Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Barbed Wire Blooms
A few weeks ago, my teenhood dream came true when I was asked by someone at Maximumrocknroll-- world's most famous, long-running punk fanzine-- to contribute a drawing for their monthly "art page." I was more than likely asked to do this as a result of the work I've done on all the School Jerks albums, most recently their brand new debut LP.
I waited until the 11th hour to start the drawing-- I was asked by MRR to contribute during what was possibly one of the busiest few weeks I've had in a long time with work, school prep, and other projects. After breaking my brain trying to decide what to draw-- my brainstorm list included such grasps-at-straws as "cranes," "murder victims," "School Jerks outtakes," "Baltimore," "Google street view," "Kensington Market" and "mob scene"-- I finally settled on drawing American crime scene photographer Weegee's infamous snapshot, Their First Murder.
I first learned about Their First Murder a few years ago. For those who don't already know the back story, for this photo Weegee for once chose to turn his camera not on a crime scene, but at a crowd who had gathered to look at one. The photo depicts a range of emotions-- while a female relative of the victim cries, neighbourhood children rubberneck to catch their first glimpse of a dead man. Shot during the latter half of the dirty thirties, the viewer imagines the gunshot victim as two-bit hood or mafioso-type. Against the night sky, tenement housing looms heavily in the background.
To make the drawing sometime other than just a drawing of a photograph, I knew that the addition of a fitting caption of some sort would be key. Initially, I wanted to have the caption relate to the children's reactions, tying them to the fact that punk-- to me, anyway-- has always been about confronting and embracing darker aspects of life as opposed to denying or turning away from them, as well as defying social conventions. All of our lives, we are told to behave appropriately, and to not stare. The children's reaction to the dead body in the photo is curious and essentially pure.
When I decided that all the captions I came up would sound a little too misanthropic for the good of the drawing, I decided to seek out a fitting quote instead. The one I settled on is actually a portion of a poem written by a child in 1944 in the Terezin concentration camp, in what is now the Czech Republic under the tutelage of the artist-educator and possible pioneer of art therapy Friel Dicker-Brandeis. I am glad this reference is obscure enough to prevent a heavy holocaust reading of the drawing, because that's was definitely not a part of my original intention-- the drawing is still of a bunch of kids in New York City shot by Weegee, after all. The text is appropriate in that at its core is an allusion to creativity and resilience-- how creative acts are almost always concious or unconcious attempts at building an ideal world, against all odds.