Travis Somerville: Places I’ve Never Been

Travis Somerville, Places I've Never Been, 2011

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Dates: September 16 – December 10, 2011
Location: Window Installation Site, 155 Grove Street
Viewable 24/7

Places I've Never Been

Travis Somerville, the son of civil rights activists, is known for tackling Southern racial issues. In Somerville’s newly commissioned, site-specific sculpture, the artist leaves his preoccupation with the American South and takes a closer look at six pivotal moments in Bay Area history affecting various minority populations. Somerville has isolated iconic imagery to illustrate each defining event and rendered them on the six sides of large cubes that stack on top of one another. The formation of cubes creates a wall that is 10 ft. high and 14 ft. wide. When all the boxes are rotated in a uniform manner, a new large-scale painting is revealed. The boxes will be rotated frequently, allowing all six paintings to be viewed during the course of the exhibition.

Opening Night Event: Throughout the evening gallery assistants will change the installation revealing the six paintings.

Some of the events that inspire the six panels are as follows:

  • The Pigtail Ordinance - The Pigtail Ordinance of  1873 law was intended to force prisoners in San Francisco, California to have their hair cut within an inch of the scalp. While the law did not discriminate between races, it affected Han Chinese prisoners in particular, as it meant they would have their queue, a waist-long, braided pigtail, cut off. The proposal passed by a narrow margin through the Board of Supervisors in 1873 but was not enacted until 1876. (Wikipedia)

  • Hunters Point Uprising – In September of 1966 a teenager named Michael Johnson stole a car in the Bayview with two of his friends. When the police caught sight of the boys, they abandoned the car and took off in three directions on foot. One of the police officers shot the unarmed Johnson in the back. Shortly afterwards the community began to riot and insist that the Mayor come to Bayview. He never showed up – instead he sent 1200 National Guardsman into the neighborhood, and the situation escalated to a full fledged race riot. In six days 359 people were arrested and 51 were injured.

  • White Night Riots – Dan White walked into San Francisco City Hall on November 27, 1978 and shot and killed both Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. On May 21, 1979 a series of violent events erupted in response to a verdict for White of voluntary manslaughter, which was viewed as a particularly lenient sentence considering the circumstances. What began as a peaceful march in the Castro escalated to violence when it reached City Hall. The police retaliated with a raid on a gay bar in the Castro where patrons were beaten by police in riot gear. 
  • Japanese Internment Camps – In 1942 approximately 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans on the US West Coast were interned in WWII “War Relocation Camps.” Those with Japanese ancestry were excluded from California unless they were interned. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders in 1944. In 2007 the United States Census Bureau admitted that it had supplied confidential information about Japanese Americans in support of internment efforts. In 1988 legislation passed in which the US government apologized for the internment of Japanese.

Travis Somerville
(b. 1963; American; lives and works in San Francisco)

Travis Somerville was born in Atlanta, Georgia to white civil rights activists—an Episcopal preacher and school teacher—and grew up in various cities and rural towns throughout the Southern United States. He briefly studied at Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD, finally settling in San Francisco in 1984 where he attended the San Francisco Art Institute, CA. Since 1994, he has been represented by Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco. His works incorporate collage, painting and sculptural elements, as well as site-specific installations.

Somerville is known for tackling Southern racial issues. Somerville’s work simultaneously tries to reconcile his personal struggle with his own Southern Christian upbringing and the overt tumultuous racial politics of then with the mixed messaging backlash of now. Using collaged and painted pictorial elements, he summons imagery and words from the past, politics, popular culture, art, and the vernacular into prodigious combinations that challenge conventional lines of history and social perceptions. For example, his piece, Boy in the Hood, 2000, portrays Malcolm X wearing a Ku Klux Klanhood. According to the artist in an interview with Nathan Larramendy, “My southern identity will always play a part in my work because that is who I am... I feel the overall theme [of my work] is oppression and greed. I want the oppressed to be validated and the oppressors to be guilty. I want people to realize that we are all connected in some way and we are responsible for each other.”

Travis Somerville is represented by Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

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