Oakland Remembers: Bill Graham

GaleMaydunBy Gale Madyun




The design for the utility box located on the corner of 17th & Broadway, Downtown Oakland. Boldly, sits for reflection for the next two years. I’m pleased for the opportunity to share my creative process manifested in the four panels.

I sought my ancestors to guide me inside streams and banks of emotions and colors, dilemmas and paradoxes. Opening into the agony and ecstasy of what it means to be swept into passion. I melted into that snow and avalanche to edge towards the broad strokes of landscapes. I wanted the colors with history on their backs with the power to summon the earliest memories of escapes, survival, and solace. It was the Paramount and Fox Oakland Theaters, in its colors and spaces, which offered a glimpse. Mr. Graham was an astute businessman who was favored to make capital on the music of the times. Oakland was swinging and dancing in light and shadow to be the North Facing Panel.

boxWith clamors of rhythmic notes and singing and swaying souls over Lake Merritt, it was early mornings, in the fog, at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center that painted a bittersweet revival. It’s Lake Merritt, where its fresh water converges with seawater that magic is able to occur and it did. Charles Sullivan, a pioneer of R&B concert promotions, was the original mixed musical genres genius and successful African American businessman who owned the Fillmore ballroom master lease. He orchestrated shows that featured Duke Ellington and James Brown on the same bill from Los Angeles to New York. He allowed the entrepreneur Bill Graham to stand upon his shoulders. Mr. Graham carried on that legacy as he brought The Grateful Dead together with Miles Davis. I melted into the fog of purple robes as everything in the arena came forth. When the Coliseum came with its festive circles and markings for Days on the Green, I was ready for the sound of drums as the South Facing Panel was painted.

Admiral stories of personal triumphs of survival and a tempered determined consciousness radiates conversations of his genius. Bill Graham’s escape from Nazi Germany into the mercifulness of love and shelter had to impassion his spiritual roots. It happened for him and his determination was planted into the cosmic rays of universal mercy where whimsical pastels and clouds is a platform for a solitary microphone surrounded with drums. This was flow for the East Panel.

It’s appropriate for the sketchy building with multiple shapes and colors of suggestion and passion to have a hold in the blue skies of musical notes and golden longings. It’s the West Facing Panel built on the roughness of blues and greens that pled to the imagination where the convergent and divergent forces can be appreciated for its humanitarian activism of the sixties and seventies. Bill Graham, the visionary, said of those magical times, “Who could have dreamed in 1965 that the alternative society would eventually multiply to such extraordinary proportions that it becomes our mainstream?”