Thug watch

Okay, first a little background:

Guy Colwell was born in Oakland, California in 1945. He studied two years at the California College of Arts and Crafts and worked as a toy sculptor for Mattel in 1966. In 1968, he was imprisoned for draft resistance and spent two years in jail. He started working on his first comic book in 1972, ‘Inner City Romance, in which he depicted tales of political repression, violence and ghetto and prison life.

I read a lot of underground comics (or if you prefer, ‘comix’) growing up in the seventies; I remember Inner City Romance. Not that it’s relevant to the discussion at hand, but I met Colwell once, in the early eighties, when I was working on a short-lived magazine which reported on the comics industry. I remember that he wanted to be known for his paintings as much as his comic work. At any rate, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s done a painting based on Abu Ghraib. What does shock me is that in San Francisco, a stone’s throw from City Lights and Vesuvio, a gallery owner gets threatened and attacked and has to shut down her gallery for displaying that painting.

After displaying a painting of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners, a San Francisco gallery owner bears a painful reminder of the nation’s unresolved anguish over the incidents at Abu Ghraib — a black eye and bloodied brow delivered by an unknown assailant who apparently objected to the art work.

The assault outside the Capobianco gallery in the city’s North Beach district Thursday night was the worst, but only the latest in a string of verbal and physical attacks that have been directed at owner Lori Haigh since the painting, titled “Abuse,” was installed there on May 16.

The painting was part of a larger show of Colwell’s work that mostly featured pastel-colored abstracts.

Two days after the painting went up in a front window, someone threw eggs and dumped trash on the doorstep. Haigh said she didn’t think to connect it to the black-and-white interpretation of the events at Baghdad’s notorious prison until people started leaving nasty messages and threats on her business answering machine.

“I think you need to get your gallery out of this neighborhood before you get hurt,” one caller said.

Even after she removed the painting from the window, the criticism continued thanks to news coverage about the gallery’s troubles. The answering machine recorded new calls from people accusing her of being a coward for taking the picture down. Last weekend, a man walked into the gallery, pretended to scrutinize the art work for a moment, then marched up to Haigh’s desk and spat directly in her face.

On Thursday, someone knocked on the door of the gallery, then punched Haigh in the face when she stepped outside.

Full story here.