“Radioactive Future” Artist Leads Group Art Show May 5
by Mark Conlan
Zengers Magazine

At first glance, the Zedism Gallery at 3540 Adams Avenue would seem to be an odd venue for an art show featuring, and curated by, Radioactive Future art movement founder Pierce Williams. Zedism is a Cubist-derived painting technique, and Pierce doesn’t paint: his first love is sculpture and his two-dimensional work is done by silkscreen printing. But given the woeful lack of gallery spaces in San Diego available to independent artists – especially edgy ones determined to go beyond the banal landscapes seemingly available by the yard here – Pierce agreed to let Zedism, the space, represent his work and host his new show.

The show is called “TENACIOUS,” the reception is on Saturday, May 5 from 7 to 11 p.m., and in addition to Pierce the artists are Mary Fleener, Yuransky (the inventor of Zedism and founder of the gallery), Scott Saw, Dave Miles, Saratoga Sake, Tonya Van Parys, James Chen, Melissa Inez Walker, Jason Sherry, Tanya Januzko, John Grow, Ed Won, Abe Aguilar, Jeremy Wright, Pamela Jaeger, Bret Barrett, and Amy Hyde. The show will be up throughout May and gallery hours are Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Pierce has been making art since 1994 and living in San Diego since the late 1980’s. In this interview, he talked about the strongly anti-Bush, anti-Republican themes of much of his art, his frustrations with the small size of San Diego’s art scene and his other career as a graphic and Web designer.

Q: Why don’t you just start with a little of your background, and how you got interested in art?

A: I’ve always liked art. I’ve done various forms since I was a kid, drawing things, mostly. I was always going to art museums, and didn’t really study art much until 1994, when I started getting serious about doing sculpture.

Q: Where did you go to school, and what did you study?

A: I didn’t study art formally. I have a degree from San Diego State in International Business, and took a few art classes here and there, art history, drawing classes, stuff like that.

Q: Why sculpture?

A: I’ve always liked sculpture. I didn’t like what I was drawing at the time, so I started making art out of things that I had around the house, and it just evolved for there.

Q: What kinds of sculptures did you do?

A: My older work is quite small, because I lived in a really small place in North Park, close to here, on Mississippi Street. It was basically a small studio, so it made me stay small with my work. Since then I’ve done bigger pieces, like my ten foot high robot.

Q: What other kinds of art have you done, what are your favorite media and why?

A: I also do silkscreen prints, stickers and shirts. I’ve done some political art which was shown around the world.

Q: What’s the meaning of the term “Radioactive Future”?

A: I came up with that because the original vision I had for my art was quite dark. I think [San Diego Union-Tribune art critic] Robert Pincus called it “forward-looking in a bleak sort of way.” The way I see it is where the world is headed if allowed to exist in its present state. If things don’t change, we’re headed for trouble.

Q: How did you get involved in using your art to communicate a political message?

A: I started my art movement around my sculpture. When I started doing prints, I wanted to communicate my feelings about certain things, and so my first print was an anti-war print, “Stop the War.” I made 125 of those. It was a way to communicate my feelings. Through the graphic medium, you can do that with text and images more than you can with sculpture, where you don’t have as much leeway to make statements.

Q: Isn’t that kind of a throwback to a lot of the art of the 18th and 19th century, when there were a lot of political cartoonists and caricaturists, and a lot of cheap prints that made political points, especially to an audience of people many of whom could not read? Were you consciously thinking of that tradition when you started those pieces?

A: I didn’t think about the history of it, just that I had the ability to do it, so I did it. I did a few other prints that were more ambiguous, where you can’t really tell what the message is. Those images are kind of generic, so those are more open to interpretation.

Q: What would you say has been the most interesting response you’ve got to one of your pieces, or to one of the shows?

A: The hate mail. The political show i curated, “Machine Gun in the Clown’s Hand,” in 2004, brought some pretty heated responses.

Q: I always wonder about that, because my feeling is no one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to go to a show like this. If I saw a show advertised as “Machine Gun in the Clown’s Hand” and the release explained that the title was from an anti-Bush song by Jello Biafra, I would know what to expect, and with my politics I would expect that I would probably like it. And if you had politics different from mine, you probably wouldn’t like it, so why would you go?

A: I think the hate mail came from people who saw it on the Web and didn’t like the political perspective.

Q: Do you try to evoke such responses? When you’re working on a piece, do you think, “Oh, this is really going to reach people,” and they’re either going to like it or they’re going to hate it, but at least they’re going to be affected?

A: I like responses, either way. I like to get positive and negative feedback. I like to get a response out of people, as opposed to them just looking at the piece and maybe not paying much attention to it.

Q: You said that one of the things you liked about doing prints was that you could incorporate text. I’ve read enough about recent art history to know that there’s some debate about when it ceases to be a work of visual art and when it becomes just a piece of writing with an illustration. Do you ever think about the balance of, “Hey, I need to make sure this remains an image with a few words to illustrate the point,” rather than crossing over into writing?

A: Well, I think it’s a piece of art because of the image. Pure text could be art if it’s done in a creative way. My process is I start with the image, and I add the text to it.

Q: You’ve mentioned that you do Web design professionally. Do you also see the Internet itself as an artistic tool?

A: It’s a method of delivery of your work with worldwide access. Anyone can make a Web site, but there are levels of creativity. It can definitely be a creative outlet.

Q: Do you think the Web page itself is an artistic medium, and do you exploit it as such?

A: I think it is artistic. You can do various things, like using images and backgrounds to make it aesthetically pleasing. There’s a lot of art that is done digitally and is only available on the Web. That’s a viable art form as well.

Q: One thing you mentioned in your bio is that you’ve always been interested in showing and promoting other local artists besides yourself. Who do you think are the various local talents that you’ve been able to help promote?

A: If you look at my past shows and current shows, that will give an indication of that. There are too many names to mention here.

Q: You’ve also said that San Diego is a disappointing city to be an artist in because there isn’t the level of community support for the arts that you’d expect in a city this size. Is that still a problem, and what do you do about it?

A: Yes, it’s still quite a problem, and I’m trying my best to correct the situation by thinking of the scene in general and not only my own career. I believe it will grow, and that it will also benefit everyone if we do more together, like a team, to promote the whole scene.

Q: You also said that one of the problems you felt was that it was very hard to keep a gallery in business, especially one that showed anything innovative or avant-garde or politically risky.

A: Any place you display is open to the public, so the owners of the spaces usually don’t want to offend anyone. They like to keep it noncontroversial so they don’t lose any potential customers.

Q: There’s another problem doing political art, and that is it dates. How interesting are all the Bush and Cheney pictures going to be when they are finally out of office?

A: That’s a problem with political art. I’m doing less of it, for various reasons. It’s hard to sell art, because it’s a luxury item, and every time you make a statement or do something controversial, you’re cutting your audience down to a niche, thus making it even more difficult to sell. Anyone who does not agree with the message will not buy it. Political art is a hard sell. I’m taking a new tactic, to make more ambiguous statements that anyone can enjoy just on a aesthetic level. The prints that are now on my main Web site, radioactivefuture.com, are like that. They don’t make any particular statements and shouldn’t upset anyone.

Q: I don’t know. I looked at them, and they didn’t seem as explicitly political as some of the stuff you’ve done, but one still gets the general idea that you think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and you want it to stop.

A: Yeah, that’s kind of the message. I’m still using a lot of weapons, things like tanks, guns, grenades, armored cars and things, biological warning symbols. It’s still on the Radioactive Future theme, but I realized I need to make more sellable things.

Q: You mentioned having done a show in Rome. How did that happen, and how did it go?

A: It was on April 14 2007, and it was curated by John Carr. The show is called, “Yo! What Happened to Peace?” He started that in 2005, and I got involved with it right off the bat. He’s taken it to Tokyo, Japan, Reykjavik, Iceland, Milan Italy and Los Angeles. I tried to bring it here, but I had no luck finding a venue that would support it.

Q: Has it, as I might suspect, been more popular abroad than here?

A: Yes. It’s a specific anti-war show, and there is more anti-war sentiment in other countries than there is here. I’m only doing political shows outside San Diego at this point. There’s not a lot of support for it here in San Diego.