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Much Ado About W: Art Wars of Santa Barbara

Appalled by the policies of George W. Bush, two prominent artists, Colin Gray and John Nava, are compelled to take a political stand in their art for the first time, one in a public sculpture exhibit on State Street, and the other in a local gallery.  The documentary follows the threats, tabloid journalism, and controversy that ensue as the layers of Santa Barbara’s culture, media and politics unravel through the various perspectives of an eloquent panel of commentators from the professional art world and from people interviewed on the streets of Santa Barbara.

It all starts when Colin Gray’s sculpture “W” – featuring an upside down McDonald’s logo shot full of green arrows – lands on State Street and Canon Perdido on September 1st, 2006.  The owner of six local McDonald’s franchises and son of the Egg McMuffin inventor, begins a fierce campaign to have the sculpture removed:  publicly petitioning Santa Barbara City Counsel, calling the sculpture “mean-spirited,” and privately attempting to strong arm curator Rita Ferri. 

Shortly afterwards, a request for letters to the editor titled “Public Art Gone Awry?” and Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s  column,  “You Call that Art, I call it Trash,”  are published by Wendy McCaw’s Santa Barbara News Press.  We follow Rita through the heated County Arts Commission meetings as many debate the fortune of Colin’s sculpture and whether logos should be prohibited from future public art.  Interwoven, Colin Gray maps the complex genesis of his controversial sculpture through his breathtaking work and wily vision.    

Two weeks after Colin’s scandal breaks, John Nava, the visionary artist who created the tapestries and paintings for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles in Los Angeles, opens Neo-Icons at Sullivan Goss-An American Gallery, in downtown Santa Barbara.  The exhibit features stunning paintings and tapestries of teenagers wearing t-shirts with statements such as “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” and “America Tortures.”  Neo-Icons draws angry calls, outbursts in the gallery, and even veiled death and arson threats to art dealer/gallery owner Frank Goss.

National and local Santa Barbara art critic Josef Woodard expounds on these two Santa Barbara art controversies.  Woodard then relates the issue of censorship to Santa Barbara’s architecture, noting that architecture is the ultimate public art.  He puts up for debate the faux Mediterranean style championed by Pearl Chase after the 1925 earthquake – easy on the eye but the bane of innovation – and he asks us to contemplate “Aren’t we celebrating the conquistadors? ” 

How wide is the envelope of artistic freedom and dissent in the face of the powers that be in Santa Barbara?  Colin Gray quotes Ram Dass: “‘When we get to that point where we give up all notions of what it is to be good in order to be free, with the faith that when we are free, we will be good.’  And that is a beautiful succinct thing for making art too.”

Shot with consumer digital cameras (at 15 frame per second), the filmmakers find many advantages to operating low-tech, one being flexibility and maintaining a low profile.  “When not faced with big cameras and lighting equipment, people are much less intimidated and more likely to be relaxed and spontaneous,” says Tina Love.  Regarding working with his wife Michael Love adds, “It was wonderful to be able to collaborate with my wife Tina whose abilities compliment mine - and with three kids we were already a well-oiled team.”

Copyright © SageHillMpegs 2007 Michael Love 805-452-6455 Tina Love 805-886-5530
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