A master of distraction attempts to create a character.
I got doughnuts the other night before what seemed like a musical love child of the E.T. soundtrack and songs of Oompa-Loompas. T was interested in the musician who was not only performing but put the whole thing together at a place called Ham and Eggs downtown.
It came after checking out Chisme y Queso put on by members of the Center Theatre Group. The experience entailed improvisational skits inspired by chisme, which means gossip in English, written on the back of promotional coasters by people in attendance of a quaint bar in Boyle Heights. The reward for the most tantalizing gossip included tickets to a showing of Into the Woods, bottle of wine and a gorgeously giant wheel of cheese (one of those that can be easily melted over food and more conveniently consumed in slices cut straight from the plastic casing).
After a few rounds of applause-influenced evaluation for the winner, D won the prized package of goodies with his poignant piece of chisme. Unfortunately I missed the reenactment of his writing because I stepped out for a cigarette with T and was lured to dance in Mariachi Plaza by an elderly woman. She was dressed in a turquoise blouse, eggshell cardigan, denim shorts and comfy brown leather boots. It was like my spirit animal could tell the smoke was a mere distraction from being enticed by cumbia blaring from a stage that held a modest dj stand. Moving the crowd to dance from the stage was a short bearded man with a knack for strumming his güiro.
When we returned to Eastside Luv, we caught the last round of chisme and participated in the judging the winners of previous rounds. While D won the main prize, second place went to V, which was an inevitable consequence given his fantastic talent in storytelling. I don’t even think my story bit was pulled from the large plastic container holding everyone’s pieces of gossip. It didn’t matter. My mind was on doughnuts and I knew Ham and Eggs was just two storefronts down from a Dunkin Donuts. After a slight detour of foosball and some more dancing, we left Boyle Heights and concluded the night with a grand gesture of solid carbs.
Echo Park Rising was my first taste of the expressive charm of Soul Scratch when the band performed at The Lost Room to a packed audience. That was two months ago but luckily they were playing again in the basement of downtown’s historic Pershing Square Building in October. Although nights had gotten cooler, the heat of anticipation or beverage consumption gave the pursuit of music a particular buzz.
After descending the white and black tile stairs to a balcony stretching along the perimeter of Mrs. Fish, I moved toward the seductive seating area and blue hued bar in the upper corner. To the left was the main lower level where Gramps The Vamp opened with brassy-swanky funk rhythms. At some moments, it almost felt like listening to an eerily cartoonish soundtrack. This explained why the railing behind and above the stage was lined with people propped and engaged.
I found a spot between two couples overlooking the band played and noticed people bunching and dispersing at the base of the staircase of the entrance. A monstrous fish tank suspended from the ceiling where new guests arrived and bombarded into the congestion for drinks. The glass bottom gave sight to lively colored creatures and suddenly became an emblem of the fishbowl experience I was having behind the band and discretely shadowed by the cobalt beams of light cast against the wall.
Regrouping with friends became a significant priority but easily accomplished with the temporary height advantage to help with sorting through the crowd. Making sure we got a good space to listen to Soul Scratch was another pain objective but seeing how late it was and they still hadn’t arrived on stage, I figured there was plenty of time for a cigarette. Squeezing a way up the stairs was a little easier than going down and the bouncer swung the door open but the atmosphere was so chill, not a curl of hair was pushed out of place by the greeting of street breeze.
I nearly dropped my lighter in excitement upon seeing Dale, the vocalist of Soul Scratch, standing on the curb already a few steps ahead as he exhaled a cloud of smoke in front of the tightly clad passersby. He was caught off guard but I was enthused to meet him. His expressive use of voice with the band quickly became the focal point of our conversation was cited as coagulation with funky flows of a trumpet, saxophone, drums and guitar. Shortly after a few exchanges, he finished his cigarette, then fled through the door and down the stairs in preparation for his entrance to the stage.
The yellow and amber tint of downtown’s streetlights spread across the busy pavement and gave way to a attractively distracting scene. However, Soul Scratch was due to perform shortly inside and luckily the bouncer recognized me so there wasn’t much of a wait behind the growing line on Hill Street. By the time I entered and found a seat on the patent red leather couch, the lead vocalist was beckoned onto the stage after a groovy introduction from the band. In the same fashion as the performance at Echo Park Rising, Dale made his introduction with a walk through the audience and swooned everyone through the night with vocal nods to Aretha, Etta and Otis over a funky swag of melodic pleasantries.
The sensations of journeying arose as the sun began lowering behind buildings in preparation for Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk. Food trucks parked in lots and stretched down the streets preparing for a busy night. Before the eyes were fed with what the destinations on the map were delivering, a pastelito by VCHOS Food Truck with chicken and carrots swathed in a creamy sauce all beneath a crispy folded and pinched then fried circle of masa gave much needed fuel. The fairly large parking lot was only a block or two from the concentration of pedestrians trickled onto the sidewalk.
After inhaling and coming to terms with not drinking the remaining salsa, the studio of Miguel Osuna was the first stop coming from the north end of Spring Street. Inside canvases lined up like books as tall as the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the 4th Street intersection. The artist’s technique with a rubber palette and with the exactitude of a ballpoint pen elicited a serpentine dance effect in grand proportions. Choices in color and use of light were like laying eyes upon a thick ribbon flowing through winds.
Howard Griffin Gallery was the next destination where Broken Fingaz landed in Los Angeles from Haifa, Israel using sharp and bold characters with form nodding to Japanese Shunga art. A rectangular fixture with comic book strip layout blared perhaps a message on regression while serving as a comedic shield with a blinding bulb illuminating a regressive birth of a mustachioed bald man. While several other depictions of statuesque focal points filled the gallery, the sun hadn’t completely gone away so the journey continued down Spring Street.
Just outside of Le Petit Paris Boutique, a craftsman of stationary by the name of Hundred Acre Works displayed an assortment of cards. Juxtaposition was the theme, which used tranquil landscapes as background for humorously compromising situations among characters like Batman and Wonder Woman. A few steps south was a painter whose gift with acrylic gave the illusion of being created with oil pastels.
It was off to a nomadic start and I couldn’t help but feel thankful for the space I live and very aware of those whose crafts(wo)manship was indoors and outdoors were connected to the transient phenomena of this coast. After another intersection, Art Walk Lounge had people crowding inside and spilling out so I made my way through a narrow passage leading to an enclosed and brightly lit space at the opposite end. On the way stood Urks Design presented digitally enhanced portraits of models whose porcelain skin fanned into floral accouterments and broken ceramic graphics.
Deeper in the lounge was the octagonal chamber where paintings by Diego Cardoso gave a perspective of movement through a city in consistent evolution. His paintings resembled photographs inspired by decades of planning land use, housing/redevelopment and transportation in Los Angeles. Telephone wires lining the sidewalks where bicyclists and dog walkers were bystanders of busy traffic was one of many vivid snapshots he painted. When I pulled the Art Walk map out to check for my next destination, the very same piece was used for this month’s promotional map and pamphlet.
Closest to the Lounge was the Gloria Delson Contemporary Art Gallery, one of the featured galleries of the month, which hosted the riveting “Femme Fatales” on display just two weeks before the August Art Walk. The title for this run was “Double Vision” and cohesion in doubles or more seemed to be a prevalent theme of the gallery’s opening. Closest to the windows were fine oil canvases highlighting glass texture in its uniform yet curving complexity by Mark Brosmer. Judy Gittelsohn left a message of perspective with “Something Cup” and “Nothing Cup” with a warm color scheme.
In the furthest portion of the gallery, I was struck by three rectangular pieces by Fran Santelli because the marriage of acrylic and collage formed a curious delivery begging for more details from the artist. “Reading Rainbow” held hand-painted geometric fantasies of colors and shapes forming symbiotic rhythms in front of a starry night sky. Excitement flooded when I crossed paths with the artist upon exiting the square space with her work exclusively on one wall. It was she who clarified what seemed like collaging was in fact her own ability to fine-tune the use of a brush while giving a textural and vibrant appeal.
As people flocked to her work, I bid her farewell and luck with selling to patrons of the gallery but the ambiance of The Hive Art Gallery and Studios felt like the most appropriate endpoint of the walk. The vast assortment of artists filled narrow allotments of wall space with respective eyes for detail. Meeting DavidR XV after catching a glimpse of his work prior to the event was as much a surprise as meeting Ryan Patterson whose eye for detail went as far as accentuating the eyelashes of his female model with clumps of mascara caught in the eyes framing porcelain skin and a perfect bone structure. Fusions of bold graphics and timeless black and white oils of cinematic poses by Lauren Mendelsohn-Bass left the heart warm and full as passers continued in and out of the gallery and through the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
Originally published by ZIPR Magazine, September 2015.
Relishing the video game aesthetic continued as more people trickled in to guess at which point they could see their faces on the projection walls. Some people went toward the glass fixtures while others went in search of wine and beer. Upon turning to exit, there was hardly a sign of the ladder and artist, which made the experience a bit like trying to catch a little white rabbit.
Originally published by ZIPR Magazine, August 2015.
First steps into Corpus Illuminata, an Anatomic Interpretation, were made in a partial trance as eyes peered with curiosity upon sinuous lines, bold colors and intriguing subject matter. Anthony DVS, organizer of the two-day affair, shed light on what started as a showcase of visual art, with interpretations for all things anatomic. Over five years, the event quickly expanded. This year included collectors of antique medical utensils, student and doctor presentations, as well as musical experiences; but the cohesive thread among all work on display remained fixed in references to anatomy, biology or medicine.
A few pieces on the entry walls were no larger than two square inches, but held delicate portrayals of vital organs on each mini canvas. To the left hung a mixed media anatomy-based illustration of Adam and the fall of man by Michael Reedy, titled “Malum A”. The artist’s narrative of mortality, physical limits as living creatures, and death was executed with exposed vital organs, bones and abnormal creatures as manifestations of their fall into pain and death. The complimentary illustration of Eve titled “Malum E” hung on the wall leading to the larger exhibition space.
Glossy ceramic and weathered metal sculptures were as bold and mysterious as large canvases of placenta, skeletons and fetuses. Rehearsal of vocal arrangements and piano by storyteller and “musical evocateur” Jill Tracy created a soothing melodic energy. In between songs, she revealed she was the first musician to achieve a grant to craft original compositions in the nation’s foremost collection of medical oddities at the Mütter Museum. Through her journey as a clairaudient and within the walls of the gallery, Jill, not merely treating spiritual eccentricities as a subject matter in her songs, shared lively engagement with artifacts and energy through music.
Jill continued rehearsing songs from her Mütter experience and additional work, which guided wandering eyes to paintings and photography near the stage’s corner. In that vicinity, a photograph by Anthony DVS titled “Soma Dorsum” held a peculiar energy. After projecting an MRI scan on a model’s body, the former electrician and self-taught artist manipulated lighting to create an eerie yet elegant snapshot.
As Anthony returned to his organizing responsibilities, the adjoining bazaar held in its center a unique pairing of post mortem photography, surgical images, entrapped tarantulas, and octopi. David Chow, director of Galerie Camille, spread his personal inventory of circus freak deaths, lithographs of medical procedures on the body, and massive leather resources for students of medicine. The reconstructed and inflated tarantula skins inside square frames were mounted and pinned by DJ Zaccariah Messiah. The nightlife enchanter’s display area also sported carbon fiber and clay skulls alongside octopus vials from North Africa.
Creating a border for the bazaar was a lengthy table – half of it the vending area of Heather Rhea-Wright of Painted Lady Trashions. On display: vintage taxidermy, human bones, and glass trinkets. Originally from Corpus Christi, Heather’s popularity was a bit of a surprise when she sold her first set of fetal pigs at the Rustbelt in Ferndale. She has since continued finding objects and improving her vast collection. Not only was it the fourth time she shared her collection at Corpus Illuminata, it was the first time she collaborated with Todd W. LaRosa, owner of Michigan’s Mortuary Museum.
On Todd’s side, there were cadaver prosthetic forms for open casket ceremonies, thin polished embalming equipment, and funeral home memorabilia. The backdrop for his space was a crushed velvet backdrop with Victorian jack-in-the-box frame made of wood. It was a grand stage set for the keeper of fourteen hearses and the largest funeral home antiquities collection in the United States. As more guests arrived, the visual anatomic feast carried them through the night with educative and melodic sensations in honor of life and death.
Finding the entrance to Rosa Parks Boys was as unique as the transformation of a loading dock and storage space to a skateboarding arena. Inside, Mary Bustamonte declared her strength in styling and editing within the realm of fashion by forming visual and poetic testaments to escape the lifelessness of retail. She epitomized uniformity of the fifties by attaching snapshots of the decade in which people were facing the same direction to a light blue button down.
Bustamonte admitted her impatience hindered her construction of well-crafted clothing but intended to practice her capacity with a camera by trial and error. Photography in “Bourgeoi-Zine” showcased her intentional juxtaposition of the rogue and the materialistic. Quite a comical fusion it was because exclusive familiarities of goings-on among those who identify with each social stratosphere seem to promote access to each world. Although finding the entrance to the facility, which had been magically transformed, was a bit of a struggle, my appreciation for stumbling upon such a fascinating space turned into a fervent desire to explore more.
Inner State Gallery boasted an array of glossy arrangements of wood, text and colors while fixating attention on the iconic arrow for which Above is internationally recognized. While gazing at the fruits of a two-month residency on the western wall, I crossed paths with photographer Michele Lundgren and her daughter Cara while we were hoping to meet the mind behind culminations of acrylic, spray paint and screen print ink. They arrived after catching an opening in the Eastern Market but were on their way out so I continued moseying. When I caught myself gawking at “Lock – Manhattan” and other puzzle-like creations, I made my exit as well.
Further into the east side of Detroit was Block One Gallery where paintings by Sean Nader were on display. Animated countenances of subjects from the artist’s past and present were prominent in the expressive surplus. Wrinkles of “Charles Bukowski” and caffeinated Dungeons and Dragons characters were only a portion of Nader’s gumption galore. He revealed the gallery space fell into his lap when friends of his were in the process of developing a conjoined unit of the building. It was one of several highlights in his journey through 2014 and having sold several pieces with an hour left, a toast to his serendipitous opening was crucial and my last for the evening.
Just a few minutes past six, I was in a bit of a hurry to catch nineteenth and twentieth century nude photography, prints and paintings at Galerie Camille off Cass Avenue before I ventured to the other side of the city. A few couples were already present when I arrived so I began with the first piece and made my way around the exhibit. Photographer/2011 Kresge Fellow Bruce Giffin arrived soon after and his voice filled the interior as he spoke with artist/Camille owner Adnan Charara about a recent finding.
Echoes subsided as a small group formed and migrated to Adnan’s studio in the back but I fell into the shadows and floral arrangement behind a seated woman photographed around 1900. Other Art Nouveau images lined the gallery walls with a splendor I felt appropriate to quench with a glass of wine before moving toward a perpendicular wall. On it was an etching by Reginald Marsh from 1939, which depicted a cheerful scene of Coney Island Beach and maintained a trance-like effect until I concluded my sips needed to be smaller.
Before entering a smaller wing of the gallery, I overheard educator/animator/director Gary Schwartz comment on the recent celebranon (celebrity + phenomenon) of editing bizarre proportions. There was no need to deny the outrageous demand for attention, which was why I concurred, grabbed a snack and headed to a less populated area of the gallery. This significantly smaller but cozier wing was the place I met Charara’s wife. Though several years were between us, we shared the value of introversion and nourishment of one’s craft no matter how much time filled periods of inactivity or absence of direction.
By this time, artist/MONA owner Jef Bourgeau arrived with news of an upcoming show for Erwin Olaf. A short while later, Bruce reemerged in the main gallery so we discussed our next destination on the evening’s agenda, which happened to be 1550 Winder where Paula Schubatis was on display.
An energetic tone for the show was triggered by an enormous inflatable giant swaying and flopping outside the entrance for “FARE”—the title of Schubatis’ solo exhibition. From textile layers to hanging installations and down a corridor of found material lighting, exceptional statements were established with found materials. As a fiber artist and painter, she was motivated by breaking down conventional methods of creating and comprehending one’s surroundings through reconstruction of resources uncovered in Detroit.
Across the street, Matthew Eaton curated cycle nine of artists who hailed from and expressed fondness for Detroit. Dotting of red over the spread of paintings by Dino “Ramen” Valdez unveiled livelihood he incited through lissome movement of colors and lines. He also worked with Nick Pizana whose vivid interpretations of violence propelled a thunderous presence both collaboratively and independently. When the swelling number of bodies prevented a clear view of the “Veil” series by Brach Goodman, my patience wore thin and my departure was eminent.
On my way out, I found painter Bruce Lehto and wife/photographer/filmmaker Barb Lehto with artist James Dozier and photographer/555 Chair David Lingle. Catching up with familiar faces about recent projects distracted from the overwhelming amount of people until I felt a transition take place. The pendulum of my attention swung between claustrophobia to faintness from hunger so I bid farewell and squeezed through the mass of people.
About an hour into the “Quest 4 Visions” opening, red dots sprinkled the collection of Sanda Cook at the Pittman-Puckett Gallery in Ferndale. “Starscape” grabbed my attention instantly on the eastern wall but I wanted to follow the hypnotic effect of her work in numerical order. I also didn’t want to interrupt her interview with Steve Lloyd so I started with the western wall.
Allusions to graffiti and collaging felt most prominent in “Protection” but light and layering bound together Cook’s engagement with experiences of emotional and astrological sorts. “Soul Retrieval” was a gripping example of how curiously she characterized her observations of people. Variations of human shapes and landscapes left little room to inaccurately predict the success of the Romanian artist’s exhibit.
The western wall hosted larger pieces of equally expressive magnitude. “Galleon” delivered solemn emotions where red slashes forged a macabre naval craft. “Love Letter” entertained issues of distraction and clarity when unveiling a message of value. Perhaps for this reason, it resembled the troublesome fuzziness of images of dated televisions when their antennas were improperly coordinated.
In the midst of observing “Cosmos” I met Skip Davis and photographer/potter Rose Lewandowski who appreciated a co-design I donned by Randal Jacobs. Before and after years of neglecting her imaginative self for the sake of motherhood, honing her craft in pottery and image making came with a natural purity. She met Cook at a show in March of 2014 and they have since fueled each other’s creative fervor. After flipping through a few pages of Lewandowski’s portfolio, Cook greeted me with jubilance and I held no restriction of praising her visual assortment but focused particular attention to “Starscape.”
The image was already sold by the time we stood in front of it but I learned the starry sky came to life with an unintended but perfect speckling of paint. As we moved to the smaller pieces on the western wall, she introduced me to painter Jon McCahill whose work I recognized from a summer show at Whitdel Arts. We spoke of academic and self-taught approaches in finding one’s voice then quickly realized similarities in our processes of making art.
As the night continued, a bit of dancing broke out before Linda and Don Mendelson arrived and Lewandowski returned to snapping photographs and sharing her portfolio. As we carried on, it was indisputable how Sanda Cook’s fascination with human contact and universal forces influenced immense livelihood. This was even more evident in her interactions with everyone whom she graciously thanked for basking in the ambience of her cosmic love.
Sunlight lingered in the afternoon while icy winds blasted against my dusty knuckles en route to “Watercolor: Collective Visions” at the Ellen Kayrod Gallery. On the southern wall was a grand piece by James Nawara whose rocky entrance with trees reiterated his speculation of the effects human systems have on nature’s landscape. His work also fused distinct opposites with comparable elegance to Jay Knapp whose abstract strokes underscored the dichotomy of safety and atrocity and its impact on emotional conditions.
Both artists presented the peculiar interconnectedness and exclusivity of dependent and independent forces, which supported the theme of Passing Tribute by Linda Mendelson—artist, educator and curator for the Kayrod’s intergenerational show. Her watercolor conception revealed keen observations about ceremonial occasions with spirited appreciation of life’s trials and tribulations.
After meandering from piece to piece, it was still a bit early for the N’Namdi Gallery to open its doors for the openings of “Vicissitude” by Elizabeth Youngblood and “ELEMENTAL” by Neha Vedpathak. However, something told me to test my luck and check if the door was open to escape the freezing cold if only for a moment. I entered and two gracious staff members allowed me to observe the work on display as they completed final tasks prior to guests’ arrival.
In The Rose Gallery, Youngblood’s ceramic/wire sculptures emphasized cyclical patterns in which universal forces operate and mimicked the movement of her writing utensils on paper. By majestically incorporating her love of graphic arts, clay, design and fibers, the CCS Graphic Arts professor stimulated an inimitable dialogue on craft and art.
Within The Black Box Gallery, Vedpathak executed her stylistic fascination with the environment and its ingredients with “plucked” paper and miniature landscapes consisting of soil, water and turmeric. Whether space was occupied by her distinctive and delicate manipulation of paper or covered by unique representations of land, Vedpathak charmingly highlighted complex interactions between space and objects with minimal aesthetics.
The space between my untimely entrance to N’Namdi and Socra Tea was not at all far but the frigid air influenced a detour to a stiff beverage at Seva. What intended to be an exploration of introversion quickly evolved into a conversation with one of the restaurant’s managers who also created out of a studio in Corktown. He shared enthusiasm for the entertainment and challenges of building an identity in Detroit and respect for the process of navigating through a vast city. More patrons flooded the dining area so I peeled myself from the bar and hurried to Socra Tea.
A tall bearded man with a kind face and a female with curly hair and lively demeanor constituted the small number of bodies in attendance while a quiet sales associate manned the register. Once I began my tour of the stationary and framed photography by Jason Wermager, I quickly learned the bewhiskered gentleman was in fact the artist. His work possessed a commercial blending of rural life, words and graphic arts. His editing gave some viewers the impression he had painted a cow and illustrated the scene of an isolated barn swathed in beams of sunlight. Even an image of an old Cadillac underwent an intense editing process to be rid of bothersome reflections but ultimately established Wermager’s eye for precision.
The visual feast continued at the Detroit Artists Market where members intended to vend original items at Art for the Holidays. Sanda Cook had three identifiable framed pieces among the surplus of talent hanging and standing prominently in the market. It was here I complimented Linda Mendelson on her curatorial execution and painting of ceremonious yet personal experiences of transition. She accepted but immediately shed light on the magnitude of measurement restrictions while coordinating artwork in a gallery. When she segued to how she found talent, she conveyed the power of crossing paths, which was as magical as finding Jack Kenny and Charlene Uresy radiating the same warm energy of the holiday merriment in the market just as I was leaving.