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Saturday, June 10, 2017

1980s Art

Remember back when...?
I'm sure I'm not the first to notice that when we're young, time seems to crawl by quite slowly. Just one school year seems like an eternity. Then, stranger still, once we get old, how quickly time passes. I'm usually pretty good at placing past events in our family within a few months of when they happened. But as I was preparing to write about the art of the 1980s, l started to draw a blank. Then I recalled that our son was born on July, 5th, 1982, having held off his entry into this world for a day so I could complete a successful art show the day before. In thinking back, I recall our family went on our first of fourteen (so far) cruises just after Christmas, 1988. Later, I realized that during the decade of the 80s, I completed my own first decade in teaching art (1982).
Margaret Thatcher (said to be anti-art) was a big name in England. In the United States, Andy Warhol was a big name in art. Despite her attitude, he painted her anyway.
As I prepared to write this, I chose at random a year and a week from the 1980s--May 24th to the 31st, 1989. In that one week, the Exxon Valdez spilled its guts--11.3-million gallons of Alaskan crude. Two days later, Boris Yeltsin, former mayor of Moscow, was elected the first president of the Russian Federation (in a landslide). In the arts, Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) and Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs) won Academy Awards at Hollywood's sixty-first annual self-congratulatory shindig. Meanwhile in Paris, I. M. Pei's pyramidal entrance to the Louvre opened to the public. Then, a couple days later some New York millionaire bought bankrupt Eastern Airline's Northeast Shuttle, a step toward becoming the CEO of the United States. All that in just one week. I guess the 80s were more eventful than I remembered.
The Berlin Wall east gallery--the biggest art happening of the decade.
In the spring of 2014, I toured Berlin. The highlight of the tour was an outdoor art gallery (of sorts) along the east side of what was the last remnant of the infamous Berlin Wall. The wall came tumbling down on November 9th, 1989, so my visit was just a few months short of the twenty-fifty anniversary of this world-changing event. The art I saw ranged from just a shade better than graffiti to surprisingly adept as seen in the iconic image of Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German Chancellor Erich Honecker (above). Some celebrated the fall of the wall with sledge hammers hacking off souvenirs to sell to tourists. The East and West Berlin artists joined in commemorating the event with their protest art.
The heroic Marvel Super-Stars of John Byrne.
On the home front, the biggest art happenings were not in whitewashed, SoHo art galleries but on the silver screen or the pages of heroic action comics as seen in artist John Byrne's Marvel Super-Stars (above). In movie theaters, it was the start of the sequels, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Indiana Jones (below) along with such classics as Ghost Busters, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Dirty Dancing, Karate Kid, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Today, only the Star Wars franchise (now under Disney ownership) survives from "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...."
One of my personal favorite films, from 1983, is the American coming-of-age drama directed by Francis Ford Coppola, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by S. E. Hinton. The film is noted for its cast of up-and-coming stars, including C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Diane Lane (below). Set Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1966, the storyline involves a gang of tough, low-income, working-class teens. Their rivalry is with the Socs, another gang made up of wealthier kids from the other side of town. The action is crude, cruel, violent, and murderous, while, at the end, uplifting and satisfying.

The Outsiders, on film and on paper.
 As motion pictures and the comics continued to replace narrative art, artist Serge Gay Jr. latched onto the stars that starred in the near avalanche of films released in the 1980s (below). His painted caricatures somehow managed to capture both the actors and their movie roles in a single image. How many can you identify?

The painted caricatures of Serge Gay Jr. Extra credit
if you can name both the character and the stars.


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