It must have been a very slow news day

I have been making an effort to empty out my back sheds where I have been storing art for years; emptying them out because of all the wild animals that have taken a liking to eating my early work.  I have been repairing the damaged pieces, wrapping them up for climate controlled storage or just throwing things away that were too far gone.

This past weekend I pulled out one of my early pieces that actually sort of launched my career.  I had discovered that “Early Morning”  had become a nest to some type of critter that could care less that my wife and I spent a whole spring break gluing down the toothpicks that simulated the grass in the “Garden.”  It was in need of some restoration to say the least.

Seeing the piece brought back a flood of memories.

In the 1980 I was a young artist starting my career.  I was making art with a fervor and doing what young artist do…..entering shows, trying to get my work out there before the public…maybe win a prize and hopefully get notice by the media.

‘Adam and Eve’ tossed out of City Hall

In late 1979, early 1980 I had created a piece called “Early Morning.”  I entered the piece into the Texas Fine Arts Association show being held at Dallas City Hall.  I had driven it in from Commerce Texas, where I was finishing up my undergraduate work at East Texas State University. The piece was delivered and it all seemed fairly routine.  The next morning I was woken by a phone call from my mother, who was calling to give me the good news / bad news.  The good news was that my piece had won a 200.00 Merit Award.  The bad news was that my piece was removed from the show due to the nudity in my piece.  Still to this day I don’t know why they called my parents instead of me, except back in those days it was a dreaded long distance phone call.  I drove back into Dallas and of course I was fit to be tied.  I stopped at my parents house on the way to pick up my rejected piece.

My mother or father suggested I call Sean Mitchell, who was writing about music for the Dallas Times Herald.  Sean was an old family friend and he thought that I should speak to the Herald’s art critic. In 1980, Dallas had two thriving newspapers, The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald. Sean transferred me on to the art critic.  On this particular day, Dallas Times Herald Art critic, Bill Marvel was being interviewed by a student from North Texas University about the day in the life of an art critic.  I believe that the day in the life of an art critic can be fairly mundane but this day Bill had a lead.

Bill said that he would meet me down at City Hall.  We arranged a time and when I showed up, there was Bill Marvel waiting for me with a camera man, and the young student from North Texas there to interview him about the day in the life of an art critic.

We found Steve Rosen, manager of special events for City Hall.  Poor guy didn’t know what hit him.  One mad artist with a Dallas Times Herald art critic, camera man and a young student from North Texas University there to interview Bill about the day in the life of an “art critic” all barging into his office, demanding answers to this injustice that I had suffered.

It began to sound like a verse out of “Alice’s Restaurant” 

Martin Delabano with offending graphic art work “Early Morning” at City Hall. Photograph by Michael S. Wirtz

After getting the run around, I was finally shown my piece and I took it home.  The next morning I got a call from my mother who told me that I needed to go out and buy a copy of the Dallas Times Herald.

The main headline for the Dallas Times Herald April 15, 1980 was “4 Texas divers lured to death in Florida cave.”  There on the bottom of page 1 was the article, Bill Marvel had written just the day before. The title for the article was “Adam and Eve tossed out of City Hall.”

Mr. Rosen was quoted as saying in the article,”This is not any censorship measure.  But it’s pretty graphic. And people don’t come in here to see an art exhibit.”

The next morning I was woken up and interviewed on live radio about the whole incident.  That evening my story appeared on all three local television station’s six o’clock news, two of which also included photos of my piece.

Within six months I was having a one person show at the famed D.W. Gallery.

It likely wouldn’t happen now days in the shrill noise of the continuous 24/7 news cycle. You would think that there would be more news being reported now days but instead of news we get sound bites that gets repeated over and over into an endless blur which beats the populous into a seemingly mindless submission.  What passes for news these days is drivel and generally so packed with half truths and lies that support this viewpoint or another. But on that day, way back when, my little local story caught fire and even went out over the wire service and was picked up by newspapers around the country.

My piece was removed out of fear that someone might be offended.  And the funny thing about it was that if it had been left in the show, City Hall might have gotten a complaint or two, but after the show ended my piece would have been promptly forgotten about.

For me it ended up being a watershed moment and 36 years later I’m still at it.





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