Though sometimes derided as “low art,” no other medium better captures the zeitgeist of the mid-20th century than unlicensed velvet art, though purists will argue that the it is usually painted on felt board.
Also called “border pop,” the medium espouses a high reverence for the television shows and films that helped shape the culture of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Its blatant disregard for international copyright law can be seen as a metaphor for America hegemony in the world. The medium was dominated by artists living along the United States-Mexico border, imparting it with an insider's love for American popular culture but also the critical eye of someone living on the fringe.
Border pop celebrates bright, pretty images and ease of production—that is, a tendency toward long brushstrokes and stripped-down color schemes. This technique not only allows the artist to get 10 more done before dark, but it has had the surprise effect of rendering the paintings highly resistant to the abuse and neglect they usually endure. Three once-lost examples of border pop have been recovered this year, all three by elusive border artist El Hombre Sin Nombre.
“Snoopy Having a Moment of Humble Acceptance and Gratitude in His Time of Darkness” eschews the stark political undertones usually present in border pop. Hombre chooses here to present a Snoopy as Christ motif. The muted grays of the lovable pooch’s face at first seem overly simple, but they betray a deep spiritual and philosophical pain. Snoopy gazes upon his dish with eyes that ask, “Should I eat my food pellets now or save them for later?” The bluish aura surrounding him suggests a deeply disturbed psyche. The deep black background represents the uncaring world. It is a masterpiece. Hombre works outside of his comfort zone but produces a work that is as beautiful and poignant now as the day it was created.
Snoopy gazes upon his dish with eyes that ask, “Should I eat my food pellets now or save them for later?”
An unignorable anxiety, almost paranoid dementia, seeps through the weepy blues of “Dog From Lady and the Tramp but Blue.” The painting is, of course, a metaphor for nuclear war, so the choice of blue is apt. The somber hues could symbolize the radiation poisoning suffered by survivors of a nuclear conflagration. It is entirely possible that the artist simply meant to convey a sense of depression that can arise when pondering such bleak subject matter as mutually assured destruction.
The sweet, subtle pink and calming, soft white of “The Pink Panther in Repose,” while pleasing to the eye, belie a statement the artist is making about the negative impact of the Industrial Revolution. The pink panther, while unassailably cool, both creates and ingests toxins, while leaving behind an endless stream of waste. He burns the candle at both ends, so to speak. The end result is environmental ruination. “Panther” smacks of ecological degradation, but the artist blithely deflects the underlying message with soothing color schemes.