You remember when you saw it-the bulbous, 2-D rendering of what looked like a Goodfellas thug with a score to settle. His face was wheat-pasted to a construction site plywood fence, an electrical box, the side of a crappy building (crappy meaning owners cared too little to immediately tear down the "vandalism"). Under every image read the vaguely political directive: "OBEY."
It was Andre the Giant, lored professional wrestler stricken with the disease of giantism that made him a star of grotesque physicality-yet also made his life awfully short, a victim of fate's vicious sense of irony. The artist was Shepard Fairey, a street-paster who dodged cops to use the abundance of "free spaces" in San Diego to display his propaganda art.
Before he left San Diego for the less marshal law of Los Angeles, Fairey and Obey Giant had become an artist collective, a stable of like-minded guerilla creative types who plied Fairey's version of phremenology. One of Fairey's cohorts, Dave Kinsey, created Blk/Mrkt, a visual art collective of cool hunters who designed cutting-edge visuals for the likes of Levis and Pepsi-Cola. Blk/Mrkt has also relocated to Los Angeles.
The hole left by Fairey and Kinsey is now being filled, as could have been predicted. The new beacon of urban art in San Diego can be found at Radioactive Future, a collective of artists that speak to a generation raised on Black Flag, Lenny Bruce, Raymond Pettibon and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Less wantonly paste-happy than Fairey, less business-oriented than Blk/Mrkt, Radioactive Future is, for now, just trying to create a movement of sorts, a brand name among an underground crowd that is clinically averse to "brand names."
Bill and Alexandra Pierce started the collective three years ago, with a manifesto that read like a hipster's guide to paranoia. "A police state. Militarism. Global thermonuclear war. This is the Radioactive Future," they claim. And judging by the art, this working class distrust of the American Dream and its militaristic guardians dominates their creative impulse.
Bill Pierce's own work varies with the medium. His sculptures are hideous marriages of the robotic and the humane, as shown in "Teenage Mutant," in which Barbie's upper half serves as the top of a robo-minotaur. His posters draw heavily on Cold War propaganda art, with bold, primary colors and melodramatic proportions that call to arms like-minded politicos with unambiguous slogans like "One Minute to Meltdown" and "Stop the War!" Pierce is also involved in web design and video production, making him a multi-tasking tour de force of artistic chaos.
The key to Radioactive's success has been their hyperactive involvement with such like-minded venues as The Muse, M-Theory Records, The Casbah and North Park's Current Affairs Bookstore. Their upcoming Rapid Transit exhibition at M-Theory will include the work of 25 local artists, which indicates their other strength: sheer numbers.
Alone, the sexually militaristic silhouette designs of Marco Almera may go undetected simply due to lack of resources (time to create, schedule, publicize, promote and coordinate events). With 12 people actively involved in Radioactive (which includes Shepard Fairey, though his own company preoccupies him) all working towards the same goal of active exposure, the umbrella of Radioactive gains notoriety, which funnels attention down to the artists themselves.
Artist collectives are nothing new, although in independence-crazed America, they have dwindled. Another 11-person collective which will jointly contribute to Rapid Transit is Funerals of Distinction, which includes the prismatic illustrations of Mary Fleeny and the Day of the Dead acrylic work of Sandra Ulloa, among others.
The fact that these separate groups have chosen to combine forces instead of race to divide the ever-shrinking youth art crowd not only guarantees that urban rennaissancers have 23 different creative visions of modern art, but also that those 23 visions are being exhibited at all.