More than it first appears
Perhaps it is clich? to say that it did not seem to surprise anyone when William Pope.L did not actually begin his speech at 6 pm but rather waited 20 minutes before a hesitant young man introduced this energetic artist. William Pope.L stood at the podium for mere moments before easing the audience with laughter. His dress, too, exuded a laid-back demeanor with baggy jeans and faded button-down shirt. Yet Pope.L makes quite serious art for the most part, art that speaks of race relations, terrorism, and poverty.
Most of Pope.L?s presentation was on slides, which not only showed examples of his variety of work but also works by some of his inspirations. Yet Pope.L said his greatest influence has been his family ? whose presence was certainly seen in photographs he has taken of his grandmother. He spoke not solely of his artwork but of the art world and of his personal way of advertising himself in that world.
?I am the friendliest black artist in America,? said Pope.L, and he proceeded to diagram each part of that phrase and why he chose it as his motto for all his work. This choice of words, he said, was because labeling matters. "Discomfort can be denied by friendliness," he said ? somewhat softly ? to the crowd. Pope.L was very friendly, at one point requesting that someone from the crowd volunteer to give him a hug. His art, however is somewhat unfriendly, it demands that the viewer pays attention to the details and the textures of the piece to gain understanding.
Aside from getting laughs from statements like ?they want to touch each other? when the audience elected to turn off the lights to better view the slides, Pope.L has much that is severe in his artwork. Among the examples of his work are projects called ?Crawls.? He took very little time to explain these projects, which were actually performances in which the artist crawls gradually on his hands and knees down a street. They were meant as comments on those who live on the street, Pope.L described, symbols of how these people are not just passive bystanders but are rather struggling to survive.
Pope.L uses a wide range of materials, favoring organic ones at times; flour was heavily used in several of his works. He has done sculpture, film, performances, and collages. He showed examples of each type of work, most with a heavy political meaning. There were depictions of terrorists on small discs of gum, maps of the world created with hot dogs. A very powerful work was a film of a performance he did titled ?A Negro Sleeps beneath the Susquehanna.? This short film was abstract, showing Pope.L asleep in a pile of flour for a time, and then showed his emergence from the pile. The flour-covered man then speaks for the only time in the film, mainly about a desire he has to dream as Martin Luther King did. He tells of how it is impossible to dream like the great man, ?he was too black.? Pope.L?s words addressed the idea of blacks attempting to act as if they are white. It contained a rather long ending in which Pope.L dragged a large mirror down the Susquehanna River on his back. Regardless of the somewhat boring conclusion the parts in which Pope.L spoke were powerful and it was interesting to watch him circle around the natural stage of a clearing near the water.
One part was particularly difficult to listen to in his lecture ? the portion where he described the art world using a description of struggling artists landing on a foreign planet. While the story was interesting and the references were not as obscure as they had the potential to be, it was still difficult for a person not interested in an art career to listen and follow along. This was one of the weaker points because it felt like even some of the artists in the audience were lost. Another point that seemed strained was when he tried to use humor to make it ?okay? that he was pitching his catalogue to the audience. He went on about it for a few minutes, but it seemed forced and gratuitous.
Pope.L?s speech might have seemed light and airy, referring to the audiences? ?collective asses? more than once. However, each of his pieces spoke from a heart of great passions ? about experiencing life from other sides.
He accentuated this theme by explaining that the ?Crawls? could not be fast; they were not set up like a race, but rather were designed to take a long time. He clearly realized that one might have to ponder for just as long to realize the meanings in his works (a few however, are obvious). His messages are not clear always, but then if one could simply see his artwork and recognize all the subtleties, would it truly be art.