Art vs. Oil Spill: Poets, painters, musicians find ways to protest, raise awareness and fundsBy Allen G. Breed, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010
Artists find ways to protest Gulf spill
NEW ORLEANS — Musician Shamarr Allen was flying back into Louis Armstrong International Airport when he got his first real glimpse of the BP oil spill. The words of CEO Tony Hayward’s TV spot — “To those affected and your families, I’m deeply sorry” — were ringing in his ears.
Allen was exhausted after playing a private party, but he couldn’t sleep until he and some friends had laid down their response. Like the oil from the Deepwater Horizon drill rig, “Sorry Ain’t Enough No More” came gushing out.
“To whom it may concern, come here, first things first.
“Tell me, how much is this dead pelican worth?
“How does it feel to have a man’s blood on your shirt?
“To single-handedly put a whole industry out of work?”
The song — a blend of rap, blues and brass-band jazz — begins with Hayward himself speaking about the “tragedy that never should have happened,” and ends with Allen’s simple plea: “Think, people.”
For the 29-year-old trumpet player, whose home in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward was wiped away when the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, the song was an exercise in catharsis, his “way of getting it off my chest.” For others, far beyond the Gulf Coast, art has become a means of raising awareness and money, of showing solidarity and venting anger at a system that has failed on so many levels.
Editorial cartoonist Steve Breen of The San Diego Union-Tribune had done several spill-related panels since the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20. But simple black India ink didn’t seem sufficient to convey his anger at BP and federal regulators.
“I wanted to channel that outrage in a unique way,” he wrote in an e-mail to the AP, “and since I’m in the powerful image business, I came up with the oil idea.”
Breen flew across the continent on his own dime to spend the Fourth of July weekend collecting tar balls on Florida’s Santa Rosa Island. He took the globs home to California, thinned them with gasoline and created four cartoons.
One panel shows a BP logo made up of oiled birds and sea creatures, another the Statue of Liberty holding a dripping oil drum aloft instead of a torch. The brownish-orange oil — darker or lighter, depending on the amount of gasoline Breen used — seems almost to bleed from the page.
“Some people I bounced it off said I was crazy,” he wrote. “Luckily my wife, Cathy, supported it and told me I should book a ticket …”
As an ornithologist’s son, watercolor artist Paul Jackson grew up spending Christmases in the park ranger’s cabin on Horn Island, Miss. Over several weeks, he turned his outrage into “Fowl Language,” in which a least tern, stilt, egret, cormorant and other Gulf birds sit atop a dropping-streaked BP sign as an oil rig smokes in the background.
He posted a photo of the painting on his Web site while the paper was still damp. Within two hours, it was selling as a T-shirt on the art-sale Web site Zazzle.com.
The Columbia, Mo., painter has since created his own site, “Art vs. Oil Spill.” About 100 artists from as far away as India and Malaysia have offered works, with all proceeds going to nonprofit groups working to clean up the oil or oiled animals.
So far, the group has raised $5,500.
“I realize that our efforts are merely a drop in the barrel of what is needed,” says Jackson, who is also donating his earnings from a show currently under way in Pensacola, Fla. “But every bit helps.”
By launching the online “action” Poets for Living Waters, writers Amy King and Heidi Lynn Staples were hoping to reduce the disaster’s “overwhelming enormity to a more manageable individual scale.”
Dozens of poets have submitted works to the site. In “Chandeleur Sound,” an elegy to a wildlife refuge fouled by the spill, poet Marthe Reed — director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — turns the dry corporate jargon of BP’s own regulatory documents against the company.
“Residual marsh sequesters toxicity, pompom booms mimicking widgeon-grass. A regulatory regime cut-to-fit Big Oil, profit, thirst of our idealized machines. Fill in the blank. ‘No clear strategic objectives’tern estuary, soak, seat’linked to statutory requirements.’ What is required?”
Like the rest of us, New Orleans artist Mitchell Gaudet was just trying to “wrap my head around” the shapeless, relentless menace floating out in the Gulf, to put form to the seemingly unfathomable.
Long before the spill, the nationally recognized glass artist had received permission for an installation at New Orleans’ Longue Vue House, a classical revival estate renowned for its gardens and collection of decorative and fine arts pieces. Nestled between the stately mansion and the seventh hole of the New Orleans Country Club, Gaudet’s piece is as incongruous as mats of oil in a wildlife refuge.
A stark row of black-painted steel drums stretches across the mansion’s meticulously manicured back lawn, ending beneath the outstretched branches of an ancient oak. Fifty-three 55-gallon barrels — the amount of crude that would have leaked into the Gulf every minute under BP’s worst-case scenario.
As Gaudet repositions the water-filled drums every two weeks, the spreading “stain” of dead grass becomes another symbol of the migrating oil slick.
“I’m not one of these people who thinks art should confuse or confound,” says Gaudet, who owns Studio Inferno in New Orleans’ Bywater district. “It has a pretty sinister impact.”
Like Breen, Gaudet funded the project out of his own pocket. And, as with Breen, not everyone has been supportive.
“There’s been a couple of people that have been upset, that it’s a very ugly thing in a very peaceful and green space,” he says as a golfer glides by in a cart. “And although that wasn’t my intention, to make something ugly or provoke people in that way, I’m kind of happy. Because I think people need to think about that — that this is, on a very small scale, what’s happening in a massive area on the Gulf.”
“It’s hit me on a pretty personal level,” he says. “I mean, my backyard is a bayou.”
Associated Press Writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans also contributed to this report.
Music video: www.youtube.com/user/shamarrallenmusic
Art vs. Oil: blog.pauljackson.com/2010/06/art-vs-oil-spill.html
Poetry action: poetsgulfcoast.wordpress.com/
Tags: Accidents, Arts And Entertainment, California, Environmental Concerns, Hayward, Holidays, Louisiana, Music, Natural Resource Management, New Orleans, North America, Occasions, Painting, United States, Visual Arts, Wildlife