Post No Bills (1991)
Political heavy-weights populate this urgent and humorous documentary on the detonative mix of art and politics as embodied in the work of infamous "guerilla" poster artist Robbie Conal, a professional painter who estimates that hundreds of thousands of his caricatured paintings-as-posters have been splattered across the United States' urban streets, militantly affixed by himself and his cult following of urban guerilla volunteers to construction sites, traffic light switching boxes and any other surface area large enough to house one of these satirical images. Specializing in what he calls "info-tainment," Conal's posters offer an immediate response to today's headlines through the expressionistically decaying depiction of the socially and politically powerful accompanied by several words of dichotomous text. Beginning in 1986 with the onset of the Iran-Contra scandal, Conal has distributed his work in a way even Andy Warhol might not have dreamed possible. As Conal modestly points out, "these are some of the most famous paintings of any contemporary artist because I make you see them whether you want to or not." The original canvases, from which the posters are reproduced, simultaneously grace elite gallery walls and wealthy collectors' homes. Post No Bills foregrounds the tension between Conal's creative process and the lures of a desperate notoriety achieved through catering to the newsmedia's craving for controversy in his journey to express himself and benefit from the notoriety generated from his endeavors. In September 1990, after "reasonably outspoken" Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates casually stated that "casual drug users ought to be taken out and shot," Conal began collaboration with student Patrick Crowley on a poster criticizing this hyperbolic remark. When an outraged world focused on Los Angeles in March of 1991 with the release of the graphic video footage of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, Conal and Crowley took to the L.A. streets his most daring, inciting and inflammatory image to date; a poster depicting the police chief on a full torso N.R.A. shooting target with the text "casual drug users ought to be taken out and beaten. Post No Bills concentrates on this poster of Gates, including an interview with the beleaguered Chief himself, celebrating the potential of this piece of political street art and exposing the dissociation to be made between Conal and his subject matter.