any other day would be just a wall under a freeway overpass. Something of no consequence. Architecture that normally holds no form of expression at all. Space that is purely functional.
I liked the idea that these paintings ask the viewer to expand what their perception of art could be and how it should exist in the world.
When I showed up to the location on the second morning there was an Oakland city worker on the sidewalk across the street next to a large white truck with “STREET CLEANING & GRAFFITI” labeled on the door. I was eager to see whether he was there to reclaim the wall I had painted with a more even/ monotonous layer of color. Maybe he would buff any of the other marked up cement walls in the vicinity and I might be able to document him and try to question his logic. Or maybe he would just direct his energies to cleaning the park, as it is a public space that is much more engaged with by the community. He did neither of these. After making a brief phone call while pacing down the sidewalk he got back in his truck and drove off.
Sunday was mellow, sunnier than the day before. Every now and again someone would walk by and smile cordially but not really break stride. Some said hello. I had company this day, my good friends Bijan and Liana came and shared in this experience. I’m sure people noticed a group of young people talking and joking under the freeway overpass yet we were not asked why?
Overall I think this experience was a positive one. The work that I wanted to do was executed without issue. I was able to be there physically with these paintings over the weekend and make the attempt to start a conversation with the public. I was able to get a feeling for how the community experiences these public spaces. Most people zoom past these areas of the city only focused on their destination. The vast concrete walls are not meant to be paid attention to. They are neutral zones, in between the public spaces we occupy. I believe these areas have incredible potential for aesthetics. Why not take some of the money spent cleaning and buffing these walls and use them to fund art? Wouldn’t the community have a much more enriching experience of their neighborhood if the architecture was colorful and expressive? Why not make art a bigger part of the daily experience for people? These are some of the things I have thought about living in an urban environment.