PAS Gallery's Piggish Kelly Thomas Exhibit

The Fullerton space's show dedicated to the beaten-to-death-by-cops homeless man has some good pieces, but others lack true insight

It's 7:30 p.m., and I'm standing in line outside the packed PAS Gallery. There are 22 people ahead of me, waiting excitedly to see "Art With an Agenda: An Exhibit Inspired by Kelly Thomas." Within five minutes, there are 20 people standing behind me.

I've never had to wait in line to see an exhibit in Orange County. That the crowd—concerned citizens, children, bluehairs and hipsters, among others—is there to see artwork instigated by the tragic life and brutal death of Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man beaten to an unrecognizable pulp by Fullerton police, is an extraordinary thing.

The gallery's opening salvo is a powerful one: Using the harrowing black-and-white surveillance video of the beating as inspiration, John M. Sollom* (who co-curated with Stephan Baxter) has painted a series of small canvases, titled Stations of the Cross. Aside from the questionable religious title (more about that later), the murky confrontation between the mentally ill man and the aggressive officers moving silently toward a horrific ending quickly sets the tone. Andrea Bersaglieri also confronts the viewer with her modest work, Kelly and Anonymous Kelly. Variations on the same portrait of a young Thomas, with a large square obscuring his face in the latter, as viewers move from one picture to the other, their faces are reflected in the glass over the blank square. Using a completely different tact is Abraham Acosta's painting Ragdoll, awash in a pensive Van Gogh blue, with its subtle image of a toy missing an eye, the tiny face swollen and bandaged offering an unexpected poignancy.

Fight the power
Roxanna Mostatabi, To serve and protect
Fight the power

Location Info

Map

PAS Gallery

223 W. Santa Fe Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Fullerton

Details

"Art With An Agenda: An Exhibit Inspired by Kelly Thomas" at PAS Gallery, www.2pas.org. Open every Thurs., 1-5 p.m. Through July 26. Free.

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If you've had the misfortune of watching the beating on YouTube or elsewhere, one of the most distressing things you'll hear is Thomas crying out for his father to help him. Ron Thomas wasn't present when his son was Tasered, kicked and pummeled with a flashlight, but someone calling for help to an unhearing father figure is echoed in the most moving picture in the show (and one that had me catch my breath to keep from crying), untitled and without the artist identified on the night I attended: A blown-up photograph of clouds in the sky with the words Dad! Dad! Dad! Photoshopped over them.

Susan Olsen's graphic Still Life takes a cop cliché—the doughnut—and succinctly turns it on its head by setting it on the ground in a pool of blood, illuminated only by a dropped flashlight. Equally strong is a photograph of a pair of hands pulling on rubber gloves in Christian Fuhrer's Now See My Fists? Bathed in a red-orange glow reminiscent of the light bar on a squad car, it feels intensely violent without showing a single drop of blood.

Much has been made about some of the in-your-face work in the exhibition, but if you've been to more than one art gallery during your lifetime, you've probably seen worse. The use of Thomas' brutalized face as art (Ricardo E. Gonsalves' Sadistic Desire, for example) is questionable to my mind, void of subtext as it is, but far worse is the poverty of imagination involved. With many of the artists reveling in reactionary "shocking" images of policemen as pigs—grotesque cops clutching celebratory hard-ons as they transform into pigs and encircle a forlorn Thomas; severed pig heads; "pigtraits" of Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, the two officers due to stand trial for Thomas' death, as scowling porkers; Rene Cardona's porcine beret-wearing, club-wielding Fascist—what's most head-shakingly pathetic is that these artists aren't offering any insight.

If an artist portrays the target of his ire in a reductive way as some thing lower than himself—an animal commonly (and incorrectly) associated with shit and stupidity—what makes his world-view all that better than that of the public servants who blatantly disregarded the humanity of their victim? The flip side of this is the equally moronic idea that homeless people are universally beatific angels, murdered by a society that destroys the saintly. While only a couple of artists falls prey to this, there are still far too many Christlike images of Thomas, dressed in white or with the suggestion of a halo. It's cheap and ridiculous—and too easy. Sentimentalizing mental illness and homelessness is just another tactic to push the uncomfortable away from us, letting us off the hook while simultaneously robbing those on the street of their fragile humanity. Fervency and passion (for justice or revenge) may explain the two extremes, but it doesn't excuse them. It also doesn't make good art.

Kelly Thomas deserves better.

 

This review appeared in print as "Piggish: Art exhibit dedicated to Kelly Thomas has some good pieces, but others lack true insight."


* Mr. Sollom's name was misspelled in the original story.

 
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13 comments
Max
Max

It wasn't depictions of law enforcement in its entirety. It was statements against a select few who took a mans life. There's no ignorance in that. Its a reaction to what they chose to do to Kelly. Had they not chose to do what they did there wouldn't be any pig pieces in the pas gallery, but because they did, there are. Its cause and affect.

PrisonReformMvt
PrisonReformMvt

this was not about sentimentalizing mental illness or homelessness......it WAS about sentimentalizing a LIFE that was taken by brutal cops......

R.J. Steelworth
R.J. Steelworth

I think it is absolutely wrong to degrade an entire profession due to the actions of a few. By far the vast majority of law enforcement personnel serve honorably and take great pride in serving their communities. Some of the depictions of law enforcement are truly ignorant and inappropriate.

Enjoysfun
Enjoysfun

How long will the exhibit be on.

Howard_x
Howard_x

I would have loved to have seen this but unfortunately it was in Fullerton...

Kristy Prince
Kristy Prince

Thank you for your review Dave. I am one of the owners at PÄS. The main point for this show, the reason we took a risk and agreed to this exhibt, and why it was an all-inclusive show was not necessarily about the best art, but rather about having a postive forum for people's anger, pain and resentment. That's not to say we don't think most of the work is beautifully executed. We believe that art as a means of therapy is more helpful to our community than using violence. Art, whether it is good or bad for the viewer, is always good for the maker. It is a postive way for Fullerton to vent. Also, I am not naive and believe that just doing art is going to change the world, but i would tell you that anyone who chooses to pick up a paint brush over picking up their fists is making a small change that could make big difference. In the end, this turned out to be more than Justice for Kelly, it was Justice for our Community. Thank you, Kristy Prince

merijoe
merijoe

Art comes in many forms-that's why it's called art. Some of the artists, like myself, are not experianced, but the expressing of emotions are individual and real. Criticism and offense is freedom of speech, so is expressing what's on one's heart. The offense expressed, in my opinion, is like telling someone how to grieve, and that's always going to differ. I'd say the honest expression by the mixture of artists, is exactly what Kelly deserved and would have loved enormously, if he wasn't taken from this life by the hands of others intentionally.

Bill T.
Bill T.

This would have been appropriate as a response to Sr. fullertonResident, above.

Valerie Lewis
Valerie Lewis

Pigs and Jesus ... yes, I agree ....that kept coming up from artists who had no idea what the other was creating. I think instead of lacking insight, it speaks to the gut reactions ... the emotions that artists work from. It was very difficult to escape the emotional when creating for this show. However, along with the direct and expressive work, there were more conceptual .. or overtly intellectual pieces including a clock counting down the length of time Kelly was beaten. I myself fell into painting a sentimental christ-like piece ... I didn't mean to.. it just poured out of me. It was honest and emotional. Martyrs don't always choose to be martyrs, and that was definitely a theme. None of this was easy, or thoughtless.. or pure sentimentality. It is part commentary on the public's dual reaction ... good vs. evil .. pig vs. martyr ... and the artist's own realization that they are the public and criminal in apathetically letting events like this happen over and over again. I think this is best shown in William Zdan's piece "Police Verso" where he painted himself as the brute. This exhibit is about love and hate, forgiveness and vengeance...and the emotional mess we all felt because of this act of sick, depraved, abuse of power against someone who was weaker, and more "expendable" in his attackers eyes.

Baxter
Baxter

I mistakenly attributed Dan's Hughes claim that he was turned away to the author not as a comment. Someone had told me earlier that there was a claim by the OC Weekly that Dan had said this. Is there more than one article? If so, can you refer me to it. I assure that the Cheif was not turned away by the the gallery owner, the doorman or the organizer of the exhibit.

Baxter
Baxter

Thank you for attending and for your review. I differ with it, but I respect your opinion on the exhibit. What I am responding to, is not about art, but about my reputation. As the sole organizer of the art exhibit and the person who rented the space for the month, I can tell you that Dan Hughes was not turned away by anyone who had the authority to turn him away. The door man that night was a young man who is training to become a police officer, and he has many friends on the force, he did not turn Chief Hughes away either. In fact the week of the exhibit I called Chief Hughes to tell him he was welcome to attend. Only I, or the doorman, had the authority to turn him or anyone away, and that did not happen. No one was turned away, the exhibit was free and open to the public. I am interested to know what he said exactly, and why you decided not to verify what he said with me. You would think that on the anniversary of Kelly's beating death, while at an art exhibit inspired by the events surrounding that death by the same police department, which the DA is on record for saying made false statements, that you would think to verify what they told you this time. You are the OC Weekly for f*cks sake, I expect you to questions and to verify. I don't expect everyone to like the exhibit, it's not an easy subject, but at least on this night over a 1000 people were thinking of Kelly and they were thinking of art. Many of them will return for the in August when there will be a much lighter topic for Augusts Art Walk. I will be gallery sitting Friday between 6 to 10 if you or the chief would like to come back. Respectfully, -Baxter

fullertonResident
fullertonResident

I was greatly disturbed at parts in this art show. Chief Hughes showed up but was turned away at the door at someones recomendation.I didn't like to see doughnuts in blood and officers depicted as swine. To depict police as swine is insulting to all officers the same way as it would be if you depicted a man of a different race as a type of species. I wish more community involvement had been alowed in the planning of this art show. One of the paintings showed acts of sexual gratification.This was no place to bring your family. Kelly deserved better.

Bright1135
Bright1135

You can chose wether or not to be a police officer unlike your race. It's getting really silly to compare everything to racism. It just Marginalizes racism. Millions of people throughout history have been killed for there race. Are you really trying to compare a police officer being referred to as a pig to what Jewish and black people have gone through. Get real there adults and should have learned to get over a little name calling by now.

 
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