There are three faces staring at you – or maybe it’s just one, all blended together. Why are these faces staring out towards the people of Jacksonville?
This large public painting covers the wall facing the parking lot behind Burro Bar and Chomp Chomp on East Adams Street in downtown Jacksonville. It gazes at you through trees lining the right side of the road as you drive north on Ocean Street past the Main Street Bridge. It doesn’t grab your attention like a billboard would though – clearly visible space like that is way too expensive. Instead, this artist has covered a building that you would typically see as a patron of the adjacent buildings are the surrounding downtown area.
This mural operates on two planes – a cityscape background and split faces in the foreground. The dirt-colored buildings are lit up by bright blue drawn-on highlights. Instead of a painted sky, X’s fill the space in a regimented pattern, contrasting with the organic, human-constructed base.
A divided human face is the focal point of Cal Oglesby’s mural. There is a central face obstructed by colorful artifact, showing primarily the person’s eyes, nose, and mouth. Soft, young, and nearly-feminine features represent the youngest of the three faces. Green and black lines surround the dominant features like a mask. Is he hiding from something? Is he being covered?
To the left of the central face is a weathered but more peaceful face with its eyes closed and a slight upward tilt, predominantly male looking. The face, though you only see its right side, has a mature feel with deeper lines, sagging skin under the eyes, and rounder cheeks – an elderly or grandfather-like look. He appears to be wearing a stone necklace. This mature figure is not covered by the colorful lines like the other faces, but it is partly covered by the central face. It’s as if he is enjoying a long, soothing breath in through the nose, with a tinge of worry in his brow.
Opposite the older figure, to the right of the central youthful face, is a man’s gaze. This face has a soft smile with smoother skin and younger eyes, placing him somewhere in young adulthood. He appears to have either a mustache, or the line from the “mask” of the central is overlapping in a convenient spot. He has longer, thicker hair; his chin is covered by the cityscape and color array that is simultaneously in the foreground and background.
According to the artist Cal Oglesby, these three faces represent a South American Child Warrior, a shaman, and Pablo Escobar, respectively. Further, Oglesby hints at what he’s visually communicated by stating that they all involve the theme of “choice.” This begs the question, what choices are these characters making? What do Pablo Escobar, South American Child Warriors, and a shaman have in common? What is Oglesby trying to help us realize about our choices, or the choices of our leaders?
Pablo Escobar, depicted by the third face in the mural (far right), was a Colombian drug lord dealing mostly cocaine starting in the 1970’s. Escobar quickly gained power in Colombia, eventually being named one of Fortune and Forbe’s ten richest people on earth with a net worth of $30 billion by the early 90’s. What choices did Escobar make? He was at first a business man; the driving force behind his decisions with earning money. His choices led him to sell drugs and control the process from manufacturing to retail – much like large corporations today – making his one of the most profitable businesses in the world. Generating such success over a product that inevitably causes harm to humans created political controversy, leading to his inclusion in Ogelby’s mural.
The shaman, the left-most figure in the mural, is a representation of altering consciousness. Juxtaposed with the other figures in this painting, he can also represent the spirit of recreational drug use. A shaman actively participates in rituals and practices to interact through the spirit world by altering their own state of consciousness through choice of mind, and with mind-altering substances including tobacco, mushrooms, and cannabis. Their choice of participating in their practice brought them to drugs in order to understand the world around them and to connect to the spirit world. In contrast Pablo Escobar chose drugs for money.
For the primary face, its representation of the South American Child Warriors makes them the conclusion of Ogelby’s argument. Children comprised 30-85% of the Colombian drug army, depending on the militia. Typical child military age is 15-18 years old, but it was common to see kids younger than fifteen scouting enemies, planting mines, and serving as ambush attackers on their political enemies. Kids. These kids were military operatives to the drug lords in Colombia, workers for Pablo Escobar. The difference between Pablo and the child warriors is that Pablo had the choice; it would be very tough to argue that children and teenagers are making a knowledgeable choice of participating in a drug cartel.
Pulling this full circle, the central figure of the foreground is the representation of the South American Child Warrior being covered up by the city, the politics, and the choices of other very rich and powerful people. These are children without choice, but to serve the military needs of another. Linking these metaphors, the viewer is poised to conclude what Oglesby is trying to show us about children, choices and drugs.
What’s going on in Jacksonville that makes Oglesby want to talk about South American politics? Why this wall? “Painting these walls is a preservation of energy,” Ogelby stated in an interview with Folio Weekly. His energy and focus must be pointing him towards understanding human rights as we know it today, and the history of how it evolved. He constructed this painting to preserve his energy reading and researching this topics, the energy of the journalists documenting it, and ultimately of the Child Warriors, Pablo Escobar, and the spirit-chasing shaman. This work will continue to function in the thick of Bold City as a visual dialog about child soldiers and drug trafficking.
Notably, this painting is smack in a middle cultural hub of Jacksonville. Surrounded by music venues and restaurants, it lends itself that visual artists also utilize these city blocks as their canvas. Just a block over from this mural is “The Elbow” of Jacksonville featuring several venues like 1901 Music Hall and Underbelly, These venues end up becoming a venue for all types of artists to perform and display their work – performers, musicians, painters, culinary, and installation artists alike. These venues become ambassadors to the art community of Jacksonville.
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 Google Map. This map will serve as a virtual tour of the public art works in Jacksonville.