John Fekner is a street and multimedia artist, who created hundreds of environmental, social, political, and conceptual works consisting of stenciled words, symbols, dates, and icons painted outdoors around the world. Through the past five decades, Fekner has addressed issues involving concepts of perception and transformation, as well as specific environmental and sociological concerns such as urban decay, greed, chemical pollution, mass media, and raising awareness of North America Indigenous Peoples.
The economic imbalance, the energy crisis, health insurance, pollution, and global warming increase exponentially every day, all compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Many of our issues boil below the surface, making it convenient to turn a blind eye. But complacency has rarely been the stock n’ trade of artists. The rule is generally that sugar-coated art is a dead art.
This mini-retrospective encapsulates and showcases John Fekner’s paintings, mixed media sculpture, and ephemera. Although some of the work is decades old, their relevance resonates today, maybe with even greater urgency. Through a sampling of art objects, photographs, books, and a glimpse into Fekner’s personal archive spanning a fifty-year timeline, grassroots protestors can find a historical context for their most pressing concerns today.
In this exhibition, we hope to continue a dialogue with the public willing to reflect, reexamine, relearn, and redefine, both past and present issues, for a better future for everyone in our communities.
“My motivation for this exhibition was based on Sam Cooke’s 1964 composition and recording “A Change is Gonna Come”, a plaintive emotional response to a racial injustice incident that Cooke experienced in 1963.
The stencil “A Change” painted on a crumbling facade is a reminder that when things are broken, rebuilding must begin from the ground up- a new foundation with fundamental rights for everyone. In 1968 in an NYC playground, my outdoor work focused on minimalizing an art object so that it becomes a shared visual experience for the local community and general public. Working in abandoned properties, closed storefront windows, non-profit alternative spaces, etc., my affinity for public spaces drew me to the Garage Art Center; the closest thing to the street during a social distancing pandemic, was a few blocks away in my home town.
Included in this mini-retrospective are objects using materials such as recycled paper pulp, informed by the environmental movement of the 70s’; vinyl records and CD from the 80s’ & 90s’, discarded found garbage on the streets, flea markets, etc., repurposing the detritus of a society driven by the obsession of material possession and consumption.
The social injustice and environmental issues we face today have roots in the civil rights and protests movements of the 60s’. As an undergraduate college student in New York (1968-1972), I participated in student demonstrations and peaceful moratoriums against the war in Vietnam. The SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) spread through university and college campuses throughout the United States and the entire world.
Grassroots organizations always do the footwork, shining the light of truth through the thick hedge of falsehoods and lies in our mainstream political dialogue. Most importantly, the solutions they seek are not expedient but are foundational in improving conditions for generations to come. In every instance, they challenge the fabricated narratives of the powers that be.”
- John Fekner, June 2020