‘The Bad Air Smelled of Roses’: Screen Printing Progress


The work of Indianapolis-born artist Carl Robert Pope Jr.The bad air smelled like roses», a collection of more than 108 posters, speaks for itself. Against a rainbow of vivid backgrounds, terse quotes such as “The Future is Black – Bring a Light!” and “A brunette girl is always underrated” seem to beam off the page.

The project, described as an “ongoing essay on the presence and function of blackness in society,” began in 2004 and will add 22 new pieces this spring for installation on campus in early April.

Students in Bill Fick’s Poster Design and Printing course will complete the project by screen-printing the Pope-style posters and sticking them onto The Rubix, a pop-up installation space on campus. Pope, a virtual guest artist this semester, will zoom into Fick’s class to offer support and guidance throughout the project. Pope has created 22 new slogans for the class to work with, allowing students to take charge of the design.

“What pleases me is that students will somehow be able to enter [Pope’s] understand how he creates his text and what he thinks and how he sees that as an effective tool to convey the message he wants to convey,” said Fick, a lecturer in the Department of Art, History of the art and visual studies. . “And visually, it’s really going to be something else. I mean, just thinking about a structure completely covered in text is going to be super exciting. Even watching it from afar, I think it’s going to have a lot of impact.

Pope first interacted with Duke this academic year through the Franklin Humanities Institute Social Practice Lab, led by Professor of Art, Art History and Visual Studies Pedro Lasch. After Lasch invited Pope to speak at his lab, Fick recalled talking to Lasch about how “cool” it would be to engage Pope’s work more on campus. Just before the start of the spring semester, Fick offered the Poster Design course, exposing students to such big-name poster artists as Pope, Corita Kent and Barbara Kruger in addition to providing them with first-hand experience in screen printing.

“Especially during these times, I think it’s a great opportunity for students to not have to be in their apartments or dorms – I think just being physical with a creative process is just a really good thing. right now,” Fick said. “I think exposing students to this type of work and this process is really exciting, because they might end up saying, ‘Hey, you know, I want to do something like this too.'”

The installation will also be The Rubix’s first involving student work. Established in early 2020 by Fick and his colleague Stephen Hayes, professor of art, art history and visual studies, the wooden structure was meant to serve as a pop-up exhibition space as well as a work of art in itself, asking questions about the nature of public art. . Last spring, Fick taught a different class that also focused on creating an installation for space, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans. From November 2020 until the beginning of this month, The Rubix presented the audio collage of Antoine Williams “Other Suns”, but the students were not able to participate in this project.

“Really, the only reason we made it is that there really aren’t any spaces on campus…where you can actually put art on a structure or change the structure. The only space which is kind of like that is the tunnel to East Campus, which is really a free-for-all,” Fick said. “So yeah, it’s a unique structure on campus where we could, you know, cover it with posters and not make a problem out of it.”

According to Fick, it’s difficult to simply find a place where art can be seen in person in the age of COVID, as traditional venues like museums and stages have been largely closed. However, the aspect of public display remains essential for works like Pope’s that are centered on social justice. The slogans Pope created for the class address themes such as the Black Lives Matter movement, black history and black culture.

“It’s just a very important time to do a job like this. I think there’s even been a call from the university for courses to address these social justice issues, so I thought this would be a really perfect course for that,” Fick said.

The public nature of The Rubix and posters as a medium made the space an ideal location for Pope’s installation. Despite having “a gigantic campus with lots of open space,” Fick noted a lack of sculpture on campus beyond the bronze statues of Duke family members that adorn the quads.

“I think it allows us to really explore the kind of public art we can do on campus. I mean, obviously, you know, the university wants things to be tasteful…but I mean, I think we have plenty of room,” Fick said. “You know, does that make us think that maybe we could do more? I do not know. I think there might be an opportunity… with COVID sort of allowing us to think that way. Before, we almost always thought about things inside, but I think now having things outside is really important. Because otherwise, there is no art anywhere.


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