This summer the LAPD paid two visits to Eagle Rock artist Alex Schaefer to discuss his “incendiary” paintings of Chase bank branches engulfed in flames.
The oil painting above, which Schaefer, 41, painted on the sidewalk across the street from the branch, clearly features the roof of the building exploding with orange flames.
According to the LA Times, “Schaefer had barely added the orange-and-yellow depiction of fire shooting from the roof of a Chase Bank branch when police rolled up to the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sylvan Street on July 30” and informed Schaefer that a concerned citizen had called to report his provocative oil painting.
They then asked if he was a terrorist and if he planned to do what the painting suggested.
This visit by the police was followed by another in which detectives showed up at Schaefer’s house to ask the biting questions: “Do you hate banks?” and “Do you plan to do that to the bank?”
As reported by LA Times, “He explained that the artwork was intended to be a visual metaphor for the havoc that banking practices have caused to the economy.”
While Schaefer’s symbol for social havoc (red and orange flames) may seem a little played out, his story—terrified civilians calling the cops on a middle-aged oil painter, the LAPD sending detectives to the painter’s house—is almost its own more unique symbol which connotes how far everyone will go to protect banks.
It’s been repeated endlessly in the news: in recent years, banks, more than consumers, business owners, or any other entity in the US, have received enormous protections from the government, to an even greater extent than we originally thought.
As Bloomberg News reported earlier this month, the Fed gave banks $1.2 trillion in secret loans after 2008′s crash at record low interest rates, in part to protect the individuals who defrauded investors in the first place—individuals who have largely managed to evade jail time, as Matt Taibbi reported on in his epic Rolling Stone story “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail.” Over the last three years, the protections granted to banks have enabled them to dodge countless bullets, most of which they fired themselves.
And now, with the help of a concerned citizen on Van Nuys Blvd, banks are also being protected from harmless oil painters who are expressing, in overt symbolism, the devastation the banks have caused everyone else—those who don’t receive protection.