An artist who created one of rock music’s most iconic album covers weighs in on the Colin Kaepernick/national anthem controversy, the Trump administration and more in an art installation in Turlock.
And while social commentary is the thrust of the exhibit, the installation’s most dominant piece is a 14-foot image of the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who was raised in Turlock, as he kneels during the national anthem.
“His career has inspired me,” Joey Krebbs, aka The Phantom Street Artist, said of Kaepernick.
He created the art installation at the University Art Gallery at California State University, Stanislaus, as part of the annual Social Justice in the Central Valley Conference being held there Tuesday through Thursday, Nov. 7-9. The exhibit, titled “Make Amerika Jack’d Again,” continues through Friday, Nov. 10 and is open to the public. The Phantom Street Artist will offer a performance art piece during the conference on Thursday.
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Among the Los Angeles-based artist’s most widely recognized works is the cover for Rage Against The Machine’s 1999 album “The Battle of Los Angeles.” He’s predominately known as a street artist and for his graffiti figures with signature black paint drips.
Krebbs painted his graffiti figures onto the walls of the University gallery for the exhibit, which also includes installation pieces tackling current political issues as well as video of the artist. Among the pieces is a series of stained men’s underwear briefs covered with images of members of President Trump’s administration – former and current – and sealed in plastic bags. The president also is represented similarly in a case nearby, along with a toilet seat and roll of tissue, resting on an American flag.
“The GOP, I call it the Grand Old Poopy party,” Krebbs said.
At the back of the gallery is a hanging effigy of a Ku Klux Klan member emblazoned with Kaepernick’s name and the 49ers logo. And while Gallery Director Dean De Cocker said that might be the most controversial piece in the exhibit, the looming figure of Kaepernick is the most striking.
The image began as a photo of the kneeling Pitman High School graduate that was blown up and then manipulated by the artist, adding in city scenes, newspaper clippings and other elements.
Kaepernick became a controversial figure, thrust into the national consciousness, after his decision last season to kneel while the national anthem was played before 49ers games in protest against racial injustices in the United States. Others in the league and in other sports have followed his lead in similar protests, which have attracted national attention with both celebration and derision – the latter notably by President Trump. Kaepernick, who helped lead the team to the Super Bowl in February 2013, was released by the 49ers after last season and has remained unsigned in the NFL.
“I think this is an important piece for the town of Turlock to acknowledge and pay attention to. I haven’t noticed anything (in town) that talks about Colin Kaepernick since the controversial taking a knee for the national anthem,” said Dan Edwards, professor of sculpture at the university and a friend of Krebbs who suggested the artist take part in the social justice exhibit. “He’s become this lightning rod for a new take on (the) civil rights movement ... for our town to be silent doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“The town should know that this is here and stand behind it,” he added.
Neither De Cocker nor Edwards are aware of any local members of the Kaepernick family – who now live in Modesto – viewing the exhibit as of midweek.
Krebbs blasted the NFL for leaving Kaepernick unsigned. “Anytime an organization such as the NFL oppresses (a player) it serves as plantation master,” he said.
While some of the pieces may court controversy, there’s been no public criticism so far, according to De Cocker, also a professor of art at the university.
“Not yet,” he said. “We might, but I think people come to the gallery to look at different perspectives – and they’re not going to like all of the shows.”
For some who attend the show, the KKK piece might create confusion – why would Kaepernick’s name and former 49ers number be included on the hooded white robe that’s emblematic to the white supremacy group?
“My interpretation is you might see a lot of Trump supporters at an NFL game wearing Kap’s name back in the day, or (that of) another player that they’re at odds with,” Edwards said. “It’s a double standard of basically how they use NFL players for their own entertainment, but they don’t respect them as people”
The installation provided a valuable teaching tool for students in the university’s art program, the professors agreed. Several students helped Krebbs put together the installation, which took a few days to complete. “This just took on a life of its own,” De Cocker said of the exhibit, “and it was a great project for our students because our students very closely helped him lay out all the pieces and get things made.”
The artist initially was going to have only a small exhibit of works in the back of the gallery and offer a performance art piece during the social justice conference. But he was inspired to do more once he arrived and ended up taking over the entire gallery. While the underwear pieces were already in concept, the installation was created by The Phantom Street Artist specifically for the Turlock university’s conference.
“I think he envisioned the show, he was going to do the performance thing and he was just going to do this small (exhibit),” De Cocker said, “but when he got here and he had help to do things, it just kind of took off and it’s the kind of the magic that happens here once in a while.”
Exhibit: “Make Amerika Jack’d Again”
WHEN: Noon-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays with evening hours until 9 p.m. Thursdays, through Nov. 10
WHERE: University Art Gallery, California State University, Stanislaus, 1 University Circle, Turlock
Social Justice in the Central Valley Conference
WHEN: Nov. 7-9; various times, see website for full schedule
WHERE: California State University, Stanislaus, 1 University Circle, Turlock