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An Artist for the Moment

One of the strongest artistic responses to the uprisings following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd comes from San Francisco-based Art Hazelwood, whose trenchant graphic works stand out both for their topical relevance and their timelessness.

All art—music, literature, film, and visual art—that addresses the historic and contemporary struggles for Black liberation and dignity amplifies and propels the movement for social change.

Hazelwood aptly describes himself as an Artist, Impresario, and Instigator––all roles he has performed for many decades. A veteran artistic agitator, his roots include strong academic training in fine arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1981. His numerous exhibitions throughout the country express his relentless social and political commentary.

That perspective has led Hazelwood to address many issues of concern to progressive communities: homelessness and affordable housing, racism, war, sexual assault and harassment, immigrants’ rights, and prisons, among many others. Most recently, as chief shop steward for the Adjunct Faculty Union at the San Francisco Art Institute, he has struggled against unconscionable faculty layoffs.

Hazelwood’s highly detailed woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and book projects make him the legitimate heir of major political artists including Posada, Kollwitz, Daumier, and Goya. His recent works respond in imaginative ways to the present crises and the barbaric “leaders” who have created them.

Characteristic of this is “The Tipping Point” (Figure 1), issued under the banner of Gaceta Callejera. The original, which translates “Street Gazette,” was used by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada for political, social, and historical broadsides—popular prints published on cheap paper for mass distribution—that he sold on the streets. Hazelwood now uses electronic media for these visual distributions. 

Here, in this work, is the central image of George Floyd’s body, surrounded by concealed, anonymous, military-like police officers. Behind them is the chief instigator, Donald Trump, and his cabal, including Klansmen. Trump’s decades of racism, and his present policies, give rise to such brutalities. At the left are the multiracial protestors with their signs, signifying the larger revolts going on throughout the world. 

Similarly, “Black Lives Matter” (Figure 2) highlights some of the central figures of both the recent and distant past that underlie the present Black Lives Matter movement. Hazelwood pointedly depicts a masked woman protester lovingly cradling Floyd. Behind her is the image of  professional quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling for the national anthem brought an end to his football career.

The broadside also depicts Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass—heroic women and men who set the stage for the contemporary protest by Black Lives Matter. It reinforces that Black resistance in America is an unbroken line from the earliest slave rebellions to the present. 

Throughout much of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely slowed. Not so in the United States, a tragic reality that Hazelwood has addressed in another broadside artwork. 

“America, Open for Business” (Figure 3) depicts Trump and his capitalist cronies demanding the reopening of American commerce, despite the overwhelming human cost, with now more than 150,000 dead and counting

At the top of the composition is a large money-bag figure, revealing the real interests at work: large corporations pulling the puppet strings of Trump and the captive Republican Party. The vulture on top is reminiscent of the biting nineteenth century cartoons of Thomas Nast. This work, like the others, is unapologetically unsubtle, a historic feature of effective political art. 

“Cannibal Rats” (Figure 4) locates Trump in the company of others whose actions and inactions have led to unnecessary deaths. This artwork, another dispatch from Gaceta Callejera, depicts Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán as fellow rodents. It reinforces Trump’s well-known affinity for authoritarianism and for dictatorial rulers throughout the world. 

For many years, Hazelwood has been using the work of the great nineteenth century French satirist Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) and his visual agitator colleagues as models for his own work. It emerges from the satirical journals La Charivari and La Caricature, which waged journalistic war on various reactionary French regimes for many decades.  

One strategy that Daumier and editor Charles Philipon employed was to use the pear, “poire,” to savagely attack French politicians. Daumier’s most scathing lithograph was his 1831 portrait of the corpulent monarch Louis Philippe I, for which he received a six-month prison sentence.

Hazelwood emulated this style in a caricature completed on July 7 depicting Trump as a pear (Figure 5). It follows the precise format of La Charivari, and is based on a drawing by Philipon. Originally in France at the time, the pear was meant to signify “fool” or “blockhead.” 

Obviously, that designation holds for Trump, but historically, his resemblance to the corrupt king Louis Philipe is all too disconcerting. This artwork establishes a powerful linkage to a grand tradition of visual caricature. 

In another recent work, Hazelwood pays homage to the late nineteenth century Parisian weekly humor magazine Le Rire (or “Laughter”). This notable periodical featured such iconic artists as Théophile Steinlen, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Juan Gris, and many others. This strikingly contemporary version, Zuckerberg Leaves the World to its Own Devices, (Figure 6) calls attention to one of the most insidious developments in the digital era.

Hazelwood’s devastating artistic critique lays bare the real function of Facebook and its dynamic young founder Mark Zuckerberg. Here, the social media magnate is shown flying over the world’s population, money bags in hand, left to “its own devices.” This reflects Zuckerberg’s oft-repeated platitudes about “free expression” and the “marketplace of ideas.” 

Those ritual incantations are designed merely as a cover. Facebook’s real purpose is the same as that of all mega-corporate enterprises: the accumulation of profit. Hazelwood is a contemporary political artist who cuts to the core of corporate capitalism in the early twenty-first century.

All art—music, literature, film, and visual art—that addresses the historic and contemporary struggles for Black liberation and dignity amplifies and propels the movement for social change. Art Hazelwood is a quintessential contemporary example of an artist whose works are inextricable from this movement for progressive change and redemption. 


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