Art gives people a voice.
We make art to express ourselves and our ideas. Because not everyone can deliver a powerful speech to rally a crowd or a create a compelling website for their cause, we make art. We can’t afford billboards to get our point across. We display it for the community to see, to drive by every day, or to view in a gallery. Art, especially public art, can serve as an amplifier for one’s thoughts, reaching hundreds, thousands, millions of people.
These painted words were clearly created to be seen from the street, by the people. They’re written in bright colors, bold enough to see from thirty feet away in the road. The saturated background planks host contrasting letters, pointing straight towards the road. The letters aren’t perfect either; some strokes around the letters are smudged and not symmetrical. The background paint is not consistent across the whole board. Some of the colors bleed into each other. And around the word “people,” there are small blue marks accentuating the shapes of the letters. These artifacts and imperfections lend this painting to be homemade rather than what we would expect from a professional painter or studio. That’s exactly what makes this piece so convincing – anyone could have made it. It’s art from within a community.
Driving north-bound on Edgewood Avenue in Jacksonville’s west side (close to Murray Hill) brings you through a low commerce area and blocks of industrial businesses, sprinkled with hole-in-the-wall diners and BBQ restaurants. Just a block before a major merger with Cassat Avenue, you come to a stop at Highway Avenue, a trucking business on the right, a small distribution building to the left. As the lanes open up, crossing the intersection your eyes fall on a vacant lot, weeds growing out the cracks in the concrete, and boarded building with these bold words staring out at you.
This building is located at 4729 Highway Avenue. The last known occupant was Proverbial Financial Group, ironically a money services business. According to public records with the Florida Department of State, this building was vacated by the business in 2007 and the company dissolved in 2008, Only the abandoned building was apparent on Google Street View circa 2014. This suggests that the canvas was blank for about seven years. When exactly did this text-based painting appear? And who created it? Was it a neighborhood artist? A frustrated employee of a corporation? Or perhaps the artist is a frustrated business owner in the area, put out of work by a large corporation? Knowing who created this could help understand the message, and the artist’s perspective.
All of this – the location, the building, the neighborhood, and the closed business- leads me to believe that the artist associates with the poor. In a low commercial area in the west side of Jacksonville, most people who see this painting will associate with “The 99%”, attempting to unite against the oppression of the wealthy 1%. The placement of this public painting is pivotal, as the artist put it here to ignite the thoughts of the oppressed.
The use of the power word “unite” invokes actioni. People need to be united in order to gain power and influence from the few and powerful. Leaders are hard to find though, more difficult to keep. So this begs the question: How do the “poor people” unite? Sans leadership, this public painting seems more of a plea for help than a mission statement.
“Corporate” has become a four-letter word in the recent decades. Paired with “oppression,” the phrase exudes lack of trust towards corporations. Enron in 2001 is a primary example of deliberate fraud and corruption, leaving behind a bad taste in the mouths of the public. Though it’s not the concept of a company that is inherently evil, it’s those in charge of the corporations that create the controversy. The leadership makes the corporation. And unfortunately, greed can also influence the leadership.
Human greed is the problem. Corporations are the scapegoat.
The recent news of Gravity Payment’s CEO taking a 90% pay cut to boost the employee’s salaries is a significant step of combating greed. He’s putting more money in the hands of his employees, raising morale, and even bringing in more business than before.What’s next for this CEO? And we’ll see how many other companies follow suit.
The average Japanese CEO earns one-sixth the amount of the average American CEO. They’re even regulated to publicly disclose executive pay if it’s in excess of 100 million yen ($1.1 million). Interestingly, not as many executives as you think meet this requirement. Fewer than 30 of the 3800 public companies had to disclose their CEO’s compensation. And in relation, Japanese CEO’s earn about 16x the pay of their average worker. American exec’s take in 319x more money.
If America follows the path of Gravity Payments and Japanese execs, there won’t be an oppression to fight.
Thus, it’s not the corporations themselves that are the problem, but the leadership. The greed is the problem.
The greed is the oppression that this artist has felt.
View the map below for the exact location of this piece and how it relates to the surrounding area. Use the Street View to get a casual observation of the wall and what’s across the street. Some of the most expensive flat surfaces to display art – or ads – is in direct view of roads, making non-commercial spaces a commodity for artists. The placement of the work is pivotal to it being viewed and understood.
I will be adding this and future works that I will be photographing into an interactive map. This map will serve as a virtual tour of the public art works in Jacksonville.