Contrary to popular mythology, it was with paint brushes in hand, not a guitar, that [Woody] Guthrie hit the road for California. He had hocked his guitar . . . and it was his artistic skills that he brokered for room and board. –Nora Guthrie
I’ve had more than my share of time on my hands the last few days – off my feet due to an accident – and I’ve been watching Turner Classics. We watched back-to-back The Grapes of Wrath, based on Steinbeck’s brutal retelling of the Dustbowl era and how big industry exploited American migrant workers during our great economic catastrophe (sound familiar?), and Bound For Glory, the story of Woody Guthrie’s phenomenal yet humble beginnings of an illustrious career played quite convincingly by David Carradine. During both films, the stark reality of how history repeats itself was made evident – and now yet again the American majority is being exploited by bailed-out banking institutions and holier-than-thou conservative politicians.
As I went walking I saw a sign there - And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.” - But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, - That side was made for you and me. - Alternative verse from This Land is Your Land - Woodie Guthrie
Woody’s first chosen pursuit was painting illustrations and text — he painted signs for businesses to earn a living as a young man before his music became the wellspring of his legacy. As powerful as music can be as medium for social change, the melding of slogans & graphic images has been a powerful and enduring propagandistic tool for both worthy and misguided causes. From Shepard Fairey‘s brilliant Obama Hope Campaign posters to the early hand-painted wall ads for tobacco companies, text and image has been used to persuade, convert, or pervert the masses. Naturally, I was delighted to see Fairey’s “exquisite print” he created for Guthrie’s centennial as a fundraiser when I went to the Official Guthrie Website after seeing the film of his early life. Yet even the simplest urging from a handcrafted store sign or for a sale generated by a stylistic grocery store show card can stop you in your tracks and send you down the aisle looking for a circular coupon. On the Kaufmann Mercantile blog the art of the “snappers,” the slang term that was used to call sign painters, is celebrated and analyzed.
Below are the works of who I believe to be a single anonymous snapper who has been posting show cards with wheat paste for ironic and dubious products at bargain prices from the shores of the Gowanus to the wigwams of Tacoma over the last eight years. No clue as to who he or she is but would love to give a proper artists’ credit to the creator of these humors ads with the stylish fonts.
Other wheatpaste mural art:
Woody Guthrie sites of interest: