By JAMES SALOMON January, 27th
Every so often, my mind goes back to a wonderful experience that was bestowed upon me when I was a kid. I was in fourth grade, and my father hired someone to come to the house after school twice a week for private Spanish lessons. Her name was Christine, she lived down the road and went to the local high school. We became very close in fourth, then fifth, then sixth grade. My father liked her a lot, and offered an unusual graduation present: a trip to Spain with his son.
It was 1984. I was ten years old, she was eighteen.
Now, I’ve told this story countless times through the decades, and finish off by saying something like “You can’t get away with that these days.” The truth is, you can, but the whole scenario seems so improbable, so unusual, like a stretched-truth coming of age movie. Yet it happened. My dad had an enormous amount of trust in how I navigated through situations and was always ready to throw me into the deep end, but in this situation he was putting a ton of responsibility on an 18 year old girl, who of course was ready to go but also had to sell the whole thing to her family. So, hmm, how does that work? I don’t know, but it did, and I owe so much to him for that summer with Christine.
She went on to college and I don’t remember seeing her so much after that, but through the years I’ve held onto those very fond memories in such formative years in my life. It wasn’t till a couple of years ago, when I finally latched on to Instagram, that I thought to look her up. I found out a married name through a friend, and presto – there it was. There she was. It couldn’t have been that easy. But it was.
As if time or life never passed through us, we reconnected and fell right back into our roles, she a cross between an older sister and a childhood friend. She had recently moved from the east coast and was living is San José with her photographer husband with college-age kids. She had a studio at a place called Visual Philosophy. Go figure.
Last week I hit the San Francisco fairs (FOG & Untitled), I called her in advance in hopes of meeting for a look at some art and maybe a bite. Instead, she invited me to escape to San José. Sure, I guess, wondering what was in store for me. Can we spark a moment of adventure there? Can we relive that Summer of Spain energy? That’s what I wanted, and probably what I needed.
“Do you know anything about the murals around here?” she asked. I didn’t. So she went into action in setting us up with a mural tour with the precious six hours that we had. They are in abundance, as street murals are deeply entrenched in Latin heritage, an important element in the fabric that makes San José. Every wall is conceivably a canvas, right? And, let’s face it, the world could use a little bit more color.
“The roots of murals have always been fed by the ever increasing artistic diversity of San José,” Lynne Brown, Chair of the Arts Commission, City of San José, explained to me recently. “Predating the state as a whole, San José has been a majority/minority city for decades. … Long existing in the shadow of technology, dismissed by the larger art world as lacking a “there”, San José continues on its’ own path of embracing its’ cultural churn of creation and recreation, foreshadowing the artistic churn spawned by the demographic change soon to engulf the US art world. … The 1960s song “Do You Know the Way to San José?” was written in tribute to a city that welcomes. And just maybe that welcoming, without reference to definition, is our ‘there’”.
The insightful and inspired Mayor Sam Liccardo also weighed in: “We love the color and vibrancy these incredible, diverse artists bring to our streetscape. San Joséans and visitors are embracing the murals and music beautifying our city—elevating our status as a multicultural epicenter for the arts.”
With this growing sentiment comes the POW! WOW! Festival, which, I understand from their website, is an internationally renowned week-long arts and culture festival. Originating in Hawaii in 2010, POW! WOW! Festivals happen in over a dozen cities around the world. As the first location in Northern California, PWSJ is produced by a team of local cultural curators with years of expertise producing culturally impactful events in San José.
“Kudos to the tremendous artists in POW! WOW! who share their talents with us—beautifying our city, reminding us of our rich and complex history, and inspiring new dreams for the future,” Mayor Liccardo continues.
So, it seems like more and more people are knowing the way to San José. I’ll leave you with a note from one of the most important and renowned muralists in our history:
“An artist is above all a human being, profoundly human to the core. If the artist can’t feel everything that humanity feels, if the artist isn’t capable of loving until he forgets himself and sacrifices himself if necessary, if he won’t put down his magic brush and head the fight against the oppressor, then he isn’t a great artist.” - Diego Rivera
PS: While researching Diego Rivera, I discovered that an upcoming exhibition titled “Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists remake American Art: 1925-1945” will be at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from February 17 through May 17, 2020.
Check. It. Out. WM