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On February 18th, we wrote…
“at the very center of this page is the Artists’ Tower being constructed by the Artist’s Protest Committee,’ a 24 hour a day protest against the war in Vietnam’. You might want to check out the 70+ Artists listed… you may be surprised not only by the stature that some of them have achieved since then but, too, this early political stance.
In response, we received the letter from Michael Lawrence now published in the right-hand column —> —>
My relationship to the Peace Tower and with those who built it. by Michael Lawrence
(Ed.’s note: This the unique perspective of Michael Lawrence, an artist who contributed to the Tower. As a voice of the time, Michael refers to the Artists’ Tower of Protest with its less formal name, one that gave the purpose of its protest. Most of the people named below are those who directly participated in that protest.)
Shortly before I had heard about the Peace Tower, I had joined a march downtown carrying a sign saying ‘No Napalm’. Folks looked at me with a strange expression, so I asked them if they knew what Napalm was. They had No Clue. So I thought that making anti-war art, perhaps, would be more fruitful.
This was at a time when I was making collages from discarded objects. Among those I found were a pitted mirror framed in wood, about 20 inches tall and 15 inches wide, and a transparent Kelly Green piggy bank. Together, they seemed to reflect the senselessness of war in a subtle manner…discarded hope. I sprayed words on the pitted glass surface…Green Pig Can’t See Death Just Smoking… and handed the piece to a friend to deliver.
In fact, I hardly ever left Venice that winter. At the time, I was working for Jacques Overhoff, who also contributed to the tower. As a craftsman for his project, I was fashioning the reliefs for the Mark Taper Forum in downtown LA. It was an interesting method of making reliefs, casting…from urethane slabs to create concrete reliefs. His crew came from San Francisco. One of the guys invited me to his wedding.
Michael McClure, poet and playwright, was to be the Guest of Honor. I wanted to meet Michael. His poems and play, *The Beard, fascinated me. I was writing poems then and incorporating them into etchings that I made at UCLA.
McClure was very gracious. An elegant and handsome person. We discussed literature. He said he liked the plays of John Webster… was I familiar with them? At Bard College I had participated in numerous plays including Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Faire. However, I told Michael, I had not read Webster. We drove to hear recordings of his Beast Language Poems. He had read them to the lions at the zoo. *They roared as he roared the chant “Grahh grah hoar” and other sounds at the beasts. The notion being to communicate with a primordial energy, the animal kingdom. Perhaps peace could come about with the help of the Animal Kingdom, or they might influence us as dolphins and gorillas did later on.
It was a very stimulating encounter. During my stay I read numerous poems published in F–k You Magazine of the Art, a mimeographed collection that a lovely lady had whom I had also befriended at my friend’s wedding.
In high school, I had visited San Francisco with a girlfriend, Sandra Wimple, who took me to meet Charles Mattox. He had a left studio. It was my introduction to that sort of life style.
My sister, Toni, studied sculpture with Judy Gerowitz (Chicago) who became famous for her dinner party event). Lloyd Hamrol, I recall, was very pleasant and relaxed. Had I put in an appearance at the Tower, there were numerous artists I would have been cheered to see and would have met others. At a later time, I met both de Kooning and Roy Lichtenstein. They were very generous with me and that was a great pleasure.
Indeed, several artists who contributed to the Tower, I met in the future. Mark di Suvero, whose poetic welded trees were powerful structures breaking into space in new ways, I especially admired. I met him in NYC.
And there was Larry Bell whom I grew to admire. I attended his exhibitions and he one of mine. At Ace Gallery, I participated in a Pro-Peace Exhibition in the 1980’s with a huge painting of Indians attacking what appeared to be Ronald Reagan if you looked closely at the grimacing Union soldier on horseback shooting his pistol straight at you. Larry Bell and I had a good talk at that opening. He had had an extensive show in Santa Barbara I was taken to see. Very magical reflections in glass labyrinths. I was a good audience.
In Manhattan for an antinuclear auction, I donated a painting and was asked to make a cartoon that ran in the Village Voice as a full page. It showed carrots being dropped from bombers with a large caption below… BOMB V O Y A G E .
Some months later, when I was back in LA, a sneaker company called to ask if I would be interested in designing for them. I was at that time making a portrait in bronze of Jim Morrison, a commission from a friend, I declined their offer.
Morrison and I had become good friends at UCLA. We enjoyed being together. We were both angry about the war and both disappointed by our dads. His an admiral and mine an actor, Marc Lawrence, who played gangsters in movies…not all the 178 films showed him being shot, stabbed, or otherwise getting the shit kick out of him, and our dads also provided a good education which both Jim and I got pleasure from, this was a bond between us.
Maurice Tuchman, who was at some point Chief Curator at the LA County Museum of painting and sculpture, I am surprised to see listed as one of the contributing artists. I only knew him as a curator. He attended my first painting exhibition at the Ruth Schaffner Gallery in 1975 on Melrose near Gemini Gel where the Pro Peace Exhibition was later held. And an exhibition I did with Andre Mirapolsky to raise money for the Para Los Ninos Foundation that provided for illegal aliens’ poor Mexican mothers who needed a daycare center in downtown LA. I regret that we never had a conversation. He had created his reputation with a paper on Chiam Soutine who, along with de Kooning, I thought then to be the most important painters in that they had achieved a freedom of expression in which the paint danced and sang.
Later, I would study Karel Appel, who also contributed to the Tower. The Cobra Group of artists of which he was a member were poetic brothers to the abstract expressionist painters of the 40’s and 50’s which was then, and perhaps remains, my favorite period in art. It opened what seems to be the last door.
During the 1960’s, we had hopes of changing the thinking of those who only saw one path. That of control and domination. A course of manipulation. The artist does not think in this manner. Creating art is a dialogue amid his own concepts. It is not controlled, but rather observed with the best intentions in mind. The best results, the most effective result. Letting go. Dropping into oneself.
War creates more war. The Peace Tower was a light house, beaming cultural truths. Zajac’s sacrificial goats… A Greek resurrection. Golub’s dictators saluting Goya’s representations of another war. The hope was illumination, as with the songs of that period… Jim Morrison’s THE END… the beginning of a SOFT PARADE!
The theater of revolution, like Julian Beck and his naked performances, they had a huge influence on the underground movement which was all about real freedom, and also upon Jim Morrison and other open expressions of life and love that were very much in view!
The Peace Tower always reminds me of the Watts Towers pointing up to the stars, inspiring in that they are grounded in an impoverished ghetto, like a jewel in a desert or the period of loving thoughts and gestures of the sixties they still inspire.
(Ed., again… For further thoughts on these matters, I suggest Michael’s latest book. A lot of detail, encounters with numerous artists, some rather funny anecdotes in 415 pages, 151 images, a lifetime devoted to art, optimism, peace and transformation though creative effort: http://www.fast-print.net/bookshop/1857/loaded-brush )
*More of Ed.s’ notes: A double-delight below ~ a few words of ours on The Beard and a poster by Michael McClure of his words to the lions. If you’d like to see even more on The Beard, we’d be pleased to fill your ARCHIVE Request.
Additionally, at the following link, you can find an interesting article on how the vibe of the Tower persisted… into 2011, and beyond. http://www.eastofborneo.org/articles/universal-steel-mark-di-suvero-occupy-wall-street-and-the-artists-tower-of-protest