SLO exhibit targets gun violence

Steynberg Gallery’s ‘Up In Arms’ features 100 protest posters and aims to generate thought, talk

slinn@thetribunenews.comJuly 5, 2013 

A new art exhibit is taking aim at the subject of gun violence.

 “Up In Arms: A Creative Response to Gun Violence” features 100 protest posters created by about 45 artists, all dealing with firearms. The free exhibit runs through July 28 at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo.

Event co-organizer Melinda Forbes said the purpose of “Up in Arms” is “to give people a voice and a venue” to discuss gun violence.

“What we’re hoping to do is generate some thought about what we can do to make this country safer and saner,” Forbes said.

“Up in Arms” is sponsored by The Peace Library, a community-based collaborative art project created by Forbes and Julie Frankel in 2002. Over the years, they’ve organized several exhibits of artists’ books dealing with the subjects of war and peace.

Community activist Jeanne Kinney recently approached the two about creating an art show in response to December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adult staff members dead.

“We thought, ‘This really is the current topic of The Peace Library, more so than foreign policy,” Frankel said.

Forbes and Frankel chose protest posters, rather than artists’ books, as a more informal, approachable medium. 

According to the organizers, the posters on display at the Steynberg Gallery – created by artists from San Luis Obispo County and elsewhere -- run the gamut. 

“Some of it’s very tender. Some of it’s extreme. Some of it’s very funny,” explained Forbes, who used buttons, lace and delicate embroidery to create “Lay Down Your Arms,” a Madonna-like image of mother and child.

Mark Bryan’s “Security Magazine” offers a black-and-white parody of a magazine cover complete with article titles such as “Glock Talk” and “Fear Is Your Friend,” while Mark Bieraugel’s “¡Cuidado!” features hand-embroidered outlines of a man, woman and child with targets hovering, halo-like, above their heads. With "Happiness is a Warm Kitten," a play on The Beatles song “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” Lynn Hessler offers a cute, cuddly alternative to firearms.

Frankel created four pieces for the show, including “Wayne’s World,” which pairs a portrait of National Rifle Association spokesman Wayne LaPierre with quotes and images of firearms. Frankel said she was inspired by the 1992 movie “Wayne’s World” and its tagline: “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll hurl.”

“That really sums it up for me and the NRA,” she said with a laugh. “I just couldn’t resist.”
Although “Up In Arms” was open to all different viewpoints, the organizers said the majority of the pieces they received are in favor of gun control.

One piece that directly addresses Second Amendment rights is Frankel’s "Living One Day at a Time," which takes its text from a letter by San Luis Obispo physician Steve Sainsbury published in New Times in June. In the letter, which opens with the line “Hi, my name is Steve and I’m a gun-aholic,” Sainsbury details a 1975 incident in which his .22 pistol accidentally discharged, seriously injuring a 16-year-old Explorer Scout.

“Our goal isn’t necessarily to change people’s minds or make a convincing argument” for or against gun control, Frankel said, but to open the floor for dialogue. “One of the pluses of an art exhibit is it’s not a debate. It’s a chance to think about these ideas and about your own ideas.”

In order to keep the conversation going, organizers have installed a letter-writing station in the gallery.

“We’re providing writing materials and stamps and a quiet place to think,” Forbes said.

If you want to go

“Up in Arms: A Creative Response to Gun Violence” is open today through July 28 at the Steynberg Gallery, 1531 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. Gallery hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Two more events are planned this month at the Steynberg Gallery in connection to “Up in Arms.”

Poets including Paula C. Lowe, Dian Sousa and Don Wallis will read from their work at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at “Poems Not Bullets,” a free event organized by Kevin Patrick Sullivan.

On July 20, San Luis Obispo singer-songwriter Erin Inglish will perform with Cambria folk duo Ranchers for Peace. Admission to the concert, which starts at 8 p.m., are $15 at the door.

For more information, email

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