We’ve been avid art lovers ever since that long ago day when our mother first dragged us along to the Wichita Art Museum to see the Mary Cassatt and the John Steuart Curry and the Albert Pinkham Ryder and the Thomas Eakins and the Winslow Homer and the three — count ’em, three — Edward Hoppers, two of which are very major works, along with the rest of the city’s surprisingly strong collection, but for the past many years we’ve found precious little to like among the new stuff. It’s not just the pointless and overdone abstraction, or the obviously intentional ugliness of it, or that ever-present preachy and polemic quality that Tom Wolfe so brutally described in “The Painted Word,” or even the rigid conformity of the ugly and polemical point that almost all of it seems to be making, but mostly the annoying air of self-righteousness by all those college-educated artists who think themselves “brave” and “transgressive” and “outsider” for scribbling works that are clearly meant to convey the consensus of bien pensant arty world opinion and be safely ignored by the rest of society.
Imagine our delight, then, to hear about the fellow who calls himself Sabo and has lately been creating a bona fide artistic controversy by plastering the streets of Los Angeles with his works. So far as we can tell from the internet images his work is at least somewhat abstractly modern, with the requisite intentional ugliness, and it’s polemic as all get-out, but we have to credit his bravery and transgression and outsider status, because he clearly intends to mock the consensus of bien pensant arty world opinion and let the rest of the society in on his very amusing jokes. One doesn’t need a post-graduate degree in deconstruction theory to see that Sabo is an unrepentant right-wing bastard like ourselves, which is about as brave and transgressive and outsider-y as someone hoping to make an artistic reputation for himself can get, and even the credentialed deconstruction theorists will have to admit that there’s a certain jiu-jitsu genius about using all the stale conventions of “street art” and “guerrilla art” and all the rest of those brave and transgressive and outsider cliches to fight the powers that actually prevail.
Sabo’s latest news-making work is of the conceptual variety, and involves those flashing traffic-signaling signs that the more high-brow critics will note are a poignant symbol of our carbon-emitting automotive society and societal retreat into the stifling hell of suburbia, but he and his co-conspirators have been placing them along the home-to-the-suburb routes inconvenienced by the royal motorcades attendant to the fund-raising of President Barack Obama and presumptive president Hillary Clinton, with such messages as “Democrats Begging 4 Money” and “Hillary Back Begging.” He’d previously attracted Los Angeles’ attention with the more visually polemic works he had ironically and post-modernly mass-produced and then transgressively stuck on bus benches and other public spaces around the city, such as his depiction of one of those scary flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” carrying a Hillary 2016 sign, and failed Texas gubernatorial candidate and left-wing darling Wendy Davis depicted as a pro-abortion Barbie doll, and his pictures of beloved liberals rendered in an obvious allusion to the style of that Shepard Fairey poster of Barack Obama that was so ubiquitous back in ’08, only with the painted word “Drone” rather than “Hope” at the bottom.
So far our favorite Sabo is a portrait of his apparent choice for president, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is depicted with a cigarette dangling from his sneering lips and a riot of gangsta tattoos on his bare-chested and muscle-bound physique. Cruz apparently likes it, too, as he jocularly “tweeted” that the only inaccuracy he noticed was that he doesn’t smoke cigarettes, and in an ironic and post-modern way it reminds us of what we like about the very suit-and-tied and very Republican Cruz’ very brave and transgressive and bareknuckled style of politics, and we suspect that many of the young and hip former Obama voters who fell for that stupid Shepard Fairey poster back in ’08 might at long last have their conformist assumptions challenged in the way that modern art has always claimed to do while they await a bus or straggle down a Los Angeles street. We’re hoping so, at least, because it’s about time the squares started shocking the avante garde.
Back in ’08 pretty much the entirety of the art world was lined up behind Obama, along with academia and Hollywood and journalism and the rest of the opinion-making establishment, and none of them raised any fuss when one of his lackeys in the federal arts-funding establishment made clear that commissions and subsidies and other official considerations were entirely dependent on their continued support of his agenda, and they all adopted the same noticeably worshipful and therefore un-hip attitude toward their Messiah, which seemed so conformist and unthinking and unsophisticated to us retrograde Christians who already had a Messiah, so Sabo is at least something of a breath of fresh air. Over at the longstanding conservative publication The National Review they’re talking about how the Republicans might regain some “cool” in the next election, what with our own early-choice-for-president Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker looking so very bad-ass on that Wisconsin-built Harley-Davidson motorcycle he likes to ride, and the Democrat’s presumptive nominee looking so very grandmotherly with her pant-suits and back-to-the-’90s rhetoric, and although that seems hopeful, what with transgenderism and a wholly fictional Republican war against contraception and the rest of it being the big stories of the day, this Sabo fellow makes us cautiously optimistic they might be right. Perhaps some other aspiringly brave and transgressive artists will also notice how very cowardly and conforming the art world has become, and add some mockery of their own, and the arty world will at long last help us fight the powers actually be.
Sabo has already attracted the attention of The Huffington Post and The Hollywood Reporter and the bus-riding hipsters of Los Angeles, as well as The Central Standard Times way out here in Wichita, and that’s heartening. We don’t expect that his works will outlast Cassatt or Curry or Ryder or Eakins or Homer or Hopper, or any of those other great artists in the Wichita Art Museum’s surprisingly strong collection just around the corner from our Riverside home, all of whom captured those timeless moments of the human condition that anyone on the left or right could recognize and relish, but for right now and right here at this damned moment in time we think he’s doing a hell of a job.
— Bud Norman