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Poster artist and billboard liberator Shepard Fairey, he of the ubiquitous Obey Giant images, met Robertson at Rollins free Amoeba show back in December to promote the Rise Above CD. Fairey, who recalls being harassed by Southern cops for looking funny, instantly signed on, and did a blue-and-black silk-screened poster of Rollins to benefit the WM3. Sales of the poster have so far garnered the legal-defense fund $2,000, and Faireys doing a two-tone silk-screen of the three young men for the show.
Punk rock Daumier Raymond Pettibons Remember the West Memphis Three is a scathing, hilarious denunciation of Americas backstabbing snitch culture wherein Joe Citizen is your worst Stalinist nightmare come true. Other than its title, the pen-and-ink drawing does not refer directly to the case.
Its human nature to have concerns raised by the things youre closest to, explains Pettibon. I think the fact that it had to do with rock music and that sort of thing probably brings a lot of attention to it from artists and musicians and so forth. Thats a genuine response, but in my case, Id be suspicious of going in that direction because this sort of thing happens, its systemic. Thats kind of the problem when theres so little attention raised to the many victims of the justice system.
In November, the support group went to Arkansas to visit the WM3 in their respective prisons. It was Robertsons first trip, the umpteenth for the other hardcore members of this late-30s-to-early-40-something Mod Squad, which includes writer and prop maestro Burk Sauls, photographer Grove Pashley, Frontier Records owner Lisa Fancher, and graphic artist Bakken. The art show was already in the planning stages, but stepping through the looking glass into the reality of the Arkansas pen motivated Robertson. Using images he captured with a digital camera, he created an oil-on-canvas triptych of the young men reminiscent of Lucian Freud and David Hockney. Titled simply Jason, Damien, Jessie, the mens faces are studies in fear and suffering, their features made to seem double-exposed, thus intensifying the emotions portrayed.
In comparison with the trip, organizing the show has been a whiz. Everyones been really great in calling me back, and everyones said yes, Robertson says. He finally settled on gallery newcomer sixspace at 549 W. 23rd Street, downtown, whose owners generously donated their time and space. Theyre a really awesome young married couple, Caryn Coleman and Sean Bonner, says Robertson. Glen Friedman was their first show, which is pretty cool. I love his work, and I really liked the people who were showing up there. Its not like a gallery where little rich ladies go to buy paintings, like at Bergamot.
The advance buzz for the show has spread to such places as the New York Post, Wired magazine, MTV.com, People.com and Eonline.com. Robertson deserves credit for what promises to be a successful event. However, Cruel and Unusual is in fact just the most recent manifestation of a pop-culture phenomenon that has its ground zero in Los Angeles with Sauls, Pashley, Bakken and Fancher the core of www.wm3.org. In the midst of this Big Nowhere, there are actually a few human beings lurking about, and a goodly number work in the entertainment biz, believe it or not.
Everybody has their function, explains Fancher, who runs punk-pioneer label Frontier Records (Adolescents, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies) from her small house in Valley Village. Kathy and Grove are real Web-savvy, graphic artists and all that kind of stuff. Were all really good friends now, which is really an amazing byproduct of this whole thing. We actually go to the movies and do nonWest Memphis things together. But its tough, we feel so attached to the guys, its like its happening to your family or something. When you actually go to the prisons, youre just so drawn to their plight.
Since Fancher was already familiar with mail order, she eventually slid into the role of heading up the merchandising department for the site. One of her ideas: a POW (Prisoner of West Memphis) bracelet modeled on the POW/MIA bracelets sold by Vietnam-vet support groups in the 80s, with the names of all three men in black, their arrest date and a blank space to fill in their eventual release date. Proceeds go to maintain the Web site and publicize the case.
Bakken, an intelligent woman with a generous smile and charming Kentucky twang, designs advertising for Fox Broadcasting, but creating movie posters has always been her passion. It was while she was working for an ad agency with a contract to do the art for HBOs America Undercover series that she first saw Paradise Lost. It was 1996, and she had taken the video home as research for the key art, which she designed. In it she recognized everything she loathed about the South, the narrow-mindedness and religious bigotry.