If you have driven by the rambling Ridge Road colonial across from Farm Hill School, you’ve seen the ever-changing trio of chalkboard-like block-lettered signs staked in the grass with messages like: “GOP cares about jobs. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. 99%” and “Occupy Wall Street Good. GOP Reaction Bad.”
Who, you wonder, would litter their yard with protest signs?
These pithy front-yard slogans are the work of the owner, David P. Schulz, who’s a successful artist by profession — and occasional political pundit.
Most of the time, Schulz is an award-winning painter with a background in illustration and graphic design. He is equally adept at portraits and the human body as landscapes, still-life and what he calls “the other me” — colorfully abstract oil paintings in which horizontal, vertical and sometimes diagonal grids of earth tones appear as watercolors.
But sometimes, says this Vietnam veteran born in San Francisco near the end of World War II, his alter ego surfaces, and “whenever something strikes me,” that’s political in nature, this registered Democrat turns to his recycled placards and paints in white block letters what’s on his mind related to current events.
“It started out back during the Iraq war,” Schulz says of the genesis of his signage. "I had feelings about the war. I felt like the country was going a little mad. I thought maybe some people thought the way I did, but worried it was unpatriotic or un-American. I wanted to let people know they were not alone.”
“You never can tell, someone might say, ‘maybe this guy is right.’”
Thus, his haiku-like “billboards” were born.
Schultz gained possession of his canvasses in a curious way. “Neighbors no longer living next door to us were staunch Republicans. After some local election, he had signs in the garbage out by the street. They were plastic, corregated, the kind that last forever. So I painted over them,” Schultz said, with black paint.
“I’ve got a bunch in the basement,” and when he gets a new idea, Schultz re-letters them with white paint.
This way, they’re infinitely reusable.
Getting his message across is a bit of a challenge.
“It’s hard to reduce an idea to three signs and I do write big,” Schulz says.
Some are easily understood, like those above, but for others, like, “Power always attacks protests that threaten their wallets” and “In the GOP’s war on Obama, we’re just collateral damage,” it takes a little while for the message to sink in for a passerby.
Schulz laughs at one unintended consequence of his front-lawn verbiage. “It slowed traffic down. It tends to slow things down,” he says, as people try to read each one.
Each time the artist has a couple new thoughts, he letters one succinct message on one side of three plastic signs, lets them dry, then paints another message on the reverse side.
That way, walkers or drivers travelling either way on Ridge Road have an opportunity to experience his admittedly liberal ideas.
Of the dual messages, he explains, “they’re usually sort of related, but not always. Generally speaking, [the subject] usually is about what’s happening right now.”
“One time,” Schulz remembers, “they all disappeared. I looked around and they hadn’t blown away.” A few days later, he saw all three signs stacked neatly on the front sidewalk.
Feedback to his work, Schulz says, is mixed. “I had people who were happy about it. There was a time when I had signs out all the time. I’d change them periodically, after thinking, ‘OK, they’ve been there long enough,’ or I had a good idea.”
“I get people who stop now and then when I put up a new sign. One time a lady stopped to say while I was walking the dog, ‘my kid always makes me drive by the house.’”
Then there was the time a man stopped by when his wife was home.
“This Korean war veteran knocked on my front door and thanked us for the signs.”
Another time, Schulz heard a truck making a racket outside and worriedly went to investigate. “A big old truck screeched to a stop, the driver cranked down the window and said, ‘I was in the Cypress Grill when [President George W.] Bush got elected and I turned to the guy next to me and said, “this won’t be good.”’”
He learned a lesson that day. “You can’t judge people by their appearance,” Schulz says.
When President Obama was first elected, Schulz toned down his rhetoric — a departure from the prolificity of his anti-Bush signs during the Iraq war and the presidential election.
“For a long stretch,” Schulz explains, “I wanted to give Obama a chance to sink or swim. I couldn’t figure out what to say.”
Schulz says he continues to display messages because the idea that the mainstream media is liberal, he says, is completely false. In fact, he’s often speaking to “people who spend all day watching [conservative talking heads on] Fox news. I’m trying to get people to pay attention. Democracy doesn’t work if people don’t pay attention.”
As for how he manages to align the creative and politically inspired aspects of his personality, Schulz says the two aren’t as exclusive as one would think.
“Being an artist is not entirely separate. It’s something visual,” Schulz says of the signs.
Schulz and his wife Carol did make a single foray into the area of local politics, on an issue that would have directly affected him.
“My wife and I once canvassed the neighborhood” to rally people against a developer who, Schulz says, “was making a parking lot in the triangle of land at Ridge and East Ridge. We went around, we met with the Common Council to stop this crazy idea a few years ago. That felt good.”
This activism, Schulz says is aligned with one of the mottos he lives his life by. It’s one that’s pertinent, succinct and causes you to think just a little bit, “Think globally act locally.”
Kind of like his signs.