We’re fencing ourselves off from one another everywhere, in gated communities, building up barriers. It’s a fear that pervades the country.
To me, art is a life-and-death matter.
Rogue of the month
Artist, provocateur, philosopher
By Dell Franklin
The first thing you notice about Donald Archer, a small, white-haired man in his early 60s, are incandescent eyes set in the high, intelligent forehead of a Greek philosopher/artist. Socrates rising from a turbulent sea of ashes? These eyes flash with anger when the subject of the Bush Administration’s thrashing of the U.S. Constitution is brought up, along with the hijacking of the country by major corporations. While discussing these subjects, the eyes zero in like lasers. He becomes animated. An artist who once taught at the Academy of Art in San Francisco for seven years, he has since managed to survive selling his paintings for well into the thousands at outdoor festivals throughout the state for more than 20 years.
“I sell, in order to paint,” Archer tells you. “I don’t paint to sell. I think commercial success can kill the artist — his creative freedom — if he’s trying to fulfill his own or others’ expectations. Gearing yourself to success, guessing what the public wants in order to sell, is death. To me, art is a life-and-death matter.”
“Living 24/7 with a passion? The mind never ceasing…?”
“My mind does cease — through meditation. It’s my spiritual nutrition. It’s my nature to live with a passion.”
Archer, a Cambria citizen since 1992, has also penned political and social commentaries for the New Times, Rogue Voice, and other periodicals, and his artwork is featured on his web page (www.donaldarcher.com). A skilled writer, he puts down his ideas in concise, staccato sentences, building momentum while hammering home points. He always seemed a master of syntax and emotions, but over time found himself seething, fulminating over the con-tinued lies and infringements on our freedoms in America — to the point where his voice felt strangled. He was unable to put down in words what was clawing away at his heart and mind.
“I felt that staying in that psychological space — researching and commenting on political ills — was becoming toxic, subtly poison, to me.”
He became concerned with not only the country, but his general state of mind, his very survival. “I felt my energy could be better used in more creative ways.”
So, for his own salvation, this scenic painter whose Big Sur landscapes remind one of Impressionist Paul Cezanne, turned to what might be termed statement art, protest art, provocative art, a poignant and brutal onslaught of political and social commentary lashed upon 29 canvases in a siege of white heat that pretty much salvaged his soul and unleashed his disgust against the criminals who had wrecked his country.
“You did twenty-nine of these canvases in a very short time. How was that?”
“The energy was limitless. I was able to channel my anger into creative action. The release. Often I’d awaken in the middle of the night to jot down ideas, or get it down on the canvas.”
“In a sense, you’re possessed.”
“How do you come down? I mean, do you have a beer, a shot of booze?”
“I’m not a teetotaler but I like and drink wine, occasionally a beer. I don’t like the idea of paying for something to calm me down. I meditate. This way I have control over what I’m doing, and I’m not being controlled by outside sources.”
“I cannot imagine not boozing it up a little after writing a inspiring piece.”
He just smiles.
“What bugs you the most about what is going on in this country?” I ask him.
“I think it’s the building of fences and the general isolation we impose on one another. What got me going was this fence my neighbor built. An ugly fence. Why? We’re out here, on this beautiful hillside, and now there’s a fence. We’re building a fence along our borders. We’re fencing ourselves off from one another everywhere, in gated communities, building up barriers. It’s a fear that pervades the country. If we fear each other, how can we expect to understand each other and get along, especially if we’re separated from each other? This fear has been driven home day after day by the Bush Administration to the point where we are controlled by the fear.”
“Is it bordering on fascism?”
“I’m ill at ease using loaded terms that aren’t clearly defined. If you define fascism as Mussolini did — as the intimate cooperation of government and corporate interests curbing democracy and silencing dissent, as well as manipulating the public through fear and appeal to blind patriotism, militarism, and nationalism — I think it is. These guys are about photo-ops with flags in the background and a new slogan each month to stir up the fear, keep it going. And who bankrolls these people? The corporate-financial-military-industrial-petroleum-media complex.”
Archer’s newest paintings — State of the Union — jump out at you with their fervor, yet they are complex and require continued observation to catch the furtive drippings and daggers he uses to expose what has taken place the past seven-plus years.
“As an artist, do you feel responsible, say, like the Russian and Polish poets during the cold war, to expose the poison?”
“I don’t think an artist can separate himself from being a citizen. I’m a human being. Art itself gives me the juice to express myself as a citizen.”
“Does your social conscience inspire you as an artist?”
“My social conscience gives me energy and, to that extent, inspiration. I don’t wait for inspiration. I keep working. Working supplies the juice, the inspiration. I’m a full-time painter. If I don’t keep at it, just lay around waiting for inspiration, there’s no juice.”
Archer, along with his lady, took a train trip back and forth across the country and from memory, not photos, produced a prolific batch of paintings that captured cityscapes of Chicago and New York, among others. These paintings convey, not explain, luminous quality of light reminiscent of Edward Hopper.
“There are art books all over this place,” I say. “Who are your favorite painters, the ones who influence you? I see books on Cezanne, among others.”
“I suppose I was influenced by a lot of artists, especially when I was young. But after a while you find your own personal vision, and leave all that behind. But yes, I keep these books around to study the structure of painting, and to get inspired sharing in the discoveries of individuals who have traveled a similar path, among other things.”
“Beethoven’s piano sonatas would be hard to live without.”
Despite the anger, conviction, the need to make some sense of what brews so torrentially in Archer, he is a calm man, relaxed, very articulate and profoundly thoughtful. He does not cloak his ideas and opinions in high-brow mumbo-jumbo. He is a person you could talk to for hours. He is also a lecturer, and feels blessed he can survive and -even thrive on his art, without having to work at jobs that steal time from his creative process. A free thinker steeped in individualism, he does it his own way.
“I’m troubled by the dumbing down in this country by TV (he has none) and the deadening of thought by so many electronic distractions. The way things are, it reminds me of “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.
“Maybe we’ve already been there,” I say.
He agrees. There is no arrogance in Archer. One comes to the con-clusion that he is one of those people who cares deeply about the country, and the earth, and that his contribution is grand, which makes him, in his own way, a credit to the race. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at email@example.com.