Nothing beats a hands on experience to make your point. Akira (currently showing at The Shooting Gallery) is a teaching assistant at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and he goes the extra mile to get his students out of the classroom. His fashion illustration students joined us in The Shooting Gallery this week for a personal tour of Akira’s works. As they huddled around his 21 oil and watercolor paintings, a few words from the wise floated through the gallery. His short talk made us want to be students of Akira forever.
Leading the class: Akira Beard and Christopher Jernberg
Akira opened by saying his art is a reflection of culture. It’s like taking a hummer, a military vehicle, and putting it on the streets of SF. Then take that vehicle and put it into an art gallery. In such a manner, Akira re-contextualizes the culture that we experience everyday.
Akira said that as Americans living in the modern world, we experience racism, culture, entertainment, etc. He uses icons from these cultures as his subject matter. For example, Jeann-Paul Sartre is a philosopher. He has an American flag on his chest, yet Sartre believes in Existentialism’s theory of taking responsibility for oneself. Americans typically don’t do this, so the irony is clear.
Next is Victor Frankl, the psychologist who proposed theories of Logotherapy. By finding meaning in your life, humans find purpose. Without purpose, we become depressed. In the portrait, Victor wears a Scarface shirt (a symbol of conformity). Although Americans are lost in such meaningless icons, Frankl has the answer.
Pointing to the portrait of Picasso as a gangster, Akira mentioned that different cultural groups relate to this piece on different levels. With its controversial text in the style of a hip hop lyric, some may be offended. He told the story of an African American woman who approached him at a previous opening, where he had hung a bold painting of Fifty Cent. The rapper’s nose and lips had been purposefully exaggerated, drawing attention to the stereotypical views that Caucasians have about African Americans. The woman was so furious that Akira thought she was going to slap him. But she allowed him to speak, and once he explained his reasoning behind the image, she was so impressed that she took pictures of the painting to show her boyfriend.
“Being a painter doesn’t make you an artist,” Akira stated. There is craft and concept, and they are separate. Painting a realistic flower is an example of craft, while someone else could urinate on a canvas and call it concept. Having both is the key to being an artist. “You see the conversation,” he said. “My conversation is cultural.”
Akira then pointed out the potential of art. “You can take it as far as you want to take it. Take advantage of it or not. It’s having a voice and saying something.”