Karma is pleased to present a solo exhibition of paintings from 1992 by Mark Flood. This will be Flood’s first exhibition with the gallery. On the occasion of the exhibition Karma will publish a catalog with essays by Clark Flood and Bob Nickas.
The 1992 Republican Convention was held in the Houston Astrodome in August 1992, and would nominate President Bush and Dan Quayle for another term. Sometime beforehand, George Hixson suggested Mark make silkscreened protest signs for the various demonstrations and marches that would be held against the convention. Hixson was frequently an instigator. Surprisingly, the usually apolitical Mark agreed, and these protest signs would be the second major productions in the Daily Court Review studio.
Mark bought about fifty pieces of cardboard, mostly 48 by 36 inches, and some 36 by 36 inches. He painted both sides with white, pale green, yellow, or gray house paint, so they would not warp.
Around this time, the DCR studio got its own silkscreen room, a darkened chamber made of black plastic hanging from the rafters. Within, screens could be coated with light-sensitive emulsion and stored till they were burned. I think Sean Flournoy, a professional silk-screener and friend of Mark’s, set all this up, and did his own work there, too.
I think Flournoy must have burned Mark’s screens in this period, because they look good, much better than his Art Management screens.
Mark was acquainted with Ellen Pollock, reputedly descended from one of Jackson Pollock’s brothers, and she had given him a large vintage set of cutout sign letters that could be used as stencils. Most were eight inches tall, but there were a few letters in smaller sizes. There were also numerals and punctuation marks.
Mark had used these letters occasionally, for example, in 1989’s Wait for Tone painting, and in a few years they became his dominant resource for making text paintings. But at this point he preferred silkscreening found texts in their original fonts, or hand-painting texts.
Now, he developed a technical novelty with the stencil letters, to deal with the challenge of mass-producing protest signs. He laid the letters down on silkscreens ready to be burned, spelling out his texts for the signs, and had them burned that way. It spared the expense of buying film positives, and produced screens that could be used repeatedly. (Of course, repeated use is what silkscreens are normally made for, but Mark’s use of silkscreen had been anything but normal.)
Mark had screens made of these texts:
VOTE FOR LAW AND ORDER
BUSH IS GOD
FREE THE RICH
GET A JOB
FOUR MORE YEARS
BE A NARC
I can’t bring myself to italicize their irrational crudeness.
To this group, he added some new screens, pictures of George Bush Senior, Richard Nixon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a still from the video of the Rodney King beating. The large American flag from his collaborations with Randy Cole would get reused.
Mark’s protest signs were not straightforward. They seem to be intended to disrupt the thinking of the viewer, rather than to instruct or inform. Some of his slogans are clearly sarcastic; others are oblique, more difficult to interpret.
Some signs combined BE A NARC with pictures of Bush and that US flag. Two combine GET A JOB with Bush. At least one said BUSH IS GOD combined with the picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Others combined the flag with the slogan FREE THE RICH, or BE A NARC.
The only FOUR MORE YEARS I’ve ever seen is combined with pics of Bush and Nixon. That one is printed on raw cardboard.
Most of the signs Mark made featured the image of the Rodney King beating. The trial of the LAPD and the resulting riots had occurred just a few months earlier. Mark screened the image on the upper portion of maybe half the signs. Underneath he printed VOTE FOR LAW & ORDER. This was clearly sarcasm.
Mark, a habitué of various underworlds of drugs, gay sex, and punk rock, was no friend of the cops; rather, he feared them greatly. He had friends and acquaintances who had been victimized by cops, and one friend went to prison. In 1986 he had written, recorded, and released the mocking “Houston Lawman” on Culturcide’s Tacky Souvenirs LP, in response to another police scandal, the murder of Ida Lee Delaney by the HPD.
There’s a pattern here. Survival-oriented Mark, who likes to keep a low profile and avoid trouble, occasionally sticks his neck out when he gets sufficiently pissed off.
Sarcastic and oblique they may have been, but the signs were used enthusiastically by protesters, probably ones drawn from the art underground. Hixson documented numerous uses of the signs on the streets in marches and rallies. They were originally outfitted with thin six-foot sticks for carrying, but the police made the protesters tear these off.
Mark tried to recover these works after demonstrations, after they had been “baptized by reality.” They were often discarded on the ground. He saved a handful, and a few others are in private collections. No systematic documentation of the group was made.
Mark has always been concerned about the problem of making art meaningful, either by adjusting it to the ever-changing reality of the art world, or placing it in certain contexts where it has a function. These signs were a case of the latter. It’s because he was dismayed by the meaninglessness of the art one finds in the “art bureaucracy” that Mark would go so out of his way to insert his work into this fleeting, and ultimately unresponsive, social situation.
One more story, one more piece: Mark also made a 4-by-8-foot sign for these events, on a battered piece of foamcore which he had doubtless salvaged from the Menil. Also sarcastic, also oblique, it said DESTROY THE ENVIRONMENT/CREATE NEW JOBS.
Two protesters were preparing to carry it in a march that was organizing. One of the leaders inspected it, and said, “I don’t like this one . . . it makes you think.”
—Clark Flood, excerpt from Mark Flood in the Nineties