Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Diego Rivera

Here is a quick introduction to the work of the famous Mexican Muralist, Diego Rivera. He created politically charged images like this one in response the the Great Depression and the political revolutions that occurred all over the globe in the early 20th Century. He attempted to use his artwork bring about positive change for common working people, and all his paintings aim to condemn oppression/promote justice. Like many of the socially engaged artists of his time he was a committed Marxist, and he was swept up in the flow of history as Fascism, Communism, Socialism, and Capitalism all vied for dominance. He has a fascinating life story, well worth further study.


The Uprising. 1931. Fresco Mural.
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz was a German artist who worked in the early 20th century, primarily between WWI and WWII. Her work always approaches the political and revolutionary issues of the time from a compassionate and Humanistic point of view. She saw the consequences of extremism first-hand – her husband was a doctor to the poorest of the poor, and several of their children perished in the wars that Germany ran headlong into fighting. She was eventually banned by the Nazis as  “Degenerate” artist and passed away shortly after WWII ended. Her prints stand as a witness to the irrationality of war and violence, but in this image we see an expression of the pent up rage that injustice can unleash.

The print is one part of a series that tells the story of a failed revolution by the poor against the rich and powerful. Like many of the artists I will highlight in this series of posts, she worked tirelessly to convince her society to change and turn away from it’s destructive and hateful actions. In the “Peasants War” series she highlights the plight of the oppressed, the violence that inevitably results when there is no hope for justice, and the tragic consequences for all involved. You will have to look up the entire body of work to see how it ends.


Outbreak. (Sheet 5 of the cycle “Peasants’ War”). 1902/03.  Line etching, drypoint, aquatint and soft ground.
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Kara Walker

Kara Walker is a contemporary American artist who has been creating challenging/difficult pieces that deal with the racist history of our country since the mid-90’s. Her work is a good reminder that the consequences of the shared history many of us would rather ignore is always present. Repressed… or out in the open… it will continue to ripple into our current time.


Kara Walker. A Subtlety. 2014 . A project of Creative Time
Domino Sugar Refinery, Brooklyn, NY, May 10–July 6, 2014
Photo: Jason Wyche. Source:
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn was a Jewish refugee who immigrated to America with is family as a child to escape persecution and find a safe and secure life. He was a politically active “Humanist” in the best sense of the word. I could have selected any number of his images for this post, but I chose this piece in light of the tragic anti-immagration actions our government has implemented in early 2017. Shahn’s work speaks to religious discrimination and the terrible tendency we have to compromise the principles we claim to hold most dear when it suits our interest. As a person of faith I am required to speak out against this tendency – something that must be opposed by faithful people everywhere.

I also picked this work because it was published and promoted without profit by a huge American corporation. The Container Corporation of America believed that flourishing businesses had an obligation to pursue something bigger than profit so they commissioned this series in an attempt to promote the best values of humanity (more info can be found here: If we are going to survive our current era with as little tragedy  as possible we will need the humans who are in charge of our businesses to step up and resist alongside the activists and artists.


Ben Shahn. You Have Not Converted a Man Because You Have Silenced Him. 1968. Poster; photolithograph printed in brown and black. 114.3 x 76.2 cm (45 x 30 in.) Source:
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence was a twentieth century American artist who documented and celebrated his African-American community – grappling with themes of justice, social change, and and class. He explored history (the great migration), idyllic scenes from his Harlem neighborhood, and this image from a series about the great abolitionist/activist Harriet Tubman.

Sometimes political art is strident and didactic – other times it provides positive counter-representations of communities that have been marginalized/stereotyped by the oppressive majority culture. Jacob Lawrence found a way to do both things throughout his career.


Jacob Lawrence. The Life of Harriet Tubman. 1940. Panel no. 9: “Harriet Tubman dreamt of freedom (‘Arise! Flee for your life!’), and in the visions of the night she saw the horsemen coming. Beckoning hands were ever motioning her to come, and she seemed to see a line dividing the land of slavery from the land of freedom.” Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 × 17 7/8” (30.5 × 45 cm). Hampton University Museum, Virginia. © 2015 Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Art Resource, N.Y.

This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.


Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis

Like most everyone else out there I have been trying to figure out how to respond to the madness of our current political situation. If you have followed my work at all you know that I have made plenty of art that makes fun of how our culture “does politics,” and that I have attempted to use satirical art to challenge the insane rhetoric that is flung around in our contemporary monkey cage. Much to my chagrin, work that was intended as outlandish satire has turned out to be less shocking than reality. Everyday a new story or rumor emerges that would have sounded like an exaggerated late night comedy skit a few years ago. It’s tough to know how to satirize a “post-truth” culture that satirizes itself.

This has pushed me to think hard about what I am doing as an artist – what impact do I hope to have on the world through my art? Most of my favorite artistic influences were attempting to criticize and change the corrupt/unjust systems they found themselves in, but sometimes all they accomplished was bearing witness to the terrible tragedies of human history. What should an artist do in a time of crisis? What can art actually accomplish?

So I thought I would give myself a challenge for the next year. I intend to post an example of political/social criticism once a week from the 2017 Inauguration forward. In the end I hope to have 50 or so examples of artists who dealt with the madness of their times – and a nice record of political art that might be useful to others. The scholarship will be sloppy – the attitude flippant – but hopefully it will be cathartic for me and it might provide viewers with some comic relief from the circus of our current politics (and perhaps some solace in knowing that there is nothing new under the sun).

I though I would start with one of my favorites. An anonymous artist made this great print of the Pope and the Emperor wrestling for power in their underwear. Art attempting to bring low the high/powerful/proud/pompous.


Annon German – 15th Century. Allegory of the Meeting of Pope Paul II and Emperor Frederick IIIc. 1470woodcut, hand-colored in green, red lake, yellow, tan, and orange


Escalation and the Stinktown2 Collective – Exhibits/Performances – Summer 2016

There is plenty of interesting activity coming out of the studio this summer. If you are in the Spokane/Seattle area I would love to see you at one (or both) of the exhibits I will be a part of… #1 – The Stinktown2 Collective (a collaborative project by Scott Kolbo and Lance Sinnema) will be exhibiting a new body of work in Spokane in August 2016. #2 – We will be  staging a special election year performance in Seattle at the Soil Gallery on August 7th.The info is below, it would be wonderful to see you there!

#1 The Escalation: The Surveillance Project

Escalation Surveillance Drawing 03 (detail 02)smSaranac Art Projects
25 W Main Ave. Spokane, WA
August 5 – August 27, 2016
FREE OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, August 5, 2016. 5 – 8 pm.
Admission is free and the gallery is open to the public Thursdays from 2-6pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 12-8pm.

The exhibit will include a new video project and a series of collaborative drawings centered on the theme of surveillance and the widespread distrust we all appear to have for the other side of the political divide… The work will include plenty of our usual slapstick comedy/moments of catharsis, but the meaning of the project has taken an unexpected turn in light of recent social and political events. We hope it will prompt plenty of laughter, but also some reflection on the state of the world we have created for each other.

This project was generously supported by the Washington Artist Trust and we are grateful for the equipment it allowed us to purchase – and for time this grant gave us to work together again.

Alongside the Spokane show we will also be preforming at the Soil Gallery (in conjunction with all the activity surrounding the Seattle Art Fair).

#2 “Does Live Art Have to be Experienced Live?”

YP Exhibit 011

Escalation: Election Year Battle
SOIL Artist-Run Gallery, 112 3rd Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104, USA (map)
Sun, August 7, 9pm – 10pm
(We are currently scheduled to perform at the time listed above, but make sure you double check the schedule on-line – and think about taking in some of the other performances that will be happening that weekend). 

Escalation, performed by Scott Kolbo and Lance Sinnema is a collaborative performance/project inspired by the increasingly volatile language that surrounds our current political discourse. The artists will explore of the tensions produced by our current situation – living in a state of constant surveillance mixed with a sense of on-line anonymity. For this performance the artists will monitor social media forums where political argument takes place and catalog the phrases and words that appear regularly. This anonymous language will then be transferred onto foam letterpress clubs and boxing gloves and used as a means to impress this aggressive political speech onto human bodies. When a word that is on one of the weapons appears on the one of the current presidential candidate’s social media streams the appropriate combatant will be allowed to use it on the body of the other. This will encourage the audience to participate by discovering words (or perhaps tweeting words themselves to activate the performance).

Lastly… The Elements Project – Some Videos To Look At

Elements Rehearsal sm

I have posted some of the videos from the Elements Project on my portfolio page (a collaboration with Brian Chin, Ben Thomas, and the Band “Torch”) . The videos are missing the amazing musical soundtrack they will have in the end, but this should provide you with something to look at until the final documentation of the project is completed. The videos are currently being edited and the sound mixed – we will have more information soon about a potential multi-media album, future performances, etc.