Category Archives: Arts

Arts, Arts Review

New Domesticity: Women’s Work in Women’s Art

Feminism is often perceived as an attack on traditional values and in opposition to family life. New Domesticity: Women’s Work in Women’s Art, the current show at the Parachute Factory and the Morlan Gallery, investigates how people identify with societal notions of womanhood, and highlights the malleability of this concept as a whole.

According to the curator, Emily Elizabeth Goodman, “these domestic works…explore where we have been, calling on the work of women ancestors to illuminate the present by considering the past.” Right now, change is occurring rapidly in how society considers concepts such as gender, family, and femininity in particular; but works like these remind us that the past is not actually past.

Institutional ideologies only last because people fail to question them; thus it is essential to consider how history continues to inform contemporaneity. Now more than ever it is important to think critically about one’s perceived place in society and how gender may come to inform conceptions of identity.

Stacey Chinn, “Bindle (I Have a Fear of Commitment)”, 2013, Handwriting in ink on bedsheet, tree branch, polyester fiberfil, 114″ x 26″ x 26″

Some of the most particularly memorable works in the exhibition are by Lexington artist Stacey Chinn, “Bindle (I have a Fear of Commitment)”, 2013, and “Bindle (Mother May I?)”, 2017. The former is a nine and a half foot tall tree branch and a tied bed sheet with polyester fiberfill, leaning on an angle against the wall. Ink handwriting fills the entirety of the white sheet with the phrase repeated over and over, “I have a fear of commitment.”

Both of these works reference the cultural conceptions of womanhood in a context of the masculine vagabond. The use of the bed sheet in “Bindle (I have a Fear of Commitment)” references domestic labor that women are traditionally expected to commit to, such as making the bed. The bindle itself evokes feelings of rebellion and freedom from conventional norms.

The size of this piece makes it stand out across the gallery, but the juxtaposition between the coarse tree branch and delicate bed sheet adds another dimension to the statement on feminine freedom. Even the act of putting ink on the bed sheet can be symbolic for rebellion against the commitment to traditional house labor. This piece asks how one defines femininity in the presence of a desire for freedom and an absence of a “natural” domestic instinct.

Stacey Chinn, “Bindle (Mother May I?)”, 2017, Knitted yarn, tree branch, polyester fiberfill, 19″ x 3″ x 3″

“Bindle (Mother May I?)”, made from a thin stick and knitted pouch, references gender as well as motherhood in particular. It is a much smaller version of the previous bindle, a little longer than a forearm, and notably uses a combination of pink and blue knit. In comparison to the size of the “Bindle (I have a Fear of Commitment)”, this one reads as a child’s toy, and the knit material mimics handmade baby’s clothes. The combination of these formal decisions disrupts cultural conceptions concerning freedom by revealing the masculinity tied to vagabonds, and using it as a platform to consider freedom abstractly.

Stacey Reason, “Lomas Tower”, 2015, Steel, glass, pressed flowers, caulk, concrete, light socket, LED light bulb with speaker, paper, 10:44 minute audio, 37 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ x 7″

Another interesting idea of domesticity is depicted in Stacey Reason’s “Lomas Tower, 2015. From Paducah Kentucky, her sculpture was partly inspired by her time spent living in Mexico in a “European style” housing development, which was culturally cut off from the community around it. The sculpture is comprised of steel, glass, press flowers, caulk, concrete, a light socket, a LED light bulb, and paper. From a side view the sculpture appears minimal and industrial. Yet, when viewed from the bottom up, a succession of pressed flowers illuminated by light at the bottom creates a natural yet sterilized aesthetic.

Lomas Tower” engages with domesticity by calling attention to new types of domestic spaces and how traditional ideas translate. By calling attention to the form and function of these kinds of housing developments, Reason identifies the highly constructed lifestyle they perpetuate. In addition to questions of domesticity, Reason’s work discusses issues of class as well as industrialism.

The materials in the sculpture are the same ones used in her own housing development. Using cheap materials while also perpetuating a modern lifestyle; these housing developments are indicative of deeply rooted impacts of industrialism on modern home life.

“New Domesticity: Women’s Work in Women’s Art”, installation view, image by MS Rezny

New Domesticity: Women’s Work in Women’s Art, on view through February 16th at the Morlan Gallery and through Feburary 24th at the Parachute Factory, makes a uniquely essential point about current cultural conditions. Ideas about gender roles and femininity are being questioned in society, no doubt; but this show also makes the point that conceptions of femininity are not only fluid in terms of time, but also varied from one perspective to the next.

“New Domesticity: Women’s Work in Women’s Art”, Installation view, image by MS Rezny

The emphasis on diversity in age, race, and geographic location in this show provides a broad platform with which to further consider contemporary womanhood and find common ground among the obstacles, which usually keep us apart. The show is described by the curator as “a criticism of the fictional naturalness of the affinity between domesticity and womanhood,” but along those lines, it mimics the female empowerment movement in society today.

New Domesticity uplifts female artists, and simultaneously critiques the institutional ideas that have historically limited woman’s power, while celebrating the present condition of women by evoking the past.

This exhibition also features the work of Jane Burch Cochran, Rae Goodwin, Judith Pointer-Jia, Diane Kahlo, Helen LaFrance, Lori Larusso, Colleen Merrill, Stacey Reason, Jennifer A. Reis, Kristin Richards, Justine Riley, Bianca Lynne Spriggs, Bentley Utgaard and L.A. Watson is accompanied by this 51-page catalogue.

About the author: Savannah Wills is a Chellgren Scholar at the University of Kentucky. She is seeking art history and art administration degrees and has chosen to work with UnderMain as her spring project. Christine Huskisson has committed to guiding her as she embraces the concept of criticism in both writing and by assisting UnderMain in organizing our second panel discussion on the topic: “Critical Mass II: The Value of Critical Discourse in the Arts – A Discussion on Authority and Accessibility in the Written Review” to be held on Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky in partnership with the KMAC Museum and The Great Meadows Foundation. Watch for the UnderMain Newsletter on February 26th for final details and welcome aboard Savannah! 

Arts

The Brain and Baya: The Grey Art Gallery

On a recent trip to New York, I decided to visit the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, located in historic Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The mission of this university gallery is to collect, preserve, study, document, interpret, and exhibit the evidence of human culture.

My mission was simply to check out the exhibition titled “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” after reading a review by Roberta Smith in the New York Times. I ended up seeing a second show that made me realize that if we are each to be seen as one of the humans that makes up that culture, we must first be visible.

“The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal”

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Synaptic contacts in the cerebellum, 1930s, Ink and pencil on paper, No. 9

The drawings in this exhibition are small and enormously captivating. Based on microscopic observations of cells, neurons, and gray matter of the brain, they morph into surreal abstractions. The compositions grow into poetic – even tragic – realities with descriptive titles like “pathways mediating the vomiting and coughing reflexes”, “a cut nerve stump of a rabbit six hours after damage” and “neurons in the cerebellum of a drowned man”.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, “Axons of Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum of a drowned man”, date unknown, Ink and pencil on paper, No. 66

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) is considered the father of modern neuroscience. He was also an artist. Working with a microscope, pen, pencil and paper, he drew these images freehand as a way to evidence his scientific discoveries. As a neuroanatomist working at the turn of the century, his work is equal in stature to Charles Darwin or Louis Pasteur, albeit relatively unknown to the general public.

In 1906 he received The Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery now known as the Neuron Doctrine. As Roberta Smith sees it, Cajal was famous for uncovering the fact that “neurons were in touch, without touching”.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Astrocytes in the hippocampus of the human brain, Pen and ink,

There are more than 80 of Cajal’s drawings in the show, selected from over 2500 drawings, made between 1890 and 1933. Originating at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, this show opened in January of 2017, arrived at NYU this year and will remain on view there until March 31, 2018. The following dates then fill out the tour for this traveling show.

  • MAY 2, 2018 – JANUARY 1, 2019 | MIT Museum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • JANUARY 27 – APRIL 7, 2019 | Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

While solely dedicated to Cajal’s work, the show also includes adjacent galleries with more colorful, technology-driven imagery made by neuroscientists working today. These images demonstrate the validity of many of Cajal’s arguments – explained in wall text and in a 207-page catalogue with an essay by Janet M. Dubinsky titled, “Seeing the Beautiful Brain Today”.

In the digital image below, Dubinsky provides evidence of one of Cajal’s foundational arguments. The synaptic vesicles (small white spheres) that release chemical messages at each synapse are shown in the axon branches (transparent colors) surrounding the dendrite. Dubinsky states that:

Synapses strengthen or weaken with practice or disuse, a property that underscores learning at the cellular level. This variability is referred to as synaptic plasticity, an idea Cajal embraced as necessary for mental function

From “The Beautiful Brain: Seeing The Beautiful Brain Today” by Janet M. Dubinsky. with 3-D view of synapses on several spines along a cortical dendrite in a mouse cortex.

The “Glass Brain Flythrough” demonstrates how information is carried through the brain and was captured by MRI brain scans of the cerebral cortex (gray matter) and bundles of nerve fibers (white matter).

Glass Brain Flythrough, 2014, Short clip of the animation, Gazzeley Lab and Neuroscape Lab, University of California, San Francisco, with the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience, University of California, San Diego, Syntrogi Labs, Matt Omernick, and Oleg Knoings, Lent by Adam Gazzeley

In an attempt to stimulate a little grey matter, I had visited a few other shows on this trip, including: Auguste Rodin, Michelangelo and David Hockney exhibitions at the Metroplolitan Museum of Art, Carolee Schneemann at MOMA PS1, and Laura Owens and Jimmie Durham at The Whitney Museum of America Art.

For intriguing content that made me want to learn more, “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” was on the top of my list, until I decided to take the stairs to the lower level of the Grey Art Gallery.

Baya: A Woman of Algiers

At the bottom of the steps, I found a quiet gallery filled with color and familiar shapes. At first glance, it looked like five or six covered pedestals held Picasso-esque ceramics and on the walls hung vibrant paintings of various women in long dresses with fanciful hats and/or hair.

The introductory wall text clearly explained that this exhibition is about Baya Mahieddine (1931-1998), known as Baya, a female artist who was orphaned at age five. An artist who had never been the focus of a solo exhibition in North America until now.

Baya: A Woman in Algers, installation view at the Grey Gallery at New York University

Pablo Picasso, Bearded Man’s Wife,1953, White Earthenware clay, decoration in engobes, knife-engraved under partial glaze, 500 copies produced, Grey Art Gallery, NYU, Gift of Homer Kripke

Curated by Natasha Boas and accompanied by a 57-page catalogue that describes Baya as a woman veiled, a woman trapped in traditional roles, marginalized as a painter in her own country of Algiers, a woman who even by her own signature is enigmatic, a one-eyed woman peering out from behind her own multi-cultural identity and the denial of labels like “outsider artist” and “art brut”. A woman who, according to Boas, by seeing, is finally seen.

Femme sur fond bleu (Woman on a blue background), 1947, Gouache on board, Collection Isabelle Maeght, Paris

Boas’ essay, titled “Baya: The Naked Eye” introduces us to Baya, who was “born Fatma Haddad in 1931 outside Bordj el-Kiffan, a Mediterranean beach-town suburb of Algiers, to a small rural tribe of mixed Kabyle and Arab heritage that relied entirely on an oral tradition of storytelling and folklore”.

Later adopted by a French intellectual, she was encouraged as an artist and given access to prominent figures in the art world, including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, André Breton, Jean Dubuffet and Joan Miró. During this time, Baya entered a rare period of recognition for an artist of her training, one that could be viewed, so the curator states, as “Baya stepping into the visible”.

Boas states that, in 1945, Amié Maeght, a prominent French art dealer discovered Baya, and that her work – created largely from her imagination and her dreams from a very young age – was subsequently included in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in July of 1947.

Due to her success in Paris, she was later invited to an artist-in-residency program at the Madoura ceramic studio in Vallauris in the South of France, where she met Picasso.

Derriére le Miroir (Behind the Mirror), sixth edition, 1947

Pablo Picasso, “Jacqueline’s Profile”, 1956, White earthenware clay, engraving accentuated with glaze, and black-patinated ground, 500 copies produced

From the wall text for “Jacqueline’s Profile” we learn that from 1948 to 1952, Baya spent her summers in the French coastal town of Vallauris working alongside Picasso, who attributed his work in ceramic to her influence. Later, embarking on his seminal “Women of Algiers” series (1954-55), Boas reiterates,

Picasso again cited Baya as his inspiration.

Was it Baya or Baya’s artistic style that influenced Picasso? Why does this show not include the ceramics made by Baya during her time in Vallauris?

In 1953, Baya left France and her adopted mother to return to Algiers. She married a traditional Muslim, who was thirty years her senior, and settled into family life giving birth to six children. According to the curator, Baya did not show work again until 1963 and then exhibited annually until her death in 1998.

Femme allongée au visage bleu (Reclining woman with blue face), 1947, gouache on board, Collection of Isabelle Might, Paris

From one of the supporting essays in the catalogue it is suggested that this image is self-portrait of the young Baya who, lying down to sleep, contemplates her sad and lonely state as an orphan.

If the date on this painting – and all of the paintings in this show – is accurate, 1947, might not Baya have been thinking something entirely different than about her sad and lonely condition? Was inclusion in the Exposition Internationale and her residency a blue period for this young artist?

Was there something that forced her back to Algiers? Could it have been life as a creative in a male dominated world of art wherein she could be little more than muse? Was she, in fact, lying down to sleep? Why did she return to a life removed from making art? Does this show help us see who Baya really was?

Boas makes a final point that Baya’s paintings could be read as culturally subversive in that they “can look back on modernist art history from today’s vantage point and be seen”. But is that with both eyes wide open or through the single lens of another?

These two exhibitions, Cajal and Baya, are inaugural exhibitions making visible for us a kind of brilliance in the human species and, in doing so, adhere to the mission of the Grey Art Gallery. Both will strengthen your synaptic plasticity and are on view through March 31, 2018.

Arts

Scene&Heard: When a senior recital rocks the house


Cities within a city, cultures within a culture, Lexington’s urban universities are living, breathing microcosms of the world at large. UnderMain from time to time likes to explore what’s happening on the campuses of the University of Kentucky, population 30,000+, and Transylvania University where some 1,100 students strive to shape their futures. Our latest Scene&Heard local music column turns over the page to Transylvania sophomore Taylor Mahlinger, entertainment editor for the campus student publication, The RamblerTaylor reviews the senior recital of fellow student Griffin Cobb. There’s a reason the venue was SRO.

Full of artistic talent and musical vision, Transylvania University senior Griffin Cobb gave a stunning final performance to a packed crowd at Transy’s Carrick Theater. He was able to showcase his multi-faceted music abilities while also letting his charismatic personality shine through, performing in jeans. Cobb majors in Music Technology and Spanish, with a Computer Science minor.

Cobb’s senior recital was divided into four segments. He opened the recital with a guitar and electronic synthesizer piece called Blue Stained Glass; he wrote the piece for Studio 300, which is Transy’s electronic music festival that comes around every two years. Cobb used a mix of pedal effects with different guitar tracks and some distortion, and he played live guitar over top during his recital. Cobb calls it “a study in electric guitar timbre.” He used the opening of the recital to demonstrate the full range of both his instrument and his playing ability.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Timothy Polashek

“In another section, I have three studio pieces that I invited some other musicians to come record tracks and mixed those,” said Cobb.

One of the artists Cobb collaborated with was Transy sophomore, soprano Ruth Choate. Both collaborated with drummer Brandon Trapp to cover the song “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” originally by Hozier.

“She [Choate] didn’t have any specific songs in mind. She just came in and we went through a bunch of songs that I’m into that I just had on my computer and eventually she was just like ‘I really like that one’ and we went for it,” said Cobb. Choate’s ethereal soprano vocals over top of of the guitar and drum tracks added a fresh take on the song.

Collaborating with other musicians and getting their feedback is also something Cobb will miss.

“I’ve played classical before, but I don’t do that anymore, and it’s really cool to get other perspectives.” Cobb’s collaborations with other musicians for this concert added a layer of depth and creativity.

The third section of the recital was comprised of a video game called Traffic Cop Hero 1000. Cobb and two other people created the game over last May Term for their Game Design course.

Cobb called it “a retro-style game, and I wrote music for that. I thought it would be fun to put in the recital, and I played that up on the projector.”

The unique mix of interactive visuals and elements was a fresh addition to a senior recital that concert audiences don’t usually experience. Cobb’s background in Computer Science allowed him to bring in this element of game design and incorporated the music with visuals, such as the colorful 16-bit graphic game playing on the screen. There was an interactive element to this section because Cobb actually played the game on the projector in front of the audience.

The last section of his concert included two different jazz ensembles made up of of a quintet and quartet. The quartet, composed of Cobb on guitar with bassist Tyler Turcotte, Danny Cecil on the piano, and Brandon Trapp on the drums, performed two pieces, Mr. P.C. by John Coltrane and Nardis by Miles Davis.

The jazz quintet included Trapp on the drums, Cobb playing bass guitar, Cecil on Piano, Sarah Schaaf on saxophone, and Evan Baber on trumpet. The quintet performed three pieces, All The Things You Are by Kern and Hammerstein, arranged by Cobb, Along Came Betty by Benny Golson, arranged by Cobb, and Insensatez by Antonio Carlos Jobim, arranged by Cobb.

The improvisational style that jazz creates combined with Cobb’s generosity gave everyone a chance to perform solos in the recital.

Cobb said there are many things he will miss about the music department, one being the artistic freedom he was allowed: “I feel like I could go into any project and I would get support from the music faculty, even if it’s not something that a particular faculty member is into, they’ll tell me ‘oh this person can help you out with that’ or they’ll just say ‘go for it’.”

On his post graduation aspirations, Cobb says, “I don’t know for sure if I’m gonna go back to Louisville, but probably, and I’m gonna try to make a living off of performing and maybe writing. Getting a job at a recording studio would be fantastic because I feel like I have the skills to be a sound engineer. I’ve gotten into acting again over the past couple of years, and I’d love to do that.”

“It’s entirely possible that I’ll try to do that and it won’t work out, but you might as well go for it” Cobb said with a laugh and casual shrug.

Some of Cobb’s pieces from the recital can be found on SoundCloud.

Arts

Hayden and Ross-Ho: Craft Revisions

“Thoroughly Modern: Women in 20th Century Art and Design” on view at the Speed Art Museum through July 1st, is being promoted as a sequel to the Speed’s next blockbuster, “Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism.” The achievements of female painters of the 1920s and 1930s are shown to consist of easel-sized, modestly-scaled works often accomplished in artists’ colonies -freer and less sexist environments than prominent art academies, which had only just begun to admit women.

Female artists also achieved prominence as designers of table wares in glass, silver and ceramics. Biomorphic and geometric ornament was vibrant and fully in touch with contemporary art in the period. It anticipated current concerns with the linkage between color abstraction and materiality, or ornament as an intrinsic element in visual language rather than an extraneous add-on.

“Thoroughly Modern” is also a pertinent prequel to the shows at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC) of the work of Nathan Hayden, “What Was Magic of Numbers, Hypnotic and Wonders” and Amanda Ross-Ho, “Contents and Index.”

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Blue Glove Left #3” and “Blue Glove Right #3”, 2015, Dyed stretch cotton sateen, acrylic paint, cotton piping, armature wire, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery. Viewer: Ted Wathen

Craft at the Speed show remains in the traditional domestic sphere, one realm in which early 20th century women could gain professional recognition. The twin exhibitions at KMAC reference and subvert traditional notions of craft and gender roles. Both Ross-Ho and Hayden employ craft techniques but move decisively from the dining table to the sculpture pedestal, from the living room to the art gallery. Abandoning utility is to assert their artworks’ independent authority and hospitableness to multiple meanings. The hand is the instrument of mystical automatist transmission for Hayden, and for Ross-Ho it is the touchstone of surreal engagement with the studio environment as an extension of consciousness.

Hayden – like a hip-hop/electronic music version of a Sufi whirling dervish – dances for an hour a day to induce otherworldly visions. A former Louisvillian, Hayden’s works from his period in Kentucky (2004-2006) are miniature works in ink and acrylic wash with delicate stippling. Subsequently, Hayden made ‘cards,’ small drawings that are the source of his larger works. The print curator Carl Zigrosser wrote about ‘multum in parvo’ (a lot in a little) works of art in which “a multiplicity of detail is concentrated into a unified principle, the particular is transformed into the universal, and a largeness of meaning is conveyed with the utmost economy of means.” Hayden’s drawing is a practice of faith and the cards are mounted on small earthenware lecterns like a medieval book of hours intended for private devotions.

Nathan Hayden, “Unfalconable”, 2015-2016, ink/found pigment on paper, ceramic sculpture, Collection of Aaron Pietrykowski

There is an intriguing tension between the imagery and its spiritual content. In “Unfalconable” accessibility and transcendence are in opposition.  The paper is divided into quadrants, each depicting a Manichean contrast between black forms made up of rectangles and triangles, a yellow-orange ground, and hieroglyphs suggesting mountains, vegetation, celestial objects or adobe structures.

The imagery is vaguely southwestern, filtered through popular colors and motifs of the 1970s, in turn based on 1930s art deco, ultimately deriving from Mexican and Native American symbolic languages. Hayden turns the regional sense of place inside out, making a someplace a conceptual no place or an any place, ironically re-capturing the original cosmological implications of his forms. His method is more devolution than deconstruction.

Nathan Hayden, “Shapes for Shadows”, 2014-2016, Table of ceramics, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist and CB1 Gallery

Hayden’s larger works are earthenware forms in adobe pink clay and dyed wall hangings in industrial felt. The clay works are repetitive explorations of quadrilateral plinths with bisymmetrical curved or zigzag shapes. They provide a self-referential vocabulary lesson echoing the meta-language in the drawings and in their disciplined repetition of limited variations on winged flanges, harken back to 1950s and 1960s writers like M.C. Richards, whose book “Centering in Poetry, Pottery and the Person” captured the attitudes of ceramists like Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach and William and Mary Scheier, who conceived of their potting as a form of meditation.

Nathan Hayden, “what was meant to be here was no longer”, 2014, ink on industrial felt, Courtesy of the artist and CB1 Gallery

Hayden’s large industrial felt hangings either adhere to the visual vocabulary promulgated in the small drawings and ceramics or expand into otherworldly Mandalas of radiating chevrons, bristling nodes, bursting suns, seedpods and spiraling vortices. Segmented and bisected but asymmetrical, the largest hangings, for example, “what was meant to be here was no longer” evokes cosmic visions and assert the universality of root systems and natural structures.

Hayden acknowledges the influence of the Swedish visionary Hilda Af Klint, who shared with Kandinsky, Jawlensky and other pioneering abstract artists the influence of theosophical speculations on alternate states of being. In his use of clay and industrial felt, Hayden extends abstract modes of presentation and the resurgence of the handmade.

Amanda Ross-Ho,”White Goddess #16 (LA COTE)”, 2008, Acrylic on canvas drop cloth, 114″ x 118″, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

Amanda Ross-Ho also references craft traditions, especially traditionally feminine realms of weaving and needlework. She does so in a way in which female subservience or do-it-yourself amateurism associated with those arts is undermined. The fifteen-foot tall “White Goddess #16 (LA COTE) is a simulacrum of macramé in acrylic on canvas drop cloth. The one at KMAC is derived from a 1970s craft magazine and copied from a projection. Gargantuan imitation gloves are transformed from rubber to cotton and like the macramé, serve as emblems of labor, but also as stage props in a theater of the absurd or surreal artifacts from a liminal state between dreaming and pre-awareness.

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled T-shirt (World Map)”, 2015, Jersey, rib, thread, acrylic, mascara, 58”x84”x4″, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

The artist’s frame of reference is the studio and workplace. Shirts and gloves show accidental spills and offer a metonym for the creative process. “T-Shirt (World Map)”has an apparent sweat-stained collar. On the bottom of the shirt and on the sleeves are dashes and splotches of yellow, green, red and purple, like an abstract expressionist vocabulary lesson from a late painting by Hans Hofmann. “Untitled Smock (Accident)” is a retro purple smock with slash pockets and round snap buttons. It is stained with red paint, connoting a mishap, as the title indicates, or the feigned residue of the oeuvre of an artist using a poured paint technique, not unlike Helen Frankenthaler.

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled Textile Arrangement (Towel Rack XL #2)”, 2015, Chrome towel rack, acrylic and dye on washcloths, hand towels and bath towels, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

Work and the conditions of artistic operations are also covert protagonists in the implied drama of “Untitled Textile Arrangement (Towel Rack #6).” Undermining the sanitary sterility of hotel  rooms, the viewer is left to speculate whether the black stained, neatly folded towels are the revenge of an irate chambermaid outraged by the oppressive conditions of her servitude, the side effects of an oil spill, or an expression of creativity in tie-dying. The clothes and towel racks broach the charged subject of employment. Art is work and the artist’s studio is the workshop in Ross-Ho’s imagery, parallel to other emotionally redolent work places that resonate with the hidden drama of diurnal activities.

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled Still Life (Real Archive/I Know What To Do)”, 2011, Hand-drilled sheetrock, latex paint on folded paper, pushpin, found images, linen tape, map tacks, power bar foil backing, construction paper glare device, laser print, acrylic on plastic thumbtack, graphite and wine on Bristol paper, aluminum thumbtack, boot tape, Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

The studio is also a model of consciousness in Ross-Ho’s work and self-reflexively represents the cerebral conditions of art-making. “Untitled Still Life (Real Archive/I Know What to do” offers a model. The artist utilizes a pegboard format drilled by hand in slightly unconventional dimensions but with the standard one-inch interval between holes. Continuing the labor theme of the over-sized garments, pegboard connotes a utility area, like a garage, storage shed or workshop. It is a hallmark of the well-organized craftsperson or home improvement enthusiast, who uses peg hooks to hang peggable products or tools. The hooks are supported by gravity alone, and the well-installed pegboard has an even weight distribution along several mounting points.

There are no tools on Ross-Ho’s pegboards and instead they function as a quasi- bulletin board: the comparison to Leo Steinberg’s description of Robert Rauschenberg’s “flatbed picture plane” – a receptor surface – has already been made in discussions of Ross-Ho’s work. Steinberg anticipated parallels between Rauschenberg and Ross-Ho in noting “it seemed at times that Rauschenberg’s work surface stood for the mind itself – dump, reservoir,  switching center, abundant with concrete references freely associated as in an internal monologue – the outward symbol of the mind as a running transformer of the external world, constantly ingesting incoming unprocessed data to be mapped in an overcharged field.”

There are 12 additions to “Untitled Still Life: Real Archive/I Know What To Do” ranging from identical squiggles on a folded piece of paper to a color photo of a lioness sleeping in the crotch of a tree with one paw and two legs dangling. Ross-Ho also draws directly on the pegboard, circling a nail hole, marking a right angle and writing in pencil, “I know what to do.” She uses a variety of means to attach her images, including  white linen tape, map tacks, book tape, aluminum thumb tacks and push pins.  In one instance linen tape is simply attached to the pegboard itself with nothing held.

The images are at once mundane and intriguing: a manipulated photo of two men looking at scrawls on a wall with a teddy bear in the corner; a piece of black paper with an opening showing a pegboard hole partially overlapping a photo of two men in shirts printed with electric guitar images, one squeezing a remote photo bulb; a bearded man in a hat under a rock overhang, the rectangle cut out and revealing nine holes underneath. There is also a picture of macramé; a page of scribbles and wine stains on Bristol board labeled “real archive, digital archive, copy machine;” and a vertical sequence of a gloved hand sponging color onto a wall. Some photographs seem to reference Ross-Ho’s father’s profession of commercial photographer: an advertising photograph of four wine glasses and an image from an interior design ad with the words “Excellent Quality” appearing upside down.

Ross-Ho’s stream-of-conscious is more measured and less crowded than Hayden’s (or for that matter, Rauschenberg’s), and the pegboard support indicates that the accumulation of images and the associations they prompt are the work in the work of art as well as a departure point for other art production.  Ross-Ho’s variety of adhesives may stand for the varying stickiness of memory, the place of the image in a hierarchy of the imagination, or a system of indexing.  Like the holes in a sponge, the pegboard’s perforations reinforce the illusion of the flatbed picture plane as an absorptive surface.  Contradicting the traditional role of the pegboard, and making it into an ersatz bulletin board – but a bulletin board without overtly pertinent or useful information – comments as well on everyone’s contemporary task of deciphering and sorting the daily welter of information and misinformation.  Linkages between the textiles and the pegboards establish an allusive environment and protracted meditation on the creative process.

KMAC’S current mission statement proclaims “Art is the Big Idea, Craft is the Process.”  Hayden and Ross-Ho fit neatly within that expansive rubric.



Arts

New Critic-in-Residence Program

On February 1st, the Great Meadows Foundation launches its inaugural Critic-in-Residence Program with Dan Cameron – an internationally renowned, New York-based contemporary art curator, writer and educator – kicking things off. His residency runs through March 31st, 2018. And his job? Well, to visit Kentucky artists in their studios and discuss a few things.

According to a Dec. 29th press release from the Great Meadows Foundation, “the Critic-in-Residence program is meant to bring a high level of discourse to our community of artists. The goal of the residency is to help strengthen and support the growth of Kentucky artists’ work and their engagement with the larger art world. Selecting residents based on their connectedness to artists, the foundation also looks to nurture ongoing interest in and build networks for Kentucky artists among curators from other parts of the country.”

Dan Cameron, Critic-in-Residence, Great Meadows Foundation, February 1 through March 31, 2018

As a curator, Dan Cameron, first came to prominence in 1982 with the exhibition Extended Sensibilities, the first-ever exhibition of gay and lesbian art in a U.S. museum, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1986 he gained international acclaim for his exhibition Art and Its Double at the Fundacion ‘la Caixa’ in Barcelona and Madrid.

Cameron was appointed Senior Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1996—a post he held until 2005—where he helped raise the profile of the institution internationally, curating exhibitions by renowned artists while consistently maintaining a high level of exposure for younger artists.

From 2006 to 2011 Cameron’s attention was devoted to founding and providing artistic and executive direction for Prospect New Orleans, the largest survey of international contemporary art in the U.S. This triennial, which is now in its fourth iteration, was conceived as a means of bridging the gap between the city of New Orleans in its post-Katrina state of neglect and disrepair.

Opening in 2008, Prospect 1 exhibited works by 80 artists from 40 countries and attracted more than 50,000 visitors. From 2007 until 2011 Cameron also served as the Visual Arts Director at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in New Orleans.

Then, as Chief Curator at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), from 2012 to 2015, he oversaw an ambitious expansion of scholarship on the museum’s Permanent Collection and relaunched the museum’s signature California Biennial as the California-Pacific Triennial.

In 1988, Cameron was invited to be the first-ever US commissioner for the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale. Subsequently he has served as Artistic Director for the 8th Istanbul Biennial (2003), co-curator for the Taipei Biennial (2006), and curator for the XIII Bienal de Cuenca in Ecuador (2016). Presently he is working on a Midwestern Biennial, Open Spaces: A Kansas City Arts Experience, to be launched in 2018.

Along with his ongoing curatorial projects, Cameron is a widely published art critic, with several hundred books, magazine and catalog essays to his credit. Along with teaching on the graduate faculties of Columbia University, NYU and the School of Visual Arts, Cameron is a frequent lecturer at museums and university campuses around the world.

He currently serves on the Advisory Boards of the Madison Park Art Conservancy in NYC and the ARC/Athens Artist Residency in Greece. He has received numerous awards for his curatorial and scholarly work, most recently the 2010 Service to the Arts Award by the Anderson Ranch in Aspen, Colorado, and the 2015 Eminent Scholar award from the American Cultural Association/Popular Culture Association.

The 2018 Curator-in-Residence program is being supported in partnership by INhouse, an initiative of Louisville art collector and philanthropist Brook Smith. As part of this program INhouse will be a base for Mr. Cameron for the two months of his residency.

 – from December 29th Press Release, Great Meadows Foundation. 

Arts

Scene&Heard: Chelsea Nolan on Red Barn Radio

Nestled in the middle of downtown Lexington, once a week on Wednesday nights Red Barn Radio broadcasts and live- streams original music to the world. Sending Kentucky’s rich treasure of music to the masses, Ed Commons and the folks at Red Barn Radio represent and support a different local and regional artist each week they broadcast. On January 10, folks gathered inside ArtsPlace in downtown Lexington to see Chelsea Nolan take her turn at the mic.

A native of Stanton, Ky, Nolan is a recent voice that has skyrocketed out of Eastern Kentucky over the last year, and she is taking her place among the group of massively talented singer/songwriters from the region. “I feel like I got on a rocketship, and then I got in a slingshot and they flung me into outer space.” Starting with her first solo gig back in October 2016, Chelsea soon was making a name for herself.

“I was drumming for people and being in the background, and being the support. I am a drummer before I am a singer or a songwriter, and I feel that I’m good at supporting people too. It just hit me one day that I had my own songs to sing.”

Photo by Derek Feldman

Songwriting is very personal for Chelsea. Her songs come from personal experience, and phrases and ridiculous things that folks say around her. She is always listening and gathering lines here and there from the people in her orbit. Her songs become an emblem, a story being sung of the hills and the people who live in them and make music with her. She says songwriting for her is like doing a puzzle. “Once I’ve got all the corners together it just falls in, and I’ve got no control over it. Thirty minutes max is probably what I have in a song, start to finish once I’ve got everything I need. If I have to force it it doesn’t’ have to be written. It has to be natural and real. I put myself into strange situations, just so I can get some ammo. It’s bigger than me.”

Music has always been a huge part of her life, and the life of her family, a Stanton staple. Brother Josh Nolan is a strong singer and songwriter, as well, and played Red Barn Radio previously.

“A couple years ago watching my brother do this, I was teary eyed the whole time. It’s such a good opportunity, so many people listen to Red Barn. That anyone thought of me to do that is crazy. I am excited and humbled.”

As soon as Chelsea begins to sing, you can hear why her music career has gained such momentum. Her songs are real, and true, and well-crafted. And she is hilarious. Not just in lyric, but between songs she has the crowd laughing until our faces hurt. She takes us along on an easy ride with her. Sometimes it gets real, just a little heavy, such as “That Old Town”, when she sings of the pills and the depression all-to-present in many small towns in the hills. But more often you find yourself bouncing along with her as your foot can’t stop tapping and you can’t stop laughing. Her southern accent bites with a sarcasm that is brilliant, and her verses often end with a twist of wit.

She tells stories between her songs, of hollers and ponds glowing with sunset; of friends singing together; and of love. She sings of driving backroads and watching the lightning over the hills. Her songs are for healing and for laughing, and they tell of real lives that anyone, Kentuckian or not, can relate to.

“I don't care if people know my name, I just want to be able to do this. I want to share what’s on my heart with other people, because it's on my heart for a reason. I want to be able to help other people with their stuff, because this has helped me with mine. I want to sing as much as I can, as loud as I can, to as many people as I can.” Chelsea Nolan

For the first half of her set, Chelsea was accompanied by Kristofer Bentley providing a homegrown percussion beat on the cajon while Chelsea played the guitar and sang.

She was resolute that night, playing in spite of coming down with the flu that has afflicted so many this winter. She refused to miss the chance to play Red Barn Radio. Barefoot, with a thermos of tea close by, she sat astride a stool and poured her soul into her songs.

Performing thirteen originals and two covers that she made her own, Chelsea kept the crowd enraptured. With her bluesy, soulful voice and thick country twang that tells her stories with a realness that is refreshing. Her guitar picking is perfect and she can’t help but bop along to her own beat and you can’t help but join her. Between the songs, host Brad Becker asked questions that gave Chelsea an opportunity to charm the crowd and listeners around the world with her tales.

She’s fun. Real fun and real good.

That night was an apex for Nolan. Red Barn Radio, in it’s 16th season of sending original music around the world on various radio stations, also live-streams their shows and is compiling video for a thirteen-episode season on local television. To play Red Barn and sit between those bourbon barrels and get to tell your story to the world is a great opportunity. Having accelerated their viewership with their You Tube videos of Tyler Childers, Red Barn Radio is a big part of the national and global conversation being had about Kentucky’s excellent treasure of music and musicians.

Chelsea Nolan has earned her rank among that group of musicians we are proud to call ours. Standing her ground among a pack of mostly guys, she keeps everyone laughing with her unique and well sung songs that provide a refreshing take on the stories the hills have to share with the world. As she says herself, “I am in a beautiful situation.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Chelsea Nolan:

Listen to Cara’s chat with Red Barn Radio’s Ed Commons:

Watch Chelsea’s Shaker Steps video:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Divine Carama

Music isn’t just music for hip hop artist Devine Carama, it is everything. It is the backdrop to his drive, to his work, and to his life. He raps about a mission that he believes with all his heart, and his life’s work reflects that daily.

Friday night, the first of December, a diverse group of musicians took the stage at The Burl to embody and play for Devine’s mission about community. His non-profit Believing in Forever was hosting a Coat to Keep the Cold Away fundraiser that night, sharing the donations with The Nest and the Reindeer Express. All the funds for the show went to the charities, and cover could be paid in a new coat or toy for donation. The trade off for the act of kindness was a line up of some of Lexington’s finest musicians, boasting a wide variety of genres of high quality music.

Robert Frahm started the night with his tight guitar slinging skills, followed by Sunny Cheeba. Joslyn and the Sweet Compression went next and set the stage for Devine Carama, the headliner of the show and the organizer from the Believing in Forever non-profit. Devine Carama was followed by The Summit and the Johnny Conqueroo. Devine was on the other side of having recently performed a 24-hour Hip Hop for Hope marathon in front of the Fayette County Courthouse.

For the past four years, Devine Carama’s winter season has centered around the Coat to Keep the Cold Away campaign. The first two years, his organization raised funds and collected coats for low income kids and families in the Central Kentucky area. Last year they expanded to Eastern Kentucky as well and bought and delivered 1500 coats to kids who needed them. This year, the requests reached nearly 2800. So Devine went to work. He did the 24 hour marathon and raised almost $4,000 for new coats, but it wasn’t enough. Thus, the beautiful night of music at The Burl that Friday evening.

Joslyn and the Sweet Compression are a great act to follow. They always leave the crowd happy and moving and loving life and everyone in it. From there, Devine took the stage solo. His DJ wasn’t able to be there that night, so he used pre-recorded beats as his backdrop. He did a short intro about who he was and why were were all there that night, and then, he let the words go. Oh man, all those words…

Divine Carama | Photo by Derek Feldman

For twenty minutes Devine Carama slayed lyrics upon lyrics. His rhymes were tight and flowing and talked about so much, about what is real. About life on the streets and about poverty and disenfranchisement and unarmed black men getting shot and community and Africa and about so much. His lyrics are dense and vast and you follow along with him, line by line, as he tells you what it’s all about. He calls to the crowd and they answer along, following the beat with him, moving in time to the rhyme.

“Poetry and lyrics are so important for me…” Devine commented, speaking of the early days of hip hop and of “Diverse complex parallel rhyme schemes, when it really mattered, and substance.” He wants his lyrics to speak about the truth of the struggles he sees in his community and America daily, “things that are going on in the world. Charlottesville, a lot of unarmed black men dying, Trump in office. You rarely hear them mentioned in hip hop. I come from the era of Public Enemy and NWA” when hip hop artists spoke out against the subjects that “will be in the history books.”

His lyrics are packed full of these themes. It’s astounding, how someone can remember all those words, to stand up there and preach and say all the lyrics with emphasis and pathos. To remember and to move, to instill the message in the hearts of the crowd below. The fog on the stage mixed with the cold air from outside and swirled around Devine as he shared his poetry and his passion with the room. The bass bounced against the walls and moved The Burl to a beat it wasn’t as familiar with, and it liked it. You could tell. The room danced that night, from one performer to the next, and the feeling was real good.

Taking a break after twenty minutes, Devine spoke to the crowd about his non-profit, Believing in Forever, which was founded in 2014. Their mission is to inspire education, community service, mentoring and expressive art. They hold nine in-school mentoring programs, called Impact 859. Sons of Single Mothers is another aspect, which recently received a grant from State Farm. They also hold Youth Open Mics, do Philanthropy projects such as A Coat to Keep the Cold Away, motivational youth speaking, and mentoring. They try to inspire strength in the next generation in ways that are “a little different than the norm.”

Mainly, Devine Carama wants all the forgotten, disenfranchised folks out in the community to know that there are people who do see them, who do care. Those are the people he raps about in his hip hop songs, those are the people he works tirelessly for to give them the comfort of a new, warm coat that fits well, and the comfort of taking the time to help with homework, and mentoring them through the difficult choices and consequences life brings. Even free haircuts earned for good grades. And a place to express themselves through spoken word and song as well. All of these things build community, and community is what Devine is all about.

Believing in Forever had a goal to reach, those 2800 coats that had already been requested from all over central and eastern Kentucky. The goal was not quite met after Friday night, so, driven as he is, Devine committed to another hip hop for hope marathon. This time, for 48 hours. For two days straight he would sit outside in the cold and rap his hip hop lyrics every hour, on the hour, for twenty minutes or so each time. Even in the cold, dark night, at 4 and 5 am, he was out there rapping. That was the point, he commented, “The commitment- even when there’s not a lot of people around. [It] symbolizes those families that are struggling that not everyone knows about. Every hour on the hour…Every hour.”

I sat with Devine outside the courthouse during hour eight of his 48 hour marathon. It was a sunny day at 3pm, but the wind was blowing cold, driving the dry, dead leaves around in circles, and after thirty minutes I was frozen cold and couldn’t feel my hands. He had forty more hours to go. He rapped outside to the traffic driving by. Folks honked in support, or walked by to greet him and shake his hands or donate to the cause. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes stopped by to visit. And there were several interviews — including mine: 

Music is a strong force within a community. Whatever the genre, it can move people to act and to gather and to commune. When that music is joined with action, it can move mountains. Devine Carama channels his music from his soul, and imbibes it with his passion for community. When he puts that music to work for his beliefs, magic can happen. The magic of a kid getting a great new coat for Christmas, and the relief his parents or guardians feel with the gift of a stranger. The magic of a kid who passes a tough test because members of the community spent their free Saturday with him, working hard on helping him pass. When he does, he gets rewarded and praised and gets a new haircut. These are the differences that matter, this is the real magic of community. Devine Carama embodies that in everything he does.

“With the music I think its always about unearthing truths or emotions that are often suppressed in hip hop music. I’m an agent of change when it comes to that I am the voice that you don’t normally hear in hip hop music. The boy that doesn’t have a father, the young teenage girl who was molested. The underserved black kid that lives in a city that 90 percent don’t look like him. I want my music to be that, and I want my music to be uplifting to those who don’t have a voice.”

At the Burl | Photo by Derek Feldman

Arts

Art in Bloom: A Marriage of Media

Every two years as October sweeps the Ohio River Valley with hues of yellows, reds, oranges and browns, the Cincinnati Art Museum springs to life with a vibrant array of floral arrangements in conjunction with a variety of works from its permanent collection.  Since 2001, Art in Bloom has been inviting virtuosic, imaginative floral designers and arrangers to participate in their biannual event depicting the “marriage of floral interpretation and fine art.”

The intricately balanced floral composition for The Sacred Hour is a superb example of this union. The intensity of the blue delphinium, the red berries and carnations, and the varying shades of green of the fugi mums, kale and thistle traverses effortlessly from the canvas to the pedestal. The ruscus leaves rhythmically intertwine the white lattice (intimating the painting’s frame) anchored in an oval vase that harmonizes with the blue fabric of the women’s dresses.

The sacred moment for the viewer is a miniature garden of earthly delight. And in the hands of such a skilled matchmaker, this “marriage of floral interpretation and fine art” has been elegantly consummated. 

The Sacred Hour – Ferdinand Hodler | Arranger: Jackie Chesher

Now, for a point of total contrast, let us contemplate this 1880s bed and its connubial floral representation. The plastic arts (functional or otherwise) were also included on the roster of museum pieces from which the participants could choose, but the interpretation of three-dimensional works in a floral arrangement presents a special challenge because of the particular attention that must be given to form.

Bedstead – Ben Pitman,Designer; Adelaide Pitman, Carver; Elizabeth Nourse, Painter | Arranger: Beverly Mussari

Bedstead demonstrates jaw-dropping ingenuity in this regard. The metal container on which the tightly-clustered, copper-colored arrangement rests with a black gauze-like fabric draped over it and falling to each side strongly suggests the arches, the carvings, and the panels in the headboard.  What impressed me most is that the arranger lightened the weightiness of the bed by softening the bedding of the container with a looser spread of foliage. A challenge well met.

Simpler, effective, yet no less challenging is Arch, acrylic with fabric dyes on canvas.  Form is obviously tantamount for a successful matrimony between these two pieces but, as with any marriage, it takes more than one thing to make it work. 

Arch – Sam Gilliam | Arranger: Wren Hanson

First, there is the tent-like structure emulated by the openly framed bamboo pyramid that encases the flowers. Then the tinted colors of the fabric are deftly repeated in a small bowl that replicates the texture and the visual feel of the cloth it represents.  Finally, the fairly sparse and spacious arrangement, if you take a closer look, is an inversion of the shape hanging on the wall. This unique interpretation demonstrates a counterpoised blend of conscious thought and intuition that go beyond the obvious.

Many of the designers (70 in this year’s event) tended to migrate toward the museum’s traditional European collection for their inspiration such as The Liberation of St. Peter.  This Ikebana presentation was perfect for articulating the mannerist style of the painting and the dramatic single source of light that emphasizes line and motion of the two figures.  And in this instance, the subject matter is equally important.

The Liberation of St. Peter – Abraham Bloemaert | Arranger: Koukichi Uchiyama

When I spoke with floral designer Koukichi Uchiyama, he explained that for him there was only one way to communicate both the visual and narrative aspect of the painting—through abstract expression.  The lilies and the baby’s breath represent the angel and her ethereal nature with one of the buds actually pointing in the direction of the angel’s finger. The s-curved mums, on the other hand, represent St. Peter’s earthbound imprisonment in cuffs and chains further symbolized by the three steel rings placed in the mums.  Uchiyama commented that the foremost ring, which has fallen forward, is indicative of St. Peter’s ultimate deliverance. And his use of s-curved strips of mizuhiki rice paper masterfully bridges the gap between the physical and celestial worlds.  The result is a fascinating Eastern take on a Western work of art.

Always popular with museum goers are the romantic/impressionist landscapes and seascapes sacrosanct to any sizable permanent collection. And two interpretations in particular caught my eye for very different reasons. 

The presentation for Valley Marsh is a suggestion and a statement arranged via simple and calculated placement of pepper bush and pepper grass, lily and lily grass, goldenrod and aster—plants that could be indigenous to the blustery, windswept marsh portrayed in the painting.

Valley Marsh – Nacisse Virgile Diaz de la Pena | Arranger: Beth Bowers-Klaine

The arrangement manifests as an interpolation, an extraction of the landscape we see beside it. It is also an interjection because it only partially occupies the basin in which it sits. The basin, too, is a strong unifying component because its color and texture direct the eye to the frame of the painting and visible patches of earth within. The fact that the arrangement is placed off center and to the left makes the basin look a bit like a fountain begging for water much like the landscape to which it belongs.

In a slightly different vein, one of the goals of the impressionist school is to capture the “fleeting moment” and so is the intent of the beautifully integrated flowers and foliage in the spray that interprets Sunset, Vevey, Switzerland. Accentuated with roses, it offers up “soft pastels, warm apricot and taupe against a charcoal gray shoreline allowing viewers to be immersed in a specific moment in time.”  But it goes beyond even that.

Sunset, Vevey, Switzerland – Gustave Courbet | Arranger: Evelyn Streeter

The elements of this display (space, color, texture, and design) are so thoroughly aligned with the elements of the scene it depicts that it could easily be lifted from the pedestal, plopped into the painting and be totally absorbed—to the farthest reach of the imagination, molecularly conjoined—the two become one.

Far from conjecture, some of the more literal interpretations interspersed throughout the museum seem to take a greater degree of risk.  For an arranger to include an object that is actually in a painting seemed to me a little like fudging but how well this strategy works depends on how well the object translates from the painting to the arrangement and the arranger’s intent.

Without actually including the object in the astounding arrangement, Vanity Case, the designers instead literally interpret the essence of a peacock etched on the front of the object itself.

Vanity Case – Tiffany & Co. Gifted by Gates T. and Margaret K. Richards | Arrangers: Susie McCormick, Tori Armongero, Kelly Cengia, Jana Monzel, and Gina Velleca

This small, exquisite Tiffany vanity case sitting under protective glass to the left of the arrangement enabled flocks of viewers to examine it before they walked around the peacock in a curious state of disbelief.  Because feathers are not permitted in any of the floral designs, the team had to rely solely on nature and a remarkable vase to conjure up the likeness of this fantastic bird. Their use of White Orchids, Blue Born Orchids, and Bells of Ireland combined with Agonis and Egyptian Papyrus allowed them to create what is, in its own right, a work of fine art, albeit an impermanent one.

I would be remiss to not comment on at least one interpretation of an abstract painting and Romanian Blouse seems to fit the bill. While some entrants for Art in Bloom may steer clear of abstract art for fear of not understanding it or misinterpreting its meaning (if it has one), others are drawn to it because of the latitude it provides for full and open expression in relation to the basic elements of art and design associated with it.

Romanian Blouse – Henri Matisse | Arrangers: Priscilla Dunn and Nan Witten

Lines, shapes, patterns, positive and negative space, and blotches of color have an equal impact on this interpretive arrangement for Romanian Blouse. Although some of the colors have been substituted, such as yellow for gold and lavender for gray, others such as the whites, reds and greens make the necessary connections for us. The overall movement and feel of the painting is well conveyed—cheerful and contemplative.  Sometimes it is enough for us to say, “It works!”

Because “the marriage of floral interpretation and fine art” is at the heart of Art in Bloom, it is impossible to not become engaged when you see one of these exhibits. Interpretation is catching.  For starters, you have the arrangers interpreting the artwork and then you yourself reactively interpret the interpretation in front of you based on how well you think it executes the ideas expressed in the arrangers’ statements of intent and the plant material they chose to use. You also get to cast a vote for the top three on your list in order of preference, the same manner in which the arrangers get to select the work of art they interpret.

During the Art in Bloom four-day event, the museum invites two or three artists to come in each day and set up their easels and paint their interpretation of the arrangements, fostering a cycle of creativity and interaction with the artwork and floral designs for the duration of the exhibit.

So keep in mind that you as a visitor in October 2019 can also become a part of this cycle and be united with the wonderful world of fine art and its marriage to floral interpretation. And admission for the last three days of the exhibit is always free.

All images provided by the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Arts

Accomplishing Failure

In her essay, “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag calls into question the stability of the ways in which the likes of history, art, and theory are understood. To interpret something, Sontag argues, is to comprehend it, and she posits that the process of interpretation typically spurs from a network of social myths and beliefs. “Interpretation is not (as most people assume) an absolute value,” Sontag states.

Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness.

For many artworks, even those that are born out of experimentation or spontaneity, to be interpreted is to be considered successful in some sense. But how would an artwork behave, look, and exist—and how should it be interpreted—when failure is the predominant driving force in its creation?

Failure in Progress, Zephyr Gallery’s latest exhibition featuring works by five regional artists, expands the conceptualization of failure and all its implications, specifically the presumption that failure is temporary or liminal and rarely a sought out conclusion. The exhibition, curated by Jessica Bennett Kincaid, stands as an opportunity to evaluate what it means for an artwork to succeed or not, and how failure can be utilized as an aspiration or primary component in making a work of art.

Melissa Vandenberg, Conflagrate, 2015, sparkler burn on Arches paper, 22” x 30”. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.

Allusions to failure are ubiquitous in Melissa Vandenberg’s Conflagrate (2015), a drawing—or perhaps more accurately, an imprint—of the American flag singed onto a piece of paper by sparklers. Some burns are so severe that holes in the paper have formed, or certain charred areas are so vast that the rigid contours of the flag’s stripes have vanished. Failure is prevalent through the use of materials: the act of burning something is inherently detrimental, and the drawing itself lacks many of the standards common in depictions of the flag such as color, geometric accuracy, and, most noticeable in Vandenberg’s work, stars. This particular rendition of one of America’s most striking emblems is filled with void. Additionally, the combination of iconography and material is charged with political and social connotations. Vandenberg submits a symbol of national unity in a destructive manner to imply that American stability is an illusion maintained by such images. Conflagrate, much like the conceit of Failure in Progress, suggests that deficiency is always present and, in some cases, inescapable.

Josh Azzarella, Untitled #125 (Hickory), 2011, 120:00:00, HD video, 5.1 sound, 1 custom computer, Edition of 3.

Deficiency is further explored in a black box on Zephyr’s upper-level, which projects Josh Azzarella’s Untitled #125 (Hickory) (2011), a video excerpt of the Wizard of Oz beginning when the tornado first enters the film and ending when Glinda the Good Witch greets Dorothy in Munchkinland. In Azzarella’s version, the segment has been extended to last five days, or 120 hours, inevitably blurring the clip due to limitations of technology. In developing the work, Azzarella layered his selection on top of itself multiple times, delaying the start time of each so that every frame is present at any given moment through the duration of the work, some more perceptible than others. The end result is a vague retelling of one of the film’s most pivotal scenes—Azzarella obscures familiar imagery to the point of illegibility.

It is the technological components of Untitled #125 that most pertinently incorporate notions of failure, but the references to failure permeate the content of the piece as well. For some, failure is an intermediary stage on the path to success. Similarly, the clip of Dorothy entering Oz is a fleeting yet crucial shift within the film’s narrative. Azzarella has completely fixated on this point, allowing the transitory moment to run on end, paralleling the thematic persistence of failure throughout the gallery.

Josh Azzarella, Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco), 2013, 2 HD video channels (4:00, 3:18), Seamless, endless loops, 10.2 surround sound, 2 custom computers, Edition of 3

Like Untitled #125, Azzarella’s Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco) (2013), a two channel video work playing edited loops from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, centers on the moments surrounding the main action. Both screens in Untitled #142 display two characters from the film facing each other, standing with their backs near the edges of the screens. The characters bustle in place but their feet never move, effectively halting Hitchcock’s plot. Azzarella’s works in Failure in Progress compliment others well, including Vandenberg’s Conflagrate, which shed light on the ways in which fragments of popular culture are capable of holding divergent, conflicting meanings.

Alex Serpentini, Almost Something, 2017, survey responses visible through augmented reality interface, dimensions variable. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.

Alex Serpentini, Almost Something, 2017, survey responses visible through augmented reality interface, dimensions variable. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.

Collective memory is again at the fore in Almost Something (2017), an interactive virtual work by Alex Serpentini that activates when visitors maneuver an iPad to face various directions in the gallery space. Serpentini creates a program that projects disclosures of personal failures on the walls of Zephyr, depending on where the holder of the iPad chooses to move it. The admissions are frequently striking, and invoke experiences with college courses, romantic pursuits, and rugby teams that reveal insecurities and loss. Discontent is ever-present in Almost Something, which is at once the most aesthetically minimal and arguably the most powerful work in the exhibition due to the straightforward presentation and nature of its subject matter.

Gautam Rao, Everything Happens for a Reason, 2017, aluminum, steel, dimensions variable.

Outside in Zephyr’s courtyard, Gautam Rao’s Everything Happens for a Reason (2017) is amongst the most playful works in the exhibition. Rao offers what seem to be six regulation road signs: the shapes, aluminum, and colors deceptively operate as everyday warnings to stop, merge, or the like. But it quickly becomes apparent that Rao’s diamonds and octagons are instead covered with twisted lines or contradictory arrows that would prove unhelpful for drivers. Everything Happens for a Reason, as its name suggests, simulates the threshold dividing success and failure—these signs represent those endeavors that fall short of routine objectives. What’s more, Rao’s outdoor sculptures test our perception in a manner similar to the artist’s Sorting Cube Revised (2017), a modified version of a children’s learning toy that requires trial and error to complete.

Andrew Cozzens, End Game, 2017, mixed media (wood, electronics, motor, clay, time), dimensions variable.

There are many compelling reasons to view this particular exhibit on numerous occasions, not least of which is Andrew Cozzens’s End Game (2017), a series of six platforms lining the gallery’s widest wall, each holding a ceramic vase. Every platform is connected to a timer that, upon counting down to show all zeroes, triggers a lever, collapsing the platform so the vase plummets to the floor to crash and shatter with disorder. The timers are set in intervals that equally divide the exhibition’s duration into sixths.

Andrew Cozzens, End Game, 2017, mixed media (wood, electronics, motor, clay, time), dimensions variable.

Cozzens, fatally, demonstrates the ways in which interpretation is, in some cases, dependent on the notion of time. As for End Game, failure is both unavoidable and the goal. Success and failure are achieved by the same outcome. Indeed, Failure in Progress, with an exceptional array of artworks that contemplate insufficiency in varied manners, asks visitors to rethink their learned modes of interpretation. Failure is hardly a desirable feat, but the five artists currently showing at Zephyr have discovered methods of pursuing, facing, and adapting to setbacks with success.

Failure in Progress is on view at Zephyr Gallery in Louisville, KY until December 30th 2017.

Arts

Scene & Heard: Abraham Mwinda

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

― Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), globally, there are more than 65.6 million forcibly displaced people and, among them, 22.5 million are refugees. These are the highest levels of displacement on record and more than half of these refugees are children under the age of 18.

Refugees are defined as those who are forced to leave their home country to escape war, violence, or persecution. After fleeing their country, people seeking refugee status must register with UNHCR in a country of asylum and, of these 22.5 million, less than 1% of refugees end up resettled in another country like the United States. Most end up staying in the country of asylum to set up a new life or waiting with uncertainty until it is safe to return to their home country. The Trump administration plans to reduce the 2017 national number of accepted refugees in the U.S. in half and admit no more than 45,000 refugees in the coming year, including a limit of 19,000 African refugees.

Currently, Kentucky welcomes refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Syria. The largest community of refugees in Lexington is, undoubtedly, the Congolese, which is the fourth-largest resettlement of Congolese in the U.S.

Congolese-born and Kenyan-raised Lexington musician, Abraham Mwinda, is one of these refugees and has been living and making music in Lexington for 4 1/2 years. He speaks Swahili, Lingalas, English, and French. In July, Mwinda released his debut record, Dreamer, with a sold-out release show that raised $1,600 for 4 local non-profits organizations. Since Dreamer dropped, Mwinda won Song of the Year at the annual Sauti Awards in Atlanta and is finishing up his second album, Home, to be released in December.

“One of the hardest questions that I always get asked is “where are you from?” because I never know what to say because I was born in Congo, but I really didn’t fully experience it, and I was raised in Kenya. Kenya taught me pretty much everything that I know. It’s a process of trying to discover myself and my home in physical location, spirituality, faith, relationships, friendships, and just exploring all that stuff; and my discoveries.”

Mwinda started writing songs when he was 7 years old and, after moving to Kenya with his family because of the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they applied for refugee status and Mwinda began exploring the Nairobi music world and writing songs about stories he heard from fellow refugees.

“When I was 14, we were so broke, so hungry, that you want to throw up but you only throw up saliva, because you don’t have any food in your stomach. My mom got this money to pay rent, but she was like, I think you should take this money and record that song that you sang for me the other day and she has been my inspiration since.”

In 2013, with the help of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Mwinda and his family resettled in Lexington.

“The African refugee community in Lexington is big, it is really big. Maybe it’s just because I’m part of it but I feel like, everywhere I go, I turn around and see one person that I know. There is somebody, somewhere, everywhere – that’s how big it is and they are really united, they’re really supportive of each other and supportive of their communities, even their American communities. People are opening businesses,  making  friends, and adding value to the Lexington community.”

Mwinda started playing open-mic nights at Common Grounds Coffee Shop and got a job working at the University of Kentucky hospital. He then started to build a basic home studio to record his vocal tracks and, using a combination of producers from Nairobi and Lexington, Mwinda was finally able to find the positive Afro-pop sound that he was looking for.

“In Nairobi, they have studios. You have to go to a proper studio to do your music and recording. The other difference that I have seen here with the music industry is that there, if you call yourself a producer, you are able to play every instrument, mix, record, master, and do everything, and compose a beat. But here, one person does the mixing, the other person does the mastering, so in Africa, we don’t do that, we know everything, so I think just having that knowledge really helped me because I could do some of the stuff myself.”

The new album, Home, is heavier on using Yo Alex and other Kenyan producers than his debut and, as Abraham jokes, “I import beats from Nairobi because they are cheaper.” The album features a Swahili track called Domo, which means “cheap talk” and also features Proud Refuge, a rapper from California. The album’s title track, Home, was inspired by a conversation that Mwinda had with a teacher about DACA and the effects of being told to go back home when America is the only home that these children know.

“For most of these kids, the only connection they have to their home countries or their countries of birth are their parents. Some of these kids don’t even speak the languages from there. This is all they’ve known their whole lives. I can totally relate to that because, being born in Congo, my Congolese friends make fun of me because I actually have an accent in my Congolese language. I was born there but I wasn’t really raised there. I didn’t get to experience it fully. There were so many times that I was reminded that it wasn’t really home for me. Home is not necessarily a place, you know; it’s the people. It’s in friendships, it’s in relationships, it’s in culture.”

Check out Chuck’s interview with Abraham which includes tasty bits of his music at this link.

Arts

Victory Over The Sun: The Poetics and Politics of Eclipse

On August 21st, 2017, I was at Armour’s Hotel in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee to witness the eclipse. We hotel guests were an eclectic group: a professor of Latin from Notre Dame University; an extended family from Gainesville, Georgia; a gang of young engineers from Baltimore – one of whom wore a superhero cape; Mary Ann from a few counties distant who drank her Zinfandel in a sippy cup to keep out bugs; Frank from Houston who drove a Tesla, my wife – a bourbon historian, and our friends who had chosen this location, a crochet artist and her husband, an oral historian/poet/re-enactor from Springfield, Missouri.

Happily the engineers brought along a high school physics teacher who told us what to look for: the crescent-shaped shadows on the ground that looked like ripples in a stream, sunset on all sides of the horizon, the grayish light akin to looking through a gray camera filter, the ‘diamond effect’ (a gold ring with a brilliant white light at the top), the eerie night light at totality, the sudden appearance of stars and the incredible beauty and precise contours of the waxing and waning sequences, like a celestial Ellsworth Kelly painting in motion. Finally there was the palpable drop in temperature and the uncanny silence of birds as if night had fallen.

Victory Over the Sun: The Poetics and Politics of Eclipse is a riff on some implications of this cosmological event and plays with some of the broader possible meanings of darkness, shadow and light.

Curator Joey Yates defined the parameters of the show:

Artists, who engage in acts of silencing, erasing, covering or masking, as well as conceptual gestures related to eclipsed narratives in American art and culture, will examine themes of blindness, censorship, obscurity and suppression.

The exhibition therefore was mostly tangential to astronomy and more about the subjective ambiguity of perception, erasure and re-inscription, and the uncoupling of common symbols from their traditional signification.

Lita Albuquerque, Fibonnaci Lunar Activation 2017, Polyvinyl acetate, pigment on panel, pigment on resin, 42” x 42” Courtesy of the Artist and Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles

Fibonacci Lunar Activation by Lita Albuquerque is the only work in the exhibition to actually use an image of an eclipse – the black orb hovers above a white perimeter, against a charcoal gray background of an embossed Fibonacci number sequence. Her image has a startling sense of inner light as if the square were internally lit with neon. In her installations in locations as remote as the Antarctic, Albuquerque has interrogated light as the link between earth-bound order and the cosmological order, as well as exploring the tension between the limits of human understanding and the expanse of the universe.

Letitia Quesenberry, Hyperspace Installation 2015, Wood, lacquer, acrylic, film, LED 11” diameter Courtesy of the Artist

Comparably, Letitia Quesenberry provokes a meditation on the limits of reasoned observation with her wall of five disks asymmetrically placed and internally lit with LED lights that morph across the spectrum (the sequence from blue-violet to violet to red-violet is especially compelling).

The smallest ‘porthole’ is 11 inches in diameter, a medium sized one is 25 inches across and there are three large ones around 39 inches in width but vary as much as four inches. The pulsation of the disks makes it difficult to distinguish between the three large ones because of the compelling illusionism of the concentric bands of color. What in psychophysics is called the JND or “just noticeable difference” is at play: the stimulus magnitudes appear to be the same.

Suggestions that Quesenberry is following in the train of Josef Albers is false: there are no templates and no norms in her art. There are, however, parallels with Eastern European and Latin American art of the 1960s and 1970s. Like the kinetic and op artists of that era, Quesenberry’s use of engineering, science and machined imagery – that is, rational and objective means –are put at the service of a new subjectivity.

Marijke van Warmerdam, Light, 2010, 35mm film video, Duration: 1’30” Courtesy of the Artist

Marijke van Warmerdam does a simulacrum of the passage of day and night in Light, her one minute, thirty second video of herself strumming window blinds as if they were a stringed instrument. Sometimes her hand is visible, sometimes not; sometimes she uses her finger, sometimes an open palm; the speed varies. The pleasure of this work lies in the sublime simplicity of her performance with its flashes of light, intimations of concentrated time, and domestic exploration of sensory modalities.

Another group of works in the exhibition focus on processes of removal, just as the eclipse removes sunlight from the day. Censorship as striking out was the subject of several works.

Mel Bochner, Eradicate, 2017, Monoprint with collage, engraving and embossment on hand-dyed, Twinrocker handmade paper 90 ¼” x 58 ½” Courtesy of the Artist and Two Palms Gallery

In his monoprint Mel Bochner lists the words ‘eradicate, cancel, void, censor, delete, obliterate, purge,’ and ‘clear history’ in block letters. The mottled and cracked typography conveys a sense of aged materials. The highly tactile letters evoke an urban context, in part because of suggested underpaintings of yellow, orange, green or red beneath the different inscriptions, as if the words themselves covered other, more volatile messages.

Titus Kaphar, Moonlight, 2011, oil on canvas 96”x46 5/8”x2 7/8” Courtesy of the Artist

Titus Kaphar’s painting Moonlight cuts out the profile of a Victorian woman in the center of the canvas. Her hand rests on a green cloth as if she had just disrobed. She stands in front of a kitschy landscape, a rocky shore bordering a moonlit sea, beneath an overcast sky. The cut out denies the male gaze its ogle. The empty figure achieves, ironically, a kind of individuality and presence, in part because shifting shadows animate the vacated form against the white wall as one walks past.

Steve Irwin, Untitled, 2008, Altered vintage photograph, 11 ½” x 8 ½” Courtesy of Norm and Chris Radtke

Equally subversive of tradition but more poignant are three drawings by the late Steve Irwin. A hand, two arms embracing an invisible figure, and fragments of a face, shoulder and foot are the subjects. Irwin’s “rubouts” are abraded pages from vintage adult magazines: like the self-taught artist Bill Traylor, Irwin took compositional clues from the condition and edges of the papers he used.

Irwin’s anatomical fragments masterfully transform raw to tender. While most discussion of his work focuses on what he took out from the illustrations using solvents and abrasives, the delicate modeling and colored pencil modulations added to his found material mark Irwin as an extraordinary draftsman.

Bigert & Bergström, Moments of Silence, 2014 ,Sampled archival material, 14 minutes, color, stereo Courtesy of the artists

The popular favorite in the exhibition is Bigert’s and Bergström’s Moments of Silence a fourteen minute assemblage of vintage film and video footage showing a wide cross-section of people from around the globe observing a moment of shared grief. The moment of silence –commemorating and re-communicating with tragedy –is seen in over 20 vignettes.

Men in felt hats from Kyrgyzstan, Kenyan Muslims remembering in sorrow the Nairobi shopping center massacre by Al Shabaab in 2013, Japanese workers in hazmat suits, police and soldiers ceremonially removing hats or helmets, factory workers paused on assembly lines, pedestrians standing in silence at an intersection, taxi drivers stopping and getting out of their cars: the universality of this observation as secular ritual is a confirmation of our commonality. The cuts often provide close-ups of the faces of participants.

Then life goes on: pedestrians cross the street, cars start up again, road workers remount their heavy equipment, soccer players take to the field, and officials sit down again. Small details take on significance, like a green emergency exit sign with a running stick figure above a still, silent group of office workers, or a no-smoking sign beneath a clock.

A second eclipse-inspired exhibition, on view too briefly at UofL’s Cressman Center, was Overshadowed, an intriguing collaboration between Mary Carothers and Brian McClave that utilized slow scan photography to composite thousands of images into a single digital file. Photographers were recruited across the path of totality to record the momentary lack of light: it translated into streaks like the black lines that appeared on leader in old films.

Victory Over the Sun makes as much coherent sense as many other assemblages of diverse work. It brings to a local audience a stellar collection of international artists juxtaposed with work by local and regional practitioners.

KMAC provides an excellent free take-away pamphlet which re-prints the extensive wall texts and illustrates at least one work by each artist. I might have preferred a more narrow focus, but then I would have missed some works in this excellent selection. Bigert and Bergström’s Moment of Silence comes closest to my memory of sharing awe at a transcendent celestial event.

On view now through December 3rd at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, 715 West Main Street, Louisville, KY, 40202, KMACmuseum.org, free admission.

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Vocal Firepower of the Lexington Singers

There are plenty of ways to sing that sound interesting. There are, while admittedly fewer, still many ways of singing that sound pretty, or powerful, or pure. There is no way of singing yet invented that can match a fully developed bel canto voice.

Bel Canto, a vocal technique developed in Italy from the sixteenth century onward, is the open and clear sound, usually sung with a quaver in the voice called vibrato, and that’s stereotypical of the opera, and of classical music in general. It takes years for a singer to develop a proper bel canto voice, and singing with it, drawing breath from the diaphragm and propelling to the back of an often massive concert hall, is not just technically demanding but physically exhausting. It’s a way of singing that makes you sweat.

When the young bass-baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief, midway through the first act of the oratorio that he sang on Friday night, that exhaustion was beginning to show. He didn’t let it phase him in the slightest. The oratorio—a kind of long vocal work that incorporates orchestra, chorus, and solo voices—was Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah, one of the most famous, and famously demanding, examples of the genre.

Reginald Smith, Jr. (publicity photo, from reginaldsmithjr.com).

The Lexington Singers had invited Smith, along with several other soloists and the UK Chorale, another choral group, to join them in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Performing in UK’s Singletary Center for the Arts (like many classical groups in Lexington), the Singers set themselves the challenge of filling up a concert hall that could swallow most bars or clubs without losing half of the seats.

When the Lexington Singer’s Chamber Orchestra joined the vocalists on the stage, the entire scale of the enterprise became hard to ignore—there were over one hundred singers, and nearly fifty instrumentalists, assembled for the sole purpose of creating over two hours worth of almost continuous music. The piece they were set to perform would require nothing less.

Felix Mendelssohn composed Elijah for an 1846 premiere; he died less than a year afterward, at only thirty-eight years of age. The oratorio, therefore, is the closest thing to a mature work that the young composer and former child prodigy left to the world.

Stylistically, Mendelssohn always made a habit of looking back to the delicate and precise music of the Bach and Haydn, as opposed to the radical innovations of contemporaries like Liszt or Wagner. While the early Romantic period that he lived through was in many ways defined by composers challenging the harmonic and structural components of the classical tradition, Mendelssohn would never push the boundaries of what harmony and traditional musical forms could convey—his chords are always clean, and they always lead exactly where you expect them to.

Nevertheless, Elijah strikes a balance between the old and the new of Mendelssohn’s time: while the overture has a formally complicated fugue motion that’s reminiscent of Bach, the thick orchestral textures and propulsive rhythmic intensity of the music point to an unmistakable Beethoven influence on Mendelssohn’s style. Creating those complex forms and textures requires not only a choir that can sing up to eight voice parts at once but a full orchestra to back them up.

Coordinating such a large number of people for a performance is a task that’s almost entirely reserved to the world of classical music (imagine a rock band with more than six or seven members at the most, and you understand why), and classical groups have a unique figure devoted solely to the task of keeping everyone on the same page of the score: the conductor.

Dr. Jefferson Johnson has served as the conductor for the Lexington Singers for many seasons now, and his ability to direct the choir, while formidable, clearly cannot compare to his ability to choose a soloist perfectly suited to the Singers’ performance.

Jefferson Johnson (Photo by © Sally Horowitz)

Smith sang the title role, with a style that can only be described, appropriately enough, as biblical. With a throbbing, richly textured tone that conveyed every ounce of emotion that played across his expressive face, Smith leapt from a roaring castigation of the wayward Israelite King Ahab to a soft, subtle lamentation of the fate of his people, and in a searching, haunting aria, he found his way back to a joyful, soaring vision of a flaming chariot come to take him up to Heaven.

Smith has a voice that is too flexible, too widely developed and able to convey a breadth of emotions to offer easy categorization or comparison. Suffice it to say that he is a singer in impeccable command of an extraordinary talent.

Shockingly, Smith is still considered a rising star in the classical world, not yet fully arrived as a star in his own right. However, if his performance in Elijah is anything to judge by, Smith will be drawing comparisons to premier bass-baritones like Eric Owens before long—and some of those comparisons will be favorable to Smith.

Reginald Smith, Jr. | Photo by Sarah Shaw

The Singers, as a choir, also acquitted themselves well. The piece is noted for its rousing and overpowering choral movements. As the music built to climax after climax, the Singers’ voices bubbled, swelled, and rose like a tsunami to crash over the orchestra, the audience, and the building itself in an exactly controlled roll of passion into passion.

The orchestra itself played with a frenetic energy that clearly fed itself off of the remarkable vocal performances. In particular, first cellist Benjamin Karp managed to play with such a fury that he frayed his bow; he then went on to play a tender accompaniment to one of Smith’s second-half arias.

The other soloists also demonstrated the kind of vocal skill that it takes to perform a piece like Elijah. Contralto Shauntina Phillips enveloped the hall in a low, warm sound, even as the orchestra roiled and churned at full intensity behind her.

Shauntina Phillips | Photo credit: National Association of Teachers of Singing

Soprano Amanda Balltrip pierced through the air with a light but wonderfully intense lilt as she sang, unexpectedly, from the back of the hall. Likewise, soprano Katherine Olson set her voice to fly above the assembled choral and orchestral forces and distinguished herself even among the talent around her. Tenor Taylor Comstock snaked his high, silvery voice through the audience and left the impression of a particularly delicate but beautiful flower.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few flies buzzing about the hall. Mendelssohn prepared the text of the oratorio in both German and English, but since its premiere in 1846, the English version of the text has predominated (to understand why you only have to listen to a few minutes of singing in German). The Singers chose to maintain the English text. Unfortunately, the chorus had a sometimes hazy diction that made it difficult to determine exactly what was being sung. There was also a consistent difficulty with the ‘sss’ sound—there were moments when it sounded as though the choir was beating back an infestation of snakes. Despite some minor setbacks, however, the evening was a remarkable success.

The story of Elijah is the story of a prophet reprimanding his people for wandering from the path of righteousness. If they wandered into this performance, even the taciturn man of God would be hard-pressed to find a reason to condemn them.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Justin Wells at Soulful Space

I’m fascinated by space.  Not NASA space necessarily, although the cosmic unknown is certainly worth thinking about.  No, I’m talking about a more general space – our space.  The space around us and my favorite – the space between us.  The spaces we create say a lot about who we are, our values, our philosophies, and our experiences.  Some people like big, industrial, empty spaces and some like small, cozy and cluttered. Some cover the walls with a story while others prefer a blank canvas. Some choose color, some choose white. There are spaces filled with light and there are dark spaces. We each create our space and when we’re lucky enough, we get to share it with each other.

Some people prefer to keep their space to themselves, and that’s okay. Not me. I like the messy, unpredictable, often disappointing yet more often exhilarating experience of the other.  It’s the greatest mystery: your experience.  I’ll never be able to have it and therefor it makes me insatiably curious.  I want to know your story. I want to be there when you’re doing the thing you love, no matter what it is and I want to hear why you love it.  This is my favorite space to be in; watching someone do what they love and having the honor of getting to know the hows and whys behind the process.  It is endlessly exciting.

A space that is dripping in history, where sound echoes between the walls, where silence has a weight and clarity of thought is effortless – we can call that a soulful space.  This type of space re-minds the occupant. It brings the physical brain and body in contact with the celestial mind. It connects the self to the collective.  These spaces exist all around us of course, but they are often overlooked and under-appreciated.   Lexington is lucky for many reasons, one of which is that we have a man among us who has set out to cultivate and promote this kind of space.  Shawn Gannon has worked hard over the years to create the Soulful Space experience and his efforts have not been wasted. 

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

Set to the backdrop of the charming and peaceful Good Shepherd church on Main Street, the Soulful Space experience brings the community together in a unique way. Part spiritual, part rock and roll (if you can separate the two), and wholly soulful, Gannon’s creation has a feel all it’s own.

On October 26, 2017 Gannon and his crew created a space that was both spellbinding and sobering.  The show featured Justin Wells, with an opening by some of Lexington’s most talented literary thinkers, Erik Reece among them. The evening was a benefit for the Kentucky Writers and Artists for Reforestation group.    

In pews we sat as the poets and then Wells filled the church with melody and contemplation. It was a sweet evening for me as my mother was in town, visiting from New Orleans.  So I sat next to my mom in a church – there’s a first for everything after all, and we shared a beautiful evening.  It was a beautiful evening for the obvious reasons, some of which I’ve come to expect from Soulful Space – the music, the company, the space – but the unexpected beauty came as I sat in a pew and cried, my feet tap-tap-tapping the whole time. The night, for whatever the reason, dissolved my defenses and made space for a profound sense of loss. 

Soulful Space founder Shawn Gannon | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

When Gannon stepped on to the stage and read the opening Wendell Berry poem, a tradition that has historically been carried out by Brian Cole, the beloved Good Shepherd rector who recently left his post for another calling, you could hear the quiver in his voice.  An entire community has had to grieve, accept and deal with Cole’s departure and, according to several accounts, it has not been easy.

The now Bishop Cole (Diocese of East Tennessee) is one of those rare people who allows you to be just as you are in his company.  No judgement, no pretense. He is cool and serious … mostly he’s cool. And he will be missed.  I recently heard a definition for compassion that I love: suffering together. The Good Shepherd community has suffered a loss. But they have done it together and they continue on together.

When the poets got up to read their selections, each one carried with it a knowledge and a loss.  A loss of physical space, a loss of the sacred. As good poetry does, some of the prose left me with more questions than answers.  Mainly, the questions lingered, what can I do? How can I help? Poetry – has a reduction effect on me.  It takes all my ingredients and boils out the unnecessary water and air, leaving me with a flavor only achieved by loss.  Not all losses are bad.  The loss of the unnecessary, for example. The loss of ego, of greed, of selfishness, in some moments – of self all together, loss of mine, loss of judgement and defiance – all positive losses.  The words spoken that night begged for a loss of apathy. The poets invited a resistance to my comfort and the space provided an assurance that it was a worth accepting. 

As Wells got up and began to tune his guitar, I was brought back to a few weeks ago at The Burl when he and a handful of some of Kentucky’s most treasured local talent performed a tribute to the late Tom Petty. It was a special night with tears and sing alongs and shouting and dancing.  At one point I was head banging to a Petty cover performed by Mojothunder, a fairly new, albeit unfairly talented group of young and handsome musicians. Losing our heroes can be a difficult undertaking.  We take them for granted, don’t you think? And although their talents or wisdom or words will always live in our hearts and through our speakers, it is a small comfort. 

When the world is busy sanding us down, the distraction of music, especially music that reminds us of simpler times, is sometimes the only thing that reminds us who we are. The only thing that can bring us right back to the space we live in. It takes us out of our minds with the right mixture of sound and feeling just long enough to remind us that we are here. Right here. In this space.  Tom Petty was one of my heroes and Justin Wells and the other musicians did an amazing job honoring his life that night at The Burl.

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

If you’ve ever heard Justin sing, you can imagine that hearing him in church is quite a powerful experience.  He is, himself a powerful experience.  His presence is equal parts intimidating and soothing. Standing at well over 6 feet and some considerable amount of inches, he is a giant man with a giant talent. Wells wails. He does so with a power that summons both the angels and the demons on to the dance floor. And on this night, he did it in a church.  His a cappella song brought tears to my eyes as I thought about how much he must have been enjoying the experience.  During his finale, the women in his life – his two daughters and his wife, made their way up to the stage and were dancing and holding hands.

On a night when Wells provided what he does every time he performs – a talent born from truth, a passion pulled from pain and an honesty honed by loss, it was clear where his heart lives. With twirly dresses and ribbons, the loss of a fast and furious rock star lifestyle gave birth to a gentle and beautiful family.  A family filled with laughter, love and lyrics.  All eyes, including his, turned to these three women and he smiled as he sang the last notes of the evening.

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

During every loss in my life, music has been there to help and heal me. It has put words to things my experience prevents me from saying.  It has literally saved my life.  It is the best and the bravest thing. My mom taught me how to appreciate music.  Listening to The Bee Gees or Fats Domino on her record player in New Orleans, she used to scoop me up, twirl me around and belt the lyrics into the night.  Music has always been the way my soul communicates.  An on this night, sitting next to the woman who taught me how to do that, in a soulful space, I cried.  I cried over all that I have lost and I cried over all that I have gained as a result. Sometimes life is so damn confusing and beautiful, tears and music are the only responses I have.  And for them, I am grateful.

I go to many shows and I love them all, but there is only one Soulful Space experience in Lexington.  I encourage you to check it out as soon and as often as you can.  On November 11th, the Soulful Space community enjoyed the much anticipated Leonard Cohen tribute. Veteran’s day was a fitting date to celebrate the freedom that Cohen’s songs have brought to so many.

Follow the Soulful Space Facebook page for upcoming performances. This is not an event. It’s an experience. It’s the best kind of experience: an organic one that allows you to feel deeply, listen without distraction and be still in knowing that you are right where you need to be.

After all, what feels better than the loss of wanting things to be different?

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Jettisons

Best Friend Bar is the quintessential classic college bar, nestled on the corner of Euclid and Woodland Ave. The geometric insides boast jutting ceilings covered with colored Christmas lights and shiny stars that hang year round. Posters and stickers from shows and bands past adorn the painted black ceilings and bathroom stalls. A small merch table is stuck back against a slanted wall, and band equipment is bundled up on the other side. Patrons clad in lots of black leather mill around the bar, getting ready for the three-act set as they order local drafts and burritos from Girls, Girls, Girls Burritos. The Jettisons are set to play second in a fully stocked night of promised punk music headlined by Sarasota’s Rational Anthem.

The Jettisons | Photo by Derek Feldman

The Jettisons is an amalgamation of four other previous bands from the Lexington area, a sort of supergroup of punk musicians. Brad Hagedorn, the drummer, and Travis Rosenbalm, the guitarist, were from Middle Class Mischief. They joined with Tom Blankenship, someone Travis had been wanting to do music with since Tom’s time in The Loaded Nuns and Slagsmiths. They all wanted Beth Jenkins on vocals. Her previous work in the ska band The Rough Customers boasted her vocals, a sound they all wanted for their new band. Cory Hanks, from Those Crosstown Rivals, was brought in for bass, and The Jettisons was born.

Musicians who have been part of the scene, each brings their own personality to the band, which they call truly democratic. “Definitely the most collaborative band I’ve ever been in,” says Tom, “…there is no established leader of the band, it’s a collective.” The musicians get together with a riff and a beat and record it. They hand it off to Beth, and soon she comes back with lyrics and they then pull it all together. When they had some songs compiled, they went into the studio with Jason Groves at Sneak Attack Studios and recorded an EP.

They all laughed about the experience and the astonishment when Groves put Beth in the drum booth to record her vocals. Once they heard the result, however, they were collectively in awe of both Grove’s recording skills and Jenkin’s vocal talent. “He’s worked with me before,” Beth jokes.

When they take the stage after local opening band Test Passenger and hit that first note, you can understand why. Beth’s voice is incredibly powerful and so direct. She wails up into high notes with flawless accuracy, then in the next breath screams out her gut-punching lyrics, only to go back to singing like she’s in a musical. Impressive. The band backs her with exact synchronization, their heads slamming in classic punk style, instruments slung low as they fill the small stage, their lead woman out front, in amongst the loyal crowd, the sound filling the small room and making the windows rattle.

Beth’s lyrics chanted and screamed, sung out like an aria, Tom and Travis adding perfectly timed responses to Beth’s calls, the chanting like prayers, and the crowd joins in. Small but fervent, the crowd slams and bounces and dances and pushes each other guidingly back into the middle where one dancer bounces and slams into Tom…while he’s playing guitar. A true audience participation show, a true punk show, the crowd and the band become one with the beat, and Beth’s voice guides them all.

The shambled room and the DIY sound gear is part of the charm of Best Friend Bar, in walking distance from most of the UK dorms. The air smells of the amazing burritos from Girls, Girls, Girls Burritos, a co-business with BFB, operated out of a door next to the bar. Amazing grilled burritos and quesadillas, chips and dip are served out of the door – your ideal edge-of-campus business. The punk vibes fit perfect that night, and the camaraderie and joy the crowd clearly felt were good for everyone.

Beth Jenkins, The Jettisons | Photo by Derek Feldman

“You don’t necessarily have to have a really big crowd at a punk show. Enthusiastic really matters…I’d rather see two people moving than fifty people not,” the band agreed. Dancing with their audience, Beth and Tom draw the crowd in on the floor while the band diligently keeps the beat behind, Brad’s drums the sidewalk they dance upon, Hank’s bass the beat of their steps. Travis and Tom support Beth out front, and the joy and experience and tight musicianship of the collective are quite clear.

Tom and Beth joke between songs, with the band, and with the crowd. The feel of the set is fun. Just damn fun, and they’re out there to have fun. This isn’t the punk I remember from the early days. These aren’t young kids who hate the establishment. Beth says, “Old punk is about trashing something, destroying something. Fuck this, fuck that. There is something to rebuilding. There is something to bringing something back.” And that is what The Jettisons clearly get across to their audience.

The term “posi-punk”, or Positive Punk, is the subgenre they have chosen,

“Posipunk…is maybe an overlooked subgenre, it’s something that a lot of us who grew up listening to this kind of music maybe should start leaning towards…in times like these” Beth comments, “let’s talk about rebuilding. Let’s talk about the rebuild.”

Travis agrees, “There’s never been a more important time to be positive, at least in my lifetime, as far as society goes.”

Their songs try to touch on this idea, to come together. To stay positive. A new song that will be on their second CD, a full-length album they hope to get out soon, Beth wrote for Travis when he was struggling with anxiety. “Watch the Sky” is a positive song that she wrote for Travis to understand that he was not alone. That is what The Jettisons want to convey in their lyrics.

The Jettisons having a big ‘ol time at Best Friend Bar | Photo by Derek Feldman

With that powerful message, along with Beth’s astounding voice, and the collective talent of the guys backing her, The Jettisons are creating a new wave in Lexington’s punk scene.

Meanwhile, out in the parking lot…

Arts

Scene&Heard: LexPhil abuzz

The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra is about halfway through their 2017-2018 season, and the halfway point for the Lexington Philharmonic is unique.

Like any classical orchestra, each concert has an entirely different repertoire, and classical music is notoriously technically difficult to play, even for professionals. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that Maestro Scott Terrell assembled a concert that had the most adventurous and audacious program yet presented this season. It’s a testament to the skill and artistry of the Philharmonic that the concert was a jubilant experience.

LexPhil music director and conductor Scott Terrell

The first piece of the evening at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts was a standard in the repertoire of any orchestra: Giacomo Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville. As Daniel Chetel notes in his program notes for the Philharmonic, this piece is likely familiar to anyone, classical aficionado or no, as the score to the Looney Tunes’ “Rabbit of Seville” cartoon.

Rossini wrote in the full Italian style, emphasizing easily singable (or hum-able) melodies that work their way into the ear and stay there. The key to a good performance of Rossini, then, is to make the sound as clear and clean as possible. This was no challenge to Terrell and the Philharmonic, who obviously enjoy playing the piece.

It’s still a remarkable sight, no matter how many orchestral performances you see, to watch nearly twenty violinists move their bows in absolute unison. It’s a mix of technical precision and passionate artistry that’s quite peculiar to orchestra concerts.

That doesn’t mean that there’s no cutting loose, though. At one point towards the end of the overture, Terrell turned to the side of the podium facing the violist and—and I really can only use this word—boogied with him, while still marking time for the rest of the orchestra.

The main piece for the first half of the evening was a suite of music drawn from Igor Stravinsky’s 1920 ballet Pulcinella. Stravinsky, unquestionably the foremost composer of the 20th Century and possibly the greatest single composer since Beethoven, wrote this piece in the early part of his neo-classical period. After an early career in the 1910’s redefining the sound of not just ballet but the entirety of classical music with pieces like Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka, Stravinsky spent much of the next few decades attempting to turn back the musical clock. His neo-classical style looked back to the Baroque period, with delicate counterpoint and strict dance forms, as a basis for containing the seemingly infinite musical options available to the composer.

Igor Stravinsky | Portrait by Arnold Newman – 1946

Even within the supposedly restrictive forms used in the suite, Stravinsky created a sound world all his own. He spins from one musical idea to the next, never settling on one path for too long, but circling back to explore all the options available. Through just one moment of the suite, the orchestra goes from a delicate but cheery violin solo (performed both passionately and expertly by concertmaster Daniel Mason) to a booming thundering clamor from the bass instruments, and then right into a lush orchestral swell under a resumed violin solo; this all happens within perhaps fifteen or twenty seconds of music.

It takes a titanic effort simply to keep everyone together during those moments, and it’s obvious that not just Terrell but the entire orchestra are listening intently to each other.

Stravinsky’s music is always its own sound world— the melodies always sound half familiar, but still distinctly unlike anything that you would think of humming to yourself as you wash the dishes. Towards the end the trombonist and a bassist juggled a short set of phrases back and forth between them, only fully joining into one voice as the whole beast roared into a fanfare for the finale, creating an effect that is both predictable and surprising all at once.

There are plenty of traps for players in Stravinsky’s music— sudden stops for the stings, an out-of-nowhere flute solo that has to soar above the whole rest of the sound and glide gracefully back down— and lesser orchestras often trip up on these moments. Not the Philharmonic. When the violins drop out, they drop out as one, and when they return, it’s as though each bow is connected to the same hand.

The neoclassical style can sometimes sound simplistic or reductive, but Stravinsky orchestrates in an extravagant manner, and the Philharmonic was able to accentuate each part of the whole in such a way that the listener could observe not only the entire effect but the way that every component contributed to the entire experience.

After an intermission, the Philharmonic returned with Vaughan Williams‘ Overture to The Wasps.

Vaughn Williams conducts The Eastman School Symphony Orchestra | Photo courtesy of the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Williams wrote a whole set of music to play with a production of Aristophanes’ ancient play, but the overture has found a second life among orchestras. It’s obvious why the Philharmonic was attracted to the piece—it has a style that overflows the bounds of the hall, filling the air with thick and overwhelmingly pleasant harmonies.

Williams’ overture runs about nine minutes, and it’s an excellent example of what classical composers can do within that time frame. Whereas pop music tends to be shorter in length and quite focused in terms of form and aesthetic, classical composers often feel free to roam about and wander through their material. Williams offers an example of this—there are no moments of quick change or unexpected leaps to new sections, only a continuous unfolding of transition upon transition. In the capable hands of Terrell, the music flows in an almost out-of-time manner.

The main event of the evening, however, was last.

In his time at the Philharmonic, Terrell has been a champion of new music. In his comments to the audience before the last piece, he said that he believed that orchestras have an obligation to present the “voices of today” to audiences. To accomplish that, the Lexington Philharmonic commissioned a new concerto from renowned composer Chris Brubeck, to be played by the world-famous Canadian Brass.

The concerto, entitled No Borders, was an unequivocal triumph for both composer and orchestra. Brubeck has a style that’s reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein, with lots of irregular meters that shout this is genuine American music, and a relentless and optimistic rhythmic drive that throws the piece constantly forward. The Canadian Brass played not just spectacularly, but in magnificent combination with the orchestra—totally in sync, and the whole feeling was one of camaraderie and unity of purpose.

Brubeck’s jazz-influenced style moves effortlessly between a kind of joyous wailing and winging about and moments of passionate harmony that seem suspended in time. He comes by that influence honestly as the son of the great jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. As the piece moved from a rollicking opening movement that brought to mind West Side Story and big band standards to a suave slow second movement, Canadian Brass and the orchestra, with seemingly no effort, demonstrated a graceful and subtle exchange between instruments that’s a hallmark of the highest level of playing in both jazz and classical music.

Canadian Brass performing with LexPhil

The final movement was like a tour of the Alps, moving from one glorious peak to another. With a rhythmic swing that bounces the head up and down and rolls the sound of trumpets and trombones (and tubas and horns) out into the seats and steps of the hall, a raucous and ecstatic energy carried the piece to a close and the audience to its feet.

Canadian Brass member and Lexington native Caleb Hudson

After a standing ovation that lasted for three separate bows, the Canadian Brass returned to offer two encores. The first encore featured Canadian Brass member and Lexington native Caleb Hudson showing off the infamously tricky trumpet solos of The Beatles’ Penny Lane. Canadian Brass also demonstrated exactly how fast their fingers could move with a second encore, featuring The Flight of the Bumblebee in an all-brass arrangement.

The final notes shot by at such a rapid clip that the audience had to give another standing ovation just to capture them as they flew by. 

Many left the hall that night buzzing with excitement over what they had just experienced.

Arts

Swoon: The Canyon

AEQAI reviewer, Cynthia Kukla brings us this enlightening review of Swoon: The Canyon: 1999-2017 on view at the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) in Cincinnati through February 25th, 2018.

In her opening lines, the author writes:

Swoon makes magic.

Swoon stirs souls.

The world needs more Swoon.

Cynthia Kukla’s thesis is that Swoon utilizes four strategies in her artistic practice to construct objects/installations/performances that succeed: her ability to draw, her willingness to bring her work to the streets, using just about any material to do so, and her activist agenda.

Swoon: The Canyon: 1999-2017 was curated by CAC’s Chief Curator, Steven Matijcio and was organized by the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati.

On several occasions, we have partnered with the Cincinnati-based publication, AEQAI, which seeks to fill the void in the Greater Cincinnati region for critical discourse. The journal offers articles to invigorate the imagination and thought of its readers while stimulating artists and curators to produce better artworks and exhibitions.

UnderMain, Inc. – a Kentucky-based 501 (c) 3 – is relatively new to the game and we appreciate the collaborative spirit of Daniel Brown, AEQAI’s Chief Editor, a leader in the realm of art criticism.

Say What? What is AEQAI?

ÆQAI (pronounced ‘I’ as in ‘bite ‘ and ‘qai ‘ as in ‘sKY’ ) is a Cincinnati-based e-journal for critical thinking, review and reflective prose on contemporary visual art. The word ‘ÆQAI’ was selected as a mispelling from a reprint of Livy’s text for the ‘Aequi.’ The Aequi were the peoples that Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus of ancient Rome conquered upon his famous brief tenure as a ‘temporary’ dictator. He crushed their rebellion and then reintegrated them into the burgeoning empire. It is a playful analogy to the artist community since it implies the inevitable incorporation of the avant garde into mainstream culture. We creatives are the Aequi. – from the AEQAI website.

Arts

Drive: Photographs by Sarah Lyon

In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that everything you see through that car window is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Sarah Lyon’s show of thirty-two photographs at the University of Louisville Photographic Archives Gallery illustrates a motorcyclian world view: the work uncannily puts the viewer into the pictorial realm, in a relationship to the subject that transcends the vicarious. Travel photographs but in no way a travelogue, Lyon opens her experience to the viewer while ironically remaining very much the creative personality occupying these images. Spanning fourteen years of the artist’s work, Lyon describes the work as a “personal investigation of what happens with artistic process as life evolves and changes, while embracing the inevitable ebb and flow of inspiration and motivation.”

In that pursuit, Lyon subverts normative orthodoxies, revives the rebel ethos of the motorcycle rider, celebrates alternative lifestyles and serves as a road-wise guide, especially to “areas in the American west that draw and intrigue me emotionally, spiritually and aesthetically.”

Sarah Lyon, Consider Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah Phone), 2011

Consider Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah Phone), 2011. An open phone booth is centered in the photograph: below is a band of asphalt and a culvert, and beyond, a band of dirt, the luminescent salt flats, far off mountains, and cumulus clouds above. The phone booth enclosure is a chamber opera of light, shade and reflection: the reflections against the front plate and keypad, the mottled light through the side of the booth enclosure, sunlight falling across the front of the booth, and the curved wire cord to the handset, provide a frontispiece to the vast expanse beyond.

USWEST is the name of the telephone company and the implication is that this is indeed the true American west – vast, desolate, solitary, and silent. Sky takes up half of the 30 by 30 inch image. A series of color and shape rhymes reiterate the sense that human communication by phone is irrelevant or futile in this context: the pavement gray echoes the gray of the distant mountains, the blue of the phone sign is a washed out version of the sky beyond and the reflections on the front plate are pearlescent like the clouds. The shadow of the phone booth is suggestive of a squat phalanx warrior holding a shield, a shape repeated in the irregular concrete and drain on the left.

All are belittled and left defenseless by the scale of the landscape. At first a minimalist composition with its deadpan centering and regular bands of topography dropping back into the distance, Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah Phone) is convincingly not simply a place recorded by Lyon but a complex meditation on the folly of the manmade and mechanical in the face of the grandeur of nature.

Sarah Lyon, First Storm, Minnesota Self-Portrait, 2003

Two self-portraits are comparable in the use of deep perspective to draw the viewer in. First Storm, Minnesota Self-Portrait, 2003 shows Lyon with her back to the camera braving an approaching storm. On the horizon is a farm and distant band of trees. Rowland Barthes described the salient detail in a photograph as the punctum: “a photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me but also bruises me.” A red X at the perspectival endpoint (apparently headlights reflected in wet pavement) is the punctum in this image – as far forward in Lyon’s journey that the photograph records. In effect we are told, “this is the photographer, this is her motorcycle, this is her direction, this is the country she is traversing.”

Sarah Lyon, Salt Evaporation Plan Road, 2017

Salt Evaporation Plan Road, 2017 is comparable in showing the photographer from behind, this time with a cord trailing in the foreground to the unseen camera. Sky, again, is half the image. Lyon is deeper into the foreground than in the Minnesota photograph, suggesting an appropriation of the wide open desert scrub land as part of her consciousness and identity. Lyon juxtaposes herself with the distant end of a gravel road.

“Vanishing point” in Swedish is “flyktpunkt” – which may carry implications of flight or escape: ominous foreboding, intimations of mortality or future passage of time is implicit in this portrayal, an altogether different kind of punctum. (It may also be pertinent that “vanishing point” is a recurring theme in motorcycle safety courses, indicating the limits of the rider’s knowledge. By focusing on the point where the asphalt meets the horizon, the driver has the maximum time and maximum distance to react to hazards or surprises). The shutter cord is the viewer’s point of entry here as if we were collaborators in the making of the photograph. Again, Sarah Lyon brings us inside the frame.

A third self-portrait is a recreation of Danny Lyons famous 1966 shot of a member of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, “Crossing the Ohio.” Picturing herself (by collaborating John Nation and Maggie Huber) on the Kennedy Bridge in Louisville is a declaration of affiliation with older norms of bikeriders’ free spirits.

Sarah Lyon, Jessica Dulong, Fireboat Engineer, Hudson River, NYC, 2009.

Lyon may be best known for her series of photographs of women mechanics, a feminist response to the pin-up calendars that still appear in car repair shops. Jessica Dulong, Fireboat Engineer, Hudson River, NYC, 2009 portrays the engineer and author at work in command of the rich complexity of the engine room. If one includes the self-portraits, over a third of the 32 pictures in the exhibition are portraits of people acting in their professional setting: fireboat mechanic, conceptual artist, visual artist and chainsaw mechanic, blacksmith, performance artist , musician, D.J., and motorcycle parts dealer. Lyon works in the tradition of the “portrait d’apparat,” a baroque practice of depicting people exercising their profession.

Early American portraits, such as John Singleton Copley’s 1768 rendering of Paul Revere holding a teapot is notable for showing the artist in his shirtsleeves, his engraving tools in front of him. The silversmith appears with none of the trappings of power and respectability characteristic of 18th Century portraiture. Even more dramatic in its democratic implications is John Neagle’s 1827 full length painting of “Pat Lyon at the Forge.” (No relation to the artist).

A successful businessman and inventor, Pat Lyon began his career as a blacksmith, and commissioned a depiction of himself in that profession, mallet in hand. Lyon insisted that his portrait include a view of the prison in which he was wrongly incarcerated in his youth. Sarah Lyon continues that tradition and evades the voyeurism and class consciousness that sometimes afflicts documentary practice. She does so by either totally evading the formality of the traditional artificiality of posing, or in contrast, heightening it with improbable settings – for example, D. J. ‘Jumbo Shrimp’ in a sailor suit standing in a derelict boat, or performance artist ‘Narcissister’ upside down on a kitchen cabinet disporting masks. Again, borders disappear.

Sarah Lyon, Narcissister.

Sarah Lyon, Traveling with Bill Burke, 2012.

Traveling with Bill Burke, 2012, is a portrait by synecdoche of the veteran photographer and the character of his company on a road trip – lens, wallet, cameras, pistol, magazine, beer bottles, glasses, paper cup, radio and telephone on a motel bedside table, sum up the experience with inventorial aplomb.

Sarah Lyon, Badwater Road, Death Valley, CA, 2017

Motels also feature in a diptych Atomic Inn, Beatty, NV and Badwater Road, Death Valley, CA, 2017. Again Lyon stands in the road and brings the viewer inside the frame. The yellow brown rock formation on the left of a curved road in Death Valley has its color match in the knotty pine paneling and Navaho-Deco headboard in the motel. The distant white jet contrail above the landscape is paralleled by the white of the pillows on the bed. The crepuscular light of sunset has an echo in the twin bedside lamps: the white plug on the left is the punctum, emphasizing the artificiality of the interior illumination.

What is remarkable about Lyon’s work is not what she has seen but how she has shared it. The trip provides the overall narrative. Lyon makes it participatory, providing access to her forceful and independent vision.

Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Drive: Photographs of Sarah Lyon is one of fifty-three exhibits in this year’s Louisville Photo Biennial. Lyon’s work may also be seen as part of Open Studio Weekend, 12 to 6, November 4th and 5th, at Quadrant, 380 Missouri Avenue, Jeffersonville, IN 47130.

Lyon is a member of the Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project.

Arts

Scene&Heard: NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon

Formerly an old Methodist Episcopal church built in 1866, the Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY has been remade into an amazing live music venue, just up the road from Lexington.

Photo by Scott Preston for Cincygroove.com

Offering an opportunity for local Lexington talent to expand their circles a bit, often to open for a national touring act they admire, Southgate creates a unique and gorgeous space for musicians and fans to share their time together. As opening band for the San Francisco touring legends The Flamin’ Groovies, NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon were the first of three bands to take the stage in the Sanctuary Room at Southgate.

Opening for a legendary band such as the Groovies was a gig that Nate, aka NP Presley, was proud to add to his band’s roster. “Southgate calls us repeatedly, and they ask us to open up for bands we really respect. I’d rather play for a band we really respect and look up to.”

The Sanctuary room is exactly what it suggests, the room where Episcopalians once gathered in worship, stained glass windows now flanked by acoustic paneling, pews removed from the wooden floors to make way for tables and chairs, and the organ piping now the backdrop for the fully stocked bar. The stage is set where the altar should be, and the choir’s balcony above is now a green room for the musicians who meander back and forth in what must be the coolest view from a green room, ever.

Southgate House Revival

Churches, I believe, make amazing live music venues, as they are made to project sound and music so perfectly. The walls seem to agree with the evolution, and the Southgate House is no exception. The side of the room boasted heavily visited merch tables for all three bands, and the fans filed in, devotees to a certain groove, and many greeted each other as friends. The room soon boasted a promising crowd, with room in front of the tables for a dance floor. NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon were the first set of three that night, to be followed by Tiger Sex, and then the headliner the fans were collected to see, The Flamin’ Groovies.

As I’ve noted in previous columns of shows past, the opening set has to be one of the toughest. You have to get the crowd’s attention as they’re filing in, greeting others, buying merch, ordering drinks and settling in for the headliner most have come to see.

NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon are devoted fans of The Flamin’ Groovies, and routinely cover their song Teenage Head. They had the opportunity to open for one of their idols, and their reverence and respect for that assignment, to warm up the crowd and get them ready to worship when the time came, was met with a devotion that was apropos for the building. They played their thirty minutes in full force and with great joy, drawing from their most recent CD “Broken Fantasy” as well as past works, and the crowd responded beautifully.

N.P. Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon is a big band with a long story. Boasting eight members, they are headed by NP Presley, aka Nate. Nate is the distant cousin to Elvis Presley, his mother was Elvis’ cousin and also a Country and Western singer in Nashville. NP recalls as a young boy being woken up by his father to watch his mother perform live on TV, then going back to bed. Jesse Garon, Elvis enthusiasts may know, was Elvis’ twin brother who died at birth. Nate sees the band’s name as an homage to “the spirit of rock and roll.”

NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon at Southgate House Revival

When they take the stage, the full band is an impressive display, Nate and others dressing to the nines from their brilliantly shined shoes to their neckties. Heather’s eyes are masked in black outlines that are mystical and beautiful and match her alluring voice. Eight in number, including NP Presley on vocals and guitar, Heather Parrish on vocals, Tex Dynamite on lead guitar and vocals, Matt Sigler on guitar, Chris Childers on bass, David Lee Hinkle on keys, Joe Linville on baritone sax and Whitney Mehringer on drums, together they create a well orchestrated and powerful sound.

While the name of the band and even the nice suits suggest a rockabilly sound, the sound of the band is quite diverse, as their tight thirty-minute set demonstrated. “We want to avoid defining our sound. I have metalheads who love us, gospel kind of people who love us, I meet hippies who like us, bikers like us cause we’re the sound of what it’s about really, freedom.

“We’re trying to be a big band…so far people have been really cool about it.”

They segued easily from rockabilly to punk to rock to even a gospel sound. NP dominates the vocals, with Heather Parrish on tightly emphatic harmonies, but for more than one song they literally switched places, mics and all, and Nate backed up Heather, with other band members adding in tight four and five-piece harmonies on several songs as well.

The elevated stage with that gorgeous archway backdrop was a beautiful setting for their sound. They filled every corner of the stage with their large presence and gave every bit of themselves while they were up there.

Presley, Mehringer and Parrish

Heather’s powerful voice rose up and around NP’s deep lyrics, filling them in like a well-wrapped package. Keys and sax slide in around the music, and the drums keep a strong beat going, making the crowd move along. NP and Heather are up there preaching, telling the crowd their story, and making sure it drives home. They want their crowd to be in it with them.

“My hope is to see people cutting loose, not worrying about the problems that are weighing them down every day,” NP said. “Because this is where I go to get rid of the problems I have…its really nice to see people in awe out there, stopping dead in their tracks with wide eyes and they didn’t expect what was happening. You want people to enjoy themselves. I do this to get away from reality, and I hope people can leave all the bad parts of their reality behind and enjoy the good parts, in the few minutes we get to make music.”

Taking full advantage of their half hour, the band moved with well-rehearsed precision from one song to the next. “The River Styx” was a deep, gothic song that told a story freighted with warning. Heather’s voice added a haunting quality that commanded the room. “Idle Dreams” had a southern gospel sound that was heavy with keys, the band joining in as a chorus that suited the setting of the old church.

NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon at the Southgate House Revival

The set was over too soon, but the band filled every second of it with some righteous rock and roll. The energy they exuded to the crowd was contagious, and the audience was begging for more when it was done. Happy to have headed north a bit to open for an amazing night of music for some of their idols, N.P. Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon represented Lexington quite well that night.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with N.P. Presley and the band:

Arts

Dredging Memory and Disaster

As its name implies, Alison Saar’s Breach, currently on display at the UK Art Museum, offers insight into the collective memory of tragedy through ruptures in the narrative strands of history that are equally lyrical and horrifying.

While an artist-in-residence in New Orleans in 2010, Saar’s experience in the still-ravaged city, five years after hurricane Katrina, provided the initial impetus for a body of work that investigates the historical and cultural linkages between disaster and African-American experience. The works in Breach draw from an event nearly eighty years before Katrina, the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. Saar’s works attempt to explore the way this disaster, like Katrina, had an obscenely disproportionate effect on poor African Americans. Most African Americans were prevented from evacuating affected areas, forced to seek refuge on levees, and were forcibly conscripted in rebuilding efforts. The long-term effects of this disaster and its outcomes were not simply material, but had broad and enduring implications on the shared cultural experiences of African Americans.

Alison Saar, Breach, 2016, installation view.

Entering the main gallery, the walls are lined with portraits whose figures, their eyes pupil and iris-less, stare out at the audience in the throes of ecstasy and terror. Water rises around them, they gather up possessions above their heads as their bodies, some clothed and some nude, are variously submerged in the tide. Many of Saar’s works feature charcoaled images on found objects such as sugar sacks, denim scraps, drawers, and trunks, that dually function as physical objects and images and so take on iconic and even fetishized importance within Saar’s visual lexicon. Not unlike the practice of her mother, artist Betye Saar, Alison Saar’s assemblages blur the distinctions between memory and experience embodied in physical objects extracted from practical use and installed in the gallery.

Alison Saar, Breach, 2016.

In Breach (2016), the exhibition’s namesake and centerpiece, Saar hammered together tin ceiling tiles to form a life-size figure crowned with possessions saved from floodwaters. The figure, drawn from the mythological imagery of Greece and the African Diaspora, becomes an entirely new mythic sign, one though which Saar attempts to represent history as embodied experience.

Alison Sare, Hades D.W.P. II, 2016.

In fact, all of the works in the exhibition display direct traces of black bodily experience of disaster. Beyond the Great Flood and Hurricane Katrina, works like Hades D.W.P. II (2016) explore other systemic breakdowns that have disproportionally affected African American communities, namely the recent Flint, MI water crisis.

A shelf displays five large glass containers that hold vile looking liquids, eerily lit, whose fronts are etched with black body parts. The etched figures appear to drown in their glass enclosures, an effect that recalls both the violence of enslavement and the misery of black experience in light of persistence of racism and poverty. Saar’s works, that blend and blur the distinctions between both media and bodily experience, portray these recurring motifs of racist subjugation in a frank and visceral way. Muddled with mythological significance, words like “Hades,” “Lethe,” or “Mami Wata,” an African water spirit, tinge the works with a cosmological gravity that penetrates deep into the present. Death and suffering are present in the multitudinous signs Saar deftly weaves and layers together.

Alison Saar, Muddy Water Mambo, 2015.

The exhibition, split into two main spaces, establishes the content of Saar’s works beyond their physical presence, but extended into history and its practice. Saar draws on both the experience of the Great Flood and the effect it had on black culture, as it imbibed art and music in the 1930s and beyond with the traces of the Flood’s disastrous effect on black consciousness. Saar also reflects these traces back onto her works as well. Sluefoot Slide (2015) and Muddy Water Mambo (2015) both feature black figures, painted on bits of sacks, cloth, and denim, dancing and gesticulating in rising water, their ambivalent reactions to a disaster unfolding around them perhaps not uncommon to communities who have long suffered violence and oppression. Such ambivalence often manifested itself in the music of the Blues, traces of which can be found in Saar’s imagery.

In the second gallery, a film plays on a screen, where Saar narrates historical accounts of the Great Flood interspersed with explosive footage of her studio practice. Like the musicians and artists of the 1930s, Saar also contributes to the slippery space where art, history, and experience mingle. Printed works, which constitute a large portion of the exhibition, exemplify this practice. In fact, a majority of the works might be classed as prints, as they present the viewer with surfaces imprinted with the historical and bodily experiences of African American communities devastated by watery disaster.

Alison Saar, mami wata (or how to know a goddess when you see one), 2016.

Another kind of narrative chronicle hangs across from the screen where the film plays. mami wata (or how to know a goddess when you see one) (2016) takes the form of an artist’s book, the pages a single long sheer sheet that flows out goddess’s mouth. It is this speech, the markings of experience on history and culture, that Saar’s work so forcefully elucidates.

Saar’s success is not just in the works themselves, but in the way she investigates the language of black cultural experience that has been marked through a history of violence and destruction. Standing in front of the monumental Breach, one cannot help feel the weight of both the colossal load the figure bears and the significance of history embodied and marked on its surface, transformed into an icon, and speaking its experience.

Photo Credit: Joel Darland

Arts

Traveling Through Time With Italian Beaches

“You get, oftentimes, this interplay of multiple time signatures and so it’ll let you move to it and it’ll like change it up for you, whether you want it to or not. There is sort of this anxiety in Italian Beaches and I think the anxiety is expressed because of the fact that the band is a both a digital and an analog band – which is sort of how we are all experiencing our lives these days.

We have this like digital reality that is not the reality that any of us evolved for or with, and so, most people I know are experiencing a cognitive dissonance and extreme anxiety, and Italian Beaches tries to harness that and let us experience it, but in musical form.” – Reva Russell English

By oscillating time signatures with a futuristic wabi-sabi complexity, Lexington electro-jazz band, Italian Beaches, reaches new musical frontiers with their dreamy theatrical performances and their vibrant double-vinyl album coming out on November 4th via Lexington label, Desperate Spirits.

Italian beaches is a potent collection of live synths from Farhad Rezaei, pre-programmed and live beats by Dave Farris, and haunting vocals from Reva Russell English that accumulate into some kind of disorienting science-fiction reality; think Massive Attack but loose enough to be from some alternate dimension.

I sat down with the band at the North Limestone home of lead singer, Reva Russell English, and asked them about how the band and the concept for the album came about.

“Italian Beaches is this future-driven creation that has come back to the past, led by what is basically a sex robot, let’s be honest, she’s a companion, created in the future, for poor humans, who no longer know how to relate to one another because of artificial intelligence and phones. We’ve learned not to need each other and we’ve learned to be very lonely and this coming back to now, that Italian Beaches is doing, is kind of an attempt, sort of in Sun Ra fashion – without having a religion, to sort of like, say:

Let’s try again.
Let’s try again before it’s too late.
Let’s tell our story.
Let’s tell it faster.
Let’s tell it slower.
Let’s get to know each other again.
Let’s feel our feelings.
Let’s open up to love.
Let’s be ready.
Let’s make ourselves known.
It’s an invitation.” – Reva

In addition to Italian Beaches, it is important to note that all of the members of the band have more than 10 other current bands and musical projects between them. Reva plays guitar in clusterfolk group, Reva Dawn Salon, banjo in the proto-bluegrass outfit, Small Batch, and joins her husband, Andrew English, on his projects as Englishman. Percussionist and keyboardist Farhad Rezaei played with March Madness Marching Band and now plays with The Payback and joins Jeff Watts and Berea College drum professor, Tripp Bratton, to perform a unique mix of Middle Eastern and North African music with Hallwa. And finally, Dave Ferris is a Lexington institution and one of the busiest drummer in town; playing with The Tall Boys, Club Dub, Big Fresh, ATTEMPT, The Payback, C The Beat, and that’s just scratching the surface. All of these myriad influences concurrently accumulate into the fragile compositional details of the new Italian Beaches record.

“There are time when you’re trying to figure things out, but even then, it’s so easy – it’s not like you’re hurting my feelings. We’re ok with each other. It’s like having a conversation where you know your language; unlike me talking in English. You don’t hiccup. There is this fluency.” – Farhad

The first time that Reva and drummer Dave Farris played together was at The Green Lantern. She called Dave to book him for a gig because she needed a drummer and they didn’t have time to rehearse, so their first set together was live in front of people. Dave met Farhad Rezaei, at Nema’s Grill, an Iranian restaurant in Frankfort, when their bands were playing across the street from each other. Dave invited Farhad to come join him on-stage at one of Ross Compton’s Outside The Spotlight Jazz Series shows at the Mecca Dance Studio on Limestone spot and speak Farsi through an Echoplex.

Dave and Farhad started playing together in the band FUMA and Reva, when she had just moved back to town in 2010, saw them play in the building on Loudon Avenue that Bullhorn Creative is currently in. After FUMA ended, Dave and Farhad started a new musical project in early 2011 and invited Reva to come on board and sing. After playing together for 6 years and four-tracking recordings at practice, local producer and member of Big Fresh, John Ferguson, connected with the group, recorded and mastered the album, and is putting it out on his Desperate Spirits label.

“We would get together and record and work on stuff and, after a while, if I can’t get any idea, any inspiration, just think: playing a show in Italy, we’re on the beaches there. So, whenever there would be a block, just think Italian Beaches, okay?” – Dave

Reva added, “What’s wrong on an Italian beach?”

When I asked the band what they hoped that people will take away from listening to this album, their responses mimicked the delicate and thoughtful balance that their songs do. Reva hopes, “They feel themselves in their body, where they are.” Dave hopes, “It makes their heart feel something – hope it gives it the pitter-patter.” Farhad hopes, “That people will be happy, being there, being next to this thing that we made – just for a little while. Listen to it once and see what you feel. It’s not conventional music, it’s a conversation.”

Italian Beaches album release show
November 4th
Early set starts at 8PM
Late set starts at 10PM with a solo performance from Emily Hagihara
18 and over
$10

The Burl is located at 375 Thompson Rd.

Listen below to Chuck’s interview with Italian Beaches and some tasty splices of music from their album.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Joslyn and the Sweet Compression

And just like that, on a sultry October night, Willie’s Locally Known was filled with a damn funky beat. 

Joslyn and The Sweet Compression, consisting of a diverse group of Lexington musicians, set the mood and laid the musical red carpet for Joslyn Hampton to take the stage and display her impressive vocals. Trumpet, sax, keys and drums joined guitar and bass to fill those wooden walls with some tight, high-quality music.

They started out with an instrumental, letting trumpet, then sax take the lead, each musician feeding off what the others had done before him, and then, Joslyn took the stage.  They had to make a big sound, see, to match her voice. Good lord, that voice.

Dancing with the beat between her verses, the entire package is a tight assemblage. Beckoning the roots of R&B, Joslyn and the Sweet Compression rock out originals and sprinkle in a few covers. 

Joslyn and The Sweet Compression at Willie's

It is a masterful scene, each musician clearly exceptional individually; collectively they give the audience a taste of great quality. Joined on stage by her step-father Marty Charters on guitar, Smith Donaldson on bass, Rashawn Fleming on drums, Stevie Holloman on a double set of keys, Joe Carucci on saxophone, and Jeffrey Doll on trumpet, Joslyn owns the room with her deep, solid and flawlessly consistent vocals. Joined with backing harmonies by Rashawn and Stevie, her singing quickly got the crowd up and dancing.

Raised singing in the church with her father’s family and her grandmother Vivian, Joslyn’s life has been one of singing. She received a partial scholarship to KSU and was in their Concert Choir, and took vocal lessons for a few years practicing opera, which she loved. That skill and training are clearly evident as her songs complimented her vast range of skill, moving her voice up and down the scale with ease.

As for influences, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and Jill Scott are Joslyn’s big 3.

Marty cites Sly and the Family Stone, Chaka (a major point of intersection), The JB’s, Junior Wells and the Beatles. Also high on his list is Ohio funk hero Roger Troutman and his band, Zapp.

Personally speaking, nothing gets this music voyeur happier than a band that is clearly having a good time up on stage.  Talent helps, of course, and skill, but it’s gotta be fun to really draw the audience in, even if the music is sad in tone. The Sweet Compression, with their fearless leader at the mic, is clearly having a wonderful time up there. The range of the songs they play is diverse, moving smoothly from funk, to R&B, to reggae, then sliding nicely into a slower soul song, Joslyn’s voice never faltering. The backing harmony supports her so well, and you can hear the church background in her skill set.

Like most musicians, Joslyn has to struggle to make time for music between her duties as a Security officer at UK. “Go to sleep, go to work, go to a gig, go back to work…that’s my life.” Joslyn and the Sweet Compression has existed for about a year, and their entity as a band was created somewhat backward from the usual.  She and step-dad Marty pulled some songs and lyrics together and then headed straight to the studio with Duane Lundy at Shangri-La. After recording their CD, they then decided to form a band to get the music out into the clubs.

Starting from scratch, excepting Marty and Smith, The Sweet Compression evolved into the band of troubadours that rocked the stage at Willie’s in their current form.  “I enjoy seeing the growth and process of everyone, including me…We know each other so well that we kind of fall into the right thing…we all get along…I think we’re bound to get far.” Joslyn has a strong affection for her band and the support they’ve given her; “those are my boys.”

The next step, they hope, is to spread out in “little circles” to surrounding cities like Louisville, Cincinnati, and further. They’ve gotten their foot in the door already and will play Headliner’s in Louisville to open for the Victor Wooten Trio, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fame. The band is excited to spread their sound outside of Lexington, but is so grateful for the response they’ve had in the short year since they released their debut CD and began playing out around town.

They recorded a live video at The Burl awhile back and were so impressed by the love they received from the crowd. “I was very, very surprised by the positive response we’ve gotten from the community…it’s been enlightening and humbling.” She wasn’t certain that their sound would resonate with the community, “I didn’t expect it to really pop for everyone, but it really has.” When they recorded at The Burl, the folks came “right up front”. “It’s like a high, it’s an energy from the crowd that feeds you…Your heart kind of just explodes.”

After a solid hour of funky soul songs, Joslyn takes a break to cool down while the band goes off on another instrumental melody that keeps the crowd bopping. The trumpet and sax have a chance to flash their talent together, the bass and keys keeping the foundation strong. A well-played jazz or soul instrumental jam always sounds to me like a conversation; guitar talking to bass, drums answering with keys, the horns adding emphatic expletives along the way.  The Sweet Compression is fluent in that language, clearly.

Then Joslyn takes the stage again, and the magic continues.

Sliding into a Chaka Khan cover of “Ain’t Nobody” the crowd takes the dance floor again and the room moves together in one solid groove while Joslyn hits those high notes with breathtaking precision. An Amy Winehouse cover of “Valerie” then merges into a Stones cover of “Gimmie Shelter”, hitting Merry Clayton’s notes with the same bone-chilling intensity. She then slowed the room down with a bluesy song that lets her slide her voice way high on the register, blowing the crowd’s mind.

Their greastest skill, just behind that of her incredible voice, is their ability to work the room; to engage the crowd and make them an equal part of the experience.

It can be difficult, sometimes, to play a gig at a restaurant.  You have to earn your place amongst the competition of the alcohol and the delicious BBQ. Your music, if you want the crowd to move and feel the vibe you are creating, has to rise above the savory vapors of the food and libations, yet mix with it to create an all-encompassing sound that makes the folks want to get up and dance away their food coma. Joslyn is the perfect fit for that need; her R&B sound, her smooth vocals, the sweet sound of the musicians’ conversation behind and within her created the perfect mix.

Willie’s danced that night, as it likes to do; those wooden walls absorbing the smell of brisket along with the bass and the sax and keys and her gorgeous voice to serve the audience a complete package.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Joslyn:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Dancing at the Zombie Prom Zoo

“I have this nasty habit, which is to convince my friends in various bands who are immensely talented to give me a couple evenings of their time, their company and their great conversation, and let’s put on a thing.”

Sitting at a small table outside the library at Transylvania University on what feels like the first real day of fall, Professor Scott Whiddon is in his conversational zone, a somewhat contradictory combination of an easygoing nature layered over an almost manic drive. That usually surfaces when he gets to talk about his favorite subjects, music and community, and in this instance, he gets to discuss both together.

Scott Whiddon | Photo by Ann Sydney Taylor Photography

Whiddon is the organizing force behind a unique convergence of the two which will culminate on October 28th with the “Zombie Prom” at The Burl. There, he will take to the stage with other local musicians – Dr. Kevin Holm-Hudson, Dr. Jim Gleason, Mark Richardson, Thomas Hatton, Larry Nelson, Megan McCauley and La’Shelle Allen –  to recreate the seminal Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

“There’s something about getting people together who love music, who are damn good at it, and watching them give to something that’s bigger than they are, be it the music itself, or the amazing work that Habitat does,” says Whiddon.

The upcoming Pink Floyd show is at least the fourth dive by various Whiddon-led assemblies of Lexington musicians into the catalog of a specific band, following forays into Cheap Trick, the Velvet Underground, and New Orleans funk staple The Meters, forming a series of shows benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

While serving as frontman for local outfit Palisades, Whiddon found that a seed formed during shows played to support another local institution, the Harry Dean Stanton Festival

“I realized there were some really good opportunities to do some really creative things for a non-profit that I love,” says Whiddon. “The bench [of musicians] in this town is so freakin’ deep, in terms of talent. And also, unlike many musicians in the world, people in this town are really responsible, they’re good with calendars, they’re good at planning ahead.”

The intent wasn’t, however, to turn to the idea into a series.

“I started thinking it would be one, then I thought it would be six months,” says Whiddon. “The fuel for this is the amazing exuberance and talent and generosity of the musicians I get to work with, the community partners who throw in to help…People along the way saying, ‘Let me help you with this part, let me make a small donation to cover this’ – you’d be shocked.”

Along the way, the series has picked up community partners in Smiley Pete Publishing and Bleed Blue Tattoos, in addition to venues such as The Burl. What sets these shows apart from other benefits is that they cover the expenses of the musicians in addition to providing contributions to a charity. In this way, they’re more sustainable for the people involved, but there’s an added personal bonus to playing these events. 

“You hang out with your buddies,” says Whiddon. “You get the joy that you had learning other peoples’ songs when you were fifteen or sixteen and starting to learn how to play your instrument. It’s been fun getting to play the music of bands that made me want to play music with people that I admire.”

That enthusiasm for working up the music that formed one’s musical upbringing is shared by Gleason, who will be performing both Dark Side of the Moon with Whiddon and a set of songs by the Allman Brothers with his main group, the Johnson Brothers.

Jim Gleason

“What makes the Johnson Brothers so good at these ‘documentary’ kinds of shows is the depth and range of the players,” says Gleason. “We’re very careful to get all the elements (notes, sounds, arrangements) right. In that sense, the Dark Side of the Moon band is similarly adept. The homework is done before coming in. What’s different is building the chemistry of the individual players, who were all new to me. But that’s always fun, and really enriching for me as a player.”

Gleason admits to less than a complete knowledge of the back catalog of Pink Floyd, but he jumped at the chance to help recreate the classic album.

“It’s always great to climb inside a new body of music and learn the parts from iconic players. Can’t help but to make you a better musician,” says Gleason.

The heart of this series of benefits drums a personal beat for Whiddon. His father, Ennis Whiddon, worked with Habitat for Humanity for over a decade before passing away two years ago. Putting on these events is a way to honor the memory of a man who spent his life building – first structures, then souls.

“He was the kind of guy who got really excited about engineering schematics and dirt,” says Whiddon.

As the son of a sharecropper, Ennis Whiddon knew poverty firsthand. He went into construction, then later in life, the ministry. Habitat for Humanity was his way of bringing the things he cared about together. He also cared deeply about music, instilling a love of playing in his son.

“He loved to put on big ole’ barbecues and have bluegrass bands come and raise money for Habitat builds,” says Whiddon. “I think Habitat kept Dad alive for a couple years. He loved the sense of community, he loved the sense of fellowship. The best way to honor the memory was to serve an organization that served him.”

To do that, Whiddon had to draw upon his strengths…while overlooking a glaring weakness.

“I knew I didn’t have Dad’s construction gene. I’m completely inept at that,” says Whiddon. “But I did get a little bit of his logistics planning, community building, active listening, networking…and I love playing rock music.”

This unconventional approach to giving back sits just fine with Habitat for Humanity, according to Communications & Major Gifts Officer at Lexington Habitat for Humanity, Trish Roberts Hatler.

“We love community partnerships,” says Hatler. “It gives us the great opportunity to share our mission.”

It is not uncommon for those in the community to find other ways to support Habitat for Humanity without lifting a hammer, she notes.

“We have a lady who brings lunch to builds,” Hatler offers as an example of others can give. “Time, money, whatever…it has to work for the person as well as the organization.”

She also appreciates the creative effort going to benefit her organization.

“The more interesting and inventive, the more successful it usually will be,” she says. She’s looking forward to attending the event at The Burl, but will not divulge the costumes that she and Lexington Habitat for Humanity CEO Rachel Childress will be wearing.

As for Whiddon, for him the Zombie Prom will serve as a fitting capstone – for now – to a cascade of benefit shows, especially in light of what sounds like a crushing musical workload of finishing a solo album, working the next half of an album with his usual band Palisades, putting out a film score, and starting up a new musical project to bow in December. This is all in addition to his regular gig as a professor and Director of Transy’s Writing Center. With all of this on his plate, he’s reluctant to say if he’s ready to put together another benefit, but he won’t discount the idea out of hand.

“I have some ideas in the works,” Whiddon says, arching an eyebrow, “and I’m always up for an adventure.”

The Zombie Prom to benefit Habitat for Humanity takes place on Saturday, October 28th at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at http://www.ticketfly.com.

Habitat for Humanity is the largest construction company in the world, active in over 70 countries, and has provided better housing to over a million families since 1976. Lexington Habitat for Humanity has served over 500 families locally and celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2016. For more information on Lexington Habitat for Humanity, visit http://www.lexhabitat.org.

(Full disclosure: the author, along with half of Lexington, is a longtime friend and recidivist bandmate of Dr. Whiddon, and during this interview, the author agreed to drive Dr. Whiddon to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland, Ohio, in exchange for gas money, a free ticket, and probably a long conversation about how Cheap Trick and Mötley Crüe are underrated.)

Arts

Scene&Heard: LexPhil’s “Simplicity”

Live performance in any genre is a daunting challenge; for music, it may be particularly so, given the small idiosyncrasies of a hundred different categories that can produce massive differences in the audio quality of a performance. In their latest concert, titled Simplicity, the Lexington Philharmonic demonstrated their dedication to their craft, a dedication that is substantially devoted to executing each moment of music so precisely that small idiosyncrasies are banished from the concert hall. The result was an enjoyable, if not ecstatic, evening of music.

Maestro Scott Terrell made the somewhat unorthodox decision to start the evening with Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (Beethoven is usually held in reserve for the final piece of most concerts, the idea being that the audience will be suitably wowed by the greatest of the composers just as they leave). Terrell, in his pre-concert talkback, noted that the Fourth Symphony is often overlooked, sandwiched as it is between the legendary Third and Fifth Symphonies (the Third being the Eroica, and the Fifth–well, the Fifth has that opening theme, “da-da-da-dum”). Terrell notes that it shows off a lighter side of Beethoven the composer.

As the symphony went on, I found myself focusing on individual performers: the violinist with a bright blue chin cloth, contrasting with the black and white uniform of the orchestra. There was the timpanist, highlighted standing against a deep red rear curtain. I noticed a violinist whose feet never touched the ground when she played. I was drawn back to the characteristic touch of the maestro, who likes to accentuate big strings hits with a magisterial point down in his left hand, arm fully extended like a steel beam, tilted forty-five degrees towards the floor from the shoulder.

There were without question some excellent moments throughout the performance. The moody opening, a low and rumbling B flat that left me looking around the stage in some wonder and not a little bit of anxiety. Immediately following was the first violin entrance, where the high strings give a direction and a sense of purpose to the moody ambiance. Towards the middle of the piece, the orchestra dropped away for the entrance of a solo clarinet, presaged by a rolling horn that stops and sustains a note; the clarinet entered on the same note, and the horn faded away, leaving a woody sound, in turn giving way to a clarinet melody floated over pizzicato strings towards the ears of the audience.

My favorite flourish, though, was an exchange between the violins and the timpani. The strings marked out a quick one-two pattern, answered by the timpani, uncharacteristically for the instrument but delightful nonetheless, rattling and rasping a reply.

Though less performed, the Fourth is certainly Beethoven, wide-ranging and expressive, and at times lyrical; Terrell is right that this is a lighter Beethoven than the brooding image conveyed by the Fifth Symphony or Appassionata Piano Sonata. The Philharmonic was finely tuned and gave a demonstration of the craft that’s required to even attempt a major symphony. But for this performance, though professional and enjoyable, the Philharmonic didn’t quite break above the clouds and reach the mountainous peaks of the truly memorable.

Following a brief intermission, the Philharmonic returned with their soloist for the evening. Mezzo-soprano Sofia Selowsky, a young and upcoming talent in the opera world, was to give her premiere performance of a modern American work, Dominick Argento’s song cycle Casa Guidi.

Sofia Selowsky | Photo by Simon Pauly Photography

Argento, who spent a good deal of time in Florence, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent most of her married life, wrote this song cycle to express his deep connection to the city, and to the poet.

The composer, now 90, explained this connection to Maestro Terrell in an email, excerpts of which Terrel, in turn, read to the audience before the performance. Argento, whom Terrell calls “extremely sincere in his music-making,” taught Terrell, and the two were later colleagues at the Minnesota Orchestra.

Maestro Terrell chose Ms. Selowsky,  a “consummate artist,” in his view, to perform with the Lexington Philharmonic after working with her at the Aspen festival.

Ms. Selowsky is obviously a dedicated professional as well as an empathetic artist. Speaking of Argento’s composing technique, she was quick to note that the music “fits the voice and fits the language in a really beautiful way.” She has an obvious affection for the piece, despite the fact that she had only recently learned it.

Ms. Selowsky, unfortunately, struggled somewhat in working with the orchestra. Throughout the cycle, but in the first two songs especially, the orchestra tended to overwhelm her voice. This made the whole form of the piece somewhat indistinct.

The third movement, however, with a quieter orchestra, permitted Selowsky to shine. She had a clear affinity for the quieter moments in the piece; as she told me in a pre-concert interview, the quality that drew her to this piece is that “the poetry is so intimate, even when you have a whole orchestra behind you.”

That expressive feeling eventually came through, as Ms. Selowsky leaned on some clearly well-developed dramatic chops, as well as an open and clear mezzo voice.

The fourth song was expressive and moving— a high and scratchy scoring in the violins lent a haunting and disquieting air about it, appropriate to a text that dealt with the pain of Barrett Browning’s estrangement from her father.

Sadly, the fifth and final song suffered from the same balance problem as the first two songs— when the orchestra shone, it easily eclipsed the soloist, whose voice couldn’t soar over the instrumentalists.

Sofia Selowsky in rehearsal with the Lexington Philharmonic

After a mixed performance of a modern piece, the concert ended on its strongest note, with a delectable performance of the Prokofiev Classical Symphony. The Philharmonic delivered it like a cupcake: perfectly fun, light and airy, with lots of sugary frosting on the top. Prokofiev has written some challenging and complex music— his Classical Symphony is neither. An example: the end of the third movement includes a cheeky button that elicited a soft chuckle from the audience. Prokofiev wrote a straightforward homage to the by-then bygone era of Haydn and Mozart, and it demands a disciplined touch to create the pleasant effect.

The Philharmonic’s craft and clarity of playing were remarkably well-served by the final piece. The opening movement was a light romp, a perfect palate-cleanser to start off the final piece of the evening. The slow second movement was a chance for the orchestra to display its lyricism and soulful spirit, and an easygoing melodious feeling filled the hall. A gavotte, a kind of moderately quick two-step, gradually turned up the heat in the third movement. With a breakneck dash to the finish line in the fourth movement, resting almost entirely on the nonstop violins, the Philharmonic finished the evening with a lovely send off for the audience.

The evening was not an unequivocal triumph. Throughout the performance, however, the Philharmonic played with a consistently high standard of quality, and there were plenty of moments where every element congealed into a flash of euphoria.

Even with its flaws, the Philharmonic remains an excellent orchestra always worth a listen.

Arts

Real Virtuality

As is often the case, the appearance of new technology requires a reassessment of the ways art and art practice are defined. For HVREdev, a Lexington-based cooperative of game designers, developers, and artists, VR hardware offers opportunities to explore the intersections of technology, video games and art.

Part of the Studio 300 Digital Arts and Music Festival which showcased such projects in venues across Lexington, the Morlan Gallery at Transylvania University presented Senses of Place: VR featuring works by members of HVREdev and artists Dima Strakovsky and Richie Hoagland. These collaborative efforts attempt to push the boundaries of space, meaning, artist and audience.

Screen Shot from Strakovsky and Hoagland’s Virtual Realities, Photo Credit: Lydia Emeric

Attending a recent interactive performance of HVRdev’s Dreams project, one couldn’t help considering the somewhat tired question, “Are video games art?” While the ten “dreams” appear more akin to interactive art installations cross-pollinated with tech demos, they provide a means for the viewer to investigate the limits of the medium. The dreams run the gamut from enclosed rooms with collections of interactive objects such as the toy room of Dustin Peerce’s Toys, or a child’s bedroom in Zach Hunt, Shea Rembold, and Shylo Shepherd’s Shadow Play to more objective-driven experiences.

HVRdev’s Dreams project, Photo Credit, Joel Darland

Christopher Royse, Rembold, and Alexander Leverone’s Yennen’s Tale and Christona Hillard, Royse, Leverone, and Hunt’s SPAace resemble more traditional role-playing or puzzle games. Still others might be compared to rhythm or sound games, such as Rembold, Hunt, and Shepard’s bubble-popping game Bubbles or Sol Mates, a kind of life simulation and soundscape hybrid created by Royse, Hunt, Leonard Wedderburn, Vincent Mattingly, Rembold, and Leverone. Donning an HTC Vive headset, the viewer uses a wand-like controller to explore these experiences by entering rooms, touching and moving various objects, or observing situations that play out in response to viewer’s presence in the virtual environment.

Strakovsky and Hoagland’s Virtual Realities, Photo Credit: Lydia Emeric

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Strakovsky and Hoagland’s Virtual Realities, Photo Credit: Lydia Emeric

One of the more fascinating aspects of this project lies in the method of its presentation. As the viewer looks around the virtual gallery space of Dreams, a sort of impossibly shaped room with ramps, high angled ceilings, columns and other features, various objects are encountered. Each dream is represented by one of these objects, metonymic models of their respective experiences. Pointing the wand at a floating series of geometric objects and pressing the wand’s trigger transports the viewer into SPAce. The viewer encounters a long hallway that opens up to room full of large objects including a candy dispenser, perfume bottles, and a crate full of jam jars. Interacting with the objects changes elements of the room, an effect the developers describe as similar to the 1990s computer point-and-click puzzle game Myst.

Back in the gallery lobby, interacting with a slightly open freestanding doorway takes the viewer into Shadow Play, a bedroom where the viewer, sitting on a canopy bed, can open and close curtains and turn on and off various lights revealing comforting, strange, and even sinister objects that might inhabit a child’s dream world. While each of the games can be experienced passively, active participation produces a slew of diverse experiences, interactivity being an integral component of medium and fertile ground for investigating the ways these games bend and redefine the traditional limits of the relationship between artist, audience, and artwork.

Very Rad Vaporwave Racing Virtual Reality Addition, Photo Credit: Joel Darland

The question of the project’s artistic value, while not altogether explicit in the form or content of the individual games, is addressed through its muddling of real and virtual space. HVREdev’s ten dreams are accessed through a sort of virtual museum: each game represented by an object that, when interacted with, transports the viewer into the discrete virtual space of the individual dream. This virtual space is further nested with the space of the Morlan Gallery, which is also extended into the virtual worlds of Dreams.

And beyond that, the project is available for download via Google Play, and can be experienced anywhere and anytime using an android smartphone and Google Cardboard, a stripped-down VR headset. Though this iteration of the experience limits the viewer’s ability to move within the virtual spaces of Dreams, the functionality is identical. In a sense, the presentation of both Dreams and Strakovsky and Hoagland’s Virtual Realities in the gallery helps to contextualize the medium, in the traditional sense of its being an object on display in a gallery setting. But the real space of the gallery is only a starting point for both projects to explore the possibilities of art in the virtual realm.

Documentation of "Virtual Realities" performance. Richie Hoagland and Dima Strakovsky. Plus, parents and children.

Of course, the debate over video games and their relation to art is not new, but the appearance of and availability VR hardware, though still somewhat price-prohibitive, is providing a means for investigating the question directly as it relates to art as an encounter with art objects in a specific space. The difference here is that artists and developers like those in HVREdev no longer require the space of the traditional gallery or museum to legitimize their own art-making practices. Instead, they explore and innovate within their own virtual spaces.

The fact that Dreams is encountered both in the real space of the gallery and in its own self-contained virtual gallery lends both an urgency and opportunity to redraw the boundaries of art production to include a more a diverse host of people and practices. Even those that might not consider themselves artists in the traditional sense are using new media and technology to collaborate and produce compelling and challenging works of art.

To download and experience HVREdev’s “Dreams” visit https://goo.gl/3KHRkR or search “Dreams: a Virtual Reality Art Exhibit” on the Google Play store. The project requires an Android smartphone and the Google Cardboard app and headset.

Arts

Origins Jazz Series to Kick Off at Tee Dee’s

True affection and passion are too often relegated to the land of the romantic, but it also manifests in simpler ways – if you know where to look.

Consider, for instance, three men – Eli Uttal-Veroff, Brandon Scott Coleman, and Marlin McKay – standing around a couple of bins of jazz on vinyl in the corner of Wild Fig bookstore in a manner more akin to ten-year-olds poring over a vintage comic book collection. The three marvel over the selection, pulling items willy-nilly and talking in excited tones about the finds. Coleman recites lists of the players and their pedigrees, while McKay can’t believe the number of albums he hasn’t even seen yet.

Here they are, three adults with respectable musical careers of their own, unable to contain their joy at a couple possible new additions to what must be staggering record collections.

l to r: Grundy, McKay, Uttal-Veroff, Coleman

This potent blend of respect and adoration borders on worship, and it’s exactly that mix of enthusiasm and affection for the genre that they now hope to impart to the Lexington community through the Origins Jazz Series, a new, year-round series of jazz concerts in local venues.

“When people say, ‘I don’t like jazz,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I haven’t heard the right kind of jazz,’” says Uttal-Veroff, providing a sort of unofficial thesis for the series, which aims to provide local access to multiple forms of jazz as it expands.

Uttal-Veroff credits local Lexington community leaders and current co-collaborators Richard Young (CivicLex), Donald Mason (Lyric Theatre), and Shawn Gannon (Soulful Space) for the spark that led to the series. (UnderMain is also a sponsor.) If those names sound familiar, they should – so many moving parts in Lexington revolve around those folks. They have planted the seed, and Uttal-Veroff, along with Co-Organizer Chester Grundy, members Coleman, McKay and others, have taken it and run with it.

Coleman frames the problem simply: “Growing up as a musician in Kentucky, in Pikeville, it was really hard to find jazz.”

Indeed, much of the conversation centers on the irony that there is arguably no more American form of music that exists, yet access to jazz in America seems increasingly limited.

“It’s a truly American art form. It’s several different styles of music that could only intersect here,” says Uttal-Veroff. The discussion then turns to the overwhelming reception each has received when performing out of the country. Coleman notes the royalties he receives from Spotify are strictly from foreign listeners who can’t get enough.

“The irony is that the music is revered and respected worldwide,” says Grundy. “Everywhere except here, you know, the place of its origins.”

The Origins Jazz Series kicks off at Tee Dee’s Blues Club on October 7th at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by Noah Preminger & Brandon Coleman Trio.

Preminger, 30, was the winner of Downbeat Magazine’s critics poll for “Rising Star on Tenor Saxophone,” and has been described as “ecstatic” and “incantory” by the New York Times. 

Jazz as an art form is hard to come by locally, the Origins organizers note, especially for younger musicians finding their way in the genre. In America, the music has failed to command the stature it, by rights, should lay claim to, and most jazz performances still take place in bars or clubs where entrance is forbidden to anyone not of legal drinking age. This prevents younger players from seeing the genre come alive before them, and it could stifle the development of jazz in generations coming up.

The Origins Jazz Series solves this problem by creating shows in all-ages venues, accessible to anyone with a love for the music.

“You can’t grow musicality in a vacuum,” says Coleman. “Bringing these national-level artists and letting them see that and having those up close and personal experiences with them is going to be super, super valuable.”

“Part of the excitement and kind of the nobility of doing something like this is connecting Americans with their own cultural traditions,” says Grundy.

The time for such a venture is now, according to all assembled.

“We have the venues, we have the musicians,” says Uttal-Veroff. “Now we need to bring these things together.”

Exposure to national, regional and local artists is not the only impetus for the series. It’s the notion that there’s an element of live performance that can’t be replicated in a recording. It’s not enough just to listen to the albums – the music has to be experienced directly.

“There are so many things that are aesthetically pleasing about going out to see a live performance,” said McKay, who takes a moment to reflect that so much of benefit of live music comes from seeing the musicians live in the moment, as opposed to the canned and overly-perfected nature of recordings. “The beauty comes in the imperfection, and not really kind of adhering to any preconceived notions about what it should be.”

Uttal-Veroff points out that every single performance is a personal experience that is unique that particular audience, something that no one else in the world will get to experience. McKay agrees:

“To see the passion, the intellect, and all the training and everything come to fruition in one moment that everybody can see…it’s kind of like being on the other side of a famous magic trick and seeing how it all gets put together and still being amazed.”

Enthusiasm for the craft is one thing, but where the Origin Jazz Series earns extra credibility points is in both its partnership with the Xavier University Jazz Series and the person of Chester Grundy, who will be co-organizer of the series.

Grundy created and successfully ran the Spotlight Jazz Series at UK for over three decades. It was the longest-running on-campus jazz series on any college campus in the United States. The series brought to Lexington such luminaries as Sarah Vaughan, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie and more. When Grundy speaks on the “power of the shared cultural experience,” he brings decades of firsthand witness to bear.

“I truly believe there are elements of this music…there are things that can be evoked that can contribute to community-building,” said Grundy. “It’s wonderful to think that the music is in good hands.”

Tickets for the series’ inaugural October 7th performance of the Noah Preminger & Brandon Coleman Trio at Tee Dee’s are $15. $2 from every ticket sold will be donated to combat the opioid epidemic.

Arts

Scene&Heard: LexPhil’s Thunderous Season Opener

As the audience filed into the concert hall, the orchestra onstage made an unholy din. Tuning their violins, practicing one particular phrase on the trumpet, testing out the reeds on the oboes one last time, the Lexington Philharmonic prepared itself to open their 2017-2018 season. Performing at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Maestro Scott Terrell and the Philharmonic presented a program that lived up to the title of the concert, Bright. With a variety of works in several styles and ‘voices,’ the Philharmonic had a glittering evening at the start of their year.

The concert began with a contemporary piece by the American composer Michael Torke. Torke is known for his synesthesia—he sees colors when he hears music. This particular piece, called Bright Blue Music, is a clear and straightforward exploration of that color. The Philharmonic proved a guide through the work, with a performance clear and straightforward enough to direct the listener’s ears to the development and unfolding of the piece. 

Michael Torke | Photo by Brian Hainer

A simple theme developed with a particular rhythmic flair, and the development clear and direct enough that even the most novice listener can follow the progression from one movement to the next. (Whether the listener sees blue a somewhat subjective matter: the whole piece read as rather yellow to me.) The brass would occasionally overwhelm the strings, though whether this was a problem of composer or conductor is unclear. Energetic and simple, but with enough surprises— and banging timpani here, a snap of the snare drums to cut off the winds and emphasize the strings, a screeching wail of the horns and flutes there— Maestro Terrell and the Philharmonic kept the piece from the monotony minimalist and post-minimalist music is often accused of.

The first half of the concert, however, was dominated by the Grieg Piano Concerto. Guest soloist Joyce Yang, a young pianist who is part of an emerging generation in the process of shaking up sometimes stuffy concert halls, took to the front and center of the stage and immediately commanded her instrument.

Joyce Yang | Photo by KT Kim

Yang played with her whole body— hunched over the keyboard for staccato descents, practically rising out of her bench for the dramatic flourishes up and down the keyboard that predominate the concerto. She would keep time by flicking her head this way and that, directing visual attention to an emphasis on a certain chord or progression. Said emphasis was pounded in by the relentless thundering of the keyboard; Grieg is not a subtle composer, and both soloist and orchestra went for the full melodrama. The piano roared, howled, clamored, practically leaped out at the audience. Very little of the concept was played at anything less than full volume and intensity.

While I appreciated it from the back of the house, I did worry about the eardrums of those whose tickets placed them closer to the action. And that action was powerful— at the end of a particularly intense cadenza towards the end of the first movement, Yang slammed down the final chord and her entire body rocketed away from the keys, so intense was the emotion. The audience, somewhat caught up in it, spontaneously applauded between the first and second movement (an unusual breach of symphony protocol, it caught Yang and Terrell off guard, which she covered with a quick bow).

The thundering, however, became a tad monochromatic towards the end of the piece. The keys of a piano cannot be pounded indefinitely without at a certain point pulverizing all sensitivity of some listeners’ ears. While a quiet and subtle treatment took over the beginning of the second movement, it was soon back to a total sonic offensive. And in the last few minutes, the never-ending proclamations of melodramatic stampeding up and down the piano and through the orchestra began to run together. There are only so many crescendos a performer can make before they top out at the height of emotion and intensity.

Regardless of any quirks in interpretation, the performance of the concerto was filled with a kind of wild energy— partly from the slightly strange harmonic progressions of Grieg, which foreshadowed Stravinsky and the chord clusters of modern concept music— but mostly from the infectious power bouncing back and forth between Yang, Terrell, and the orchestra. Soloist and conductor were obviously familiar with each other, as Terrell had only to glance at the piano, and Yang had only to give one of her nods, to open up the bellowing sororities of the full orchestra. The performance was an obvious and immediate crowd-pleaser: Yang and Terrell gave some half a dozen bows to a standing ovation.

After the bows and ovations were concluded, the orchestra took an interval in which the technical crew replaced Yang’s piano with two harps and a handful of specialist wind instruments, a rather large choir joined the orchestra, and I furiously scribbled notes onto a writing pad.

Maestro Terrell dashed back onto the stage and immediately threw himself into the downbeat of the first piece of the second half, selections from Ginastera’s ballet Estancia.

This music was simply tremendous. In writing a ballet about Argentine farmers and cowboys, Ginastera hit upon the muscular and vibrantly beating heart of Latin American concert music, which more than any other tradition (at least to my mind) is written for the average listener to immediately grasp on to and not just understand, but deeply enjoy. While the second half of the evening was entirely ballet music— music written to dance to— Ginastera’s selections from Estancia were imbued with the kind of infectious danceability that quite literally gets people moving.

Even Maestro Terrell was affected, jumping up and down on the podium in his excitement for particular slams of the timpani, never more expressive than when Ginastera pins his entire dance rhythm to the drums. The percussion section as a whole did some really tremendous work with Estancia— using everything from a tambourine to a marimba to a bass drum that literally shook the seats, Estancia was not just a musical but a physical experience.

After the Dionysian delights of Ginastera’s dance music, the concert closed with the more Apollonian music of Ravel.

Full of coloristic flourishes and effective at creating an entire atmosphere from only a few rich chords, Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloe is a distinctly French take on a Greek story. The impressionistic and almost totally a-melodic music of Ravel immerses the listener into a world of impressions, of not quite distinct color.

The orchestra carried off this task— not the easiest one— with aplomb. Aided by an extensive choir, the piece moved seamlessly from one overstuffed and pregnant bloom of chromatic color to the next. As a set of selections from a larger ballet, and as a more moment-to-moment composition than a more melodically dominated piece might be, it would have been dangerously easy for the orchestra to present a disconnected and incoherent series of flashes in the musical pan. The deft baton of Terrell, however, maintained a clean and clear pace throughout the piece, and his direction charted a course and current that connected the brightest climaxes and the quietest flutters of the flute into a single whole. The choirs, normally a focal point of attention for the listener, blended seamlessly into the tapestry of the orchestra, becoming simply another color in the palette of composer and conductor. The overall effect, while certainly magical, was artfully restrained and balanced. 

With a varied and virtuosic start to the season, the Lexington Philharmonic has proved not just worthy of their hall, but worthy of their audience. 

(Photos by Richie Wireman unless otherwise credited)

Arts

Scene&Heard: PeteFest

The inaugural celebration of PeteFest on the Jones family nature preserve in Louisville was at once a celebration and a time for sad reflection. Pete Jones, for whom the Festival is named, took his own life last December. 

On the day I interviewed Youngeun Koepke it had been exactly nine months to the day when she heard the terrible news of her good friend.

“Pete was seeking help, but we just didn’t know the severity of his depression.”

Youngeun Koepke | Photo by Derek Feldman

Almost immediately following Pete’s death, his family and friends began organizing the Pete Foundation for Depression Prevention, and their anchor event, Pete Fest.  As the PeteFest Marketing Director, Koepke wanted desperately to share the Foundation’s message that “it really is okay to talk about it.”

Nestled in the 90 acre Nature Preserve owned by Pete’s family, PeteFest began on Friday the 8th of September as folks started filing into the Jones’ fields and setting up their tents for the weekend.  One field was designated for RV’s and tents, with brilliant solar lights erected throughout the fields by the engineering family and their friends.  A wooded path lit by LED flashlights smartly zip-tied to trees led campers to the venue, a beautiful shiny party nestled in the trees.

Lights were strung everywhere, so when the sun began to set the woods were festively aglow.  Bubbles and glow necklaces were bandied about by happy children, sharing the joy on the wind as the bubbles and the lights and the music mingled to put folks in a great mood. 

But, of course, there was sadness. 

Pete is gone, and the festival would never have existed, but for suicide.  Koepke noted, “Last night as we were all celebrating, we all said ‘Pete would LOVE this…He is so proud of us, and he is with us. He is here.”

And that is the point of PeteFest.  To not forget; to not brush depression, anxiety, and suicide under the carpet, but to bring it all out into the open, to talk about it and to listen to those suffering from it. 

“Stomp the Stigma” is the PeteFest motto, because “we need to start talking about this.” The event’s mascot is an elephant, representing the University of Alabama white elephant of Pete’s alma mater, as well as the obvious “elephant in the room” symbolism. 

The statistics are that someone takes their life every twelve seconds. “I lost a dear high school friend when I was 21,” Koepke shared, “But it has shaped me; when I heard the news about Pete I knew I had to do something.  We are losing an entire generation of people. The ones suffering the most tend to be the ones who are the most loving, and giving. In his last message, Pete said he wants to help mankind. We are getting the message out there for him.”

That message was loud and clear at PeteFest.  All the bands performing had been invited by members of the Pete Foundation, and many of the bands gave toasts and had touching things to say about Pete, his family, and PeteFest itself.  Glasses were raised throughout the weekend to toast Pete, his parents Jeff and Molly Jones, and his siblings Jeff, Jack, Matt, and Michelle. Counseling and understanding were offered throughout the festival, and the entire Sunday lineup featured local young musicians from the area who chose to sing and speak out to “Stomp the Stigma”.

The Pete Foundation is focused on reaching youth, so they can save adults like Pete.  The organizers want people to be educated to understand the signs of severe depression and anxiety which can so easily lead to suicide. Pete had gained weight before his last days, and had been sleeping more and more; the signals too often become clear in hindsight. The Pete Foundation wants them recognized before they end in tragedy. The answer to that is education.  They have already partnered with the University of Louisville where they held a “pre-Fest for Pete Fest” to address anxiety, depression, and suicide on the college level. 

Next, they hope to work with local school systems to address youth and perhaps prevent the next loss.

Friday night held a great lineup, and the music carried the crowd into the wee hours. Those who wanted rest simply had to foray back across the illuminated path through the woods to the campsite, where the music was within listening distance, but not overwhelming. 

Saturday dawned as a beautiful day, the nine-month anniversary of when Pete Jones took his own life. His family and friends gathered together to begin day two of PeteFest.  Morning yoga was offered on the smaller stage, and counseling for anyone who felt the need to share or discuss their own anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies.  PeteFest volunteers in logo t-shirts sporting elephants dotted the festival grounds as the crowd slowly filled the space yet again. 

The first band to take the stage that lovely day was The Local Honeys, consisting of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs.

The Local Honeys | Photo by Derek Feldman

The Local Honeys are quickly gathering a following in the Eastern Kentucky area and beyond.  The first two female graduates of Morehead’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music, Stokely and Hobbs boast a wealth of instrumental knowledge.  Starting with Linda on fiddle and Montana on banjo, they both switched to guitar at some point, changing instruments between songs, and playing each with impressive adeptness.  They also invited Appalatin’s Jose Oreta to join in on stand-up bass.

The Local Honeys with Jose Oreta | Photo by Derek Feldman

  The Honeys adhere to the old-time music style, writing many of their own songs to add to the canon of traditional Appalachian music.  Linda’s “Cigarette Trees” is a scathing song lambasting coal companies for devastating the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia.

Those hills and the surrounding cities of Lexington, Louisville, and Huntington, WVA are their stomping grounds, but The Local Honeys are bringing the traditional music of Appalachia to the masses as well.  There is a strong call for their music, they say, and they joke that of all the graduated accountants, teachers or other graduates with more “academic” degrees they know, they are the only ones they’re aware of who are using their degree (“A bachelor’s in Bluegrass,” they quipped), working full-time in the field of their education.

“We don’t have to compromise for anything, it’s very rewarding to make a living in a time when art is not valued,” Stokley said.  “We’ve been given a platform, especially in Kentucky, to play music. People are accepting and curious about their heritage…we’re playing the home music of Kentucky but we’re taking it to audiences far and wide.”

But PeteFest isn’t just about the music.  It was never just about the music. Linda shared her own personal struggle. “My father committed suicide when I was 8 years old… I have started to understand more and more what it is like to live with people with mental illness.  It has definitely affected my art, and Montana’s as well.” 

Their first CD includes a song she wrote about her father, “Keep my name, live and let be.” 

Scott Whiddon | Photo by Derek Feldman

Their perfect placement in the line up of PeteFest was an excellent start to the day.  They were the first of many bands to play that day, followed by Lexington’s Scott Whiddon on the next stage, and later the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers held the crowd’s attention as they danced to more bluegrass and festive songs, and all raised a glass to toast Pete and his family.

Blind Corn Liquor Pickers | Photo by Derek Feldman

 The Curio Key Club finished out the big Saturday night lineup, a supergroup of Louisville musicians who performed Paul Simon’s Graceland in full.

There are many festivals we are blessed with the opportunity to attend in Kentucky.  They all have purpose and meaning in their own unique ways. But PeteFest was different. The purpose and the meaning were woven throughout the entire festival, from the intelligently designed lighting by the Jones family of engineers, to the handmade benches and tables that were constructed on the property for the festival itself.  The gate boasted a handmade marquee of the bands, painted chalkboards and twine that gave a personal feeling; a feeling of the love and care that clearly went into creating a beautiful, safe, inviting space for anyone to express or learn about the struggles in this world from anxiety, depression, and suicide.  Bubbles were handed out to kids to blow at their leisure, hammocks strung between trees and under lights as folks settled in for the day. The beautiful VIP tent was open for the musicians and the press, looking like an Arabian palace with blowing plants and low, comfortable chairs for hard-working photographers to sit in the shade and rest from wrestling with their heavy equipment.

The Jones family and the Pete Foundation worked very hard to create PeteFest.  They labored over the smallest details, as one would at a memorial.  Every aspect was a reflection of their love for Pete, and their desperate mission to prevent others from having to suffer that loss in their lives.

Pete’s last message before he took his own life was that he wanted to help “advance mankind.”  That is the legacy that the Jones family and the Pete Foundation for Depression Prevention hopes to achieve in his memory.

The first PeteFest guaranteed they are already off to a wonderful start.

Arts

LexPhil Ushers in a ‘Culture of Curiosity’

In the grim and gloom of a particularly rainy September, the Lexington Philharmonic prepares to debut their 2017–2018 season. The first concert is titled, ironically, Bright. The season opening, held this Saturday (September 16th) at the Singletary Center for the Arts, has an energetic and bouncy program. In that sense, Bright’s place in the larger 2017–2018 Philharmonic season is like an opening fanfare to a  larger symphony: energetic, full of life, and the right mix of excitement and intrigue to keep listeners interested.

As the orchestra prepares to sound out its audience for the season, I spoke with the lead conductor and Artistic Director of the Lexington Philharmonic, Scott Terrell, about the upcoming concert, and about young people’s place in the concert hall.

The most notable feature of the program for Bright is the age of many of the performers. The featured soloist, pianist Joyce Yang, is a young and rising star in the classical music world, and part of the generation of young soloists who are redefining the concert hall. Maestro Terrell calls her part of “the changing face of music.” Her animated and expressive playing is a far cry from the stentorian proclamations of Gould or the other old masters of the form.

Yang will be playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. Even in a genre that is known for emotive solos, the Grieg is a particularly animated piece. (You can hear a performance of the concerto, in this case performed by Arthur Rubinstein, here to get an idea of the emotional range of the piece.) As Maestro Terrell notes, the Concerto is “a thrilling piece and a challenge for the soloist” to perform.

But Yang will not be the youngest of Saturday evening’s performers.

For the large-scale work Daphnis et Chloe, premiered over a century ago, the Philharmonic has selected the Suite No. 2 to perform. To do so, the orchestra has partnered with several area schools, including Lafayette High School. The collegiate choirs of Asbury University and Eastern Kentucky University are also joining the Philharmonic for the performance of the Daphnis et Chloe Suite. Inviting these choirs to perform with the Philharmonic, Terrell tells me, is “building audiences both on stage and as years progress.”

Terrell thinks of the audience as part of a broader community. While the old-fashioned idea of separation between performers and audience has fallen out of fashion, Terrell wants the Philharmonic to remain “ever-flexible and always relevant” to the wider community. To that end, the soloists for this season collaborate with the orchestra to serve as “ambassadors” to the world for their music, says Terrell. The incorporation of the young choruses for the performance of Daphnis et Chloe is a clear example of this musical diplomacy.

Inevitably, talk of younger performers invites talk of younger audiences. The symphony has an unfortunate reputation as a gathering place exclusive to the elder generation. While the Singletary Center, where the Philharmonic performs, is located on the campus of the University of Kentucky, a symphony is not a social event for the college on the level of a football or basketball game or Greek gathering. Nevertheless, Terrell says that the Philharmonic “is not a museum piece.” He emphasizes that there is an “openness and receptiveness of [the Philharmonic’s] audience” that makes the art of making music exciting. The Philharmonic takes full advantage of that receptiveness, he says, with the goal of creating a “culture of curiosity” among the audience. Toward that end, every concert this season will contain at least one piece by a living composer.

For Bright, that contemporary piece is a (literally) colorful composition. Michael Torke, an American composer, wrote Bright Blue Music in 1985, and the style of the piece—harmonically direct and simple, with a clear single development—reflects the emergence of American minimalism in the late twentieth century. Throughout the program, then, the Philharmonic will undertake a backwards motion, almost like a dive: from the contemporary sounds of Torke, through the early twentieth century impressionism of Ravel, and stop at the unreconstructed romanticism of Grieg along the way. In short, the concert will move quickly through a variety of tastes, and should contain something to satisfy even the most stoic listener.

The Lexington Philharmonic will debut the 2017-2018 season on September 16th, in a 7:30 PM concert held at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets range from $25—$75 dollars, with $11 student tickets available from the day before, and at the door.

(All photos by: Richie Wireman)

Arts

Scene&Heard Review: Moontower Music Festival ’17

The day of the 2017 Moontower Festival arrived as if it was custom-ordered by the folks who would soon fill Masterson Station park. A perfect blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, and a beautiful breeze like a hug from an old friend. A great day for a live music festival, for certain. As early planning for Moontower ’18 gets underway, here’s a look back on this year’s event.

Photo by Derek Feldman

The Moontower Music Festival has been evolving for four years, making adjustments from lessons learned and improving with each version. Festival co-producer and consultant, David Helmers:

Last year’s beer fiasco of overly foamy warm beer from the keg was addressed with an occam’s razor approach, cold beer and cider in cans. Perfect. Adding art installations and an architecture installment among the tents of vendors, games of cornhole and that hamster ball deal that kids and adults alike were rolling around in, the festival was so much more than just the music.

David says the festival is meant to have something for everyone: 

But oh, the music.

A little bit of everything for everyone, the two side by side stages were run consistently, with one band starting up almost immediately after the last one finished, with a few exceptions for stage setup. The day began under that perfectly sunny sky with local folks on the smaller stage: Daisy Helmuth’s band People Planet, followed by The DeBraun Thomas Trio, and Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands.

Vita and the Woolf then took over the large stage with her “Florence and the Machine”-like sound, while Tyler Childers began to set up on the second stage, his growing group of disciples loyally cheering his sound check.

Tyler Childers (left), James Barker (right) | Photo by Derek Feldman

Childer’s rousing set was followed by Elise Davis, Blackfoot Gypsies, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, The Record Company, Todd Snider with a full east Nashville Band, the Eastside Bulldogs, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, Cherub, Benjamin Booker and the headliner with their phenomenal light show, Umphrey’s McGee. The bands comprised a full spectrum of musical style, from funk to rock to bluegrass.

Benjamin Booker | Photo by Derek Feldman

Elise Davis | Photo by Derek Feldman

The music literally flowed all day long from the first note to the last, with few breaks in between.  All the booths, food and vendor, games and alcohol, were well within ear shot of the music so any wandering was still rewarded with music all the while.  The food pavilion offered quite a variety of food options, from Thai to Burgers, Bubble Tea to tacos; the choices were plenty. The hydration station kept folks energized and kid’s squirts guns well loaded, and colorful tents dotted the field as everyone settled in for a long, beautiful day of music.

Local bands included Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands, which that day consisted of Cecilia and Josh Wright, Scott Wilmoth, and Sam Meyer. Warren had missed last year’s festival when one of his bands, Small Batch, performed and was happy to be able to play this year.

Warren Byrom | Photo by Derek Feldman

“Felt great about our set, it was really fun. The sound is amazing. They’ve done a good job with having the two stages side by side.  The crowd just kinda moves twenty feet over.  It’s a perfect day, Kaelyn (Query) and her crew did an awesome job.” Here’s the full conversation:

Warren led his band through music from his new CD Heavy Makes You Happy and his first release, The Fabled Canelands, as well as songs from his upcoming CD which he has underway.  Moontower Music Festival precedes his appearance at the Brooklyn American Fest in September, as well as some solo gigs as he settles in to finish his third album.

Byrom sees the great value in a festival like Moontower for the small but thriving city of Lexington. “It’s helped, there’s a really good turnout for this festival and it’s getting some National traction.”  Sharing a stage with the likes of headliner Umphrey’s McGee which had a three-night run at Red Rocks Amphitheater coming up on its tour schedule, indicates the national attention Moontower is earning.

Photo by Derek Feldman

By the time the sun set on that beautiful day, a perfect crescent moon arose over the fields, so perfect and glowing orange it almost looked like another creation by the UK artists and architects, made just for the festival itself.  Umphrey’s McGee delivered a spectacular light show. Surreal is too tame a word, and when joined by the glowing necklaces, hula hoops, and glowing balls being juggled, the night ended in a colorful swirl of happy Lexingtonians and musicians who graced our fair city for one blissful day.

Photo by Derek Feldman

David Helmers on how it all comes together:

Arts

The Human Body, Reconsidered

Dora Natella’s Await (2017), a bronze sculpture of a sloping unclothed woman reaching behind herself to steady her position on a stool, functions as a metonym for Manifest’s ninth annual NUDE exhibition. It is unclear whether Natella’s figure is in the process of mounting the seat onto which she holds, readying herself as an object to be depicted, or if she is in descension from serving as a thing to be studied, drawn, or sculpted. In any case, Await maintains a degree of uncertainty regarding its subject.

Dora Natella’s Await (2017)

Like Natella’s sculpture, the exhibition at Cincinnati’s Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center, which is on view in two of the organization’s galleries, intends to perplex. That is, the twenty-one works by sixteen artists on display, selected from over 500 submissions, render the human body in a manner unfamiliar.

Bodies are obscured in the drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs occupying Manifest in a multitude of ways. Limbs are severed by either strategic incompletion or the edges of a frame, and non-bodily objects are often utilized as a means for distortion, as is evident in Stephanie Grenadier’s Not Waving But Drowning (2017), wherein a woman is nebulously disconnected by ripples in water. Rarely in the exhibit are bodies in full view, a testament to the jurors’ commitment to representations of concealment and fragmentation.

Photo by Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center

Indeed, the selection of artworks in NUDE emphasizes the body as necessarily unstable rather than as an object substantially grounded in the physical world. Some of the more effective works in the exhibition illustrating this conceit are photographs, since photographs rely on reality in the process of making an image. Annie Gonzalez’s Formation (2017) presents two enveloped bodies. Their torsos extend in opposite directions from what could be conceived as the epicenter of the photograph: the groins of each figure, which are touching, yet remain unseeable. Viewers perceive the backside of the figure in the foreground and are able to observe the left hip and side of the second figure peaking above his/her counterpart. The figure closest to the camera bends his/her head and arms so that neither appears in the image. The contours of the bodies in the photograph, as well as a protruding leg jutting from the lowest point in the composition, are disorienting, and Formation reads more like an abstracted dreamscape than a combination of human forms.

Whereas certain junctures in NUDE stress motifs of unfamiliarity and incompleteness literally, such as Nick Reszetar’s mixed media diptych entitled Virum Muliereum (2017), others investigate how these themes can be expanded to include implicit notions of protection.

A nude woman reclining on her back extends her left arm towards the viewer in Martin Beck’s The Hunter (2016). A dog rests at the foot of the platform from which she lies and a shotgun is settled next to the figure. Beck’s pastel drawing evokes certain classical trends through the incorporation of fabric as both a prop and cropping mechanism, the use of a direct light source, and the insertion of the dog—a dog symbolized fidelity in many nude paintings made in the pre-Modern era.

Left: Martin Beck, Color Field, pastel on prepared paper, 2017. Right: Martin Beck, The Hunter, pastel on prepared paper, 2017.

What distinguishes Beck’s portrait from those by old masters, among other elements of the drawing, is the depiction of the shotgun placed near the woman’s hand, pointing away from her, seemingly ready to be grabbed and employed. An overt insinuation of protection, the gun in this work may imply that to be nude is to be vulnerable. What’s more, with his inclusion of classical tropes, Beck suggests that the nude genre itself is possibly more susceptible than one may think, protected by the likes of museums and history books, and in actuality able to be redefined or modified. The Hunter assumes that historical precedents are merely guidelines and not rules. The portrayals of bodies in NUDE prevail as reminders that nothing is certain, particularly when it comes to ourselves.

If multiple artworks by a single artist are featured in the exhibition, they are displayed in the same gallery, yet not always adjacent. Visitors to Manifest will enter NUDE by first making their way through an exhibition called MONOCHROME, and the transition from one exhibition to the next is made smoothly—the first gallery of NUDE features works that are largely monochromatic or grayscale. Consequently, the second gallery of NUDE contains the more vibrant depictions of bodies, forcing viewers to negotiate between brilliant palettes and compelling subject matter. Alex Spinney achieves a fluorescent quality in Fakefood_1~Lobster/Oyster#prop (2017) and Realfood_1~freckles/Bolognese (2017), two paintings that allude to, in addition to concealment, consumption and pleasure through their combinations of food and the human form. Yet Spinney’s conceptual premise is dwarfed by the artist’s application of paint as well as the vividness of nudes by Beck, Chris Corson, and Martha Gaustad in the same gallery.

Alex Spinney, Fakefood_1~Lobster/Oyster#prop (2017) 2017.

Were each gallery holding no more than a single work by an artist, NUDE would perhaps stress the thematic interests of the jurors in a more concrete fashion. In other words, integrating the monochromatic and color artworks would unify the exhibition in a mode that cannot be accomplished under its current layout. Yet such an endeavor does not come without a cost: there is a distinct elegance, especially on an aesthetic level, enacted by the curatorial decisions that resulted in the exhibition’s format.

Besides, the blatant differences of the artworks in the two galleries provide a kind of dualism when it comes to conceiving the ways in which the human body is capable of being rendered.

On one hand, the body is treated with reverence and precision in most of the monochromatic works. On the other, the use of color permeating the second gallery denotes an enthusiastic celebration of the human condition. This exhibition acknowledges the legitimacy—indeed, the history—of such representational strategies, but sensibly declines to favor one over the other. Like Await, viewers are encouraged to gauge the numerous ways of capturing and perceiving the nude genre. NUDE, therefore, posits an indeterminacy that resonates conceptually and corporeally.

The 9th annual NUDE exhibit continues at Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center in Cincinnati, OH until September 15th, 2017.

Installation shot, 9th Annual Nude exhibition, Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center, Cincinnati OH. Photo by Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center.

Arts

ChamberFest Stages Fusion of Jazz+Classical

The 2017 Chamber Music Festival of Lexington celebrates an inventive fusion of classical and jazz. And in the center of it all are two Lexington violin virtuosos – one, Nathan Cole, who animates classical; the other, Zach Brock, who travels the jazz universe.

They will fuse a Cole-led string quartet with Brock’s jazz power trio Triptych to perform a work specifically composed for the occasion by Triptych bassist Matt Ulery. The trio is rounded out by drummer Jon Deitmeyer.

I spent over an hour on the phone with Zach, discussing his role in the festival, the fusion of genres, his recruitment into the Snarky Puppy juggernaut, his most remarkable recent “bucket list” experience, and even his recommendations for anyone thinking about a music tour of New York City.

The story is best told in his own words, placed in context by brief narratives. Included are questions for Zach solicited from Lexington musicians. They include jazz guitarist Clive Pohl, Shangri La Studios owner Duane Lundy, singer-songwriter Patrick McNeese, and Maggie Lander, Lexington’s rising violin star who counts Brock among her musical heroes.

A little background on Zach

Zach Brock grew up in a musical Lexington household – his parents, Dan and Jenny Brock, met as members of the Lexington singers and have been deeply involved in the Lexington music scene. He gives high marks to the music influences of his early education in Montessori school and studies in the Suzuki Method. Graduating from Bryan Station High School in 1992, Zach went on to Northwestern University as a performance violin major and while there, met Erin Harper, the woman who would become his wife and mother of their twin daughters. They made their home in Chicago for 13 years before moving to Brooklyn. After 10 years and the birth of their children they relocated to South Orange, NJ where they currently reside. Erin directed, shot, and edited the Triptych videos. Second camera on the shoot was Lexington photographer Jeff Hoagland.

Our questions for Zach

Zach mentioned that he first became aware of the violin at age four. What brought the instrument to his attention?

View The Violin

Zach was enrolled in a Lexington studio teaching the Suzuki Method, an approach that has stirred controversy. How did it inform his growth as a jazz artist?

Improvisation can be a tightrope act – fraught with the risk of making mistakes. What if it happens during live performance?

Zach toured for four years with the great bassist Stanley Clark, recorded seven solo records, plus four records with the amazing jazz juggernaut Snarky Puppy. The most recent, Culvha Vulcha, won a Grammy this year. Snarky Puppy is a large group of highly talented individuals. Zach was asked to tell us about that experience.

In June Zach had a remarkable “bucket list” experience performing at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York with jazz violin master Jean Luc Ponty. As Zach related the story, he mentioned Eric Aceto, an Ithaca, New York master luthier who has provided instruments and violin pickups for Ponty, Brock and Lexington’s Maggie Lander.

With regard to Nathan Cole’s invitation to perform in the Chamber Music Festival, Duane Lundy asks: “was the concept presented to you or was it up to you?”

Clive Pohl wants to hear about the differences in how Zach prepares for a classical (interpretive) performance versus jazz (improvised, syncopated with a drum set). Zach responded by telling us about Matt Ulery’s piece, Become Giant, which will have its world premiere performance on the festival main stage at the Downtown Arts Center on September 1.

In response to the Patrick McNeese’s interest in his artistic process, Zach talks about the value of being open to constant change.

Maggie Lander is interested in hearing about Zach’s practice routine.

Where in NYC does Zach Brock go in search of great live music?

Chamber Music Festival schedule

Arts

Scene&Heard: Elias Gross Keeps in Touch

The Friends Meeting House in Lexington is a simple, beautiful space; a quiet A-frame housing a room of sparse furnishings and amazing acoustics.  Elias Gross chose this space for a viola recital he created as a farewell before he leaves the musical community of Lexington to pursue a Master’s Degree in viola at the University of Delaware.  His friends and fellow musical colleagues gathered together in the peaceful space to celebrate the nine years Elias Gross has helped mold the musical community of Lexington.

Receiving his Bachelor’s in Arts Administration in Music at the University of Kentucky, Elias was denied the recital performance music majors usually have when they graduate.  So, he held his own. 

Each song in the program was prefaced with an explanation of its selection for this final Lexington recital, placing the music in a more personal context.

He began with Bach’s Prelude, Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, a sorrowful, mournful tune that conveyed the deep resonance only the viola can create.  His fingers moving deftly like hitting keys on a piano, the song filled that serene room with music that seemed quite fitting for the space.

Elias prefaced the second selection, Spell No. 7 by Alexsandra Vrevalov, with “It’s real weird, you’re gonna love it.” It was certainly weird, with intentional movement of the bow up and down the neck of the viola.  Elias creates a full, physical emoting as he plays, making even breathing seem so relevant for a piece played on strings.  His bow performs acrobatics as he moves between simple strokes to finger picking and to deep double string strokes that resonate around the room.

He then eased into a duet with Melissa Snow-Groves on piano, Meditation by Paul Hindemith, a short sweet harmony that they blended beautifully.  From there he added Richard Young on the upright bass. Together they played and sang Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel. This was followed by Tom Waits’ Ol ‘55 which Elias played and sang as a piano solo.

The trio came together once more and blended a variation on Pachabel’s Canon into Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice.  They sang together with the tight harmony of a chorale, and Melissa kicked it up a beat to a near-rockabilly sound.

Elias then launched into his final solo, Keep in Touch by Nico Muhly – “another weird one,” he joked.  It was a very surreal song, and included electronic elements of a mostly tribal type beat that was played through a laptop and speaker supporting Elias on his viola. The experience was quite intense and transcendental, and seemed to take over his whole person as he played, as if he were channeling the composer in that moment.

According to the program notes, “Keep in Touch is a lament, a sort of chaconne divided up into sections by more freely-composed cadenzas for the viola. But the chaconne, a musical form based around a repeated cycle of chords, is not only the domain of composers like Bach and Purcell, one is as likely to hear the form on a Nina Simone record. And Antony Hegarty, the bluesily androgynous vocalist we hear in the electronic component of this piece, is a performer from the Simone school.”

Elias’ passion is to make the viola, and classical music more accessible to the community; to benefit everyone around him with all that classical music has to offer, and to make sure the music is always played. That came through clearly as the notes resonated around that wooden room with its asymmetrical window. 

In his recital program Elias quoted Zoë Madonna of Q2 Radio as noting: “Cast into the larger world, the viola is as a wanderer in an intimidatingly loud and large landscape, humming sometimes in concordance with the current, sometimes fighting against it.”

The viola is often overlooked for the flash and glory of the violins in an orchestra, or the commanding depths of the cello.  The pieces written for a viola solo take the deeper resonance of the instrument and put it out front, and often the result exemplifies the hidden space where the viola resides, and perhaps those who play it. It is a different path, often fighting for its own place in the quartet, or the orchestra.

Elias allowed himself to channel that message to his audience.  The overall effect in that tranquil space on Price Avenue was quite mesmerizing.

Elias has spent the last nine years in Lexington, not just receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Administration from UK, but also helping to expand the Central Music Academy as well as the Chamber Music Festival.  Central Music Academy provides free music lessons for children of low income, and has given over 20,000 free music lessons in its existence.

Elias taught viola and violin to kids, keeping a studio of five to seven students for several years. “I definitely could have benefitted from CMA as a kid”. He said teaching music to students is what helped him find his passion again, having let his playing of music “suffer” during his pursuit of an administrative degree. “Teaching was really what kind of got me to get my priorities back together…seeing what they demand of me…I can’t just be one thing, that’s just not who I am, but if I was able to spend a lot of my time teaching I would be really happy.”

He explains that he is drawn to teaching because he truly believes in the beauty and lessons that Classical music has to share with the world. 

Elias also is executive director of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington which is about to share classical music with the city of Lexington for ten days.  Having expanded from one weekend to ten days, the Festival presents classical music in a variety venues to make it more accessible to the public.  Elias’ favorite piece of the whole, while he loves it all, is the Concert series that he moved to Al’s Bar after Natasha’s Bistro closed.

He believes that the world of Classical music has got to undo some of “these rules we’ve made ourselves” in order to bring the music out into the world and keep it alive. Different venues mean different crowds and a greater “marketing” of the music he loves, says the arts admin grad. “If we figure out how we can tear down our concert walls a little bit, and figure out who can be our allies in the music community that we could really tie it all together…I think that the stage is really important, but I think if the music is being heard and loved, then it really doesn’t matter where it is.”

Listen:

Arts

Kathryn Keller: Digging in the Local Dirt

Kathryn Keller’s landscapes at the Moremen-Maloney Contemporary Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky succeed on three scores: they are authentic in conveying a particular geography, they evoke reverie and they bespeak an eloquent silence.

Kathryn Keller, A Live Oak Growing, Oil on Paper

Keller lives near Alexandria, Louisiana, close to the center of the state. This varied sub-tropical flat land, agriculturally a mix of crops and livestock, is Keller’s subject. She succeeds in what poet William Carlos William termed “the achievement of a locus:” her vision is fresh, largely free of clichés, and works a taut balance between observation and the dictates of the oil and watercolor mediums that she employs.

Open fields, groves of trees, and the vagaries of climate and weather share the focus of attention with the flow and drag of a loaded brush against paper or canvas. Mottled passages of black-blue-green foliage fulfill the needs of description as well as calling attention to the moment when pictorial order supersedes realism, balancing abstraction and representation. Despite heavy impasto and forceful application, the paintings are well ventilated with an envelope of atmosphere and transparency of light. This part of the world comes across as Keller’s spiritual turf: she would seem to be of this place, not merely from it.

Of particular note in this exhibition are five studies of the side of a house, the artist’s home. These modest easel paintings (the largest of which is 26″ x 22″), read at first like the everyday moments in the deadpan photography of William Eggleston and William Christenberry. The side-long glancing views, the simplified architectural geometries of windows, chimneys, and rooflines, and the casually foreshortened perspectives connote an easy familiarity with the subject. But on further examination the house is invested with flat built-up surfaces of long continuous paint passages. Shadows that seem more substantial than the building and Rorschach blots of plant life provide psychological comment on life within the inner sanctum. In only one of these studies is an entry to the home depicted.

Kathryn Keller, Bleakhouse Cedars, Oil on Paper

Prolonged meditation on the subject of house is also suggested by the palette: Bleakhouse Cedars – possibly the most successful of the series – depicts an overcast sky, the building in desaturated tints of gray and yellow, flanked behind by Keller’s black-green foliage, and at the side by an acidic greenish hedge and lawn, painting in elusive variation of olive-algae hues. Overall the muted color chords of faded yellow and gray played against the varied greens convey an intense concentration on excluding everything extraneous to the artist’s narrative.

The result of Keller’s focus in all of her works in this exhibition is a sense of reverie, of something half-remembered, a predigested memory as if the viewer had already been to this home and had rich associations with the place. Keller gives us the first paragraph, and no more, of imaginary short stories echoing William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, or Alice Walker.

Kathryn Keller, Front Porch, Oil on Paper

Quietude and melancholic introspection also come across in works in which two houses are included in similarly reduced views. In Front Porch, a saw-toothed shadow and black windows on the near side of a house lead perspectively to a dwelling in the middle distance beneath a bare tree. Which is the home place? We are not told. Part of the fascination of these works lies in their evasiveness: the density and weight of the bare walls, the status of light, and the air of stillness spark curiosity about the calculated privacy and secrets withheld.

They are elegiac paintings, wrestling with how past informs the present and future (their closest photographic analogy is with the cemetery scenes of Clarence John Laughlin, not the snapshot sensibility of Eggleston and Christenberry). Locked down and contemplative, these are silent pictures: silence as a moment of stopping, as a condition of consciousness, as a cultivated inwardness. Close values and a subdued timbre characterize some other painters of silence: Hammersoi, Morandi, Balthus, Hopper, Reinhardt and Rothko, for example. All share a monastic relinquishing of immediacy and spontaneity in favor or an extended awareness of presence and place.

To return to William Carlos Williams: “It is because we confuse the narrow sense of parochialism in its limiting implication, that we fail to see the complement of the same: that the local in a full sense is the freeing agency to all thought, in that it is everywhere accessible to all…every place where men have eyes, brains, vigor and the desire to partake with others of that same variant in other place which unites us all.”

Kathryn Keller: A Sense of Place, Moremen-Maloney Contemporary Gallery, 939 East Washington Street, Louisville, 40206, through August 31st.

Arts

Small is More Than Just a State of Mind

­­­In her book On Longing, Susan Stewart describes the miniature as a special type of object that speaks to the nostalgia and fantasy inherent in both childhood and history. The artworks included in notBIG(4), now on display at the M.S. Renzy Studio and Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, typify these notions. The exhibition, juried by Transylvania University art professor Kurt Gohde, presented its entrants with only one stipulation: small scale. Working in sizes of twelve by twelve inches and smaller, artists submitted works that explore the notion that, in Mr. Gohde’s words, “bigger may not be better.”

A quick assessment of the works reveals a somewhat conservative approach on the part Mr. Gohde. Of the forty-five works, nearly half can be classified as portraits or landscapes. The miniature, especially in painted form, has a fairly consistent art historical track record. Painted portraits and small natural scenes were the affordable fine art choices of middle class collectors before the advent and wide popularization of photography in the mid nineteenth century. In a way, the exhibition pays homage to the historical miniature. Thankfully, it isn’t burdened by nostalgia for the past, but its works engage with nostalgia in order to explore and elucidate its presuppositions and effects.

The more appealing of the works in notBIG(4) represent a creative approach to the twelve inch by twelve inch limitation placed on their scale. In Mr. Gohde’s notes, he mentions one of several considerations in his selection process, that the works “NEED or TAKE ADVANTAGE OF the small scale” requirement placed on entrants. In my opinion, it is the more sculptural works that best exemplify this exploration of the exhibition’s focus on spatial limitations. Several works, including ceramic, wood, and mixed media assemblages, occupy and explore a miniature space rather than simply conform to a miniature scale. Like dollhouse models or children’s toys, they present the viewer with the possibility that within such a seemingly limited space there might exist whole worlds, imaginative or otherwise.

Rebecca DeGroot, Strain, Image courtesy of the artist

Rebecca DeGroot’s Strain is reminiscent of both Louise Bourgeois’ mammoth cast bronze spider-like sculptures and a piece of fine walnut furniture. While it could be both or neither, its mysterious nature, perhaps more akin to the micro than the macroscopic presents a fantasy grounded in reality. Similarly, one of exhibition’s honorable mentions, Critz Campbell’s Single Cloud, recalls both a wooden maquette and decorative period artifact. Again, it is a fantastical take on a natural phenomenon communicated through the imagery of both a child’s toy and technical model.

Critz Campbell, Single Cloud, Image courtesy of the artist

Another honorable mention, Rene Hales’ hazy and dreamy photo-encaustic Backyard Woods, is equal parts photographic record and pictorial fantasy. The encaustic’s wax  transforms the flat picture into an object with literally and metaphorical depth. In fact, several other works employ the use of encaustic, an application of wax mixed with resin, to create the illusions of the dreamy haze of age. Derek Ball’s Everyday Day, Every Hour (C1) offers a digital take on this aesthetic of translucent fogginess. The densely layered photographic object is equal parts knowable and mysterious.

Derek Ball, Everyday Day, Every Hour (C1), Image courtesy of the artist

Among the more traditional works in the exhibition, those of portraits landscapes, Mr. Ghode has selected pieces that run the gamut from Clint Wood’s City Corner, a colorful and somewhat flattened rendering of an anonymous street and its buildings to the nearly abstracted natural effects of Karen Spears’ Floating Foliage.

Clint Wood, City Corner, Image courtesy of the artist

Karen Spears, Floating Foliage, Image courtesy of the artist

Similarly among the portraits are several striking explorations of sizing and scaling images of the face. Irene Mudd’s Joan and Todd Fife’s Ghost Man both treat the details of the human likeness like pixelizations, though composed respectively from yarn and the stains and smudges of graphite and coffee. Still recognizable, the features point to the difficulties of certain media to accurately replicate and render the human image.

Tom Pfannerstill, Crushed Starbucks Cup, Image courtesy of the artist

Allison Tierney, 10/11/2015, Image courtesy of the artist

Of course, there are other works in the show that don’t necessarily treat miniaturization as simply an issue of size or scale. Tom Pfannerstill’s Crushed Starbucks Cup is in actuality a finely detailed painted wood sculpture that both elevates and eternalizes street trash as art object. What appears as stains and damage are the specific details of a meticulously crafted and considered totem of the vastness of urban waste and global consumerism. Likewise, Allison Tierney’s 10/11/2015, a wood panel layered with latex paint that resembles the leftover scraps of a painted canvas, is both painted object and paint as object. Like Pfannerstill, Tierney offers much more to the viewer than what is simply visible in her painting, and recalls Marilyn Minter’s early photorealistic painted floors and sculpted polaroids, playing with the discrepancies between what is seen and what is experienced.

Sean Ware, With Clouds in Sight, Image courtesy of the artist

The work awarded the exhibition’s best in show, a painting by Sean Ware titled With Clouds in Sight, seems an overly safe choice, considering its subject matter is neither a unique nor particularly engaging mediation on the miniature schema. While one of the more technically impressive works on display, it lacks the specificity that the miniature itself implies, that of the somewhat fantastic and nostalgic possibilities of they might contain. There are more interesting and fruitful works for the viewer here, works that eagerly attempt to find purpose in their relative smallness.

In the end, the exhibition and its space, though itself small and somewhat cluttered, allows the works their own room to breathe, and helps to further encourage viewers to consider the individual worlds they represent. While not everything on display succeeds in expanding and developing the rhetoric of smallness, the dollhouse specificity of many of these miniatures, especially the sculptural works, makes this exhibition seem much larger than it appears. The opportunity to enter, inhabit, and participate in the fantasies of self-contained and self-sufficient worlds gives notBIG(4) enough of a reason to be seen.

Arts

Being Safe is Scary: Learning from Germany

This year, when documenta 14 expanded its scope to include the city of Athens, Greece, an LGBTQI refugee rights group seized a sculpture from the exhibition and refused to give it back. The sculpture was Roger Bernat’s Replica of Oath Stone—a porexpan and fiberglass copy of a limestone table present at the trial of Socrates in 399 BCE. According to the project handbook, Bernat’s sculpture was to be walked through Athens in a mock funeral procession and then sent to Kassel to be entombed in the Thingplatz—a Nazi-era theatre. Bernat paid the group to participate in the performance—but this transfer of money ignited a larger conversation about debt, labor, and the effects of large-scale exhibitions. The group confiscated the stone and in its place left a ransom note that stated:

You have come to Greece to make art visible and graciously offered to purchase the participation of invisible exoticized others.  

As Kentucky continues to rethink and transform its visual arts communities, might we also begin to treat similar paradigms that exist in contemporary art? Erica Rucker’s recent LEO Weekly article discusses an optimistic present: a moment in time when Kentucky’s museums and galleries are reevaluating their exhibitions and programming. But while documenta 14 and the 2017 Skulptur Projekte address inclusivity, they also challenge the framework from which exhibitions are often produced.   

Indeed, biennales and large-scale exhibitions have made attempts to define contemporary art using a Western-centric model. Miwon Kwon, curator and art historian, argues that groups considered peripheral to “dominant culture thus [become] objectified once again to satisfy the contemporary lust for authentic histories and identities.”1 Cultures are often treated ethnographically—as objects of study to be organized by curators and contextualized by a Western framework.2

For their 2017 iterations, documenta 14 and Skulptur Projekte Münster are critical of their established transnational appeal and central European locale—but do not reject either. Rather, these issues become the central focus for their curatorial teams.  

documenta 14  

Previous documenta curators (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Okwui Enwezor) have invited international artists to create work that considers the effects of Western institutions and globalization. As stated by documenta 14’s Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk, however: it is almost impossible “to realize a project that aims at making a political statement from within a state-subsidized cultural institution (one with additional institutional, corporate, and private funding involved, of course).”3

This year, documenta 14’s curators address issues of inclusivity and cultural objectification by dividing the exhibition between Kassel, Germany (its standard location) and Athens. Greece’s identity as both a genesis of European civilization and its contentious relationship with the European Union (most notably, Germany’s role in its financial depression) have, according to Szymczyk, resulted in “the loss of Greek citizens’ individual freedom.”4  

Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books, 2017

Detail of Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books

Many of the artists included in documenta 14 mine the cultural significance of existing Western monuments that have come to represent concepts of freedom and democracy. The city’s central square is a warning that history is cyclical: Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books, a replica of the temple on the Acropolis in Athens, is composed of 100,000 banned books from across the world—but this is not her first construction of renegade literature. In 1983, to mark the end of Argentina’s civilian-military dictatorship, she built El Partenón de libros from the confiscated books that had previously been under lock and key. Adjacent to Minujín’s Parthenon stands Kassel’s Fridericianum—traditionally the centerpiece of each documenta exhibition.

Banu Cennetoğlu, BEINGSAFEISSCARY, 2017

In place of the institution’s name, artist Banu Cennetoğlu has shuffled the large aluminum letters (and added six additional ones) to read BEINGSAFEISSCARY. Although Cennetoğlu states that the phrase is based on graffiti found at the National Technical University of Athens, it also pays tribute to freedom fighter and Kurdish journalist Gurbetelli Ersöz. Her diaries were posthumously published in Germany, and later a small Turkish press also attempted to do the same—but they were subsequently banned in 2014 by Turkey’s ruling administration. Most works that surround Kassel’s Friedrichsplatz reference the censorship enacted by fascist regimes, as the Third Reich used the park to display political power through large military parades. White smoke billows from the Fridericianum’s tower where artist Daniel Knorr’s Expiration Movement is a reminder of the Nazi’s burning of books in 1933.  

Daniel Knorr, Expiration Movement, 2017

Other sites within documenta 14 are new to the 2017 exhibition. The Neue Neue Galerie is located in Kassel’s Nordstadt—a neighborhood home to the majority of the city’s immigrant populations. Formerly the Neue Hauptpost (but renamed by documenta 14’s curators), the brutalist building was once home to city’s main post office. Its industrial use shed by increasing digital communication, the building contains loading docks that are repurposed as mini-galleries. The building’s dim lighting allows for the multiple new-media works to be viewed without interruption from sunlight, but also makes for a foreboding atmosphere. In the corner is 77sqm_9:26min: a digital investigation of the murder of Halit Yozgat—the ninth of ten victims in a racist murder series committed by the neo-Nazi organization the National Socialist Underground.  

The Society of Friends of Halit, 77sqm_9:26min, 2017

 

Skulptur Projekte Münster 

The effects of biennials and large-scale exhibitions extend beyond the contemporary art realm. The merits of such massive art events, at least for their respective local economies, are plentiful: cities have the opportunity to merge their existing arts communities with a global contemporary art discourse and foster a more robust cultural exchange. Artists included in Skulptur Projekte reference the local and regional histories, industries, and cultures of the sites they inhabit, but also consider how the a city’s reliance on cultural tourism can be an indicative feature of public art. Unlike documenta, Skulptur Projekte is free to the public. 

Michael Smith, Not Quite Under_Ground, 2017

Skulptur Projekte internalizes and embraces the merits, pitfalls, and ironies of cultural tourism. Michael Smith’s Not Quite Under_Ground“the official tattoo studio of Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017”—offers an expansive array of artist-designed tattoos ranging from past Skulptur Projekte participants to Smith’s personal friends. The shop’s name references the increased cultural acceptance of permanent body art since the 1990s, but also Smith’s observation that senior citizens are frequenting Münster as tourists (the artist produced an accompanying video that may be viewed both in the tattoo studio and on YouTube.) As a result, Not Quite Under_Ground offers deep discounts to those sixty-five and older who wish to participate. Each tattoo provides a permanent souvenir while extending the lifespan of the exhibition through what Smith describes as “the storage medium of the skin.” 

Outmoded idioms of “public” and “private” become catalysts for many artists asked to participate in Skulptur Projekte. On the other end of Münster, in the city’s inland harbor, Ayşe Erkmen has installed a covert jetty between the waterway’s northern and southern piers. Existing just below the water’s surface, the industrial sheen of ocean cargo containers and steel grates is camouflaged by the water’s silver reflections. Visitors remove their shoes and step into water—creating the impression that they are walking on Münster’s river.

Ayşe Erkmen, On Water, 2017

By linking two urban spaces, Erkmen questions the sociocultural and sociological effects of city planning. When represented on maps, waterways—whether manmade or natural—indicate geographical boundaries that can restrict pedestrian movement. Opening the city’s harbor to foot traffic, On Water is a consideration of the relationship between city planning and accessibility. Münster’s LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur is also altered—Michael Dean’s Tender Tender establishes a space within a space by installing a large opaque plastic sheet inside the museum’s atrium. Reaching from ceiling to floor, the plastic creates a canopy that alters visitors’ normal movements. Inside the canopy, Dean has sculpted the detritus of city life; trash cans, stickers, painting tape, stones, wires, and grocery bags loosely resemble street lamps and sidewalks.  

Michael Dean, Tender Tender, 2017

Michael Dean, Tender Tender, 2017

Michael Dean, Tender Tender, 2017

documenta 14 and Skulptur Projekte Münster—although they differ in size and scope—attempt to question and reform constructs that have been shaped by Western culture. This attempt, however, can fall short when it is not fully realized. The LGBTQI refugee rights group made a specific statement when they captured Replica of Oath Stone: the dangers of artists and exhibitions addressing inclusivity without unfixing dominant ideological structures in contemporary art that oppress—and in turn “ exoticize”—“others.” Kentucky’s visual arts community is slowly progressing toward a more inclusive future, but exhibition spaces, museums, and cultural institutions are still defined by regional and local ideologies. Germany’s major tourist events of 2017 are marked with failure, but these failures are catalysts for imperative discussions about otherness, globalism, and complicity.

1. Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002), 138.

2. Paul Wood, The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s) (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012), 53-54.

3. Adam Szymczyk, et. al., The Documenta Reader (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2017), 22.

4. Szymczyk, The Documenta Reader, 23.

 

Arts

Dark Dualities: David Kenton Kring

David Kenton Kring, Get Out of Your Head, 2016, ceramic

Oh man, that is so creepy!

This, David Kenton Kring acknowledges, is a common response to his figurative works and that makes him feel just fine.

Kring is after a response from the viewer with his figural works and no apologies are needed if your first reaction is to be creeped out, turned off, or experience an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease. His motivation, however, is much deeper than mere shock value.

Kring wants to get your attention and then hold onto it long enough to present his intended juxtapositions – dualities that he likes to butt right up against one another. He pairs darkness with humor, contrasts smooth, brightly-patterned surfaces with blemished, crackled and peeling ones. And, with a broader brush, he hopes to examine the dual cultural realities of folk versus high art.

The artist’s figurative work is multilayered with metaphor and mystery, but the characters themselves come from specific memories of the ‘blue-collar folk’ that used to hang out in Kring’s family-owned clothing store in Frankfort, Kentucky.

While working his first summer job at Mitchell’s Clothing Store – where his father always had pot of coffee on – guys from the neighborhood would stop in looking for a little work. They’d tell dirty jokes and tall tales and, like the character referenced in I Can Do It Myself, always seemed to be just scraping by.

David Kenton Kring, I Can Do It Myself, 2014, ceramic

Kring admits that there is a little of himself in the figurative works as well. “Timid, for instance, recalls a specific point in my life when I was working non-stop in the studio,” Kring told UnderMain in our recent interview. “I was ramping up to begin a new and extensive body of work and I found myself too timid to go out and be with people – when I tried to take a break from myself, it was hard to take a break from myself.”

Timid

David Kenton Kring, Timid, 2015, ceramic

David Kenton Kring makes a living as an artist in Kentucky and getting to this stage in his artistic career had everything to do with taking it ‘slow and steady’. When asked what advice he might give other young artists trying to break onto the scene, he suggested that working for free – in the beginning – is necessary if you want to get connected.

At a critical juncture in his career, Kring found a job with Kentucky Mud Works where he realized that he could pay the bills by selling his pottery – coffee cups for the most part. But, he acknowledges that the figural work enables him to connect with his viewers in a much more meaningful way; they offer Kring the needed motivation to make art.

I am paying my mortgage with my pottery and then balancing my life with the figurative work, which inspires me most.

David Kenton Kring, Pottery in process, 2017

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

Because Kring works in ceramics, many people consider him to be a folk artist and this puzzles him as he is professionally trained having graduated from Transylvania University where he studied under Dan Selter. The artist’s newest body of work titled Masks, examines the duality of folk art versus high art.

David Kring with Breakdown, 2016

In my artwork, I focus on the figure using the outlets of ceramics and mixed media. My art offers an emotional charge through gestures, facial expression, and painting techniques. My surfaces are extremely worked; I rely on bends, folds, and crevasses to create depth and character in my work. I tend to work metaphorically, narratively, and autobiographically with the inspiration I find in various styles of music, entertainment, and history. Raised in a small family owned men’s work wear business, I became obsessed with the stories people would trade with each other. Because of this exposure, my work tends to convey themes of the disturbed and delusional personality, the duality of good and evil, the supernatural form of being, and dark humor. The goal of my work is to provide a narrative, offering the viewer a chance to connect with the characters I depict. – artist’s statement. Visit the artist’s website. 

Arts

Help Musicians Beat the Blues

“We are a town that likes to say we love our music and we love our musicians, and we support everybody,” says Robbie Morgan, founder of the newly-launched Lexington Musicians’ Emergency Fund. The “but” is implied in her statement, although the implication is clear.  “We kind of leave this one entity (independent musicians) off to the side…if you’re a musician, you’re kind of on your own.”

This shot across the bow of the Lexington cultural scene is more than talk, however, and Morgan now heads a small group of dedicated individuals ready to walk the walk, or, more precisely, flash the cash.

Enter the Lexington Musicians’ Emergency Fund (LMEF), a privately-funded organization designed to pick up the slack for working musicians in need of emergency assistance.

Morgan alludes to recent events involving musicians that struck a little too close to home, triggering a sense of urgency to begin building a safety net.

“That was too many people in town…that are close to suicide, or heroin addiction, or homelessness, or all of the above, and it was just like, ‘this is all just too close’.”

J. Tom Hnatow | Photo credit: Vivian Wang

J. Tom Hnatow, who has been a professional musician for the past decade, is an advisor to LMEF.

“When I lived in D.C., I was lucky enough to have a really helpful support network of people who could help me,” says Hnatow. “I’ve been helped out multiple times. And that culture doesn’t really exist in Lexington yet.”

Morgan set about creating this culture through a fund to serve as a backstop for musicians in need. She began by borrowing ideas from organizations in music cities such as Nashville, Austin, New York and even Louisville.

The Grammy Foundation served as the best model for the Lexington version, which may provide assistance for rent, utilities, food, medical bills, co-pays, deductibles and even tax or legal assistance (although criminal charges and payments on back taxes are not eligible).

Musicians in need apply by contacting the LMEF at weheartmusicians@gmail.com. The application process begins with eligibility qualification, as eligible applicants must (a) have earned seventy-five percent or more of total income during the last five consecutive years from music, (b) have three published/credited works of music, and (c) reside in Fayette or surrounding counties. A volunteer will then reach out the applicant, and requests for funds are put to a small panel of rotating advisors, which reviews the application anonymously to eliminate bias. The panel then makes a recommendation of whether to provide the funds and in what percentage.

The process sounds fairly conservative, at least in terms of disbursement of funds, and that’s before the last stipulation of the funds kicks in: the first 50 percent of the funds approved will be distributed immediately directly to whatever account needs to be settled, etc., but release of the remaining 50 percent of funds may require some legwork and homework on the part of the musician to increase her or his professional profile.

“The caveat to get that last fifty percent is that we’re going to start moving you to do the thing that you need to do in order to get professionalized,” says Morgan, who is quick to stress that these are not major strings attached to the funds. “These are smaller, little steps that start to get you going.”

“The point is not to give out handouts,” says Hnatow. “It’s really for someone who says, ‘I can’t pay rent.’ Once you take that person and you get them beyond that point, you then ask, ‘Okay, do you have insurance on your instruments?’ It’s aiding them to move beyond the spot where they are.”

The idea is to increase the career prospects of the individual as a musician incrementally, hopefully leading to better opportunities and less reliance on community support like the LMEF in the future. This is the secondary goal of the LMEF, to turn out a class of professional musicians who can, in turn, begin to reinforce the local infrastructure. 

“We might wind up having to tweak some of the parameters,” says Morgan. “It might be that we don’t have enough musicians who make seventy-five percent of their income [from music], and we might have to go to fifty percent.”

Robbie Morgan with The Binders | Photo by Zach Selby

The bar is set high initially to make sure the fund is not overburdened from the outset, but the question of long-term sustainability hangs in the air as well. LMEF is a privately-funded organization that relies on donations. It isn’t a standard tax-deductible non-profit, like a 501(c)(3) or similar organizations. If sustainability is a concern, it’s not one that shakes Morgan too heavily for the time being, although she is fully cognizant of what LMEF will need long-term.

“Obviously, with no revenue streams at this point other than donations, it’s going to be a little tricky,” Morgan says. “Eventually, once we start moving people into a proactive landscape, we’re going to use the Creative Capital model.”

Under this model, musicians that move on to greater success would then pay a very small percentage of earnings back into the fund for a period of time. Both Morgan and Hnatow talk about the LMEF in terms of being the first piece of a larger puzzle, with an infrastructure slowly building to make the original function of the LMEF obsolete.

“The goal with something like this is to put yourself out of business,” says Hnatow. “The goal is to become more proactive than reactive.” 

In addition to the funds, applicants and volunteers with LMEF can join a private Facebook group that exists to provide a communications network for musicians in need of assistance or even just advice.

Morgan and Hnatow point to another hoped-for benefit of the LMEF, which is to start coaxing local musicians out of the fabric of Lexington anonymity.

“Part of it will be interesting to discover people who do live here who we may not necessarily have heard of, who are making a living in the arts,” says Hnatow.

“We’re going to discover that there are more musicians in this town than the ones we see at the Green Lantern, because we’re going to find out that there are country musicians, people who write films, people who score theater stuff,” says Morgan. “And you know the exciting thing is this might provide a way for us to see hip-hop artists, Christian musicians, whatever it is…that our community is really big and we’re overwhelmed with requests because we find all these people that we didn’t know existed.”

“If Lexington is going to continue to grow culturally, then we’re going to need things like this,” says Hnatow.  “It’ll never be Nashville, it’ll never be New York, it’ll never be one of those cities, but if you can provide people with something they can’t get somewhere else, that sort of ups its game a lot. If we can be supportive of people who are making a living as musicians, we can grow.”

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Arts

Scene&Heard: Moontower ’17

Under an August sun in the peak of the sultry Kentucky summer, a gathering of great music, interesting art, inspired design and fun-lovin’ people will all come together in Lexington, Kentucky’s Masterson Station Park. For the fourth year, the Moontower Music Festival will fill the air of Central Kentucky with a wide menu of spectacular musical talent.

The brain child of Kaelyn Query and her event management company LexEffect, Moontower Music Festival started four years ago with just four bands and 1,000 folks in attendance.  This year, there will be two stages with fourteen bands in rotation, and Query hopes to top the 7000 who attended last year’s festival.

The desire to “present a new event for Lexington, Kentucky that would fill a niche” was the driver behind the festival’s origin, according to David Helmers, Kaelyn’s partner in creating the Moontower Music Festival for the last two years.

“We didn’t really have a popular music festival here in town” before Moontower, he said, and that’s what the festival is all about: bringing amazing music right into Lexington’s “backyard.”

The 2017 lineup is diverse – “from funk to blues to rock to progressive jam rock to soul to hip hop” – and full of great musical talents, both local and national. The local folks who will be sharing the stage with the touring bands are Daisy Helmuth and her band People Planet, the DeBraun Thomas Trio, Warren Byrom and the Fabled Canelands, and Tyler Childers and his band. They are four of the fourteen bands who will grace the two stages in turn, along with Umphrey’s McGee, Benjamin Booker, Cherub, Todd Snider, The Record Company, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Blackfoot Gypsies, Elise Davis, and Vita and the Woolf.  

Festival organizers have obtained a special noise ordinance waiver to allow them to extend the show until 11:30pm this year, in order to accommodate the sunset and the phenomenal light show that Umphrey’s McGee is promising as the headlining act.  And there are other new additions to this year’s plan for the ever-growing festival, according to Query and Helmers.

Besides bumping up the food options –  nearly 20 food trucks will be on hand, free cold water and more shade tents will be available to fend off that Kentucky sun. Four beverage vendors will be on site this year. West Sixth Brewing and Rhinegeist will be serving cold beer and ciders in cans, Lover’s Leap Vineyards will offer wine, and Old Forester Bourbon will be selling bourbon beverages, including bourbon slushies.

Moontower Music Festival is a grass roots, organic, home grown effort that is intended to include the entire Lexington and Central Kentucky community. A festival that is family, pet and all ages friendly, it also is bringing together different areas of the community into a collective celebration.

This year, the festival has partnered with the UK College of Design and Architecture to create a summer internship opportunity for design students.  Developed offsite all summer, the winning design will be installed as the stages go up and will be on display during the festival. Helmers is hoping this program continues and each year they can display a new Moontower installation.

Also joining in the fun is the UK Art Museum, which will be setting up an onsite art museum with pieces that follow a musical theme.  Some special pieces were commissioned just for the event, and festival goers are encouraged and welcome to view the artwork during the day.

Collectively, Moontower Music Festival and its partners have put together a community-wide event for the people of central Kentucky. Encouraging attendees from all ages and their dogs, they are hoping folks take advantage of the mass of talent available for this day in late August, right here in Lexington. “It’s an important cultural event for Central Ky that we hope is accessible to the community at large.”

Moontower Music Festival is a home-grown, central Kentucky celebration of music, art, design and fellowship. Gates open at 11 am on August 26th, and the show continues all day until 11:30 when Umphrey’s McGee and their light show bring things to a grand finale.  The ticket price increases as the date gets closer so folks are encouraged to purchase early ($45.00 now, $60 at the gate).  Children 12 and under are free, pets are welcome, water is free. 

Arts

Scene&Heard: Rhyan Sinclair

On a bright sunny day near a splashing fountain, folks gathered with their kids and dogs and variety of good foods to eat outside on a Friday night.  A white tent sat beside the fountain where kids cooled their bare feet, pink flowers hanging down and twisting in the breeze.  For the sixth year in a row, Rhyan Sinclair and her band All The Little Pieces began to warm up to play the Richmond Center Summer Concert Series.

On a beautiful day for outdoor live music, everyone clustered together in the shade and waved at familiar faces. Rhyan and her band soon took to the stage next to her ornately decorated merch table, joined by Jeff Bender on bass, Harlan Cecil on guitar, Sherri McGee on drums, her mom Toni Karpinski on backing vocals, and Brandon Bowker on guitar, harmonica, and backing vocals for a few songs.

Unique to her often country repertoire, Rhyan started her set with a cover of Jack White’s “Seven Nation Army.”  Joined in amazing talent by Harlan Cecil on guitar, the two young novices rocked that song with her voice and his electric guitar. She then took the set into diverse directions, playing originals that she wrote and also co-wrote with her mother along with other covers that are staples of her sets, including Loretta Lynn’s Sin City, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, and her picks from the songbook of her main musical muse, Dolly Parton.

Off stage, Rhyan is a quiet, thoughtful soul, but as soon as she straps on the rhinestone guitar strap that matches her silver cowgirl boots, her musical persona takes over and you would swear Dolly herself is up on that stage. Capturing every subtle nuance that Dolly has, Rhyan is clearly in her most natural environment on that stage.

But she is not limited by genre.  Not at all.  She moves her band effortlessly from country, to rock, to an awesome almost punk version of “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles, a Dolly-esque cover of Neil Young’s “Mother Nature” and even a blues traditional by Albert King “Down Don’t Bother Me”.

Then right back to some country spunk, she belts out Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots Ain’t Made for Walking,” Lefty Frizzell‘s If You Got the Money, and Dolly’s Applejack. Rhyan is well in tune with her band, whether seasoned musician or young prodigy like herself, All The Little Pieces is a tight band that clearly finds great joy backing Rhyan and all her talent.

Homeschooled since first grade, Rhyan has devoted her life and education to her passion for music.  She writes and composes her own songs, and has already recorded and released three CD’s, all of original songs. 

Her latest CD, The Legend of Lavinia Fisher, is a concept album inspired by a ghost tour in Charleston, SC, where she learned of Livinia, the first female serial killer in the US. She helped create a video to accompany the dark, southern gothic Livinia’s Song. Inspired by her love for Tim Burton, the video pairs well with her voice and lyrics for the song.

Rhyan is also the host of the Kentucky branch of Balcony TV, which her step-father Julian Karpinski produces. 

They record interviews and performances of local and touring bands on various balconies around the area.  This opportunity has allowed Rhyan to meet and collaborate with other local musicans.

Rhyan sings in a trio with other local musicians Melanie Bailey Pauley and Whitney Acke, covering Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Linda Ronstadt in near flawless renditions of the three original women. She also produces a Holiday Benefit for the Foster Care Council every winter that gives her the opportunity to work with other local musicians. Rhyan is hoping to work with more local musicians in the future, and has recently started collaborating on songs with her mother, Toni Karpinski, who also sang at the Richmond Center gig.

It’s clear that Rhyan Sinclair has a very bright future.  Not just for her voice, which is extraordinary in a way that gives you goosebumps when she sings.  But she is clearly a well-rounded musician in all ways. Her lyrics and verses compliment her voice and tell a story of someone you really want to know better.

Rhyan is fortunate to be able to focus so much of her talent into her musical career. Homeschooling “allows me to let the music and the art be such a big part of my life, and I’m so thankful for it.”

Maintaining her own website, managing her career with the help of her parents, recording songs and recording videos to accompany them, one thing is for certain, her focus: “Always music.”  

Rhyan Sinclar is a Kentucky talent who will endure and go far in the music world.

Arts

Duane Lundy’s Crossfade Moment

At first blush, it looks like a regular house, albeit a large and imposing one, but nothing externally gives the casual observer any indication of what takes place inside. The cinder blocks under the porch bear the dark stains of benign neglect. A small parking area might as well be a standard driveway for multiple occupants. There is no sign to denote the home of Shangri-La Productions, the local recording studio where a man by the name of Duane Lundy plies his trade.

Photo by Brian Powers

This is probably for the better. Lundy is not the sort of man to call attention to himself, despite a career that has seen an extraordinary ascending trajectory from home recording hobbyist to respected producer and collaborator, locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. That career may reach a new milestone on September 15th, when a new album by former Beatle Ringo Starr will hit the shelves (both digitally and analog…ly). On that album are two collaborations between Starr and local/national act Vandaveer, with Duane Lundy credited as the producer for both. Is this his moment?

Sitting half off a small set of steps behind the house on a sunny July day, Lundy is attired in black Converse All-Stars, black jeans, a black shirt with round Lennon sunglasses folded into the collar, and his trademark black fedora, a portrait of unflappable cool in the unyielding heat. The sense one gets is not that he’s trying to stand out so much as that he’s just outside his natural habitat.  Once he retreats into the sparsely lit confines of his home cum studio, his uniform makes more sense against the backdrop of a space designed to summon creative energies.

Photo By Brian Powers

Shangri-La Productions is not your average studio. The studio itself is a creative reimaging of the first floor of a large Victorian house. Where bespoke studios have a master control room and carefully divided spaces for enhanced sound isolation, Shangri-La favors a connected set of open rooms for collaboration, with all controls as the focus of what might have once been a magnificent sitting room with a fire place. The only “studio” decoration staples are the large oriental rugs adorning the hardwood floors, but everywhere hang bolts of various patterns of shimmering cloth and strings of white lights, giving an aura of comfort, and at times resembling a carnival. Vintage keyboards, amps, drums and guitars line the walls and halls. The atmosphere is immensely inviting to musicians, and that is by design.

“The pieces of work that I grew up on and studied a lot on were Zeppelin albums and U2 albums and Bob Dylan albums,” Lundy says. “Most of those albums were done in alternative spaces, you know, like [The] Joshua Tree, or Zeppelin albums in particular, Exile on Main Street… so I really found a lot of romanticism with the idea of being able to create a unique space that people felt comfortable in that was lived in, and also that it was a little bit sort of out of the template.”

If his studio aesthetic took cues from his favorite albums, his work process gained inspiration closer to home: Lundy’s former life as a tennis coach. That’s where he met Emily Hagihara, currently of Lexington staple Ancient Warfare, and formerly of Chico Fellini, a standout of the Lexington scene in which Lundy played guitar. At the time, however, she was a high school student taking tennis lessons where Lundy worked, and she believes that his experiences as a coach informs the way he approaches recording.

“He’s very much a coach, in a way,” Hagihara says. “He makes you feel welcome, and he encourages you to explore, but also makes you focus.”

Emily Hagihara | Photo by Cassie Lopez

“I know that I’ve gone into the studio several times and second-guessed a thing, and he just sort of makes you concentrate on doing that thing until it either works or it doesn’t. He’s just very pragmatic.”

Hagihara is part of Lundy’s increasing repertoire of consistent collaborators for mutual benefit. Her long musical history with Lundy has led to a harmonious working relationship over the past ten years or so.

“He likes, as well as I do, things that are a little rough around the edges, but I think we also like the juxtaposition or the marriage of those things that are rough but also beautiful, and figuring out how to make those two things work together,” Hagihara says.

The Lexington artist and songwriter Patrick McNeese, whose band has recorded several projects at Shangri La and is now in the process of another, credits Lundy for influencing the direction of the music scene in Lexington. “Writing a song, in many ways, is simply an invitation for other artists to contribute to the creation of a fully developed and engaging work of art. Duane is foremost another artist, one who understands this intricate and highly personal process and he has been able to develop the skills and temperament to achieve a consistently good outcomes in his studio. This is his unparalleled contribution to Lexington’s music and recording landscape.”

Patrick McNeese | Photo by Rebecca Powell

Lundy’s journey to his current role as Lexington’s music shaman took a circuitous route, with him getting a much later start than most music lifers.

“I was twenty-two and had never played an instrument before, and had always loved music,” Lundy says. “So, in starting late, I was pretty certain that being in a band or playing with other musicians that were my age was not going to be a possibility. So at the same time I got my first guitar, I also got a four-track [recorder].” 

Learning to play music alongside absorbing the fundamentals of recording allowed Lundy to gain an understanding of music from the perspective of writing and production, rather than just as a musician.

“I ended up learning really quick, which I think had a lot to do with just sort of my obsession with music,” Lundy says, “So I ended up being in bands within the first, I’d say, six months that I was starting to play.” 

For Lundy, learning to be a musician was great…

“But I really loved recording,” Lundy says.

Photo by Brian Powers

Later, after a business venture with his ex-wife ended, Lundy was at a crossroads, a not uncommon place for musicians to find themselves (see Johnson, Robert, or Clapton, Eric). It was then that his burgeoning hobby began to take shape as a career.

“A really good friend of mine who had actually taught me how to play guitar had moved from Lexington to Miami to become a music supervisor at an ad agency. So he would send me work, and that really was a pretty big crossfade* moment in my development from being sort of a local or regional recordist to doing stuff that was going to reach a more critical ear,” Lundy says.

From there, Lundy’s career as a recording engineer, mixer and producer took off, handling commercial work for various media platforms, work that saw him travel to studios nationally and internationally, honing his skills.

“There were moments where I contemplated moving to an industry market –  be it Nashville, or Los Angeles…New York. Wherever…the work is a bit more plentiful.” 

In the end, Lexington remained home, largely due to family considerations: his son, 17, and his daughter, 15, who both reside in the area.

Here’s the part where it would be easy to now try to paint Lundy as a martyr, an outsized talent duty-bound to lead a life less fitting than his skills deserve, but it’s all but impossible to nail him to that particular cross.  He doesn’t disseminate an air of self-pity or remorse for the path that he could have taken if only he could shake these little town blues; he can state matter-of-factly that Lexington is not entirely ideal as an industry town, but there’s never a sense of bitterness or confinement.

“I love Lexington,” Lundy says, and there’s not a single note of hesitation. “It has certainly created a set of challenges for me geographically, because, you know, there’s really no infrastructure of industry – music industry – here.” 

He could be a fixture in an industry-driven town, but Lundy credits the disconnect from the larger industry as a motivation for his success; he is less susceptible to trends and stagnation than if he were tapped directly in to the industry undercurrent.

“Not being in an industry town, being in a place like this, I really don’t know what the latest way that guys in Nashville are miking their drum kits,” Lundy says. ”But I like it. I think naivety is immensely important in keeping your creative flow interesting and productive.”

Lexington, however, is slowly accumulating industry credibility, if not music infrastructure, and it’s due in large part to Lundy and Shangri-La, as J. Tom Hnatow, a recording engineer, producer and musician at Shangri-La and member of Vandaveer, points out.

J. Tom Hnatow | Photo: Lithophyte

“It’s put Lexington on the map,” Hnatow says. “There’s been a level of recognition nationally and internationally. This city has been able to punch above its weight.”

Hnatow speaks from experience on that point, having been lured from more urban centers to Lexington by Lundy with the promise of work at Shangri La.

“As a professional musician, I would have not seen myself moving to Lexington if not for Duane.” 

As proof of Lundy’s expanding influence, Hnatow points to figures such as Justin Craig, who came up as a session player with Lundy and has since worked on Broadway as Music Director for “Hedwig and the Angry Itch,” among other high-profile projects.

“In Lexington, the number of people here working as a session musician is unusual for a city this size.”

The list of Lexington figures now achieving some sort of recognition on a national stage and beyond who have worked with Lundy is growing daily: Cheyenne Mize, Ben Sollee, Jim James of Louisville heroes My Morning Jacket and even newly-minted Grammy Award winner Sturgill Simpson, whose former band Sunday Valley recorded an album with Lundy before Simpson went solo.

After watching others ascend to new heights with a little help from his guidance, the spotlight may soon be focused more brightly on Lundy himself. Production credit for two cuts on a Ringo Starr album surely should bring attention to Lundy and his work, yet he downplays the suggestion that this a watershed moment for him, noting that he’s worked with legacy artists** such as Cheap Trick and others in the past. When pressed, he’ll admit to a degree of validation in the work, but he isn’t looking for the trappings of musical fame. Instead, Lundy frames his circumspect take on musical stardom with characteristic pragmatism.

“I love music to a degree that I wanted to continue to do it professionally, and I saw this as a means to continue to do it,” Lundy says. “And it just so happened I fell in love with doing it.”

“I really like what I do, and I like to think that I’ll spend the rest of my life doing it.  And that people will enjoy the time that we’ve had to work together and the people who get to listen to it, whoever that is, will enjoy what we did. No more, no less.”

‘If I reach a point to where it’s not fun anymore, then I won’t do it. Because there’s other things that you can do and make less sacrifice for.” 

Duane Lundy doesn’t need to be a rock star. He’s not jealous of the ascendency of those with whom he has collaborated. He’s content as the black-clad figure at the controls in his own personal Shangri-La, radiating calm in the center of Lexington’s growing musical storm.

*For those unaccustomed to the recording lexicon, a crossfade is a transition between sound clips, where one clip fades out as another fades in.

**A professional way of saying “rock star.”

Arts

Beyond Twangy: Southern Accent at the Speed Museum

Three current exhibitions in Louisville, Kentucky offer an opportunity to assess a southern aesthetic in the visual arts. Two of the three shows define their topics narrowly, providing a specific critical viewpoint. The third invites something altogether different.

“Provoking the Uncanny: Ralph Eugene Meatyard”  (Schneider Hall Galleries, University of Louisville, through August 14th), curated by Hunter Kissel, zeroes in on Freudian implications of the Lexington photographer’s use of blurred and prolonged exposures while photographing masks, dolls, as well as child and adolescent models. Meatyard’s inventive Southern Gothic conveys the combination of fright and anxiety Freud believed arose from recognition of imagery associated with traumatic memories of a childhood long suppressed in the subconscious. The psychoanalytic concept of the uncanny provides a fresh critical view of Meatyard’s ability to tap into a hallucinatory merging of reality and fantasy.

Comparably focused is “Southern Elegy: Photographs from the Stephen Reily Collection” (Speed Art Museum through October 14th). Reily assembled a connoisseur’s selection of Louisiana-centric images starting from the premise that “southern photography is often inspired by its own sense of captured memory, self-aware of the losses that underlie the landscape before us as well as target the losses that will transform it once again.” Staving off oblivion is a risky endeavor, but the collection evades the obvious risk of mawkishness, first through the extraordinary quality of the work, and secondly through the selection of photographs which are broadly poetic representations of the South rather than documents. The most affecting photograph in the collection is Sally Mann’s sun-struck shot of the bank of the Tallahatchie River where the murdered body of Emmett Till was heaved into the water. Mann has written that she finds the South “death-haunted, pain-haunted, just haunted, period…I was looking for images of the dead as they are revealed in the land and in its adamant renewal.”   “Provoking the Uncanny” and “Southern Elegy” are both tightly conceived, coherent bodies of work that provide excellent complements to their larger counterpart.

In contrast, “Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” (also at the Speed Art Museum through October 14th) is a grandly multifarious affair, an exhibition that leads in multiple directions. It promulgates, in its various threads, the argument that the South is in the throes of revolutionary evolution. Yet, the exhibition’s ambitions go beyond simply tracking that rapid change: the mind, the culture, the zeitgeist, the possible personal meanings of “the South,” are addressed through the works of art, the accompanying audio library of southern music, and the 275-page catalogue, which variously includes scholarly essays, artists’ statements, poetry, anecdote, a cultural chronology, a music library, and a reading list. The show broaches “the complex and contested concept of the American South through the lens of contemporary art” in this sweeping (and ultimately affectionate) effort at “enacting and interrogating southern identity.”

The title “Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” is therefore not about a distinguishing twang, but accentuation on a trenchant and consequential moment in American art played out in a particular region of the United States. Time is not a continuum in this show, but a mechanism for looping back to the past – not as the object of a long, fond, lingering look, but as a departure point that posits a more benign future. And unlike earlier regionalisms, the art seldom aims to find the universal in the local, but rather to demarcate and hail its particularities.

The co-curators, Miranda Lash of the Speed Art Museum and Trevor Schoonmaker of the Nasher Art Museum at Duke University, subvert the magisterial authority of the curatorial voice in resetting the parameters of inquiry into American regionalism, and reformulating traditional imagery of southern identity. There is no acoustic guide sequence for touring this exhibition, allowing for individual pathways of discovery. To me, it prompted a train of musings about nature and sense of place, cool and anti-cool, art as witness, speaking truth to power, and finally, the possibility of prototypes for a new sectional iconography.

Thornton Dial, 1928-2016, Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers, steel, wood, wire, twine, artificial flowers, ax blade, glass bottles, animal bones, cloth, tin cans, paint can lids, and enamel 76 x 138 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and the William S. Arnett Collection of Souls Grown Deep Foundation, Atlanta, Georgia, © 2017 Estate of Thornton Dial / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The introductory work in the exhibition sets the tone for much of what follows: Thornton Dial’s “Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers” is a screen relief as rigorous and formally elegant as any by the late Sir Anthony Caro. A self-taught (or indigenous) artist, Dial arranged wrought iron floral plumes on the screen, adding to this scavenged assemblage plastic flowers, an ax blade, animal bones, glass bottles, tin cans, paint can lids, enamel paint and scraps of cloth. Some of these additions are associated with traditional African-American burial practices and are believed to have protective powers. Dial’s sculpture performs a sacerdotal memorial to the creativity as well as the dangerous lives of African-American steel workers. At Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama, where Dial lived, one learns that black workers had the hottest, most arduous and most dangerous tasks in the foundry. Sloss Furnace is locally believed to be haunted because of the many workers’ deaths during its years of operation (1882-1971).

“Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers,” in aesthetic disguise, conjures up a propitiatory tribute to marginalized mill hands. In the broader context of southern icons, Dial turns on its head the clichéd views of New Orleans’ French Quarter balconies and transforms associations with the conventionally picturesque into a potent argument for the moral intelligence and pertinence of a disparate group of repurposed objects.

Sense of place is not directly addressed in this exhibit but it is continually manifest in the imagery of climate and vegetation. The searing, unforgiving intensity of summer sun and heat is conveyed in Benny Andrews’ fabric collage of a stalwart woman passing a row of workers’ cabins, her black obelisk-shaped shadow competing for attention with the figure herself. Like heat, vegetation is a place marker but there are no grand allées of live oaks festooned with Spanish moss and no genteel borders of azalea. Plant life is mystically profuse in the wonderful pairing of watercolors by Walter Anderson and crayon drawings by Minnie Evans. Jim Roche’s photographs with text and Howard Finster’s tree of life “vision of the angels feed on the fruit of a farren [sic] land” share a vitalist sense of a benevolent plant world. These stand in contrast to the malevolent, inexorable advance of kudzu in photographs by William Christenberry or the eerie algae scum in Jessica Ingram’s forbidding photo of a cypress swamp.

Southern Accents: Seeking The American South in Contemporary Art, Speed Art Museum, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Henry Harrrison Mayes, Untitled, n.d.; Howard Finster, Vision of the Angels – Honey Without Bees; William Christenberry, Building with False Brick Siding, Warsaw, Alabama, 4 photographs, 1974-1994; Benny Andrews, Down the Road, 1971; Romare Bearden, Profile, Part 1, The Twenties: Mecklenburg County, Sunset Limited, 1978; Romare Bearden, Watching the Good Trains Go By, 1964, FOREGROUND (Left) Beverly Buchanan, 1940-2015, Family Tree House, 2009, cedar and acrylic, 2009, 17x10x14.5 inches, Courtesy of the Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, New York (right), Moonshine Man’s House, wood, 12×16.75×18.5 inches, Courtesy of the Andrew, Edlin Gallery, New York, New York Installation View Photo Credit: TL Dickman

The uses and moods of a pressing natural world find little concordance with depictions of the built environment. Over 50 of the 125 works in the exhibition feature structures of some sort, but outdoor views vastly outnumber interiors. Neighborhood, family and street life vanished: boarded up after Katrina, obstructed by segregation, wealth or ethnic distinctions, or abandoned because of economic shifts, misplaced governmental policies, or migration away from the South.

Beverly Buchanan’s miniature cabins made of scrap wood are cenotaphs – tomblike monuments- for generations dispersed from farmland but poignantly and equivocally are also loci of longing for a fixed and familiar home place, however impoverished. Douglas Bourgeois’ ironic interiors-without-walls, as in “American Address,” depict in hallucinogenic detail the unreality of that pining. Curator Trevor Schoonmaker observes “the acts of leaving and coming home seem an integral and commonplace part of southern life.”

Douglas Bourgeois, b. 1951, American Address, 2006, oil on panel, 20 x 16.75 inches, Private Collection

I perceive another sub-theme in the expression of cool and anti-cool. First used by jazz musician Lester Young in the 1940s, “cool” denotes a defiant assertion of individuality, independence, and rebellion. Cool is sartorially resplendent in Barkley Hendricks’s 1971 painting, “Downhome Taste”, and echoes the theme of black masculine empowerment in Blaxploitation films of the same era – downward tilted hat, sunglasses, cigarette, leather jacket and woven belt – costumed as if in a film still. Cool exists on a continual gradient. In Fahamu Pecou’s self-portrait as a high-stepping vaudeville performer, the words CHIT’LIN CIRCUIT celebrate the show people of that segregated tour while an Outkast lyric sprayed across the top of the canvas offers an ironic comment on the circumstances of those performers’ lives. Pecou’s engagement with an obsolete version of cool induces a searching dialogue with historical versions of black male identity.

Cool as a personal style, a way of being in relation to a particular time and place, is deeply interwoven and intrinsic to Southern identities. Hats, headdresses, and hair-dos proclaim the with-it-ness of those depicted as in Willie Birch’s monumental and joyous drawings of the Storyville Stompers Brass Band and Second Line and the Big Nine Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Anti-cool is signaled again and again in the exhibition by hats: helmets, snap-brims, police caps and Klan hoods. Although the concept of cool is historically African-American, the inextricable mix of southern identity and cool go beyond the black-white binary. Diego Camposeco’s portrait of a fifteen-year-old Mexican-American North Carolinian in a flouncy blue gown is one example of how “southerner” now has multiple modifiers beyond African-American or Caucasian. Other ethnicities and sexual orientations manifested in the exhibition include Native American southerner, Afro-Native American southerner, Vietnamese-American southerner and lesbian southerner. Multiple cool southern identities are conjoined in Jeff Whetstone’s portrait of “Caitlin,” a teenage hunter, posed in the woods wearing camouflage, shotgun across her lap, made up with polished fingernails, lipstick, eyeliner and pearl earrings.

Art as witness and speaking truth to power parallel different concepts of self outlined above: there is an implicit revolutionary bias in many of the guises adopted in “Southern Accents” portraits. Of all the adversarial forces to be overcome – hurricanes, economic hardships, prejudices, or, for some, godlessness – racism takes center stage. In terms of visual imagery the archetype is the Civil Rights protests of the last half of the 20th century. Two contrasting marches, seen in Michael Galinsky’s chilling edit of 1987 video footage, “The Day the KKK Came to Town,” and Hank William Thomas’ installation of sixteen photographs on mirrored surfaces of the Bloody Sunday march in 1965, encapsulate curator Lash’s description of “the region’s layered history of racism and oppression.”  Speaking truth to power underlies William Cordova’s “Silent Parade: Or the Soul Rebels Band Vs. Robert E. Lee,” a video depicting the jazz troupe’s musical jeer at the New Orleans monument to the Confederate general. (The monument has since been removed).

Finally, there are works in the exhibition that invite (at least theoretically) performance and decoding: set as stage sets, like good drama, they offer if not a healing catharsis, then the extended reflection that follows adept provocation. The struggle against privileged legacies takes many forms. Theaster Gates’ “Soul Food Rickshaw for Collard Greens and Whiskey,” a beautifully crafted pushcart made in part from recycled desk drawers, is a rolling tabernacle for a ritual African-American meal. It is accompanied by two stools implying shared sustenance.

Sonya Clark, b. 1967, Unraveling, 2015-present, Cotton Confederate battle flag and unraveled threads, edition 2/10, 70 x 36 x 7 inches, Courtesy of the Artist

Sonya Clark’s “Unraveling’ is a Confederate flag, the threads of which have been picked asunder to straggling tatters. Part of the magic of Clark’s invention is that we are accustomed to seeing ragged and worn flags in history museums. Clark signals that a new battle has been enjoined and new purposes may be found for the salvaged threads. In his interactive video projection, Hank Willis Thomas recolors the Confederate battle flag into the colors of pan-African liberation, black, red and green. There is a microphone placed before the screen. The video morphs into kaleidoscopic star bursts when the viewer sings along with Thomas’ playlist of R&B classics, thereby enlisting the viewer as part of the implied call to action.

Hank Willis Thomas, b. 1976, Black Righteous Space (Southern Edition) 2012, DVD (Play list and video installation), microphone and Mac Mini, runtime continuous, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York

More complicated metaphors provide syntax for a subtly inflected diction of psychological emancipation. “Southern Comfort” by Sam Durant juxtaposes a gray army blanket, an ax handle and a pint of the sickly sweet liquor, Southern Comfort. A symbol of staunch segregationism, ax handles were given away by Georgia Governor Lester Maddox at his fried chicken restaurant. The Confederate gray of the blanket and the Currier and Ives steamboat on the Southern Comfort label collude to cast into doubt the universality of the concepts of southern hospitality and comfort to strangers.

Radcliffe Bailey, b. 1968, Up From, 2015, Canvas tarpaulin, velvet, Georgia clay, wood, rock, thread, rum and tobacco, 132×72 inches, canvas tarpaulin, velvet, Georgia clay, wood, rock, metal, thread, rum, and tobacco; 132 x 72 inches Courtesy of the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York

Radcliffe Bailey, Up From, 2015. Detail Photo Credit: TL Dickman

Radcliffe Bailey’s “Up From” is a canvas tarp rubbed with Georgia red clay dirt, Caribbean rum and tobacco, like African sculptures encrusted with sanctifying liquids, but also substances associated with the history of slave labor. An iridescent black head wearing a battered top hat sits on a rock in the upper half, like an intercessor or divine guide for the tracks or ladders stenciled on the tarp. Miranda Lash associates the diverse array of symbols stitched on the tarp with signs from the “Underground Railroad, Yoruba and Kongo cosmology, Haitian Veve  and black Southern artists and craftsmen.” The title may reference Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography “Up From Slavery,” which advocated black advancement through skilled trades. The ladder and snake imagery on the tarp may also reference the ancient board game, Snakes and Ladders,  in which players endure the perils of continual reversals and slipping backwards from the start (bottom square) to the finish (top square) – a potent metaphor for the uncertainties of black American lives in the 20th and 21st centuries.

On May 17, 2017, the statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from its pedestal in New Orleans. On that occasion, Mayor Mitch Landrieu remarked, “I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us…Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place…We justify our silence by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial.” Surely his statements go a long way to explaining the reasons for and the power of this show.

In effect, the slate is clean and cleared for a new iconography of the South. Does “Southern Accent” offer a proto-history of that stylistic evolution?  Think of Eastern Europe after Glasnost, South Africa in the Mandela Era, or Ireland in the years leading to and after their Civil War with the revival of the Gaelic language, popular song, the Abbey Theater, the paintings of Jack Yeats. If the American South were a foreign country (and it some ways it is), it might be easier to recognize the pivotal character of the present moment.

“Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” is foundational, essential viewing for anyone with an interest in regional American art and culture.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Moontower Fest | Rhyan Sinclair

Cara Blake Coppola’s latest Scene&Heard column previews the Lexington summer celebration and reviews singer-songwriter Rhyan Sinclair and All the Little Pieces.

Moontower Music Festival 2017

Check out Cara’s preview of this amazing day of music, art, design and fun at Lexington’s Masterson Station Park.


Rhyan Sinclair and All the Little Pieces

Cara reviews Lexington singer-songwriter Rhyan Sinclair.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Derek Spencer

Sometimes, there’s just that singer with that voice. That is Derek Spencer, the man behind The Rooster’s Crow.

With a deep, soulful voice that immediately demands a crowd’s attention, Spencer’s lyrics draw you into a world of spirituality and sin, and a life of a different, lost time. 

Infusing his image-rich lyrics with an Eastern Kentucky upbringing in the small town of Beattyville, Spencer’s music delivers the room to a time of moonshine and stills, Bibles and damnation, and rich a capella hymns that echo through the hills of Appalachia.

Having had various incarnations over the last eight years, The Rooster’s Crow met in its most recent and steadfast form on the night of July 1 at Willie’s Locally Known to debut Winter’s Limbs, a CD encompassing the first era of Derek Spencer’s musical career. 

With Maggie Lander on fiddle and harmony vocals, Chip Minks on bass and Spencer’s cousin Justin Wall on drums, Derek and the band gave the packed house a fun, loud, tight quality night of great Eastern Kentucky talent.  “I think for a couple of country boys and girls, we did pretty good.”

Growing up in a small town of 1,100, Spencer was the boy by his mom’s side in a tiny fundamentalist congregation ministered by his uncle.  His mom “was the lady in the church that always sang a little louder than the rest of the congregation, and she had a beautiful voice.”  He gives credit for his love of singing to his mother and that voice, rising up over the others in the a capella hymns.  This influence is the foundation for his music in The Rooster’s Crow.

“I’ve always had a passion for old-timey, Scotch-Irish music, and the concepts that are associated with it.  Some kind of spirituality, which, being from Eastern Kentucky I’m very familiar with. It’s a big part of Appalachian culture…people’s religion. And I’ve always, like so many people from the area, had a conflicting relationship with it. I think these songs are just a manifestation of that. There is a big presence of God but there’s a big presence of doubt, too.”

Many of Spencer’s first songs took the form of poetry until he discovered Jean Ritchie and realized he could more fully express himself through music.

“Eleanor’s Ghost” was his first song and poem; the tale of a lamented murder of passion, and the inevitable haunting that became of it.  Murder ballads are Appalachian gold, and heavily prevalent in The Rooster’s Crow repertoire.

From there Spencer fell heavily into the songs of Townes Van Zandt, which opened his mind to the power of rich lyricism – and his songs are full of them.

Also working on a solo record that he hopes to begin recording soon, Derek Spencer follows in the footsteps of his idols with a trove of intense songs.

Winter’s Limbs is the culmination of Spencer’s first eight years of writing and performing his songs. His band has performed them together and were clearly excited to share the CD with a crowd.  The room was full of fans and family and friends, and many stood behind the tables the entire show to move with the rhythm, and dance with Derek and Maggie and the band as they made music for everyone. 

With Lander on backing vocals and fiddle their voices blend to create a dark, spiritual world that takes you with them. For a few songs Josh Nolan joined the proceedings on guitar and vocals, crowding the stage with solid talent. A few covers were shared as well, including Johnny Cash’s “If You were a Lady” as an encore.

It was a good night for Derek Spencer. The house was packed until the last song was played; merch was sold; CD’s signed; and lots of friends got hugs.

“It went really well” he commented after, with a humble smile. Another gem in Lexington’s rich music scene.

Folks, check your favorite live music calendar, get out of the house, enjoy and support. There’s something for everyone in Lexington’s music scene.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Scott Whiddon

 On July 22nd at The Green Lantern, Lexington will be treated to a unique show of some of the city’s best and diverse talent.  The occasion is the official release of Scott Whiddon’s first solo CD project, In Close Quarters with the Enemy.

Scott is among the many who have come to proudly call Lexington home.  A professor at Transylvania in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Communication program, Scott has been an active part in the local music since he moved here in the mid-2000’s. A member of Palisades, along with Neil Bell and Mark Richardson, Scott has also been in The Wags, and has performed with other locals at several fundraising shows around town over the last few years.

The new album of originals is a “batch of songs that kind of didn’t fit” with any of the other projects.  So, he decided he needed a solo record. “I’ve always been a band guy…but I’ve always been a band guy in someone else’s band.”

Produced and recorded with J. Tom Hnatow, along with Robby Cosenza and Cecilia Wright, In Close Quarters with the Enemy showcases Whiddon’s strong literary and composition background. The title quotes the Walt Whitman poem, Democratic Vistas. His voice is low-key, a much softer timbre than is found in the music he plays with Palisades.  He tells the listener a story, carrying through vivid images and visceral sensory descriptions that one can almost feel, touch, and taste.

Listen: Faster Than We Hoped

Scott is a storyteller, and his songs are stories that invite the listener along with an easy approach.  His soft steady voice creates a picture, like the Catskill mountains in “Holidays.”  The light guitar creates a pace for walking along with him as he describes the setting, the “empty pools and rusted carousels.” The listener can feel what the characters feel. His guitar is joined comfortably with the music of Hnatow, Cosenza and Wright, creating a setting and mood for each song.

Whiddon speaks reverentially of Hnatow and Cosenza and Wright, as a brain trust of talent that provided a foundation for his songs, which is fitting, as Whiddon speaks often in carpentry metaphors.  In tribute to his father, the maker of the door he used for a desk, which is the name of Scott’s artistic website (ADoorforaDesk.com), he sees songwriting and creativity as a craft.  “You get a hammer and a nail and a saw, and you make a thing…”

“I don’t believe in inspiration,” says Whiddon, “I just don’t. I think it’s a bullshit word.” Rather, he sees creativity and songwriting as a craft. “I try to block off “x” amount of time every day, and that time can wax and wane depending on what’s going on. You sit there, at the same place, with the same tools every day and you throw your antennae up.”  It’s a commitment, and you have to be willing to put in the work. “For me it’s all about craft, rather than any sort of inspirational artistic mysticism,” he says.

Scott has been putting together shows with his fellow local musicians to benefit Habitat for Humanity, honoring the elder Whiddon’s dedication to the organization’s works in the last decade of his life.  The first was a Velvet Underground charity show at The Burl with Robby Cosenza, Kim Smith, Tim Welch, Willie Eames and Sam McWilliams. Two months ago he held a Pink Floyd show at Cosmic Charlie’s, recreating the entire Dark Side of the Moon album with Kevin Holm-Hudson, Mark Richardson, Thomas Hatton, Jim Gleason and others.  More Habitat benefit shows will follow, with two already in the works.

Scott attributes much of his contribution to a deep bench of talent in such a small city, with so many great songwriters, technicians, musicians. Considering the “Ratio of talent to numbers…we’re lucky.”

Indeed.

Come out and support some of this Lexington talent on Saturday July 22nd.  The Volare String Quartet will open the evening with a set of experimental classical music.  Then Scott will take the stage, solo at first, later to be joined by Cosenza, Hnatow,Wright and Jimmy Early of Frigid Kitty. Italian Beaches will close out the night; a unique line-up curated by Whiddon himself. 

The Green Lantern is located at 497 W 3rd St. Lexington, Kentucky

(Photo credit: Ann Sydney Taylor Photography | Album Cover by Neil Bell)

Arts

Helene Steene: An Aegean Journey

In her artist’s statement, Lexington mixed media artist Helene Steene says she is intrigued by “the tension between forms, lines, and colors that ultimately can resolve in harmony.”  She is also captivated by the resistance of the wood on which she works, to which she can apply multiple layers of glazed oils, attach strips of sanded metal, and into which she can hammer roofing nails if she pleases (and she does).  She works boldly, never from a palette, mixing her colors directly on the prepared surface to create depth and to allow her medium to take her where it will. 

Steene is tenacious and extremely sensitive in her approach to making art: “If my work can slow someone down to contemplate something within her or himself – if the work can add a moment of focus on their inner peace in this absurd world – then I have reached the viewer.  We, the viewer and the mark maker, would be connected through that ephemeral magic that is all around, as I am convinced that one’s range of intellect is so trivial in the face of greater mysteries.”

Helene Steene with Work in Progress | Photo by Jim Fields

One of these “greater mysteries” is fully embodied in her Moon Sentinel I.  I was smitten by its transcendental glow as I stood in her studio and gazed at it.  Socrates was the first to insist that the moon is made of stone, and so is Steene’s—white marble, or marble dust to be exact, which gives it its pitted luminosity, creating a tranquil tension akin to the moon’s gravitational force on the earth’s tides.

Moon Sentinel I (7’ x 4’)

The magical effect of the marble dust and the peacefulness of the blues, turquoise, and greens stand in sharp contrast to the reflective pieces of metal symmetrically placed on each side of the moon, creating a gateway into the night sky. Even though night’s guardian stands guarded, it still has the power to stir our innermost spiritual natures, to “pull” us in. 

The artist’s orbs do no less. We usually don’t think of circles and squares as being necessarily complementary, (square peg in a round hole) but because they are considered traditional forms that most artist work with, Steene challenged herself to create a structural harmonious relationship between the two. Her mission was accomplished with her orb series which include Oculus 1 & 2.

Oculus 1 (48” x 48”)

Oculus 2 (48” x 48”)

They, like the moon sentinels, are also intriguing studies in symmetry and mystery. You may see an eye when you look at them or you may see a planet at the very core suspended in a square universe.  Be what they may, the artist stays true to her philosophic intent by granting her viewer the latitude that frees the “ephemeral magic” to take precedence over “one’s range of intellect,” and to open the door to a more personal experience and connection with her art. 

Steene’s finely-tuned process figures prominently into her success as an abstract impressionist.  She applies thin layers of liquin oil, or glaze, which stay wet allowing for extended manipulation as she sprinkles on powdered pigments made from crushed minerals. The intense colors you see in Aegean Nine as well as Aegean Blue Fresco I are the result of building up the canvas with the desired mix of pigments and oil, glazing layer upon layer until the desired effect is achieved. Consequently, the word fresco appears in many of her titles.

Aegean Nine Beaufort (48”x42”)

She states, “If I go too dark, I can sand back between the layers of colors to get to the marble dust to bring out more of the luminosity. So a very blue piece may actually have 20 different layers of blues on it and because it is applied in different ways and sanded off in different ways, it glows. The light actually travels through and the translucence remains regardless of the number of layers.”  She uniquely refers to this occurrence as “the linguistics of light.”

Aegean Blue Fresco I (48”x42”)

The Aegean paintings and Antiquity Dive I & II do not possess the symmetry of the moons and orbs. But they do demonstrate an impressionable delicate balance, vertically and horizontally, created by the irregular size and placement of the metal plates and strips on the canvases as well as the irregular lines (or horizons) that establish the spatial relationship between the striking combination and mixtures of brilliant colors.

You may even reel a little as you look at the Antiquity Dives and are pulled into the depths of their raw, natural beauty. The metal at the bottom of the composition is almost like a thin barrier reef protecting the viewer from these sometimes foreboding and potentially destructive elements but without creating a sense of detachment or alienation from the scene. The effect is a bit like snorkeling—where you are still able to safely breathe as you immerse yourself and become a part of what you see.

Antiquity Dive I (7’x4’)

Antiquity Dive II (7’x4’)

If you detect a slight Rothko feel in some of Steene’s art, you would not be wrong. She says she has recently come to appreciate the simplicity of his work and employs some of his techniques.  Yet in that simplicity, there is a certain complexity that makes her work particularly expressive and engaging for her viewers. Other influences include Kenzo Okada, a Japanese/American painter who uses encaustic, a translucent wax, to lend a mysterious layering to his art.  And she admires the paintings of contemporaries such as Richard Diebenkorn and Marsha Meyers in addition to the old masters like Titian and Vermeer because of their use of color and glazing.  Her mastery, however, is guided by her intuition, training, personal life experiences, and observations of nature.

Steene was born in Sweden and lived in other parts of Europe (England, Germany, Spain, and Greece) before coming to the U.S. in 1976 where she received part of her art education at George Washington University in Washington, D. C., and then obtained her MFA from the University of Kentucky in 2004.

Although she has lived in Lexington since the early 80s and is enchanted by the beauty of the Bluegrass, Greece is her passion and has been her source of inspiration for the last thirty-two years. It’s the call of the Aegean—the wine red sea of Homer, and of Helios—the god of the sun who drives his chariot daily across the Grecian skies.  It’s the call of Asclepius—the god of healing, and the call of her summer home on the island of Paros, known for its fine-grained, semi-translucent, pure white marble.

The Wine Red Sea, Paros (12”x12”)

In a portion of her statement for her Aegean Echoes exhibit at the Headley-Whitney Museum in the fall of 2013, Steene speaks of Paros as “A place where I have experienced great passion and a place where I asked for a divorce. A place where my child learned to swim like a fish and the place of utmost sadness when the sea took my best friend’s child. A place where I skinny dip in the golden sea when the rising morning sun comes flashing over the water . . . a sea that gives and takes with equal powers.”

The scene was captured by musician-composer Rusty Crutcher in music written specifically for the Aegean Echoes exhibit.

Crutcher, it turns out, was one of several Lexington artists who gravitated to Steene’s tribute to the Aegean. She recalls how it all came together.

Steene’s triptych, Archilochus’ View crisscrosses and etches into her viewers’ hearts and minds an emotionally mixed empathic sense of place.

Archilochus’ View (78”x48”)

The following lines of this great poet who lived on the island of Paros in 7th century BCE echo and illuminate her reflections on her home away from home: “Take the joy and bear the sorrow, looking past your hopes and fears: / learn to recognize the measured dance that orders all our years” (Archilochus: To His Soul). Also, the quality of light that bathes Paros holds special interest for Steene as it spills from Helios’ chariot into the sea and is reflected back onto the landscape from the waters of the Aegean—an ever-changing horizon that appears in most of her paintings.

Steene’s art is not only concerned with the language of light, but also the language of the heart. Her Visual Poetry is a series of collages on paper—a collaboration with a friend who writes the poetry and she then chooses the words that represent the essence of what the poem means to her.  It’s a two-way street between the artist and her viewer as well: “If I gave you myself in an unguarded moment . . . would we leave our marks on one another’s hearts?   I think we know the answer to this question.

If I Gave You Myself (34”x30”)

Steene has participated in over 200 exhibitions worldwide in the last thirty-five years and has exhibited her work in most of the major galleries in the Lexington area and throughout the state. She is gaining more national and international attention as well. With her concentration on nature and the healing effect of art, private collectors, corporations, and medical institutions are beginning to show an increased interest in purchasing and installing her work. They, along with Steene, recognize the truth in Aristotle’s words that “In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.” Visit her website (www.helenesteene.com) to see her CV and portfolios.

Currently, Steene is an award-winning participant in this year’s Art Santa Fe Expo (A Spectrum Art Show—July 13-17) which will include some of her new work as well as pieces from Aegean Echoes. She also received the honor of having her painting, Mesimeri, selected for the event’s full-page ad running in the July issue of American Art Collector.

Mesimeri (29”x25”)

This fall in Lexington, Steene will be exhibiting new work, such as Oculus 3, in a duo show with sculptor Julie Warren-Conn at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center at 141 East Main Street. The opening reception for the show, Complex Simplicities, will be on October 6th from 5-8:00 p.m. with a Gallery Hop reception on November 17th from 5-8:00 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 3rd and the hours for the City Gallery are as follows: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  You may contact the gallery by phone (859-425-2562) or email (clewis2@lexingtonky.gov).  The eye of the universe is upon you. Catch the glow—go see the show.

Oculus 3 (oil, marble dust, and metal on wood 48”x48”)

(Images of all artwork are courtesy of the artist.)

Arts

A Unique Pairing: Teri Dryden at B. Deemer

A Review: Out of Line: New Works by Teri Dryden

at B. Deemer Gallery, Louisville

Sketchbook2, 2017, collage, 8×8

Abstraction, unlike figuration, is enigmatic, fleeting, and, in some cases, uncertain. Abstract artworks seem to channel the human condition in ways that figurative works cannot. They connect with viewers on a purely visual level; there is no narrative to be read or bodies to identify. On the contrary, abstraction thrives purely on emotion and instinct. Teri Dryden’s abstract paintings and collages offer viewers a moment to reflect and reevaluate themselves and the world they occupy with rich colors and forms. Dryden’s art serves as a remedy for the hustle and bustle of daily life—a breath of fresh air, as it were.

Out of Line, an exhibition of some of Dryden’s most recent artistic output at Louisville’s B. Deemer Gallery, showcases the artist’s dedication to abstraction, medium, and color, specifically the ways in which color is perceived and internalized in viewers.

Installation view, Out of Line: New Works by Teri Dryden, B. Deemer Gallery, Louisville, KY.

Dryden received an undergraduate degree in theatre from Towson University before touring with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a clown for two years. She moved to Los Angeles thereafter and was an accomplished stage actress, but she quit acting after the birth of her first child. Dryden maintained an interest in self-expression and turned to painting and drawing—after a brief exploration in quilt making—for creative release. She now resides in Louisville and is represented by galleries in Kentucky and Mississippi, though she continues to show work across the nation.

Dryden begins the majority of her paintings with a single line and builds them up in a series of reactions to the medium and the individual marks she makes; Viewers can easily determine how materials are applied. It is evident Dryden does not simply brush and drip paint onto her canvases; she also utilizes reductive techniques such as sanding and sgraffito, a technique of scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting color.

In addition, the varied opaqueness and transparency of her paints create a sense of depth capable of spurring a multitude of interpretations. Indeed, Dryden’s paintings function as planes for viewers to look at and intake. The records of her actions—those marks always at the fore in her paintings—offer a sense of directionality so that viewers survey the entirety of each canvas in constant movement. Some of the artworks in Out of Line are inspired by Dryden’s recent journey to India and her engagement with India’s visual culture as well as the Holi festival. There, she collected materials from her daily activities that were to be incorporated into her art upon her return home.

Moon Gate, 2017, collage, 8×10

Dryden undeniably invokes certain well-known figures of art history. Her emphatic treatment of the canvas’s surface is suggestive of paintings by abstract expressionists such as Joan Mitchell, and Lenore “Lee” Krasner -particularly her broad, vivacious brushstrokes. Yet, the shapes she creates and their interrelationships within the canvas’s frame alludes to paintings by Clifford Still, who invoked the vast stretches of land of his native North Dakota through from and color. Dryden’s most abstract paintings, with their soft violets, blues, and greens, capture the essence of natural light and terrains that prevail in locations like Los Angeles and Louisville.

Sun Gate, 2017, collage, 8×10

There are certain examples in Out of Line that borrow techniques from the likes of neo-Dadaists, such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, who used quotidian imagery and materials to marry art and life. Johns prepared the surface of his iconic American flag paintings with newspaper clippings before applying paint. In a similar manner, certain examples in Out of Line, such as Sun Gate, contain fragments of posters, magazines, and newspapers that represent the ways in which Dryden’s life experiences permeate her art.

In this sense, Dryden’s creative process begins not in her studio but in the world she (and we) roams. Rauschenberg believed that:

There is no reason not to consider the world as a gigantic painting.

Dryden seems to share this sentiment. With insinuations to such figures, Dryden seemingly approaches her art making academically.

Rishpal’s India, 2017, collage on panel, 24×24

Dryden breaks most poignantly from these historical precedents when she includes materials accumulated from her time spent in India, as well as other mediums, into her art, which subsequently become collages and mixed media pieces. Especially in works like Rishpal’s India where portraits of Indian people and stylized words from the Hindi language appear, Dryden emphasizes the parity of cultures that are all too often distinguished by economic and political difference.

In the most refined examples of Dryden’s collages, it is unclear whether her materials derive from America, India, or anywhere else, a testament to both comparable aesthetic trends on a global scale and the artist’s ability to render them equal. These are completed on either panel or paper and can be presented on walls or, as in the case of Pink City, on pedestals. The edges and overall condition of Dryden’s collages and mixed media pieces are awry and more uneven than her paintings—indeed, these represent fragments torn from Dryden’s life and creative practice.

Pink City, 2017, collage, 11×14

Out of Line is thus informed by art historical movements, but earns its distinction from its celebration of global communities. Consequently, this exhibition is arguably comprised of two separate bodies of work. On the one hand, there are objects that can be classified strictly as paintings: these are the abstractions that showcase Dryden’s intuition and patience in regard to process. On the other, her collages and mixed media pieces exemplify her interest in foreign cultures and her aptitude for allowing her experiences to influence the subject matter of her art. It is as if some of Dryden’s twenty-five objects displayed in B. Deemer Gallery represent her studio practice while others illustrate her life away from the easel. This makes for a compelling exhibition, as divergent as the selected works may seem.

Viewers are able to consider the ways in which combinations of Dryden’s techniques, color palettes, and materials can invoke multiple interpretations. Out of Line effectively characterizes Dryden as an artist with a range of abilities. Yet this exhibition may leave some wondering if a more condensed selection of objects would more prudently illustrate Dryden’s most distilled ways of art making. If the gallery were filled with only her collages, let’s say, perhaps themes of biculturalism and globalization would more fully prevail. Instead, we go back and forth between Dryden’s intimate explorations of color and the eye-opening takeaways from her time abroad.

Out of Line: New Works by Teri Dryden is on view through July 5, 2017 at B. Deemer Gallery in Louisville, KY.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Josh Nolan

In a setting that once knew no electricity, in pastoral a village that was built by hand and faith and love and rang out with the a capella songs of the unique Shaker faith, on a picturesque sun-soaked day, the serene landscape suddenly came alive with the electric sounds of rock music. Starting his set down on one knee, twisting the knobs of his sound-shaping foot pedals to send a drone-like rhythm bouncing off the two-hundred-year-old buildings, Josh Nolan commanded the attention of the blissing crowd and took over the soundwaves for his part of the fourth annual Well Crafted Festival.

Josh Nolan band at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Born and bred in Stanton, Kentucky in the foothills of the Red River Gorge, Josh is the essence of rock and roll.  His sound is pure and real, and just damn rockin’.  His premiere CD Fair City Lights opens with Josh’s main instrument, his guitar, strumming hard chords while his deep voice delves into a story you are immediately sucked into as you start moving your hips and head to the beat.  It just rocks, and then keeps getting more intense. “If you’re gonna do me wrong, do it right”. Lyrics as smooth as Springsteen, with the gravelly gentle voice to match, Josh Nolan is a solid sound.

Multi-instrumental from a young age, most of the instruments and all the vocals on the CD are Josh himself. At Well Crafted, however, Josh appeared with his band consisting of Chris Brown on bass and harmony vocals, Riley Mulholand on lead guitar, Ryan Allen on keys, and Josh Anglin on drums. Well Crafted is a daytime festival, Josh and his band took the stage mid-day as the sun filtered through the trees.  People clustered like cows under the shade trees, filling their customized Well Crafted glasses filled with cold craft beers and ciders as delicious smells from the various food trucks wafted by in the warm air.

For four years, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg has hosted Well Crafted, one of the prettiest festivals in the Bluegrass. The site is nestled in the village itself, and the rolling landscape provides a gorgeous backdrop; the addition of amazing music and local craft beer is almost too much. Having previously boasted artists such as Ben Nichols (of Lucero), Lera Lynn, Langhorne Slim, Margo Price, Kelsey Waldon, and John Moreland; this year’s lineup was another offering of great music.

Main Stage at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Every year, Well Crafted provides two stages.  The main stage hosts larger touring bands, often with one or two local bands included.  The second, smaller stage presents all-local artists displaying original songs, with a few personalized covers thrown in. The stages alternate so there is never a gap in music during the day. This year’s local stage hosted David Napier, Chelsea Nolan, Senora May, Ethan Hunt and Brian Combs, each winning over the crowd with unique and meaningful original songs that testified to the wealth of musical talent we have here in the Bluegrass area.

The main stage this year opened with William Matheney and the Strange Constellations, followed by Lexington’s beloved Coralee and the Townies. The touring lineup also included Nikki Hill, The Dexateens, and Tyler Childers finished off the night as the sun set gloriously behind the stage.  The second local band to grace the main stage that stunningly sunny day was Josh Nolan and his band.

Some folks say America is apple pie and fireworks. I don’t know about that; not exclusively anyway.  To me, it is cold drinks and rocking live music out in the sunshine on a summer day. The crowd at Shaker Village that day definitely agreed.

Mixing in a few new songs from a promised second CD, Josh and his band hit all his crowd’s favorites from Fair City Lights.  The beat brought out the dancers into the sun, and the band responded in that beautiful relationship between bands that love to play live and the folks who love to be in their crowds, singing back every word they may know, moving with joy to the musical energy the band gifts to them. 

The mixture is truly addicting to the festival goer. So true are the memes and jokes about the devotion to being in a favorite band’s crowd; of selling plasma for concert tickets; of knowing every word and singing them back during the shows; of knowing the musicians you love and buying them a beer and thanking them for the work they do. Well Crafted this year was a serene backdrop to witness that love. 

Josh Nolan and his band are friends, neighbors, family; he and his sister Chelsea, who played the local stage, know and play with several other of the musicians there that day, and the intertwining of the relationships, both personal and especially musical, made for a very comfortable, familiar and extremely talented reunion that represented some of the region’s best. A patchwork of phenomenal Appalachian talent, and just darn nice people as well.

Josh Nolan | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Josh is in the midst of producing his second CD with plans to release it early next spring. He is self-producing in his home studio and hopes to tour not just regionally but nationwide.  “I’ve put all my life into this.  I’ve spent a lot of time and women and love and houses…I’d like to make it my profession. It’s a long road…I don’t understand the business but maybe one day I will.  I’m trying to get a gang of people together who understand different parts of it, take over the world and whatever.”

Josh Nolan is a musician. Some folks in this gig do it after work, on nights and weekends when their life affords it; but some make it their entire lives.  Josh has the talent and the drive to do that, and to take his love for and songs of the hills he grew up in out in America, to share his stories and his rocking sound and hopefully come back home to the hills often to recharge and write new songs and see old friends and family.

For Josh, songwriting is very personal, very spiritual. “Even if it’s not a personal song, it’s a personal process.” It is an “organic” process that he likens to serious fishing. “It’s like fishing.  They’re always there, you’ve got to know where to find them, and they always move so you can’t just go to one place, you have to know how to do it.  You have to know what you’re doing.  You have to know how to tie the lure and throw it in your bucket. It’s easy to miss a song”

I wish Josh many successful fishing expeditions.  And America loves and needs more great festivals like Well Crafted, with friends dancing in the sunshine and simply feeling good.

Listen in as Cara chats with Josh:

Arts

Junk Stories of a Broken World

Last month Art Shechet and I visited Robert Morgan to learn more about his artistic practice. Morgan has been making art since he was a very young boy and shared a story about standing up in the third grade during introductions and stating, “I’m Bobby Morgan and I am an artist.” Everyone laughed because, Morgan believes, they did not really know what that meant.

He jokes that the same claim elicits a similar response today: laughter, nervous laughter prompted perhaps by a fear of the unknown, but more likely because Morgan’s artwork demands that we visit some of the darkest corners of the human experience.

Morgan’s mother was a self-taught artist from Troublesome Creek, Breathitt County and she always told him that he was an artist too. “We did not have a nickel, but we had art every day using only found objects.” Back then and still today, Morgan makes art as catharsis for what he has witnessed in the broken worlds of the drug addiction and HIV/AIDS.

Morgan weaves Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Byzantine, pagan and African iconography with mythology to tell stories of real people that have come in and out of his life over the last sixty years. He allowed us to record some of these stories about a series of works that he is completing for an upcoming show in Nashville later this summer.

Self-effacing at times, Morgan’s sense of humor about all that he does cannot disguise the fact that he is truly fighting the forces of evil and darkness – willingly armed with only the ‘glitteriest of glitter’ and a couple of plastic lightsabers.

The Oracle, 2017

Saint Martha’s Dark Night

Saint Martha’s Dark Night, 2017

Saint Martha had a vision of her own mortality and rather than turning to self-centeredness, she gave everything away to love – that was a real turning point for me. It was then that I realized that the worst things that happened to me were the greatest blessings.

The Green Man

The Green Man, 2017

The Embrace

The Embrace, 2017

Taratoma

Taratoma, 2017

The Crow

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Sway

When you are in the absence of any light, in absolute darkness, you sway.  Apparently, the body cannot stand erect, it sways in some primordial need to find its center.  When we humans are lost and blind, we find an internal music, and we sway. That notion became inspiration when it came time for Melanie Pauley and Chris Floyd chose a name for their band, The Sway, which had their first CD premiere at The Burl this last Thursday.

Their CD, which followed an EP done last year, both at Shangri La studios with Duane Lundy and Tom Hnatow, is a creation of love for The Sway, in every way.  An engaged couple who have three kids between them, music was not the foundation of their relationship, but soon evolved into becoming a driving force in their busy lives as parents. Inevitably as they spent more time together, they shared their love of music with one another, and then his guitar met her voice, and The Sway was born. 

A guitar player for years, Chris Floyd, formerly of VooDoo Symphony, had written songs solo, but they weren’t quite complete. Melanie, a church and wedding singer from childhood on, had been writing lyrics and melodies, but hadn’t found the music.  Then his music found her words, and serendipity did her thing; they were a perfect match.  Evenings would pass by sitting out on her back stoop writing songs after kids were in bed, sometimes three songs in one night. As engagement and cohabitation evolved in their relationship, writing songs became only more convenient, and the momentum carried them all the way to Thursday night.

Another proud creation of the studio production services of Tom Hnatow and Duane Lundy at Shangri La Studios, Floyd and Pauley could not say enough about the strong sense of community and support they experienced there during their first real studio experience. Studio musicians Robby Cosenza and Blake Cox created and played the parts for the drums and bass that are on the CD with Chris’ guitar, with Tom Hnatow on keys, though on Thursday Chris’ former bandmate Kyle Morgan sat in on keys. Maggie Lander also plays violin and cello on the CD, and played violin Thursday for the opening. The studio time that went into the creation of their baby Everything That Happens Here was an amazing experience for Chris and Melanie.

“They were able to take our songs and really make them grow to what they are, put some muscle to them” said Chris, noting how humbled they were when Robby and Blake and Maggie insisted on joining in on their premiere night. That offer, he said, solidified the strong feeling of support and community they felt during the entire recording process, how much fun they had in the studio creating and loving their CD into being.

That fun and sense of family was more than evident Thursday night. The crowd was warmed up by the soulful songs of Derek Spencer, then followed by the enigmatic Kristofer Bentley, before The Sway took to the stage. They started out as they had first started, just Chris and Melanie up there, her voice and his guitar.  And they began.  And though just two, that guitar helped lift Melanie’s amazingly powerful voice and soon the room was filled with the strength of their connection through music.

Later joined by Maggie on fiddle, then Robby and Blake and Kyle, soon the house was full and the sound was powerful. The lyrics to their songs are clear, and often as easy to hear as a morning conversation over coffee. The comfortable intimacy of their life comes through the lyrics. The singing, though.  Melanie Paulie has a voice that makes you sit up and take notice.  Reminiscent perhaps of Joan Osborne, Janis or KT Tunstall, her voice is quite astounding. Chris knows her well, and his smooth, intricate guitar playing accompanies her perfectly.

Add in the professionalism of the Shangri La musicians, and the musical backdrop they created for The Sway.  They create the easel that holds the canvas, the altar that supports the ritual. That energy took over and soon the stage was full and the crowd was in awe, and those musicians were all having fun up there.

The songs they have written have a depth to them, a maturity perhaps that comes with life and kids and a melody that reflects that wisdom. 

Dive In”  has an intricacy of songwriting and Melanie’s voice that is intense, and the crowd cheered heartily after she mastered that one.  Life and other Fleeting Things is a sweet song written for their three kids, pictured on the CD art that is a combination of Melanie’s concepts and the talent of Cricket Press. In Blackbird her voice searches out with confident desperation with notions of loss and perhaps anger.

In a grand ending that included all members back up on stage, Melanie absolutely slayed Ramble On by Led Zeppelin and brought the whole damn house down.  A powerful ballad song on any night, she took Plant’s part and completely owned that song.  The whole crowd joined in, the stage full of energy, and the night came to a blissful end right after.

From there, The Sway has plans to take their baby and “get out of town” to play their music regionally in Louisville and Cincinnati, playing for folks they do not know, sharing their music as far and wide as they can, and sooner than later, getting back into Shangri La with their new musical family to keep the momentum going. “I’m addicted, I want to record another one” says Chris. And Melanie notes that they already have songs toward a second CD.

The momentum and energy of Thursday night will surely carry this talented couple far and wide.  Lexington has another amazing local band to be quite proud of.

Listen in on Cara’s conversation with Chris and Melanie before showtime at the Burl:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Maggie Lander

If you’re going to have a bar and music venue in Lexington, you need one that works in the rain.  I’ve seen more shows during storms than not, because, well, it’s Lexington.  It rains four seasons here, and life has still got to go on.  Musicians must play on, and folks need to hear the music.  Luckily, The Burl works in the rain.  The dampness soaks into those wood walls and makes them sweat delicious vapors.  Tables are brought in so folks can sit and relax and watch the rain pelt the luminescent stained glass tree behind the stage that holds two inviting guitars and two chairs.  As the room fills in, Maggie Lander moves to the stage, takes a seat, tunes her guitar and gets ready to start the show.

Opening for the headliner Elizabeth Cook, and followed by hilarious storyteller Darrin Bradbury, Maggie holds the crucial task of starting the night off right, establishing the tone.  It’s a tough gig, the opener. The crowd is still filing in while the opener is pouring their soul out on stage, drinks are being ordered and coats are shed.  That night rain had to be wiped from glasses and dabbed from eyelashes. 

Tough spot to take.  Maggie, working solo this particular evening, takes it with grace and style, and her solid and confident voice quickly fills the room and making everyone want to focus, settle down and listen to her stories.

A native of Henry County, Maggie Lander had a childhood most of us only dream of; two siblings and a big farm, school work and violin lessons, catching fish and crawdads and hunting for arrowheads when the work was done.  She speaks of her youth with a happiness and joy that the image suggests. Having started young with the guitar, she quickly moved on to violin, then cello, piano and mandolin.  Her strong musical background has created opportunities for studio work and gigs utilizing all her instruments, including her voice. Violin is her dominant instrument, but she uses her guitar for songwriting.

Her songs are personal, mostly autobiographical in background.  Songwriting for Maggie is a way of healing and release. To “create something that reaches people and in the end can be a cathartic way of healing for me… Suddenly you just feel so much better afterwards.  You can only carry things for so long and you just have to get it out.”

(Image by Ben Keeling)

The emotions driving her songs are evident when she takes the stage.  Maggie engages the audience and pulls them into her story.  Her solid guitar playing creates a foundation of melody to walk along as she holds your hand and tells you what happened.  She played her new song, “All in my head” which is very biographical, about “The point where I’m at in my life. I finished it and then a weight just lifted.” 

A sad tale of loss and confusion, her new song captured the audience and broke their hearts. You can hear why the weight lifted for her when she wrote the song – it clearly “exorcised the demon” when she wrote it.  Writing songs is like that for Maggie Lander. “99.9% of the time it just knocks me over the head, falls in my lap.”  Songs tell her to “sit down and shut up…get a guitar, get a notebook and just do it.”

The room was full by the end of Maggie’s set, and all were pleased.  The attention from the crowd was humbling, she later commented; how intense but nice it is to have full awareness from the full room.  She received many accolades as she left the stage for the next act. The room, and the rain, and the dried-off crowd of pleased customers and listeners all mixed with the savory smells from the food truck to create a very pleasant evening of listening to amazing songwriting.  Maggie started that night off just right.

Cara chats with Maggie…

(Performance photos by Cara Blake Coppola)

Arts

Ron Isaacs: Shelf Life

What an odd thing a shelf is. A shelf is just a shelf really, right? Put a thing on it, though, and it is immediately transformed into something else. Once we begin to populate our shelves with objects – whether with precious memorabilia, beautiful images, feathers, or found knots – the whole thing becomes something else. We put objects on shelves to somehow honor them or know them better; we may even wonder if time will reveal something more about them. We might also believe that they could withstand the test of time – simply by being placed on a shelf.

On a recent couple of visits to the home and studio of Ron Isaacs and his wife Judy – both avid art collectors – I could not help but wonder if there was some parallel between the object-laden shelves I saw there and the work of the artist himself. Was it the manner in which they were so masterfully composed or something else? Something life-giving? So, I decided to look a little closer and to listen.

The artist Claes Oldenburg once declared that the harder he looked at a thing, the more mysterious it became.  “I know the feeling,” Ron writes in his artist’s statement – quoting the Modern/Pop artist often. “Objects have voiceless, inscrutable physical presences, and memories, as well; these memories are borne on their surfaces as signs of growth or manufacture, use or care, neglect or entropy.”

Ron Isaacs was trained as a painter receiving a bachelor’s degree in art from Berea College in 1963 and an M.F.A. in painting from Indiana University in 1965. For many years he worked and taught as a painter and considers the period from 1969 to 1973 as one of rapid development in his artistic career. In the early 1970s, he began collaging elements, attaching three-dimensional objects to his canvases and then painting this and that to combine. They were, in his words, clunky. Then, after a little experimentation, Ron had an epiphany realizing he could make a painting any shape he wanted. He threw out the canvas. In time, he found Finnish birch plywood constructions. For over 45 years, Ron has created nearly 15 works per year in wood.

Enormously prolific, Ron has found home for his works in many collections across the nation, including the Racine Art Museum, the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center, the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, the Yeiser Art Center, Berea College, and Chase Manhattan Bank to name only a few.

“My work stakes out a territory almost exactly halfway between painting and sculpture,” Ron explained as we examined an old painting and his first plywood construction. The move from Camel Ride, 1970 to Jigsaw No. 1, 1971 (the first wood construction) to Ron’s Plywood London Fog Freaks Out, 1973 clearly shows the artist’s growth toward his mature style. Where heavy black line once unified disparate elements, considerable finesse and a good deal of sanding are now employed to unite later compositions.

Camel Ride, 1970, acrylic on canvas and wood, 30″ x 22″

Jigsaw No. 1, 1971, Acrylic on fir plywood construction. 28 1/2″ x 26″ x 2 1/2″ Collection of Bert and Cherie Mutersbaugh

Ron’s Plywood London Fog Freaks Out, 1973, acrylic on fir plywood construction and coat hanger, 42″ x 30″ x 6 1/2″



In the end, his goal is to trick the eye, but unlike traditional trompe l’oeil painters, the illusion of real objects is not Ron’s primary concern. “The illusion is an interesting and useful byproduct of my attempt to make a strong image that has the authority of direct observation.  If the illusion fails, which it always ultimately does either sooner or later, you still have an image to respond to, which is pretty much what you get with any painting or sculpture.”

Why would a trompe l’oeil artist want the illusion to fail? This is one of Isaacs’ chief strategies: he sets out to render something ‘real’ and then interrupts our impression with metamorphosis or paradox – turning the final construction to a thing more surreal.

In the series of images below, the process of creating these works is illustrated. Ron moves from the composition of real objects on a grid board, to tracing paper patterns with detailed instructions for the final shapes, to contour line patterns, then transfers these shapes to varying thicknesses of birch plywood, sawing, sanding and the gluing, to compose a final form.

Trained as a formalist, composition is one of Ron’s major concerns, as his works take on freer shapes on the wall. He understands that negative space is as important as the form and shape of each of the objects included. This construction was in its beginning phase on my first visit and completed on my second, one week later. It is titled Just a Thought and is just 8 1/2 inches tall by fifteen wide.

Juxtaposing man-made garments and natural objects in most of his constructions, Ron delves deeper into the mysteries of both; for him this combination reminds us of our relationship with nature – “either being a part of it or apart from it.” Alter Ego (Waterfall), 2008 and Birdies, 2015 bears witness to these dueling realities.

Ron also admits to liking the fact that, “the garment is fixed in time and the leaves are anytime.” Although he rarely works on more than one construction at a time, he will, when necessary, turn to a natural object that will eventually fade or die and recreate it for use in a future work.

The vintage garments, on the other hand, have a more stable shelf life and Ron’s friends like to joke that he has more dresses hanging around than his wife. For Ron, these garments have rich structures, colors, and shapes which lend themselves to endless design possibilities. “They continue the life of the past into the present, and they function in my work as anthropomorphic presences which become effective stand-ins for the human figure.”

Ron Isaacs,"Alter Ego (Waterfall), birch plywood construction prior to painting

Alter Ego (Waterfall) in process, 2008, 44″ x 33 3/4″ x 7 3/4″, collection of John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Ron Isaacs, "Alter Ego (Waterfall)"

Alter Ego (Waterfall), 2008, 44″ x 33 3/4″ x 7 3/4″, collection of John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

"Birdies"

Birdies, Finnish birch construction, 2015, 22 3/4″ x 18 1/2″ x 2 1/4″

"Birdies," 2015

Birdies, 2015, 22 3/4″ x 18 1/2″ x 2 1/4″

“Trompe l’oeil (‘fool the eye’) could be a gimmick for an artist to show off technical skills, a fairly shallow if entertaining enterprise, but its devices seem an appropriate response to my love of the visual world.  I am still enamored with the old simple discovery of resemblance, the first idea of art after tools and shelter:  It means that an object or image made of one material can share the outward appearance and therefore some of the ‘reality’ of another.”

Sticks are crucial. In design terms, a stick is basically a line for Ron Isaacs; he frequently uses them to draw forms whether they be partial, as in Alter Ego, or whole, shelved forms as seen in Metaphor, 2005.

"Metaphor," 2005

Metaphor, 2005, 24″ x 51 1/4″ x 8″

Ron does not consider himself a conceptual artist, but I couldn’t help but see a bit of ideation playing equal part to the aesthetics in works like Coincidence from 2014. In fact, this composition had more to do with his sense of humor than anything much deeper; he commented, “It was even more fun, when the actual stick – the inspiration for both of my sticks – was still around.” Quoting from American writer and poet Joyce Kilmer’s short poem titled ‘Trees’ from 1913, Ron humbly states:

Maybe, ‘Only God can make a tree’, but I can make a pretty good stick.

"Coincidence," 2014

Coincidence, 2014, 2 parts; 26″ x 9″ x 1 1/2″, overall

Ron considers his job is to make things that are evocative and allow viewers to interpret his works as they will. While not all easily accessible, ‘simplicity’ and ‘directness’ are two terms used by Rick Snyderman, Principle of Snyderman-Works Galleries in Philadelphia, when describing Ron’s works (catalogue essay to accompany Ron Isaacs: A Retrospective in 2 1/2 D). Isaacs connects the viewer in tight constructs, but never requires a specific interpretation. The content is open content.

Muted gray, brown, and off-white are favorites in Isaacs’ palette. Just a Thought is a good example. However, given that all of this is to challenge himself, he will work in bolder colors as in Recurring Dream in Red from 2011. If a particular object requires that he push himself, he turns always to his judgment and artistic licensure. Ron does all of this because he must; he cannot really say in words exactly why. His works are visual poems, frequently quoting American realist painter and printmaker Edward Hopper:

If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.

Recurring Dream in Red, 2011, 36 1/4″ x 55″ x 3 1/2 Collection of Michael and Christine Huskisson

If only you could say it in words. “I combine imagery, often using paradoxical interruptions and metamorphoses, in hopes of creating visual ‘poems’ of sorts; these suggest metaphors for the relationships of human life and nature, memory, and the passage of time.” In fact, the inspiration for Improve Each Shining Hour from 2010 is a poem by Isaac Watts titled How Doth the Little Busy Bee.

Mediating the artistic experience in words is, we all know, a difficult thing to do. So, thank you Ron for improving each hour by bringing to us these masterful compositions, may they sit forever on our shelves of life.

"Improve Each Shining Hour," 2010

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

- Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Ron is represented in Kentucky by Heike Pickett Gallery in Versailles.

The artist’s retrospective Ron Isaacs: A Retrospective in 2 1/2 D was held in the fall of 2011 at the Doris Ulmann Galleries at Berea College.

Related in UnderMain: Other Lexington artists who mix mediums

Patrick Adams: Lights Mystery 

Patrick McNeese in Scene&Heard

Arts

Patrick Adams: Light’s Mystery

Art, poetry, and music are basically cut from the same cloth—a fabric of the imagination inspired by the “real,” a concept as impalpable as any of the artistic processes that strive to represent it (reality). Goethe wrote that “Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.” While this expression may make our wheels of cognition wobble a little, it is comprehensible, it is imaginable, and it is poetic. If you listen to Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral, or if you look at any of Monet’s several paintings of Rouen Cathedral, the beauty, the emotion, and the lyricism that Goethe’s words and these great works of art share become magically palpable. So the formidable and rewarding task of any successful artist, regardless of the discipline, is to internalize his or her perception of the world and deliver it to us in a way that helps deepen our own experience and understanding of our place in it, of what it means to be human. 

Lexington artist Patrick Adams has stood on the cliffs of his imagination and stepped up to this easel many times. He lives and breathes his art as he continuously endeavors to explore the parameters of possibility and to realize the full extent of his creative potential.

30" x 22" acrylic on paper, 2013

Etude No. 206 – 30″ x 22″ acrylic on paper, 2013

Adams grew up in the rural farming community of Worthington, Minnesota, a landscape that ignited his spirit and became the dominate subject matter of his work with its “tall-grass prairies, vast horizons, dramatic light and thousands of natural lakes.” Since moving to Lexington over two decades ago to obtain his MFA at the University of Kentucky, he has come to recognize and acknowledge an equal love for the Kentucky landscape as well.

In a recent article published in The American Scholar (March 20, 2017), Adams says of his work and process that, “When people ask me, ‘Are these real places?’ I say, well, yes and no. They begin there, but where they end is somewhere else . . . The memory is part of my process. I like what the memory does to the image. I want the details to slip away . . . I like how the memory distills or exaggerates things, or remembers in the landscape something really essential, just the dominant essence of the scene.”  

Hilltop and Lavender Sky is an awe-inspiring example of what Adams is aiming for. And it hits the mark. Everything about this composition epitomizes the “essence of the scene” from the soft shapes and ethereal hues of lavender, yellow, and green to the sparse, deeper terrestrial tinges of white, red, and blue. Its subtle power and strong spirit make it an extremely important work of art because each time we look at it, it speaks to us in a different way, deepening our appreciation of it and strengthening our connection to it. It speaks of something beyond the physical world, of something eternal within nature and hence within ourselves. It enables the soul to take flight. For me, it brings to mind the countless times I climbed the hilltops near my childhood home looking at the layers of mountain ranges stretched out before me and standing in awe of the infinite space above me thinking this is probably as close to heaven as I will ever get.

60" x 40" oil on two canvases, 2016

Hilltop and Lavender Sky, 60″ x 40″ oil on two canvases, 2016

This piece was a part of Adams’ diptych series, In Two Worlds, exhibited at the Ann Tower Gallery, January – March (2016), a body of work that probably best represents his poetic and abstract concept of art as metaphor. Each diptych incorporates two canvases of equal size placed flush one above the other, doubling the surface space of the painting. But Adams explained in his artist statement for this show that the idea behind the diptychs goes far beyond the materiality of the canvases: “I have divided the landscape image along the horizon into two physically separate paintings: the lower half (earth), representing the physical realm, and the upper half (sky, the ‘heavens’) representing the metaphysical, or spiritual realm. These two parts, seen separately, appear flat and incomprehensible, but once brought together, they form an image that acquires an unexpected unity of light, depth and meaning . . . the physical and spiritual worlds are brought together as one, each illuminating and clarifying the other.” 

Meadow Stream succinctly illustrates this point. The individual sections are completely abstract but as with all the paintings in this series, when combined, they are like the yin and yang of art—complementary elements coming together to create a harmonious whole.

Meadow Stream, 24" x 36" oil on two canvases, 2015

Meadow Stream, 24″ x 36″ oil on two canvases, 2015

My first encounter with Adams’ artwork was at an earlier exhibit, Real Presence, at the Ann Tower Gallery in 2004. From that point on, I was sold although I couldn’t really afford to buy. A couple of years later, though, I lucked out and was able to purchase a small matted and framed oil on paper, Prelude 23, at a silent auction for the annual Art in Bloom event at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Then, as either serendipity or synchronicity would have it, about a month ago I managed to meet with him in his studio for an interview and to learn more about what lies behind his prolific and successful career as an artist and the philosophy and influences that govern his approach and style, a little of which we have already touched on.

Patrick Adams with Work in Progress | Photo by Jim Fields

Patrick Adams with Work in Progress | Photo by Jim Fields

Adams went to school at the height of post-modernism, but said it did not have a big impact on his painting because he felt it would not sustain him for very long. It appears he took the high road—and the open road—by absorbing specific concepts, subject matter, and technical nuances of some of the greats: “The kind of artists I’ve been responding to over the last 20 years have been somewhere between late romanticism and impressionism all the way up to contemporary artists. Corot (French) and Kensett (American) paid a lot of attention to light and atmosphere and even though they were romantics (mid-19th century), that’s where the seeds of impressionism and expressionism were sewn.” While both these artists still have a strong influence, Adams says, “Abstract expressionism (abex) pretty much describes my work. If you put those two ideas together, that’s really what my work is. If you took these two words [abstract and expressionism] and put them in a bag and shook it, my work would come out.” He admits a partiality to Van Gogh because his own markings, which he characterizes as jittery or fragmented surfaces are sometimes quite similar. This can easily be seen in his diptych, Pleasant Hill. Yet it is distinctly his own.

Pleasant Hill, 40" x 40" oil on two panels, 2015

Pleasant Hill, 40″ x 40″ oil on two panels, 2015

Here Adams draws on the tremendous energy generated from the good earth and the big sky. The scene vibrates with motion and color and the elements are bold, and the gestures grand and striking. The luminosity and atmosphere that emanate from this painting can only be revealed by natural light, or the memory of it, regardless of where it was painted—in the studio or outdoors (plein air). The reality of this landscape has been deeply internalized, merged with the artist’s inner self, and he has allowed this integration to charge his imagination and guide his brush and his palette knife over the canvas time and again, layering the scene into existence. It is abstract expressionism simultaneously contained and gone wild. It is a landscape that refuses to stand still.

Besides giving a lot of credit to his former professors for helping him see and be, Adams did not ignore the influence of Monet’s later, more abstract and heavily textured works with which few of us are familiar, the ones we don’t see in art history books. He also paid homage to the late modernist Richard Diebenkorn (American colorist and structuralist) as well as the images of the contemporary Danish geologist, artist, poet and filmmaker, Per Kirkeby. One of Adams’ most abstract and most recent small pieces, Break, speaks volumes as an amalgamation of these influences and his own experience—a synthesis where the conscious and subconscious work in tandem to create a presence that is one thing when seen up close, but quite another when viewed from a distance. A genuine mark of artistic vitality.

Break, 10” x 10” oil on canvas, 2017

Break, 10” x 10” oil on canvas, 2017

Adams explains, “I use a ton of paint and paint over a lot of other good paintings that I’m not satisfied with to create this effect.  I lose a lot of good paintings to get to the one I eventually keep but I think this approach is pretty indigenous to the abex genre.”  And he remarks that regardless of the canvas size, “the landscape for me is an arena to address other things such as light, space, movement, color, and even smells and feelings.”

The sentiment he expresses in his artist statement is congruent in all his work and he challenges anyone who looks at his paintings to see the poetry too: “I want people to see the natural world not as a backdrop to their lives, but as the very heart of their lives. The beauty of these forms is not just to delight us (though it does), but also to give us life. Beauty is not simply an ornament, a surface phenomenon, but the essence and power of being. And, if beauty is accompanied at all times, as many great thinkers both ancient and modern have asserted, by goodness and truth, then we ignore it to our peril.”  Then let us not ignore the beauty, goodness, and truth of Ascent of Light.

Ascent of Light, 48” x 48” oil on canvas, 2013

Ascent of Light, 48” x 48” oil on canvas, 2013

Light is a crucial element in all of Adams’ work, as many of  his other titles suggest: Light Under Pressure, Light and Fog, Shaker Light, Veil of Light, Where Light Dwells, First Light, Uplight, and most important—Goethe’s Light. His philosophy that inquisitiveness is vital to being a creative person led him to the German poet and artist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s treatise on Theory of Color published in 1810, in which he (Goethe) hypothesizes on color as an interaction between light and darkness, why we see color, how we experience it, and how it affects us psychologically and emotionally.

Maria Popova in Goethe on the Psychology of Color and Emotion, observes that “One of Goethe’s most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.”

“Light and darkness, brightness and obscurity, or if a more general expression is preferred, light and its absence, are necessary to the production of color,” noted Goethe. “Color itself is a degree of darkness.” Goethe’s Light may not contain the stirring brilliance you see in Ascent of Light, but it faithfully renders the more obscure “active ingredient” of color not uncommon in abex art.

Goethe's Light 30" x 30" oil on canvas, 2016

Goethe’s Light 30″ x 30″ oil on canvas, 2016

When he was working on Goethe’s Light, Adams said he saw a different kind of light, a luminescence emerging from darkness:

For Adams, these forces also include music – he plays a number of instruments and composes as well.  While Pythagoras’ theory on harmonics is more exact than Goethe’s on light and color, the effect that music has on us is just as powerful. So I asked Adams to elaborate a bit on the connection between his art and music, and he jumped right in.

He has been painting (and selling them) since he was ten years old, and his interest in music at this young age was also well beyond that of a neophyte. He was awarded both an art and music scholarship (trumpet performance) his first year in college at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. But because of an injury he received while playing in college marching band, he had to quit playing for a while.  He says that hiatus was actually fortuitous because it he made him focus more on his art, eventually allowing him to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Kentucky where he was awarded a full scholarship and a teaching assistantship. And he hasn’t looked back.

In considering his love for making music and its connection to his art and creative process, it’s easy to see how one inherently feeds the other, even though he has chosen painting and teaching as a profession.  He emphatically states, “If I had another career, I would like to write film scores because there’s a direct link between the music and the image.”  As for his painting, he muses, “The ideal show for me would be where I would write a soundtrack for it that would be atmospheric and simple and spacious, similar to a landscape where you are the thing in the space.” I say go for it!  It may not be a new concept, but it is most definitely a rare experience for gallery goers to be engulfed visually and aurally by the work of a single artist.

As we listened to some of his compositions in his studio, Adams pointed out that both his paintings and his music “are the result of a very intuitive and improvisational process where an idea begins to assert itself and is then embellished and refined, yet neither is without structure. Just as paintings derive from the landscape, the songs are structured in a traditional jazz format . . . The intended result is simplicity.” Because he plays each of the instruments himself, he records his music in layers (or tracks) similar to the way he constructs a painting: “Same process. I am building different layers and colors and textures, and the way they interact lets you ultimately see a single image or hear a single piece of music.” Take a listen to the title cut from his album, Solipsis, while viewing his Etudes (201 – 206) and experience it for yourself.  Before you start, though, keep in mind that the titles have a bearing on the processes involved as the work was created.

Solipsis relates to the inner mind, thought, voice, feeling, and wanderings, in this case, as expressed through Adams’ individual and yet integrated performance on the electric piano, organ, drums, acoustic bass, and trumpet. Etude, a term mostly applied to a short musical composition that helps a player become more proficient on a given instrument, also refers to small studies that artists create as they formulate ideas for a larger work. Adams, again, hits the mark on all counts and here is a rare opportunity for you to get inside his head and bask in the reverie.

View Patrick’s work and listen to his composition, “Solipsis.”

From having worked on this piece for the last several weeks, the association of music with Adams’s painting has become fully ingrained in my psyche. With Harbor, for instance, I can see the interconnected layering and I can hear the music—music that I am creating in my own head as I stare at the essence of what a harbor looks like under particular circumstances or with its reality broken down into its basic components that become abstract, unrecognizable to my cranial dictates in relation to what I think a harbor should be or how I think a piece of music should sound simply based on its title. This is the beauty of the challenge in all of Adams’ work. It requires that you be with it, allowing it to permeate your senses. 

In his words:

Harbor 36" x 84" acrylic on canvas, 2016

Harbor 36″ x 84″ acrylic on canvas, 2016

Despite his musical accomplishments, painting comes to the fore as Adams’ first love and he is very forthright with what sustains his creative spirit: “I love to paint. I like the physicality of it combined with the images I create. I’ll never get it perfect and that’s what keeps me going. There’s also something about the struggle and not knowing where you are headed.  When I start painting [or composing], it’s like bumbling around in the dark and the more I can stay in the dark and stay lost, the more I like it in the painting [and the music]. Within certain boundaries, it’s exciting and to be lost in a work is good. The poetry of the creative act is in the struggle. The struggle makes art and art redeems the struggle.” Sounds a little like life, doesn’t it?

And then, there is the matter of the medium:

Through the on-going cycles of redemptive struggle necessary to the creative process, Adams has built up an impressive CV and portfolio.  He has been a professional artist for over 25 years and is currently an Adjunct Professor of Art at the University of Kentucky, Asbury University, and Eastern Kentucky University teaching courses in drawing, painting, art appreciation, art theory and criticism, and others as his schedule permits.  He is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Al Smith Fellowship in the Visual Arts awarded by the Kentucky Arts Council, and his past is awash with major exhibits (solo, two-person, and group), all over the country dating as far back as 1999. You can check out the details and his spectacular portfolios on his website, patrickadamsart.com.

His most recent exhibit of New Work was at Aberson Exhibits in Tulsa, OK last month, and he is participating in an upcoming group show (May 4-19), Dirty Pictures, at the Atrium Gallery – Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, CA.  I bet that got your attention, didn’t it?  Chill.  It’s all about landscapes—the good earth! We wouldn’t expect anything less from Patrick Adams since many of his paintings can be found in a number of private and corporate collections, such as the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (Columbus, OH), Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville, FL), Hilliard Lyons (Louisville, KY), and Gaylord International Convention Center (Washington, DC).

I don’t think we have to worry that these successes will prompt Adams to stop painting and composing. He couldn’t if he wanted to because he seems to subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea in T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men that “Between the conception / And the creation / Between the emotion / And the response / Falls the shadow.”  Without both darkness and light, between which that shadow lies, there can be no color, no landscapes. Adams’ knowledge of this means he can look forward to a great future—struggle and all! He himself declares, “My plan is to keep throwing paint at my canvases until something sticks that I can call good. I will likely die trying.”

Solipsis_Cover_Exterior_LINES

(All images and music courtesy of the artist)


Related in UnderMain: Other Lexington artists who mix mediums

Ron Isaacs: Shelf Life (Painting, sculpture)

Patrick McNeese (Painting, music)

Arts

Scene&Heard: Kim Smith

The show had already begun to exceed expectations when I was asked to leave my shoes at the door.  The Source on High is a peaceful space, used for yoga and meditation. In a side room: sensory deprivation tanks invite one’s restless soul.  Punched-tin lights hang from the ceiling and beneath their glow we settle in on pillows and woven blankets. 

Before us: a promising array of instruments, silently awaiting the Lexington band, Frigid Kitty.

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They do not remain silent for long. It’s early on a Sunday evening in April.  This is not your typical night of live music at a bar; not at all.  Every month, the fantastic diversity of music available in this city excites me, whether at a festival, an established venue, someone’s living room, or a yoga space, Lexington provides.  The Source on High is just such a promising space.

Frigid Kitty takes the stage, with Kim Smith at its center.  She introduces her bandmates, a new and different arrangement of Frigid Kitty for this special evening.  Along with Kim on keys, flute and guitar are her husband Chris Smith playing bass and guitar, Sam McWilliams on guitar and vocals, and guest Garret Spear playing percussion and flute.

While the first song emphasizes Kim’s keyboard skills, the immediate impression is of a beautiful layering of instruments. It’s a notable characteristic found throughout this collection of songs. Smith’s keys are joined by McWilliam’s gentle guitar picking, the bass carries the foundation while the cajon drumming provides cadence and momentum.  Throughout the set, each musician changes instruments at least once, showing adept musical versatility.  At one point we’re treated to a flute duet with between Kim and Garret.

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The music Frigid Kitty performs on this night is quite ethereal, and fitting in this unique space.  As the springtime sun begins to set, the lights provide a subtle glow as the room becomes enclosed in a softening darkness.  The orchestral arrangements of the instruments drift and mingle like an impressionistic painting.  The lyrics, a collaborative effort from Chris, Kim and Sam, are conversational, carried easily along by the arrangements.

The set ends with Kim back on lead vocals and guitar, singing “Keep it to Yourself”, a Smith original with a cute, flirty, old-time sound that brings the set to a close with a light, easy vibe.

Cara chatted with Kim about the show and what made it special…

The effect of this marriage of music and performance space is surreal.  The Frigid Kitty set is followed by the twelve string dexterity of Sarah Louise, and finally the spiritual creativity of Everyone Lives, Everyone Wins.

In retrospect, magic happened that night at The Source, and beauty was created.  Lexington never fails to deliver to those who seek such in the various spaces around town.

Kim Smith has played in many of these spaces.  Her life has been a long journey of music, even when she set such pursuits aside to explore academia and travel. The conversation moved beyond the immediate…

Raised by accomplished musicians, her father a band director, her mother an orchestra and chorale director with her own piano studio, Smith is a musician by definition.  She moves effortlessly between piano, flute, guitar, and cello, having played piano and cello as a child. She sings and plays in a growing collection of bands, including her own Frigid Kitty. 

Formerly the keyboard, flute player and vocalist in the now-defunct Bear Medicine, in the last year Smith has immersed herself in numerous musical projects around town.  Besides Frigid Kitty, Smith is in Big Fresh (click to listen to the new song, Paralyzed.) She fills us in on the band’s latest project…

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Desperate Spirits- LR: John Ferguson, Trevor Tremaine, Rob Theakston, Kim Smith

She also is a member of ATTEMPT.  Sharing several members, these two bands host a wealth of musicians who all contribute diverse talents.  Trevor Tremaine, John Ferguson, David Farris, Nick Coleman, Dave Cobb and Ashley Smith all join Kim Smith in ATTEMPT, while Big Fresh consists of John Ferguson, Ben Fulton, Ben Phelan, David Farris, Nick Coleman, Faith Diamond, Brian Connors Manke, Bryan Gore and Matthew Clarke.  With some crossover in members, both groups coexist and will be heading out on a large, eleven person tour this June to include performing with Lexington’s beloved Matt Duncan and his band in NYC. 

Here’s more on the tour…

Big Fresh and ATTEMPT are both represented by Desperate Spirits, a label started by Kim Smith along with John Ferguson, Trevor Tremaine and Rob Theakston.  The label is releasing several EP’s this year for both bands as well as Italian Beaches. 

In addition, Smith also keeps in touch with her classical roots as a member of The Rosemont Trio.

Kim Smith is a force to not be contained, and she represents the Lexington music scene with adept ease.  With her hands in numerous projects that help foster and collaborate with so many other local musicians, she is a pivotal aspect of the strength of our city’s live music scene.  With her bands, the label she has helped start to help other local musicians get their music out into the world, the lessons she teaches weekly to children and adults seeking more music in their lives, as well as side projects such as the local all-female LP she is organizing to raise money for Planned Parenthood, Kim is one of those women who just keeps on persisting, and doing Lexington proud.

What’s next?

You can catch Kim Smith with Big Fresh at Al’s Bar Block Party on April 29th, and ATTEMPT will be playing the Tahlsound Music Festival on Southland Drive in May. 

Frigid Kitty hopes to be in the studio this year working on their first CD. 

~0~

Arts

Cautious Optimism

Patterned tentacles burst from the wall of Louisville’s 21c Museum. They are suspended in motion, paused in the act of wriggling free from the gallery’s white wall. Viewed at a distance, Frances Goodman’s Medusa (2013-2014) appears wet. Each tentacle seems coated by a glossy residue, projecting a luminous sheen. A few steps closer and scales begin to take shape—the tentacles’ patterns have been meticulously constructed from thousands of acrylic fingernails.

Frances Goodman, Medusa, 2013-2014

Goodman recodes these mass-produced ornaments, turning a beauty industry commodity against itself. The decorative becomes subversive—often overlooked as a mere form of bodily artifice, these acrylic prosthetics have been tightly assembled to encase phallic wall protrusions. Medusa is a three-dimensional creature that stretches its mythological ties to masculine aggression and feminine seduction, yet also mines the meaning of an object that—through fashion advertising—has come to signify femininity.

In their 1973 article in Womanspace Journal, Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro asked: “What does it feel like to be a woman?”[1] 21c Louisville’s current exhibition, The Future is Female, takes inspiration from this legacy of feminist writers, artists, and activists of the 1970s, exploring the varying trajectories of craft-based practices, mythology, ecology, and identity. What resonates most, however, is the exhibition’s timing. In the United States, the resistance to women’s rights has encountered a social and political acceptability unseen since the years of the Reagan administration.[2]

What does the phrase “The Future is Female” mean in the age of Trump? 21c Louisville’s latest exhibition does not ask this question—at least not explicitly. At a time, however, when the spectacle of reality television has merged with sexism of politics, when misogyny is dismissed as “men being men” (and then rewarded with a presidency), when government funding for the National Endowment for Arts hangs in the balance, when a large majority of politicians view gender as biologically determined and not socially constructed, and when the leader of the so-called free world flirts with a nuclear arms race, futurity—specifically a future that incorporates women and the arts—seems optimistic. Yet this optimism and political energy is partly what fueled the artists of the Women’s Liberation movement in the 1970s.[3]

Nandipha Mntambo, Umfanekiso wesibuko, 2013

A prominent thread connects many of the works in The Future is Female—mortality is referenced not only through the human body and the abject, but also through a consideration of globalization’s slow decay of both cultures and ecological systems. Nandipha Mntambo blurs the line between skin and clothing by structuring cowhide into rigid human-animal hybrids. Cast from the artist’s body, two ghostly figures rest on their arms and legs—frozen in the act of crawling. As the cowhide slowly melts down the figures’ backs, its stiff ripples condense and begin to resemble folds of human skin. Tails protrude from the gathered hide.

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Naomi Safran-Hon, W.S. Pink Sweater (with other trash), 2016

In the mixed-media work of Naomi Safran-Hon, the human body is present through detritus—remnants of clothing intertwine with obliterated concrete, capturing the bulldozed homes of Wadi Salib, a neighborhood once home to Palestinians and Mizrahi Jewish inhabitants before its confiscation by the state of Israel in 1948. Safran-Hon inserts lace and concrete directly into an archival inkjet print, layering a third dimension onto what is normally flattened by camera and printer.

To be clear, the phrase “the future is female” is not a recent addition to feminist discourse. It first appeared on a T-shirt in the 1970s.[4] The original design was made for Labyris Books—the first women’s bookstore in New York City. Liza Cowan photographed her then-girlfriend, Alix Dobkin, wearing the shirt in 1975. Forty years later, in 2015, the image of Dobkin was posted on h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y—an Instagram account that documents “herstoric lesbian imagery.”

E.V. Day, Waterlily, 2011

E.V. Day’s striking Waterlily (2011) pulls anatomic imagery from the artwork of her foremothers—Georgia O’Keefe and Chicago. Through enlarging the vivid fuchsia water lily that she collected, pressed, and then digitally scanned during her residency at The Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, Day reclaims past histories of feminist investigation. The flower’s fleshy texture and prominent reproductive organs are magnified through the scanning process, and its enlarged form is both foreboding and seductive. The print’s pigment is so concentrated that it casts a light pink glow on neighboring works.

On the wall parallel to Medusa, three circular hand mirrors are individually framed by hot-pink resin Venus symbols. The mirrors are lightly etched with a single word in all-capital typeface: FEMINIST, EQUAL, or POWERFUL. Michele Pred’s Reflections (2015), as they are displayed across from the acrylic-nail monster, reexamine the mythological tale of Perseus and Medusa.

Michele Pred, Reflections (Powerful) and Reflections (Feminist), 2015

When approached at a specific angle, the mirrors can reflect Medusa with the addition of Pred’s positive language—a clever positioning that references Perseus’s use of a mirror to evade Medusa’s fatal stare, but also pushes against stereotypes of women in classical mythology and their prevailing societal effects.

The Future is Female is a careful selection of important works by emerging and established women artists: Jenny Holzer, Monica Cook, Kiki Smith, Sanell Aggenbach, Gaela Erwin, Nina Katchadourian, Carrie Mae Weems, Vibha Galhotra, Alison Saar, Tiffany Carbonneau, Kathleen McQuade Olliges, Hanna Liden, and Julie Levesque. The exhibition includes artists from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America, but Katchadourian’s homage to David Bowie and Freddie Mercury—Under Pressure (2014)—takes place 35,000 feet above ground.

Nina Katchadourian, Under Pressure, 2014

In an airplane restroom, she “recreates” Mercury and Bowie’s 1981 duet, using a standard polyester airline blanket, toilet paper, and the contents of her carry-on luggage to construct costumes. Under Pressure merges Katchadourian’s humorous performance with a poignant critique, as Mercury and Bowie rejected gender constructs rooted in patriarchal standards. The Future is Female embarks on a similar mission by pushing against the grain of normativity and advocating for a future that surmounts the current sociopolitical climate.

The Future is Female is on view through May 2017.

[1] Whitney Chadwhick, Women, Art, and Society, 5th ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2012), 378.

[2] Chadwhick, Women, Art, and Society, 378.

[3] Linda Nochlin, “’Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ Thirty Years After,” Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, ed. Maura Reilly (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2015), 311.

[4] Marisa Meltzer, “A Feminist T-Shirt Resurfaces from the ‘70s,” The New York TimesNovember 18, 2015,

Arts

Scene&Heard: “God Help the Sincere Man” | The Patrick McNeese Band

In the end, perhaps the greatest part of the foundation of my love for this beautiful, small city is the knowing that on any given night, there is great quality music hiding in every corner. On a March Saturday, as the sun set hidden behind grey clouds over the dark, occluded Lake Fontaine, the Lake Shore Village Clubhouse began to light up. Within was the promise of an evening of music that boasted some of Lexington’s finest musicians.

Nestled in the corner of glass windows and backdropped by one of the prettiest views in the city, the Patrick McNeese Band settled down to a full backline of instruments to entertain the eager guests. Folks had filed in with serene smiles, carrying offerings of delicious homemade foods of every origin. Bottles of wine lined up on the counter, which was quickly overloaded with a delicious bounty. I felt quite settled in for a blissful evening, definitely one of the luckier Lexingtonians on that beautiful cloudy night.

Patrick McNeese

Patrick McNeese

Patrick took to his stool and his guitar, and his band followed suit. Tom Martin on keys, Tripp Bratton on a full set of drums back in the glass corner framed by waves all around; Miles Hanchett on bass and Jesse Pena on lead guitar. I was surrounded by some of my favorite instruments: Patrick’s pretty electric-acoustic that he uses as much as a percussion instrument as a guitar; Tom’s Roland and Nord keyboards; Jesse’s Fender Strat; Miles’ ’85 Gibson Explorer bass. Notably absent on this particular evening due to a scheduling conflict was violinist/vocalist Maggie Lander. The instrumentation in the Patrick McNeese Band is perhaps its greatest quality, though the lyrics are in great competition. They are a solid package, indeed.

The sofas, chairs and even the overly shaggy rug covered with pillows soon filled to a comfortable capacity as we all nestled down with plates of goodness and cups overflowing. 

The band started off their long list of McNeese originals with “Lucky Boy”, a tight, layered piece with ethereal keys that invite thoughtful drums and guitars. Patrick began his lyrics, singing in his characteristic style, layering his words of poetry and imagery sometimes above, sometimes with the instrumentation.

Patrick’s lyrics are almost conversational; he paints an image for his listener that is a visual story. Like his own paintings, colors and shapes form to create “a theater in the mind.” The band is the vision of McNeese, his love for the “collaborative, multi-layered aspect of music” apparent as the master musicians delved deep into their craft. The conversation that took place between them was tight, yet fluid and smooth, “which comes out of a jazz approach.”

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L-R: Jesse Pena, Miles Hanchett, Tripp Bratton

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Tom Martin

Martin sat next to McNeese on his double keys and joined in the conversation, with Pena sending in warm, buttery sounds from his Fender electric. 

The sun began to set as Lexington traffic sped by across the lake, off on the horizon.  Waterfowl glided by on the lake. The band was soon backed by darkness as McNeese moved his players into “Light Up the Night.”  Bratton sometimes offered backing lyrics along with his amazing drumming, bouncing his voice off the glass windows now black and reflective. Hanchett’s bass wrapped the players together, providing a foundation. The crowd couldn’t help but be moved.

The near orchestral arrangements, which touched upon so many genres of music, some Latin, some Middle Eastern in sound, certainly jazz and blues, even a touch of country, create staging for McNeese’s provocative lyrics, a flow of spoken word and layered images that trip around the notes with practiced ease. 

McNeese creates a sound for his audience that draws the room together. The positive house show environment of willingly captive attention fed the band beautifully, and all were grateful. 

Viewed from his perch behind the keys, Martin enjoyed the reaction. “To look up and see how people are responding to the music; there is something very rewarding about being at a keyboard and making a sound and seeing a positive response to it.  The whole idea is to move people and allow them to escape with something.”

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Moving into a phase in their musical careers where the band has decided to perform almost exclusively for intimate shows such as this one, and to focus more on getting back into the studio with Duane Lundy over at Shangri-La to create the band’s third album and Patrick’s sixth, this night was special and unique. The audience had come to listen and in many cases to lose themselves in the music. This created a welcoming canvas for the band to paint McNeese’s lyrics and music. “A beautiful example of community in a small, intimate way,” he later reflected.

An artist in many forms, that is the beauty of the thing for McNeese,“That is the joy of the artist, giving birth to something.  It’s a very maternal process, nurturing and passing something from inside to the outside world.” 

Performing before a small, intimate house show completes the package for his lyrics and music, and the musicians agree.  Weary perhaps of crowded, loud bars and competition from now ubiquitous televisions, or standing solo in corners or at pianos in hotel lobbies, these experienced musicians appreciate the settled quiet of clubhouse setting.  The attentive audience.  The sincere appreciation. As Martin said, “Music in its best environment is that organic connection between player and the listener. It’s almost existential without the listener.”

What transpired that Saturday night was a special gift. A night of balanced perfection; dedicated, seasoned musicians of great quality, lyrics and music from a foundation of a life of music and art, a room filled with eager and attentive friends who brought food and drink and joy. The dreamlike music wrapped around us all and together we shared in the band’s creation, the evening itself a work of art.

Indeed, all were quite fortunate to be there and share in the experience.

Interviews

Patrick McNeese Band Albums

Big Fish Moon 

Hallelu

Arts

A Blueprint for What?

President Trump’s proposed Make America Great Again Budget Blueprint eliminates funding for both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Both entities – created by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 – are being lumped into a category of programs ‘that just don’t work’, according to White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

“A lot of those programs that we target, they sound great, don’t they? They always do. They don’t work. A lot of them simply don’t work. I can’t justify them to the folks who are paying the taxes. I can’t go to the autoworker in Ohio and say ‘please give me some of your money so that I can do this program over here, someplace else, that really isn’t helping anybody.” – Mick Mulvaney.

Also included in the list of programs that ‘just don’t work’ are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

For the moment, let’s focus on the NEA. According to Americans for the Arts, the NEA’s annual appropriation supports a $730 billion dollar arts and culture industry, 4.8 million jobs and a $26 billion trade surplus for the nation. For Kentucky, the elimination of funding for this entity would result in a cut to programs supported by the Kentucky Arts Council – which, according to Nan Plummer, President and CEO of LexArts, would mean “a dramatic overall decrease in funding for the arts in Lexington, Kentucky.”

The Kentucky Arts Council (KAC) receives state partnership funding from the NEA (the only agency that so authorized). The KAC grants a combination of state monies and these NEA funds in the form of unrestricted operating grant to support to fifteen Fayette County organizations:

  • Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning
  • Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra Society
  • Central Music Academy
  • Explorium of Lexington
  • Headley-Whitney Museum
  • Institute 193
  • Kentucky Ballet Theatre
  • LexArts
  • Lexington Art League
  • Lexington Ballet Company
  • Lexington Chamber Chorale
  • Lexington Children’s Theatre
  • Lexington Philharmonic
  • Lexington Singers
  • and the Living Arts & Science Center.

Plummer further notes that while “these are not necessarily large percentages of these organizations’ budgets, a typical KAP grant of about $20,000 represents half a salary, which may represent an entire position. No people, no programs.”

Plummer acknowledges that we have been fortunate here in Lexington to have received a number of direct grants from the NEA. “In the last few years LexArts has been the successful applicant for funding for public sculpture and creative place-making like NoLI CDC LuigART Makers Spaces.”  Other area organizations receiving NEA funds directly in recent years include Central Music Academy and Lexington Children’s Theatre.

The influence of art and the humanities is seen, heard and felt throughout the economy. An example is the Lexington marketing and branding company, Bullhorn Creative. Brad Flowers is its co-founder (along with Griffin Van Meter) and oversees day-to-day operations. He spoke with UnderMain’s Tom Martin:

Jane Chu is the 11th appointed Chair of the NEA nominated by Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2014. She states, “We are disappointed because we see our funding actively makes a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.”

Apparently, a number in Congress feel the same. As noted in ArtForum, a bipartisan group of 24 Senators submitted a letter to the President calling for continued support of both the NEA and the NEH.

“Access to the arts for all Americans is a core principle of the Endowment. The majority of NEA grants go to small and medium-sized organizations, and a significant percentage of grants fund programs in high-poverty communities. Furthermore, both agencies extend their influence through states’ arts agencies and humanities councils, ensuring that programs reach even the smallest communities in remote rural areas.” -from the letter written by twenty-four bipartisan United States senators

The NEA and NEH cannot advocate for themselves as independent agencies of the federal government. We must do it for them. Arts professionals around the world are uniting in protest to Trump’s Make America Great Again Budget Blueprint. Americans for the Arts has issued a ‘Save the NEA’ Action Alert, encouraging each of us to contact members of Congress and reminds us that it takes only a few minutes of our time to do so.

President and CEO Robert L. Lynch states, “President Trump does not yet realize the vast contribution the NEA makes to our nation’s economy and communities, as well as to his own agenda to create jobs ‘made and hired’ in America. We know that the work on the FY2018 budget will continue until at least October 2017. Along the way, there are many points in the process where Americans for the Arts, with arts advocates and partners from across the country, will be united in communicating with Congress and the American people to make sure they know the impact of the arts in their states and districts and in our nation.”

The American Association of Museum Directors (245 art museum directors in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) has also put out a statement in support of cultural organizations for whom these funds are vital.

“The arts are a shared expression of the human spirit and a hallmark of our humanity. Art touches people throughout their lives—from toddlers first learning about the world, to those with Alzheimer’s disease reconnecting with someone they love. Museums offer art programs to help teachers and homeschoolers prepare lessons, to train medical students to be better doctors, to ease the suffering of veterans with PTSD, and to share with people across the country the best of creative achievement.” – AAMD.

UnderMain is interested in your thoughts and comments, particularly if you are an arts professional working in Kentucky. Here are just a few additions; we will update as they arrive.

“Trump’s plan to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, directly reflects his careless treatment of our country and all that we hold dear. The Arts provide an important space where diversity, inclusion, creativity, innovation, and risk-taking are celebrated and encouraged. Art is a reflection of our country and all of its people in the purest form. To cut funding for the Arts, is a statement on what this administration values, as they try to eliminate the very source of brilliance that has defined civilization since its very beginning.”  – Stephanie Harris, Director (Lexington Art League)

“For half a century the American government has been using the NEA to fund and promote our best artists, writers, musicians, dancers, performers, filmmakers, educators, and an ever-widening class of creative thinkers. It is an honor to receive support from the NEA, which has helped to foster generations of artists who admire the US government for contributions toward strengthening American culture. The agency is a vital tool for maintaining positive relations with our most imaginative citizens. It would be a massive loss to our cultural legacy to see it lay dormant” – Joey Yates, Curator – KMAC (Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft)

NEA

Naked existence again.

Night encourages aggression.

Nothing engages anthem.

Nipple event announced.

Nausea exhibition anticipated.

Never endure absence.

New entertainment atrophies.

No excrement available. 

Nudge abstract eating.

Nitwit executive asphyxiated.

Now eagerly applaud.

Stuart Horodner, Director, University of Kentucky Art Museum

Arts

Experimental Film With Live Music at Farish Theater

The Lexington Film League (LFL) is presenting on March 21, at 7PM in the Farish Theater of the Central Library, Our Heavenly Bodies, a technological marvel of the silent film era. The film, by German director Hanns Walter Kornblum, was released in 1925. The showing of the film, which has been digitally-restored, will be accompanied by live music by Coupler, a Nashville-based “creative organization”. WRFL is the presenting sponsor, and there is no charge for admission to this special film and music event.

Our-Heavenly-Bodies-Poster-1

Kornblum’s ambition for the film was to present the astronomical and scientific knowledge available at the time and to wondrously imagine what the future of exploration of the cosmos might hold. He used the most advanced film technologies of his era, utilizing nine cameramen and fifteen special effects technicians.

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Coupler was founded in 2012 by Ryan Norris of Lambchop. It is “an exploration of the intersection of man and machine, live and recorded, composed and improvised, stasis and flux”. The experimental techno-ambient music of Coupler will undoubtedly add to the trippy nature of the film.

Sarah Wylie A VanMeter, one of LFL’s Co-Producers, said that LFL is very excited to have the opportunity to present this special film and music and is very grateful to WRFL for its willingness to sponsor interesting and innovative programming. The film curator at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville encouraged the Film League to present “Our Heavenly Bodies”.

Coupler is touring with the film to a limited number of locations, including the Speed, the Wexner Center in Columbus, and six other locations. For film aficianados, this is a special opportunity to see a pioneering effort in experimental film. But others are sure to enjoy the unique combination of a visionary early film effort and the music of a forefront techno music group.

Arts

The Chrysalis

Chrysalis House in Lexington, Kentucky is a non-profit organization that “specializes in treating substance dependent expecting mothers, allowing them to keep their newborns and toddlers with them while in treatment.” The organization chose the name, Chrysalis, because it “represents the protected stage of growth the caterpillar must enter before emerging as a butterfly.” This designation, though, goes far beyond metaphor and into the realm of hope because Chrysalis House “provides a safe, nurturing environment where recovering women may reside while undergoing a similar life-changing process” (chrysalishouse.org).

Chrysalis is not a word we hear very often, yet it exemplifies one of nature’s most incredible metamorphoses. Let’s consider the Monarch, which lays its eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. Feeding voraciously on the leaf that protected it before it hatched, the caterpillar sheds its skin five times, growing a new and bigger exoskeleton or instar each time. On the fifth turn, it morphs into a chrysalis—a hard jade-like protective shell that virtually disappears as it slowly gives birth to another life form—the butterfly, a magical transmutation and universal symbol of hope.  Hope with wings.

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Chrysalis 014

To say that the Monarch’s stages of development, patterns of migration, survival instincts, and self-destructive reproduction propensities are mysterious and perplexing is an understatement. The above photo is one of 18 images that comprise photographer John Stephen Hockensmith’s The Chrysalis Project, a magnanimous undertaking that artistically depicts the remarkable phenomena of the Monarch butterfly’s life cycle and the ramifications it has for us in the modern world, both social and natural.

Hockensmith’s project was born in September, 2016 when a client gifted him a chrysalis in a small terrarium and asked him to watch the miracle that was about to happen. While he did not actually witness the emergence of the butterfly, it inspired him to pursue and document the wonders of this transformation as an art project. He started by going to an arborist who had a garden in his backyard that served as a way station for Monarchs.  There he obtained some milkweed and an additional caterpillar to add to his terrarium.  He closely observed the caterpillar as it munched on the milkweed, growing quite large in a relatively short amount of time.  It then found a twig, formed a silk connection and went into the hooking stage and molded itself into a chrysalis, the emerald green casing you see on the left—Chrysalis 013. This is when Hockensmith pulled his camera out of the bag and went to work.  In its own good time, the chrysalis turned to gossamer as a Monarch butterfly wiggled its way into existence and posed with its ancestor, the caterpillar, in the image on the right—Chrysalis 016.

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Chrysalis 013

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Chrysalis 016

As he began photographing this transformation in his studio, Hockensmith employed a digital-imaging technique known as photo stacking where multiple images are taken at varying focal lengths at very close range. Then using special software, these images are compilated into a single photograph that results in a particular desired depth of field. In Chrysalis 013, for example, all the key elements—the milkweed leaves, the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the floating silver strands from the milkweed seed—are in sharp focus despite the distance between them. And Chrysalis 016 exhibits the same compilated depth-of-field qualities as well.  These are extraordinary works of art not just for the miracle of nature they so exquisitely portray, but because of the experience, knowledge, and technical skills required to create them.

You may not know that it takes a village to create a work of art, particularly a body of work such as The Chrysalis Project, but it does. On discovering that some Girl Scout groups had created five Monarch gardens in Georgetown within the vicinity of his studio, Hockensmith was able to obtain more caterpillars, harvest more milkweed, and build a larger terrarium so that by the end of the season he had witnessed ten caterpillars become butterflies. He was then inspired to take his camera into these gardens and those at Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary near Frankfort to observe and capture Monarchs in various stages of flight, landing on milkweed, and interacting with each other and other insects. He said, “It was an alien world that emerged in front of me that was magical, mystical, and scientific as well as undefinable, really.”

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Chrysalis 002

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Chrysalis 003

As you gaze on Chrysalis 002 and 003, the brilliant ethereal glow and translucent fluidity of these images make you think these dainty nectarines could easily flit out of sight at the blink of an eye. Seizing moments like this is more than just a matter of determination.  It requires instinct and passion, a lot of patience, and a willingness to explore and seek out the feeding and breeding grounds of these transitory spirits of nature.

It’s always advantageous to be in the right place at the right time, but that’s not the whole of it.  Hockensmith used the latest mirrorless technology and long, light-weight lenses in learning to track and capture the butterfly and other insects in flight. The photographer’s intuition and ability to anticipate motion, however, are elemental factors that cannot be mathematically or logically determined. It’s a matter of prescience. In Chrysalis 017, the Monarch has landed on a Zinnia and waits its turn to partake of the sweet nectar. This is obviously a stop-action shot, but the essence of what you see continues long after the shutter has been released.  These co-existing partners of pollination commune, feed, and then move on to continue to fulfill the purpose of their short lives.

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Chrysalis 017

When the Monarchs in his terrarium matured, Hockensmith released them one by one out the back door of his studio saying to each as it took flight, “I’ll see you in Mexico.”  His experimentation and intense interest in these delicate-winged creatures led him to study their migration habits from the Northeastern United States and Canada to eight different sanctuaries in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range of Central Mexico where they gather in ornamental fir trees, the oyamel, on the top of these mountains.  He chose the sanctuary of Cerro Pelon in Mancheros and planned his own migration southward for mid-January. He could not be fully prepared for what lay ahead of him and he could only dream that one of these bronze angels had once inhabited his studio.

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Chrysalis 010

After his arrival in Cerro Pelon, Hockensmith rode up into one of the sanctuaries on a small Spanish Mustang known for its sure-footedness on the mountainside. Waiting for him at the top of the mountain was the third generation of Monarchs that had completed the relay of the migration north the year before.  They dangled in the fir trees in such great numbers that the limbs sagged downward with their weight. Pretty amazing when you consider that the average adult Monarch weighs only half a gram. These trees are critical to their survival, sheltering them from inclement weather and sudden drops in temperatures.  The ability of the Monarchs to even move is slowed down considerably at 55 degrees or below.  But as the temperature rises, they too rise like small kites that have been freed from entanglement and begin their migration northward for another season.

Hockensmith commented that “It appeared as a fantasy to be there with a camera and to be able to record this phenomenal event.  It made me want to incorporate it somehow into the seasons of my own life, to photograph and punctuate the existence of the Monarch in its Kentucky environment, to create my own butterfly gardens, and to have my own communion with these kings and queens of the insect world.” The citizens of the region celebrate the annual return of the Monarchs on “The Day of the Dead” and make offerings to the souls of their departed ancestors who have come back to commune with them.  This is oneness with nature at its best.

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Chrysalis 005

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Chrysalis 001

Each generation of Monarchs that migrates back to North America and Canada in the spring lives only a couple of months at most. Once the female lays her eggs on the milkweed leaf, she dies and her offspring continue the journey. The third generation, however, that returns to Mexico in the fall may live as long as seven to eight months, providing they survive the 2,000 to 3,000-mile flight in order to begin the cycle all over again.

Monarchs have few natural enemies other than the elements.  Their biggest threat is humankind.  Although the sanctuaries in Mexico are protected by the government, illegal logging is quickly destroying large portions of their habitat.  Also, the use of herbicides, such as Roundup, is decimating milkweed, the only plant on which the Monarch lays its eggs and on which the caterpillars feed.  Then there is climate change.  The Natural History Wanderings blog site recently posted (February 10, 2017) a release from The Center for Biological Diversity declaring that the Monarch population has dropped off by one-third in 2016 alone, and decreased by 80 percent over the last few decades (naturalhistorywanderings.com). It’s probably safe to say the Monarch butterfly is an endangered species.

The prophetic words of the Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, written over 200 years ago still ring true:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

So what Hockensmith demonstrates through his art and his first-hand experience is that we can perhaps regain our hearts—that the story of the Monarch’s migration is indeed one of beauty, wonder, endurance, and, yes, sadness. But above all, it is one of hope—the same hope that Chrysalis House has for the disenfranchised mothers and children who are in its care.  In the spirit of rebirth and renewal, Hockensmith has made a commitment to donate a portion of the proceeds from The Chrysalis Project to Chrysalis House. He stated that the integral philanthropic component of his project “metaphorically illustrates the transformational nature of how humans can escape some of the difficult positions we find ourselves in as life changes and insists that we become something other than what we are.”

John Stephen Hockensmith – Fine Art Editions Gallery and Press – Georgetown, Kentucky

John Stephen Hockensmith – Fine Art Editions Gallery and Press – Georgetown, Kentucky

Although the venues are yet to be determined, The Chrysalis Project will be travelling beyond the gallery walls to foster awareness throughout the state regarding the important role these cross pollinators (butterflies and honeybees) play in our lives.  The official launch party is on April 6th from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Fine Art Editions, 146 East Main Street in Georgetown, Kentucky.

May the great spirit of the Monarch move you to come see this astonishing art work while indulging yourself in some wine and light hors d’oeuvres. And trouble yourself to memorize this line from another great Romantic poet, John Keats: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever!” After seeing this show, which runs through June, you are not likely to forget it.

The museum-quality, limited edition prints of the 18 images included in this exhibit are available framed (31 x 41½ inches) or unframed (19½ x 30 inches), and you can sneak a peek at finearteditions.net

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Chrysalis 009

(All images courtesy of Fine Art Editions)

Arts

Circling Back

From UK Press Release:

During the construction of the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A in 2007 chain link fences were used to separate the construction site from pedestrians. To give the site a more appealing look, digital images depicting what life would look like inside the structure were printed on vinyl and displayed on the fences surrounding the construction site.

Shortly before the completion of the project, Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs, approved a request from Arturo Alonzo Sandoval. Sandoval, an internationally recognized fiber artist and UK faculty member, wanted to take the images that had been displayed on the fences and recycle them into beautiful works of art for patients to enjoy.

Sandoval, Alumni Endowed Professor of Art in the College of Fine Arts’ School of Art and Visual Studies, has been repurposing what some might consider “industrial junk” into pieces of art since 1965. He decided to use this same medium to create something beautiful from the construction of the new facility.

As soon as he saw them on the fence, Sandoval was attracted to the construction sites’ digital vinyl images. “I kept my eye on the main construction wall with the vinyl digital images mounted on it along Limestone,” he said.

Sandoval and studio assistant Sean Fitch selected pieces of the vinyl images based on their dimensions, colors, cropped forms and visual textures. The goal was to design the salvaged material into circular abstract designs. Those designs will soon be displayed in the very building the images once depicted.

“Circling Back” was installed in The Chapel Gallery on the ground floor of Pavilion A on March 1 and can be visited over the next six months.

This installation represents one of the many benefits of the University of Kentucky campus: the ability for two seemingly unrelated entities, health care and visual art to collaborate to create something that is beneficial for both programs as well as patients.

Arts

Between Pictoralism and Polaroids

Drawing comparisons between images of two disparate periods in the twentieth-century history of photography—and the artists who worked in these respective moments—is a precarious curatorial endeavor. Face Value: Photographs by Doris Ulmann and Andy Warhol is akin to a tight rope walk, as the exhibition attempts to connect the portraits taken by Ulmann (1882-1934) and Warhol (1928-87) without addressing major shifts in photographic practice.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, a new wave of artists became increasingly critical of the camera’s efficacy of truth telling. These artists subscribed to the idea that reality—as depicted through the lens of a camera—had collapsed on itself. The photograph became increasingly self-reflexive; artists sought to prioritize the medium’s visual disconnects rather than construct a banal narrative around the image of a static landscape or individual.

In Face Value, the historical and analytical gap between Warhol’s snapshot-style photographs and Ulmann’s highly stylized portraits is a source of both contention and intrigue. The exhibition’s exclusion of medium-specific history results in a distinct emphasis: the individuals Warhol and Ulmann chose to photograph. Although strikingly different in composition and method, Ulmann and Warhol’s photographs document musicians, friends, lovers, dancers, celebrities, and writers.

LEFT: Andy Warhol Jock Soto, n.d. Gelatin silver print Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts RIGHT: Doris Ulmann, American Michio Ito, 1919 Platinum print mounted on cream laid tissue paper, mounted on cream mat board Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Edward Niles

While the majority of Ulmann and Warhol’s portraits in Face Value are thematically grouped, specific photographs have been intentionally coupled and presented as side-by-side comparisons, illuminating the artists’ adherence to—or disavowal of—medium-specific traditions. Warhol’s black-and-white photograph of the legendary ballet dancer Jock Soto—presumably taken in the late 70s or early 80sis paired with Ulmann’s 1919 portrait of choreographer Michio Itō. Warhol’s image of Soto pushes against its “portrait” categorization, as the subject’s hand is rendered the central focal point.

Indeed, Warhol’s “portraits” often reveal the artist’s concentration on fragmented bodies—hands, torsos, and arms supersede his subjects’ faces. Two horizontal lines interrupt the image’s top-right corner, accentuating Warhol’s interest in the vernacular traditions inherent in amateur photography. On the contrary, Ulmann’s Michio Itō is posed, specifically, for the camera’s lens. The choreographer’s body is shroud in thick dark fabric, leaving only his face exposed.

Ulmann and Warhol’s photographs are aesthetically and analytically incongruous—yet their juxtaposition in Face Value exemplifies Modern photography’s historical break from Pictoralism and “straight photography.” Challenging what the American photographer Edward Weston had described as the “quality of authenticity in the photograph,” Warhol’s images break from former practices that relied on expensive equipment, precise lighting, and staged compositions.[1] Instead, the artist used inexpensive cameras, including The Polaroid Big Shot and Olympus Quick Flash.[2]

Doris Ulmann Untitled (Mulungeon woman at Washtub), n.d. Platinum print mounted on cream mat board Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Jacob Niles

Comparing Warhol’s snapshot aesthetic and Ulmann’s painterly photographs exhumes complex issues rooted in the medium’s evolving methods, but also presents a more nuanced reading of the instability of class consciousness, constructions of identity, and artistic subjectivity in twentieth-century photographs. Ulmann’s Melungeon Woman at a Washtub (n.d.) is constructed to portray Appalachian life through a specific lens—that of a wealthy, educated, New York woman. Posed with washboard and basin, Ulmann’s subject does not confront the camera. Rather, her gaze is directed outward in meditative contemplation. Ulmann, in her chauffer-driven Lincoln, traversed the rural United States seeking subjects that could best condense rural life into a singular image. As a student of the Ethical Culture Movement, her interest in rural subjects stemmed from a humanist tradition: she sought to capture “vanishing types” whose way of life was under threat in an increasingly industrial America.

Clockwise: Doris Ulmann Woman and Child from Line Fork, Kentucky, n.d. Gelatin silver print Purchase: The Robert C. May Photography Fund; Doris Ulmann, American Untitled (Young girl holding doll), ca. 1925 Oil pigment print Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Edward Niles; Doris Ulmann Untitled (South Carolina), 1929-30 Platinum print mounted on cream mat board Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Edward Niles; Doris Ulmann Will Durant and his Daughter Ethel, n.d. Platinum print Purchase: The Robert C. May Photography Fund

Ulmann adhered to Pictorialist traditions that included the use of various blurring techniques to mimic features of painting, in addition to an intent concentration on compositional simplicity. Lighting effects, often produced through a greased lens and soft focus, provided a luminescent atmosphere.[3] For Pictorialists, idea, message, and emotion were paramount to a photograph’s construction. An emphasis on “traditional beauty”—an indeterminate concept that, for the Pictorialists, was seemingly universal but vaguely defined—was often used to dramatize portraits or landscapes.[4]

To connect the approaches and photographs of Warhol and Ulmann seems, at best, a forced marriage—a coupling based on superficial traits. The value of Face Value, however, lies within the irony of its title in relation to the subject of portrait photography: portraiture can never be taken at “face value”—the photographer’s framing of people and events presents a constructed version of reality. Face Value recognizes this tension—at least partly—through the exhibition’s wall text. Warhol and Ulmann’s respective socioeconomic backgrounds (Warhol from blue-collar Pittsburg, Ulmann from an affluent New York family) profoundly influenced their choice of subjects. Both oscillated between paparazzi and voyeur—Warhol and Ulmann’s subjects often served as a mirror from which the photographers could examine their own lives.

Face Value: Photographs by Doris Ulmann and Andy Warhol runs through April 23, 2017 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum.

[1] Edward Weston, On Photography, ed. Peter Bunnell (Salt Lake City, Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., 1983), 51.

[2] Stephen Petersen, Andy Warhol: Behind the Camera, exh. cat. (Newark: The University of Delaware, 2011), v, xi.

[3] Christian A. Peterson, After the Photo-Secession: American Pictoral Photography 1910-1955, exh. cat. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company and the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, 1997), 18.

[4] Peterson, After the Photo-Secession, 18.

Arts

Review: Lexington Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet

Ballet, as an art form, can be difficult to write about. The art of it, the movement from one moment in space to another, is almost impossible to describe in any detail without resorting to jargon that at best conveys a terrible case of Francophilia and at worst renders the whole description unintelligible. Still, every so often you happen across a ballet—whether it’s a performance, a new piece, or just a little video clip of an old prima ballerina—that demands to be shared with whomever will listen. This is a review of Lexington Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet, and it is one of those pieces that demands attention, even secondhand.

Lexington isn’t a large city, and so it’s somewhat remarkable that its Ballet was able to attract the talents of Artistic Director Luis Dominguez who received full scholarships to study in New York with the world acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem as well as The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Mr. Dominguez went on to perform around the world as a soloist with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

For this production of Romeo & Juliet, which sadly ran only for this weekend past, he crafted a new set of choreography to match the music of Sergei Prokofiev. Dominguez’ choreography glitters with life and an enthusiasm that is often missing from an art form over three hundred years old. Dominguez has marshaled his company to flit and float about the stage in deceptively simple group tableaus, and he makes his soloist and principal dancers explode off the stage. At the same time, he keeps the ballet grounded, never letting the dance become so airy that it floats away on a cloud of insubstantial pleasantness.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

He achieves this monumentally difficult balancing act by keeping everything about the production simple and direct. Nobody and nothing is carried away by obscure technical details; where Dominguez wants to convey apathy, Mercutio will simply shrug. At the end of Act I, when Romeo and Juliet have finished the first of their spectacular pas de dieux dances, they kiss. Dominguez isn’t interested in communicating with the audience through an opaque and difficult-to-follow series of classical gestures. He just tells the story he wants to tell in a fantastically physical way. And he goes all in to tell it.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Watching this production, it was remarkable how youthful and enthusiastic the whole affair was. I’m no expert, to be sure, but I’ve seen plenty of ballet, and it’s remarkable how often a production will come across as totally lifeless. The cast of Romeo & Juliet, on the other hand, brought such a raw enthusiasm to the performance I saw that I couldn’t help but get carried away in it all. Everyone on stage was having enormous fun, and it infected the audience.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

This enthusiasm was aided by Dominguez’ commitment to a simple and direct choreography. When Mercutio and Tybalt duel, Dominguez’ lets them really swing their swords. It isn’t totally un-stylized, of course; a wide swing is still done with a pirouette. But the ‘language’ of this production was geared towards the general public, not experts of academics who are more interested in dissecting the significance of a single arabesque than in whether they understood what was going on on-stage.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

The youthful enthusiasm of this production wasn’t without a downside, though, and Romeo & Juliet certainly wasn’t perfect. There were plenty of minor dancing errors—a dancer’s head would turn the wrong way, or someone would land from a jump out of time with the rest of the company—but again, that irrepressible energy made it irrelevant to the experience. I just couldn’t find it in myself to be bothered by a lack of technical perfection on the part of the dancers.

Similarly, there were questionable production choices. The lighting of the stage would often cast shadows over the faces of any dancer who strayed too far from center. Loading up three of the soloists with bells that jangle off-time to the music can be distracting when it doesn’t have to be. Moving a set piece—the inescapably iconic balcony—on and off too slowly can put a drag on the momentum of Act I. All these choices certainly count against the production, at least from my perspective, but again I struggle to be all that bothered by any of them.

Maybe it was their faces. A lot of ballet will simply have the company plaster on dead-eyed and utterly artificial expressions of seriousness, meant to convey that you are watching High Art, and never vary that pose. These dancers, and prima Ali Kish in particular, never went in for that approach. When Juliet is happy, Kish lights up the house with a laugh. And when the body count starts to climb, towards the end of the second act, Lady Capulet, danced by Alex Orenstein, twists and contorts her face in a mixture of sorrow and rage.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

This is part of a remarkable commitment on the part of Dominguez and company to actually define their characters as characters. Dominguez doesn’t just use the story of Romeo and Juliet to move from one dance piece to another, he adds little flourishes and touches to create people out of his dancers. Juliet is girlish and impulsive—we first see her enter carrying a doll, a child’s toy. Mercutio, danced by Frank Macias, is the quintessential rogue—he interrupts his fatal duel with Tybalt to take a moment and flirt with one of the girls watching him fight for his life. Cal Lawton’s Lord Capulet, a man whose life is lived by violence, prowls like a bear and strikes his daughter when she refuses to marry Paris. This is a production more interested in the psychologies of its characters than most.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Again, this approach is not carried off without flaws. Romeo himself remains an almost total cipher—what does he see in Juliet? (But to be exceedingly fair, this is also a criticism that can be leveled at Shakespeare’s play.) The secondary characters—The Friar, the Nurse, Tybalt—also remain more-or-less sketches of characters. The dancers, however, give them a life beyond the choreography. Paris, another cipher, gains definition through Tyveze Littlejohn’s rigid and military posture that he maintains even at Juliet’s graveside.

This character-driven approach reaches its peak in Act III. Juliet, utterly distraught by the death of her cousin and the exile of her Romeo, dances a pair of solos in a style entirely different from everything done in the first two acts. Where before she was light and graceful in the pas de dieux, here her motions become quick and sharp, the poses she strikes angular and rigidly defined, not soft or flowing. Kish’s movements become anguished and aggressive, blurring the line between dance and passionate pantomime. The choreography became totally subservient to the character, and it made both reach new highs. It was the best performance I’d seen from a dancer in a long time.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

When I walked out of the Lexington Opera House, I remember thinking how unusual it was to realize that I’d had fun at the ballet. Often, a ballet performance will leave me appreciative of the skill required, and the aesthetics of the performance; when I walk out of the theater I sometimes feel like I sat through a particularly boring church service. It’s a rare performance where I leave the theater with a smile on my face. Romeo & Juliet left me with a stupid grin.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

(Topmost image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography)

Arts

Scene&Heard: Eric Bolander and Band, The Wooks at MMH

Manchester Music Hall, formerly Buster’s, is the largest venue in Lexington next to Rupp Arena; the vast space holds up to 1100 concert-goers. As such, the venue attracts regional and touring bands such as Lucero, Sundy Best and Friday night’s headliner, The Steeldrivers.

Formerly the backing band to Chris Stapleton, the Steeldrivers are big; so big they can sell out MMH, including the VIP seating for those willing to pay a bit more for a photo with the band.  They are a big group with a big following and a big crowd to fill every room in every city they play.

But that’s not what this article is about.

This is about what that means for Lexington’s local music scene.  It means that two excellent local bands are able to fill in the bill and open up for this big touring act providing some of our beloved local musicians the opportunity to play in front of 1100 happy-to-be-there folks who may never have heard their music before. These bands get the chance to sell their sound and songs as well as their merchandise and CD’s to the eager crowd as they warm up for the headliner they came to see.

Eric Bolander and his band, and the local bluegrass sensation The Wooks, did exactly that.  They took the chance to ride the wave the night promised, and man did they deliver.

CROWD

Photo by Derek Feldman

By 7pm, the VIP seats in front are filling in, the standing room area is slowly filling with an eager audience, the drinks are flowing and the fried goods out on the food truck are warming up the cold night.  MMH has blocked off an area outside with barricades and filled it kindly with outdoor space heaters for their customers, who gather around like cows to a shade tree in the deepening cold, waiting for their food to cook while they smoke outside. 

It’s time for Eric Bolander to warm up the crowd musically.

ERIC2

Photo by Derek Feldman

Taking the stage with Seth Murphy on cello, Trenton Jenkins on banjo and Ben Caldwell on backing vocals, Eric led his band into a fun, very welcoming intro set. “You kinda thrive on it. It’s nice to see when you get several hundred folks in front of you”, says Bolander of the vast crowd he faced. He previously opened the night for Sundy Best at MMH as well.

That’s the burden of the opening act; to work the room, warm them up, make them happy they are there and hopefully make them happy you are there.  He was successful.  That crowd was ready to love some good music, and Eric entertained them with his original songs, as well as a great cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain”, performed with the right amount blues and twang to make the song his own.

Using Murphy’s cello instead of a lead guitarist, the sound mixed with Jenkin’s banjo to create a unique blend with Bolander’s voice.  Perhaps surprising, coming from his large frame and presence, the art teacher and ten-year veteran of the KY National Guard has a beautiful, sweet voice that owns both ends of his vocal range.  He sang of wooing his now wife, mama to his new little girl, and opened the night with his tune “Honeysuckle” with its notions of protection and love.

Between songs, Bolander warmed the crowd up proper, getting them excited for the two acts yet to come, helping them remember they are so happy to be there, and thanking them with sincere gratitude for their enjoyment of his music, “great folk, bluegrass music with kind of a bluesy spin,” as Bolander describes his sound. Then smoothly, they ended their set and welcomed to the stage, band number two, Lexington’s rising bluegrass phenoms, The Wooks.

Listen to more of Cara’s conversation with Eric Bolander:

Still riding their own wave after winning the Band Contest last summer out at Colorado’s RockyGrass, The Wooks have been actively playing and touring ever since.  Consisting of Morehead’s Jesse Wells on fiddle, Roddy Puckett on bass, Arthur Hancock on banjo, CJ Cain on guitar and Galen Green on mandolin, the bluegrass group mixes originals with some standard covers their fans have come to love, including Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Robert Earl Keene’s “The Road Goes On Forever”.  Winning the band contest opened many doors for the Wooks as Jesse Wells’ commented, “I personally didn’t realize what a connection that was, evidently a very prestigious thing.”

Photo by Derek Feldman

Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks have a tightness on stage, the evidence of seasoned musicians who have played together on the road for some time now, with a mutual passion for music that makes their instruments dance.

The Wooks are something of a powerhouse of Lexington musicians, and they all contribute to the songs, both vocally and lyrically.  They brag on each other on stage, Arthur introducing CJ’s songs, CJ introducing Arthur.  They dance around each other as they play, clearly having as much fun on stage as the crowd is down below.  Each song brings hoots of celebration as the fans in the crowd recognize it and thank them for playing it.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Jesse Wells:

The growing crowd is slowly soaking up more merchandise from the local folks, Wooks t-shirts and koozies, Eric Bolander’s trademark mason jar insignia on his shirts and CD’s.  The opening bands were successful.  By the time the Steeldrivers take the stage, the room is packed full, the audience satiated with good food, cold drinks, loaded down with Merch from two excellent opening acts that satisfactorily filled them with quality music they loved.

Many of the members of the crowd had not come to see Eric Bolander or The Wooks. Some did, but most were there for the headliner.  However, Lexington musicians like these thrive on quality and good musical talent, and their gifts filled that large room, recently remodeled to give the large warehouse space a warm, comfortable and clean feel with great acoustics.

When folks pay up to see these larger regional or national acts when they come to town, they are supporting local musicians as well. “A lot of people are coming here who are fans of the Steeldrivers, fans of them who don’t necessarily follow local music or our music” say The Wooks.  Yet, they are fans now. 

Eric Bolander and band, and the Wooks now have planted their musical seeds in 1100 sets of ears, many for the first time.  Two local bands were able to ride the wave of the bigger band, and the gift of music was shared with a grateful crowd.  All good, all around.

Eric Bolander & Band - Photo by Derek Feldman

Eric Bolander & Band – Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks - Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks – Photo by Derek Feldman

Arts

Art and Style Light Up Downtown

The next time you’re in downtown Lexington at night, you’ll find the place beginning to seem a little brighter with many vacant storefronts now illuminated and colorful.

It may not signal a revival of downtown commerce, not yet at least, but Jim Frazier, Chairman of the Downtown Lexington Management District (DLMD), believes the installation of illuminated art in formerly darkened windows will make the city’s core a more attractive and interesting place to be in the evening. He sees it as an important first step on the way to a more interesting, safe and accommodating central core.

“We’ve committed to a first wave of public art,” Frazier said, discussing a new installation by Lexington artist Marjorie Guyon in the main street-facing windows of Festival Market.

Festival Market Night

Photo by Ben Wolff

The DLMD has three focuses: safety, beautification, and marketing. Frazier, who chairs a 15-member board of local business owners, residents, and other downtown stakeholders, said the ultimate goal of the property tax funded organization is to encourage new interest in the area and ultimately increase property values.

A first major step began last September with the appearance on the streets of “ambassadors,” a crew of about eight part-time staff decked out in purple shirts and khaki pants. They’re now on duty day and night picking up cigarette butts, cleaning up litter, helping visitors find their way and dealing with panhandlers.

The next step brought Frazier in contact with Guyon who maintains a downtown studio. Her instructions: “to highlight unrented space in the interest of attracting new business and to help create a vibrant city; to showcase local businesses and create an opportunity for them to present what they do in a public space –  shifting the spirit of a space by bringing unexpected beauty to the darkness.”

Festival Market 1 Blues and Revelation (1)

Photo by Ben Wolff

For this project, Guyon partnered with Betty Spain, proprietor of Bella Rose on the corner of Maxwell and Upper. “When I was putting together the idea for the installation, the presence of human form felt necessary. Bella Rose is known for their dresses and the designers she carries. I thought her collection would be a perfect complement to the artwork.”

Festival Market Camelot and Saffron

Photo by Ben Wolff

“The idea,” Guyon explained, “was to bring beauty and light to a dark and empty space along one of Lexington’s major thoroughfares. With large scale dye sublimation prints on aluminum and dresses from Bella Rose, we’ve created an environment that is not only safe to walk by but illuminates the street creating an opportunity to stop and have an experience.”

Frazier confirmed that the DLMD is looking for additional spaces that could use a brightening touch.

Arts

Radical Visions: A Review

Gordon W. Bailey has given thirty-five works of art to the Speed Art Museum. A World in My View: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey includes art by twenty-one artists.

An introductory selection of twenty-six pieces is on view at the Speed until February 5th.  All of the artists are African-American and are predominantly from the rural south. The selection is extraordinary on many counts – for the authenticity and depth of emotion in many works, for the range and brilliance of invention, for the improvisatory response to a welter of non-traditional scavenged materials, and not least, for the boldness and freshness of color.

Testimony to religious faith is a recurring theme. Herbert Singleton’s Danieal in the Lion’s Den depicts a stalwart Daniel with a shepherd’s crook standing very upright, looking straight ahead, seemingly unfazed by the lion and lioness confronting him. A hole in the red painted board which provides the support for this sculpture in low relief reinforces the witness to faith: conviction outweighs correct spelling or traditional artistic finish. A jagged broken edge of the board is echoed in the lion’s bared fangs.

Nellie Mae Rowe American, 1900-1982 Peace with Blue Hand, 1980 Crayon and graphite on paper 14 x 14 in. (35.6 x 35.6 cm.) sheet Gift of Judith Alexander

Nellie Mae Rowe is represented by Peace with Blue Hand. Rowe frequently traced her own hand in her art as a way of bearing witness and asserting her presence in the world. The hand points to the word “peace” and a bicolored red sun with green and brown rays. The curve formed by the artist’s thumb and wrist provides a contour for the silhouette of a bird: Rowe was a master at using one line to serve divergent forms. The hand/bird is flanked on the right by the back of a mauve cow and on the left by a pink-leaved flower crowned with a bud in the form of turbaned blue woman’s head. In Rowe’s art blue was often code for black. Race, mysticism, prayer, free association and a profound identification with nature come together in Rowe’s vision.

Purvis Young American, 1943 – 2010 Christ Watching Over Dudes, 1990s Mixed media on wood 68 × 24 in. (172.7 × 61 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey in honor of Chuck Pittenger

Purvis Young’s Christ Watching over Dudes shows the divine head loped over diagonally above three figures who are defined by an open weave of shimmering horizontal and diagonal strokes in green, carmine, black, blue and yellow.  Christ’s eyes are closed and his mouth is open, as if in prayer.  The three “dudes” are afloat, spectral presences, perhaps already entered into a redemptive afterlife.

J. B. Murray American, 1908 – 1988 Untitled, 1970s Mixed media on wood 25 1/4 × 25 in. (64.1 × 63.5 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey

J.B. Murry’s work extends the spiritual theme. Murry was convinced that he was scribe for a divinely inspired “language of the holy spirit.”  The example at the Speed holds its own as a color abstraction of the highest order: translucent horizontal and vertical squiggles form a rose, blue and yellow bar hovering over vertical trails of green, yellow, black, blue and purple, partially surrounded by an orange border. The indeterminacy and richness of markings are seemingly offhand but deft in their intuitive sense of economy, providing just enough for a work of art so inbred with transcendence that Murry’s belief that he was amanuensis to divine dictation has its own fictive plausibility.

Not all of the exhibition sticks to spiritual themes:  Henry Spiller’s exuberantly bawdy women display their most intimate attractions with bravado, and Spiller’s extraordinarily well endowed donkey is depicted with echoing curves to provide maximum emphasis to this equine’s outsized masculine attributes.

James “Son” Thomas American, 1926 – 1993 Untitled, 1980s Unfired clay sculpture 8 × 10 × 8 in. (20.3 × 25.4 × 20.3 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey

Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Son House offer disorienting, unsettling experiences with their portraits of women.  The body of Sudduth’s woman is defined by a brown circle seen against a yellow ground. The asymmetrical face addresses the viewer with a commanding, arresting stare.  Comparably, Son House’s unfired clay head sports a wig, gold eyes and gold teeth, and her head is tilted to one side as if in animated conversation.  In both works there is an uncanny sense of the unfamiliar familiar, artworks that seem very real without the traditional trappings of realism.

Equally haunting are Welmon Sharlhorne’s precisely delineated fanciful architecture, evoking funhouse or carnival buildings.  Drawn on what appears to be the backs of yellow manila envelopes, the artist’s studied designs take their coordinates from folds in the paper.  One of his drawings features a clown figure wearing a beanie with a clock on his nose. (Sharlhorne spent many years incarcerated and clocks and closed doors in his drawings may have autobiographical significance).  The beanie demarcates the roofline of the building and flips in and out of three dimensionality, becoming a dome in Sharlhorne’s Escheresque perspective.

New York Times critic Roberta Smith has remarked that looking at the work of self-taught artists has made her “more open, less tolerant of rules and orthodoxies, more understanding of the human urgency to make art and how widespread it is.”  The indigenous artists’ works on view at the Speed offer precisely that aesthetic liberation.

Arts

Can Music Bring the Bluegrass State Together?

this just can’t go on. It’s ridiculous: Here are people living right next to each other who can’t have a meaningful dialogue, and who assume nothing will ever change. So I keep thinking, ‘what can I do about that?’

  • Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra

Interesting, the way information gets around. It took a friend of a friend emailing the link to an article in the San Fransisco Classical Voice to call the attention of Kentuckians to the remarkable thoughts of an innovator within our midst. And who can argue with Teddy Abrams’ observation of the power of music to build bridges in divisive times…such as these?

READ ON

(Top photo by Chris Witzke)

Arts

Review: Old Music in the New World

In Truman Capote’s short story, “A Christmas Memory,” the young narrator brings to life the true spirit of giving.  As he speaks of an elderly distant cousin with whom he lives, he says, “It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of the year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart announces: ‘It’s fruitcake weather!’ ” Each year in a four-day period, she bakes “Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey” to give to friends. “Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all . . . these strangers, and merest acquaintances seem to us our truest friends.”

And so it is with The Center for Old Music in the New World when it offers up each year its own seasonal fruitcake, “A Handful of Christmas Delights,” at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky.  In this modern structure, reminiscent of a small European-style abbey, the acoustics beautifully enhance a remarkable world celebration of traditional and sometimes not-so-traditional tunes, depending on your frame of reference.  But there is always a key ingredient or tasty morsel that is sure to sate every holiday appetite.  

St. Michael's Episcopal Church - Photo by J.P. Fields

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church – Photo by J.P. Fields

This season’s selections spanned several hundred years, from the early 13th to late 20th century, and represented seven countries. The strength of this type of programming stems from the fact that it reveals more similarities than differences among peoples throughout the world when it comes to celebrating Christmas.  Our connectedness, our oneness. The diverse languages and the musical manners of the day from these various cultures further enriched our appreciation and understanding of these carols that have become an integral part of our lives at this time of year. 

Music Director Joanna Manring’s traditional organization of the evening’s program also met seasonal expectations:  Exultation—praise to the Virgin Mary; Birth—adoration of the Christ Child; and News, Feasting, and Dancing—joy in the redemption of humankind. Although these program segments are obviously chronological, the music was not, nor did it need to be.

As a tidbit, the audience was first treated to three 13th century instrumental pieces played on rarely-heard period instruments: the krumhorn, the viola da gamba, the lute, the portative organ, the tabor, and recorders.  Skillfully performed by Malissa Sullivan (Director of Instrumental), Katherine Bihl, Pat Arnold, John Hedger, Dwight Newton, and Jenny Brock, these works from England, France, and Galicia, respectively, provided a stirring sampler of medieval secular and sacred tunes.  A friend in attendance with me commented that these instruments sounded oddly contemporary to her.  That perception, however, is not as odd as it may seem if you really think about how many modern-day composers draw on early music such as this for inspiration.

                  

Musicians playing period instruments - Photo by J. P. Fields

Musicians playing period instruments – Photo by J. P. Fields

The Exultation, commenced with an affecting choral procession as eighteen acapella voices resounded throughout the ethereal vaults of the sanctuary with a modern arrangement (1990) of a traditional English melody, “Rorate Coeli” (Drop down ye heav’ns from above), sung in Latin but not unfamiliar in English:  “For us a child is born / Sing glory be to God.” 

Probably the most moving piece of this segment, though, was from 13th century England (anonymous) sung in Middle English, “Edi be thu, heven-quene” (Blessed be you, heaven’s queen), a polyphonic medieval chant showcasing the women’s chorus in praise of the Virgin Mary.  This consummately delivered, other-worldly incantation smoothly transported us to the Birth portion of the program where two better-known Christmas favorites, one instrumental and one choral, were in store.

As John Hedger began playing his arrangement of “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen” for solo lute, a stillness blanketed the air to the point that you could almost hear the angels breathe.  We know this haunting melody (and song) from 16th-century Germany as “Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming.” And even though there was no vocal component, I was all the more moved as I heard in my mind’s ear the words being articulated by this 13-stringed Renaissance instrument—a clue that it was most assuredly in the hands of a true artist.

   

John Hedger on the lute - Photo by J. P. Fields

John Hedger on the lute – Photo by J. P. Fields

Next, the chorus and five soloists graced us with a 1983 arrangement of the ubiquitous English ballad, “The Cherry Tree Carol.” I say ballad because the verse is presented in rhymed couplets which tell the story of Mary announcing to Joseph that she is with child. As the narrative unfolds, Joseph is angered, knowing that the baby is not his, and he refuses to gather the cherries she has asked of him.  He realizes his mistake when, at the bidding of the unborn Baby Jesus, the cherry tree bows to the ground so Mary can gather them for herself.  Joseph then pleads for forgiveness and asks the baby when its birthday will be.  And Jesus replies, “The sixth day of Januar’ My birthday will be, / When the stars in the elements Shall tremble with glee.”

This carol is a yuletide staple for at least three good reasons: First, it is a straight-forward tale that is nothing short of the miracle of the virgin birth itself, the idea of the Holy Child speaking from its mother’s womb. Second, it is a reminder that before we adopted the Gregorian calendar, Jesus’ birthday was celebrated on January 6th, what we now refer to as Old Christmas.  Third, it brings to our awareness the idea of celebrating the twelve days of Christmas as a way of slowing down the pace and savoring the quintessential spirit of the season that, as Capote’s narrator suggests, will “exhilarate [our] imaginations and fuel the blaze of [our] hearts.” This is the message, the good news, The Center for Old Music in the New World imparted throughout its program in general and with the last part of the program in particular: News, Feasting, and Dancing.

Following intermission, soloist Camilla Roberson and chorus joined forces in “Noe, Noe! Pastores, Cantate Domino” by French Baroque composer, Guillaume Bouzignac. The piece begins with a quickened tempo in a staccato-like fashion, punctuating the good news, “Noel, noel!” As the voices slowly soften (pianissimo) into incredible resonating harmonies, Roberson bursts forth (sforzando) with her “Gloria” followed by her alternating (and sometime simultaneous) responses to questions posed by the chorus, such as: “Why did God become man? (So that man may see God).” This vocally effective call-and-response type of exchange melded at the end into a single yet harmonious rendering of praise.

The audience was then spirited into an instrumental set of dances from “Terpsichore” by Michael Praetorius (Germany, 1612) that established the tone for the remainder of the performance.

And by way of continuing the transition from sacred to secular, Jenny Brock and Loren Tice invited us, via a well-balanced duet, to “Make we joye nowe in this fest / In quo Christus natus est.”—to be joyful on this festive occasion in which Christ was born.

Ending not only on a high note (figuratively speaking), but also on a highly personalized note (literally speaking), the singers indulged the audience in an all-time holiday favorite, “Wassail Song,” with its sweet refrain: “Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too, / And God bless you, and send you a happy new year.”  Then Manring stepped down from the podium and joined the troupe for the final treat that took the cake, “Lexington Wassail,” a customized version of the traditional English “Apple Tree Wassail.”

When I asked one of the singers how Lexington became a part of the title of this song, he replied rather jokingly, “We call it the ‘Lexington Wassail’ because we’ve been singing it in Lexington, Kentucky longer than any musicologist can prove it was ever sung in jolly old England!”  As individual singers contributed a customized verse, the audience was invited to join in on the familiar refrain. And the verse that wrapped up the evening went something like this: “Here’s a toast to our neighbors and long may you live / since you’ve been so kind and so willing to give / We’re glad you’re not selfish, pernicious or mean / so live to the fullest in Two Thousand Seventeen!”

In the manner of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” this was an invitation to friendship with “strangers, and merest acquaintances,” or perhaps persons we have never met. After all, “It’s fruitcake weather!” And the amount of time that it takes a fruitcake, “dampened with whiskey” nonetheless, to ripen or mellow so that it melts in your mouth is equally true of the joyous music presented to us at Christmas time. Hence, the baking and rehearsing must always begin in November, if not sooner. The Center for Old Music in the New World’s “A Handful of Christmas Delights” was delicious!

So if you missed this season’s performance, then you have next Christmas to look forward to.  And although the program has not yet been determined, Director Joanna Manring indicated that the Company’s spring concert will be of equal delight, addressing themes of rebirth, awakening, and renewal as the cycle of life continues. 

All performances are free (donations suggested). What a gift! For announcements and updates, keep a lookout at http://www.centerforoldmusic.org. And happy New Year good friends, known and unknown!

Note: Video clips courtesy of The Center for Old Music in the New World and Steve Davis

Arts

Scene&Heard: Cosmic Charlie’s Opens New Location with Born Cross Eyed’s 25th

It was quite serendipitous that Mark Aaron Evans was ready to do a hard open for the new National Avenue location of Cosmic Charlie’s just as Born Cross Eyed was about to celebrate twenty-five years as a band. The two had become fast friends back in the days of The Fishtank before the old Cosmic Charlie’s came into being. It was all too appropriate for these two momentous occasions to align as one long weekend of a music genre that has become a Lexington staple. This fusion created a very magical first night, and Lexington came out in droves to celebrate and support.

Evans has a full plate of booking responsibilities, scheduling bands not only for Cosmic Charlie’s and the Burl in Lexington, but also Zanzibar and Headliners in Louisville.

I arrived early at the new venue in Lexington’s Warehouse Block district. The relocation is a demographic shift from just off the UK campus to walking distance from Lexington’s Kenwick neighborhood, a magnet for young professionals and families. As the band sound checked in the background, I spoke at length with Mark about the new space, his vision and this special weekend:

The new Cosmic Charlie’s is quite an elevation from the old location, which, while nostalgic and comfy for many, could lack in decorum.  Especially those bathrooms.  The new location is sparkly, squeaky clean and openly inviting.

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The different colored lights that make the surface of the bar twinkle reflect in the shiny silver lights above.  The front of the house boasts a pin ball machine and a juke box. The sound booth is tucked against the wall and the open floor is the perfect space for the dancing that had to occur.  Born Cross Eyed, like the band it emulates, makes you just want to dance.  And dance we did.

For twenty-five years, Lee Owen, Joey David, Chris Fuller, and Mark Vanderboegh have been covering the Grateful Dead in Born Cross Eyed, the “by-product of a bunch of deadheads sitting around a living room, really” according to the band.  “We were all running around the Dead shows together all around the country.”

Their mutual love for the band and the lifestyle easily mixed with their musical talents and back in 1991 became the long enduring Lexington legend.  Celebrating twenty-five years of gigs, festivals and full dancing, happy crowds, they were joined this Anniversary weekend with newer members Brandon Bowlds (bass), Jenny Adkins (vocals), and John-Paul Nowak (drums). During the Saturday night performance, drummer Dino English, of Dark Star Orchestra fame, joined the band for the big one-year celebration.

The fresh new room filled quickly Friday night, and when the band took the stage around 10:30 pm everyone in the front half of the floor was immediately dancing. The music flowed smoothly from one song to the next, each one bringing cheers from the crowd like an old friend returned home.  That’s the draw of the Dead and the good cover bands like Born Cross Eyed.  It is ritual.  To cover those songs with such ease and musical precision brings joy to the crowd like a Sunday revival. 

“It’s a huge community. I mean it’s our monthly meeting, some people have a bridge club, I have a Grateful Dead cover band…It’s like our church…there is a spiritual component to the Grateful Dead,” says lead singer Lee Owen of his baby.

The crowd agrees; these shows, of which I have attended many, fill with familiar faces and new strangers, but there is a strong sense of community and connection through the love of the music.  The lyrics are echoed by the crowd like hymns and creeds, the knowing of what is to come, and sinking down into the words and the rhythm, bumping off the crowd as everyone moves with gentle ease; this is the service. That is the ritual.  Born Cross Eyed is the officiant, and they deliver what the crowd wants and needs.

Brandon Bowlds (bass), Lee Owens (guitar)

Brandon Bowlds (bass), Lee Owens (guitar)

Lee Owen on lead guitar and Brandon Bowlds on bass is a tight combination, the two also played together in Bluegrass Collective and their experience is obvious. 

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Jenny Adkins, Brandon Bowlds, Lee Owen

Jenny Adkins adds in high harmonies along with Joey David on rhythm guitar and vocals, and the front line flows smoothly from song to song, covering all the eras of the expansive Grateful Dead history.

Joey David

Joey David

The crowd dances and sings along, appreciating the masterful skill of the drums, the keys and sax, those guitars wailing out the tunes.

The house was packed. The women’s bathroom was a constant streaming conversation appreciating the pretty new décor and cleanliness. The drinks flowed cold from the taps.  Next door, Rolling Oven and Locals provided food that Evans is happy to allow inside.  They also encourage delivery from Girls, Girls, Girls Burritos, their former business mates at the old Fishtank, now Best Friend Bar.

The music kept going, past 2am.  As the night got older, the crowd got younger. Older Deadheads went home to kids and early mornings while the twenty-something Deadheads took their place and kept the dancing going.  The vibe stayed the same, as it does at Dead shows.  The music creates the vibe, and the crowd responds accordingly.

It was a magical night.  When the band moved into the crowd for a picture with the audience behind them, it was nothing but love.  Love for the skill with which they make the music, Love for keeping the legend going all these many years, Love for being such a nice group of guys who clearly share the connection.

It’s all about the connection. Connecting with the music, the crowd. Connecting with each other on stage to produce the tight layered harmonies and chords and notes. Connecting with the lyrics to infuse them as Jerry and Pigpen once did. Connecting folks in Lexington to come out in the cold night and support these hard working musicians doing what they love. Local businesses connecting with one another and helping each other thrive, as the newly revamped block on National Avenue is doing. It all came together quite beautifully Friday night.

Thanks, guys, for keeping the connection going.

Arts

Guy Mendes: Unframed Play

If you know Guy Mendes, you may know some of the things I am about to share. If you are familiar with one of his three publications – Local Light: an anthology of 100 years of photographs made in Kentucky, (1976), Light at Hand (1986), or 40/40  40 Years, 40 Portraits (2010), the same might be true.

You also may have run across reference to the man’s genius in Yale University Press’ new catalog that accompanies an exhibition of the same name at the Cincinnati Art Museum: Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community: 1954-1974 (2016). Guy Mendes’ life’s work is being framed in many ways.

But the life of a creative person is never static and we who publish stories about them are always limited by the confines of our medium. Whether it be an essay, a book, a catalog, a video, or even an exhibition, we know too well that singular frames often cut short the contributions of artists who work in multiple disciplines as did Guy and many of his colleagues while working as members of the Lexington Camera Club.

When that frame is broken, when no preconceived notions are placed around creative thought and experimentation is encouraged, that’s when things start to happen. Guy Mendes admits that he learned this from his mentors, particularly Ralph Eugene Meatyard, in the Lexington Camera Club. Play. Search. Make something new.

This free-wheeling mindset was a far cry from Guy’s work as a journalist for both the Kentucky Kernel and later the underground paper known as the blue-tail fly (1969-71). Both publications were deeply immersed in the issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and covering campus protests against the Vietnam War. The deaths of student protestors at Kent State in Ohio occurred during this period. Not playful stuff.

Guy Mendes has had work published in The New York Times, Mother Jones, Playboy, Smithsonian Magazine, Aperture, and Newsweek. His photographs are in collections that include The International Center for Photography, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the High Museum, and Aperture Gallery, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, and many other local institutions. His career includes the production of numerous documentaries while working for nearly thirty-five years at KET. His life’s work needs nothing more than a straightening on the nail every now and then. Right?

Wrong. He still loves hours of play in the dark room. So, within the confines of this frame and along with Part I: For Guy Mendes, It’s What You See, it is our hope that UnderMain is able to introduce a little something new, then ‘get it souped, get it dried, and print it’ – a phrase Guy uses for the reportorial mode of production. We have invited Guy to play with us and send along a couple of new images before the end of the show at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Something that we can add here for your enjoyment.

Kentucky Renaissance, The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community: 1954-1974 is on view through the end of December.  If you have not seen this show, we encourage you to go. Also, see Hunter Kissel’s new narrative titled, Kentucky Insurgence.

What intrigues me most about the exhibition and catalog – both authored by Brian Sholis, then Curator of Photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum – is Brian’s observation about what happens when creatives work closely together as they did during the years of The Lexington Camera Club. Brian calls it genius that emerged in that time. Not only did photographers encourage and challenge one another, but they also played with new ideas, ideas that came often from writers in the region such as Wendell Berry, Guy Davenport, Thomas Merton, and James Baker Hall.

Such collaboration was of particular interest to Guy Mendes as a very young photographer and writer. Falling into the soup that birthed the Camera Club altered his vision forever – the talent and ideology of not only photographers and writers, but of sculptors, printmakers and multiple small presses like Gravesend Press, Gnomon Press, and The Jargon Society. Numerous contributions merged ‘words with pictures’ in a way that jelled for Mendes as a young photographer and writer.

Here are a couple of clips with Guy discussing what he refers to as the ‘cross-pollination,’ particularly with writers in the region, what was going on between members of the Lexington Camera Club.

Guy Mendes learned a great deal from his mentors, beginning with his introduction to Wendell Berry (see Part I) while he was working as a journalist for the Kentucky Kernel. Later, in 1971, Guy served as an apprentice to James Baker Hall and was thereby connected to writers like Gurney Norman, Ed McClanahan, and Bobbie Ann Mason, all of whom benefitted from a strong literary presence in Lexington, Kentucky at the time.

A keen awareness of what was taking place on the national level in photography grew, much of which was learned by attending lectures and visiting national exhibitions in New York and Chicago. According to Guy, photography was just coming into its own with movement in earlier decades prompted by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Ruth Bernhard.

Mendes also recalls the influence of Jonathan Williams, who had attended Black Mountain College and studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind –  ‘a hotbed of modern art in the hills of North Carolina.’ Williams was highly influential in connecting club members to this national scene in photography.

Today, with all the years of experience behind him, Guy Mendes recalls with great fondness the years of 1968-70 when he drove the countryside with Meatyard and Bob May – it was a time when he learned the value of play. He learned to search, but never with preconceived notions and while that play may have revealed the ‘uncanny’ or things that for some may even seem ‘dark’, that play was freeing. His recollection of that time is here:

UnderMain would like to thank Guy and KET for assisting us with presentation of a special insight into those times. In 1974, Guy Mendes, Martha Chute, and Stanley Maya created this film on Ralph Eugene Meatyard 1925-1972. The voices are those of Guy Davenport, Bob May, and Minor White.

Guy currently shows with: The Ann Tower Gallery and Institute 193 in Lexington, and POEM 88 in Atlanta and his website is: www.guymendes.com.

Arts

Scene&Heard: This Was What They Wanted

I was 18 when I bought my first Leonard Cohen tape and slid it into the car stereo of my Dad’s old Buick. Was This What You Wanted? began to play, and the whole world of one naïve Catholic Italian girl from Buffalo changed.

Music has that power, and that whole tape of the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony had a powerful influence on me as an audiophile. Lyrics suddenly became the most important part of a song, and Cohen was certainly one of the great sages of lyrical construction.

On the night of the election when I opened my newsfeed and learned that the great poet had gone to his reward, as my mother says, I felt an immense grief. I had to do something.

My simple Facebook suggestion to put on a show in tribute to Cohen resulted in a rapid response from musicians in town interested in getting involved. Clearly, so many of the local musicians I admire were as brokenhearted as me over the loss of this great, influential artist.

So, I found myself organizing a Leonard Cohen Tribute at The Burl, where my friend Bryan Minks gave us a Monday night to simply have a stage where we could pay tribute to a man to whom we all felt a strong musical connection. We decided to pass the hat for donations, and someone suggested we send anything collected to Standing Rock to help the water protectors in their struggle. The event began to take form.

The 28th of November was a damp and dreary night in Lexington, Kentucky, and the UK Wildcats were playing on tv. I wasn’t sure what to expect for turnout, but the room was already filling at 7:30. I placed candles on the tables as promised, and the first band began setting up. The intent was simply for each singer or group to choose two Cohen songs, perform them in their own way, and we would hopefully move smoothly from one set to the next, working Nolan Dunn too hard as he skillfully modified the soundboard for each different performer.

The Northside Sheiks (photo above) started the night with their signature blues vibe, Willie Eames giving his style to Almost Like the Blues and Slow with Lee Carroll on accordion, Smith Donaldson on Bass, Robert Frahm on guitar and David White on drums. From there, the packed house listened to a steady stream of great Lexington area musicians: Chris Sullivan, Warren Byrom, Brian Combs, Bryan Minks, Keith Rowland, Doc Feldman (with a little bit of help from yours truly), Eric Cummins, Chelsea Nolan, Josh Nolan, Derek Spencer, Ben Aubrey with Trinity Curtsinger, Rob Rawlings and Alex Parkansky. And then came a duet on strings with Elias Gross on viola and vocals and Richard Young on Bass, which grew into a trio that added Anna Hess on violin to back Kevin Holm-Hudson on keys when he led the entire group in Cohen’s Hallelujah to end the evening.

The night proceeded exactly as I had imagined it: candles flickered, people in quiet conversations between sets. When each performer began, the entire room hushed, even with the game on mute back at the bar. With the two songs they had chosen, each artist blended Cohen’s brilliant poetry with their own style and instrument to make it theirs.

“I’m always pleased when somebody sings a song of mine. In fact, I never get over that initial rush of happiness when someone says they are going to sing a song of mine. I always like it,” the late Cohen once noted in an interview on Pacifica Radio. “That song enters the world, and it gets changed, like everything else — that’s OK as long as there are more authentic versions. But a good song, I think, will get changed.”

He knew, of course, that his songs would live on. He even told us so in Tower of Song. Each artist or group of artists paid homage to Cohen that night, as candle flames flickered and the rain spattered against the windows. The Roll n’ Smoke food truck was parked outside, and the tangy aroma of barbecue floated through the Burl blending nicely with the fragrance of candles.

The audience was treated to a wide variety of genres as each artist individualized Cohen’s songs, piecing together the entire crazy quilt of the evening. From the Sheik’s blues interpretation to Bryan Mink’s Tower of Song with that country metal edge he has, to Chelsea Nolan’s booming vocals to Alex Parkansky’s drone metal guitar lifting Cohen’s music to surreal levels. Then the night went to strings, and the room, still nearly full even at 11:30 p.m. on a dark, wet Monday night, melted with the candles as all the singers took the stage once more to back Kevin Holm-Hudson in Hallelujah.

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We all sang along, barely able to hold back during the verses as we harmonized into the chorus. I felt like I was in church again, the candle light blurring past the strings in front of us, the keys played perfectly as each of the seven verses guided us along. The crowd joined in too – everyone knows the words to this iconic song – and that room full of gorgeous wood and candles and people who simply love great musical poetry, that room rang with the collection of those voices. No voice was distinguishable from another. And then the last chorus was sung, and Kevin paused for just a moment of silence, and ended the night with those two words that took all our breath away: “Goodnight, Leonard.”

We raised a total of $700 for the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock. My friend Psera Newman, Direct Action Trainer for the Lexington Chapter of Greenpeace, took the stage twice and spoke to the audience about her time at Standing Rock, and why she chose Sacred Stone Camp as the appropriate recipient of contributions, describing it as the beating heart of the body that is the Standing Rock resistance.

Folks were unbelievably generous all night long, and the money order to Sacred Stone is en route, along with a letter I wrote to the leader of the camp, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard.

I am so proud of Lexington. I am so proud of all the musicians who took the stage that night, who took the time out of their lives to learn new songs and perform them and support each other simply to do it. For the love of the music. To show respect to someone who devoted their life to creating beauty and art for others to love. And to share the effort in the form of charity, for others who really need some help right now.

Goodnight, Leonard Cohen. Thanks for the beauty, sir.

(Credit: Derek Feldman, all photos and video.)


The Set List:

1. The Northside Sheiks- Almost like the Blues, Slow

2. Chris Sullivan- Famous Blue Raincoat

3. Warren Byrom and Chris Sullivan- Suzanne

4. Brian Combs- The Butcher, Heart with no Companion

5. Bryan Minks- Tower of Song, Is this what you wanted

6. Keith Rowland- The Stranger Song, Bird on the Wire

7. Derek Feldman w/ Cara Blake Coppola- You Want it Darker, There is a War, If It Be Your Will

8. Eric Cummins- Tonight Will Be Fine, Darkness

9. Chelsea Nolan- On the Level, One Of Us Can’t Be Wrong

10. Josh Nolan- Alexandra Leaving, Diamonds in the Mine

11. Derek Spencer- So Long, Marianne, Steer Your Way

12. Ben Aubrey- Dance Me to the End of Love, Here it Is

13. Rob Rawlings- Iodine, Paper Thin Hotel

14. Alex Parkansky- The Future, Waiting for the Miracle

15. Elias Aaron Irving Gross- Chelsea Hotel

16. Kevin Holm-Hudson-the Runaway Horse, Hallelujah

Arts

Kentucky Insurgence: The Lexington Camera Club at the Cincinnati Art Museum


Quick Look

  • Exhibition of luminous, inventive era of Lexington Camera Club
  • Reveals a daring, supportive, experimental group of photographers
  • Works by Meatyard, May, Mendes, Baker Hall, Merton, and other lesser known members
  • Curated thematically by Brian Sholis
  • At Cincinnati Art Museum thru December



2016Kentucky_Renaissance_installation view horizontal
2016Kentucky_Renaissance_installation view horizontal
People_Section
People_Section
gierlach_abstract_1966
gierlach_abstract_1966


During its heyday, the Lexington Camera Club was one of the more experimental groups of photographers outside of art hubs like New York or Chicago. What’s more, the club’s members—comprised of opticians, lawyers, and writers—differentiated themselves from their counterparts in bigger cities by allowing the idiosyncrasies of their environment to inspire their photographic explorations.

Club mentors Van Deren Coke and Ralph Eugene Meatyard encouraged their peers to employ multiple exposures, out-of-focus techniques, and compositions that deliberately made use of the play between light and shadows when making photographs. The resulting images often incorporate aspects of life in Kentucky: family, nature, and daily life are recurring themes within the club’s work.

The distinctions of the Lexington Camera Club are the subjects of Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community, 1954-1974 currently on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The exhibition is a testament to the club’s profound dedication to expanding the definition of photographic output, often through publications and partnerships as well as the photographs themselves. In the exhibition, works by Meatyard and Coke are presented alongside images made by Zygmunt S. Gierlach, James Baker Hall, Robert C. May, Guy Mendes, Thomas Merton, Cranston Ritchie, and Charles Traub.

Rarely in the museum’s gallery are any one photographer’s works presented alone. Indeed, Curator of Photography Brian Sholis carefully constructed pairs and groups of photographs by multiple club members to help inform visitors the extent to which the club’s activities were collaborative. It is Sholis’ curatorial decision-making that effectively illustrates the interrelationships between club members, their geographical surroundings, and modernist photographic trends.

Kentucky Renaissance, Installation view at entrance, photographed by Rachel Ellison

Kentucky Renaissance contains three primary themes: People, Place, and Experimentation. The Lexington Camera Club had many well-known figures among its members, yet individual achievement is hardly ever the focus of this comprehensive exhibition. Sholis emphasizes the club’s collectivism by erecting a wall at the gallery’s entrance featuring a salon-style presentation of photographs by all included artists, albeit without accompanying image labels. Here, visual connections are forged between similar uses of composition, content, and style.

James Baker Hall, Gene and Michael, ca. 1972, gelatin silver print, 8 1/4 x 12 1/2 in. (21 x 31.8 cm), Courtesy of James Baker Hall Archive

Walking behind the introductory wall will deposit visitors into the first of the gallery’s three thematic enclaves, which fixates on People. Sholis makes clear the affinity each club member reserved for their colleagues: some photographs—such as Hall’s Gene and Michael (c. 1972), which offers an intimate moment between Meatyard and Hall’s son—allude to familial relationships shared between club members.

Robert C. May, Chris Meatyard, 1973, gelatin silver print, 7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm), Collection of the University of Kentucky Art Museum; bequest of Robert C. May

Chris Meatyard (1973) by May serves as an instance wherein other club members’ families assisted in making photographic experiments exploring how light propels itself across different surfaces. The proximity of many of these various portraits within the gallery suggests that nearly all stemmed from the similar creative inputs—indeed, they did. Sholis’ ability to mold the club’s complex profile out of interconnected parts prompts a realization one may only be able to experience upon visiting the exhibition and seeing these objects in person: that this group of Midwestern photographers was indeed working as a unit.

Van Deren Coke, Thou Shalt Not Steal, 1963, gelatin silver print, 6 1/16 x 8 1/4 in. (15.4 x 21 cm), Collection of the University of Kentucky Art Museum; gift of the artist

The theme of Place occupies the middle section of the gallery and it is here where Sholis’ selections accentuate certain regional characteristics. Specifically, the photographs that embody the club’s dedication to depicting nearby places exceed typical representations of home. Coke’s Thou Shall Not Steal (1963) presents a newspaper rack stocked with copies of the July 21, 1963, edition of The Lexington Herald-Leader. The rack’s nameplate is flipped so that the stamped relief of the newspaper’s name appears backward in the photograph. The backside of the nameplate faces the viewer and contains handwritten prices for the Herald-Leader while offering the photograph’s eponymous warning to potential thieves; the warning even cites its source—Exodus 20: 3-17. Some editions of the paper appear upside-down, forcing one to concentrate on the photograph’s content if they wish to gain a sense of the printed headlines and stories.

The varied texts in Coke’s image marry political, religious, and colloquial musings in an attempt to capture local interests in 1963. While the biblical excerpt stands out amongst smaller text, it yields to the overabundance of legible words and phrases. Thou Shall Not Steal exemplifies the attention Club members paid to the environment, noting how some ideologies can shape local culture.

Thomas Merton, Untitled, ca. mid-1960s. Archival inkjet print from original negative, Lent by the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust

Under the guise of Place, Kentucky Renaissance also includes photographs that could be appropriately categorized as landscapes, but even these examples break from stereotypes of the landscape genre. Thomas Merton’s Untitled (c. the 1960s) displays a close-up view of water ripples near the point where water and rock meet. While it is unclear where Merton was when making this photograph, the rocky features mirror elements from works such as Cranston Ritchie’s Untitled (Hands on Rock) (1956-61) or Meatyard’s photographs of Eastern Kentucky’s Red River Gorge that were published alongside Wendell Berry’s prose in The Unforeseen Wilderness (1971).

Merton’s image serves as a visual intersection of photographic experimentation and spirituality. Some club members found inspiration in facets of Zen teachings after Coke and Meatyard learned about Zen from Minor White during a 1956 workshop at Indiana University, Bloomington. Merton’s photograph is exemplary of the distribution of White’s expertise. It should be noted, however, that Merton—who was ordained in 1949 and lived in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Bardstown—was already a person of faith when this photograph was made. He likely used White’s insight as guidance for incorporating his mantras into his preferred photographic techniques. In any case, Untitled captures in detail subtle features of Kentucky terrain in a manner akin to one of the twentieth century’s most prominent photographers. Merton’s photograph may allude to isolation, but the Lexington Camera Club was not a group unfamiliar with the broader photographic community.

Familiarity with White and mainstream photography (Coke had in his personal collection photographs made by White, Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, and other well-known artists) did not stop members of the Lexington Camera Club from pushing the limits of the photographic process in innovative ways. Experimentation becomes the focus in the gallery’s third area, the one furthest from the exhibition’s entrance.

James Baker Hall, Chairs, ca. 1973, gelatin silver print, 6 1/2 x 6 7/16 in. (16.5 x 16.4 cm), Cincinnati Art Museum; Museum Purchase: FotoFocus Art Purchase Fund, 2016.28

Here, People and Place serve as subjects from which to explore the steps one takes when making a photograph. James Baker Hall used a film camera when making Chairs (c. 1973), in which he re-wound the film to expose the same negative multiple times. Different viewpoints of the same group of wooden chairs are layered on top of each other, some more in focus and opaque than others. A ghostly aura characterizes the photograph’s content, but it is Hall’s process that is the actual subject of the work.

Zygmunt S. Gierlach, Abstract, ca. 1966, gelatin silver print, 6 3/4 x 7 in. (17.1 x 17.7 cm), University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center, Lexington

Experimentation culminates in images such as Gierlach’s Abstract (c. 1966), which is reminiscent of Man Ray’s radiographs. To achieve the aesthetic in both Abstract and Ray’s radiographs both artists laid objects on top of light-sensitive paper before exposing the paper to light. Gierlach, a radiologist by trade, created multiple works like Abstract that also appear in the exhibition. Sholis likely felt obligated to include images like Abstract in the exhibition, yet his placement of them within the gallery was undoubtedly a deliberate choice: Gierlach’s experimentations are on the gallery’s back wall—Abstract and its equivalents are the last works to be seen.

Visitors are then compelled to exit the gallery via the way they entered; Abstract then becomes only the midpoint of one’s journey through the gallery. Enhanced by the dispersion of publications featuring prints made by club members throughout the room, one’s revisiting of the exhibition’s themes continues to build the intended narrative around Coke, Meatyard, Gierlach, and their peers. That is, the Lexington Camera Club stands as one of history’s most self-supportive, exploratory groups of art practitioners.

Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community, 1954-1974 runs until January 1st, 2017 at the Cincinnati Art Museum. A full-length catalog by Brian Sholis, accompanied by John Jeremiah Sullivan, is available for purchase through Yale University Press.

SEE ALSO: Part I and II on Guy Mendes: Its What You See and Unframed Play.

TOPMOST IMAGE: Cranston Ritchie, Untitled [Hands on Rock], ca. 1956–61, gelatin silver print, 7 x 9 in. (17.8 x 22.9 cm), Cranston Ritchie Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hunter Kissel is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Critical and Curatorial Studies as well as a Master of Public Administration at the University of Louisville. He has held fellowships at the Speed Art Museum and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and has curated exhibitions at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, the Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville, and the Huff Gallery at Spalding University. His MA thesis will focus on the life and career of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. 

Arts

“Duane Michals: Sequences, Tintypes, and Talking Pictures,” Carl Solway Gallery

This review published with permission from AEQAI.

“Old age should be a reward, not a punishment,” declares octogenarian Duane Michals. “I must recommend getting older.” 1

Duane Michals, “The Journey of the Spirit After Death”, 15th in sequence, 1971/c. 1971, 27 gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, photo #15,3 3/8” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7” x 9” (framed)
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

With his vigor, creativity, and capacity for impishness to poke at the sacred cows of the art world, he’s a great advertisement for old age.

As part of FotoFocus, Carl Solway Gallery is presenting three bodies of Michals’ work: “Sequences” from the 1960s and 1970s; “Tintypes” of 2012-2013; and his most recent, “Talking Pictures.” He writes, directs, and acts in what he calls “mini-movies.” They are a logical development from his “Sequences,” where a story is told through a series of silver gelatin prints, some with text written in his own hand. They were described as “evocative mime fables” in the press release for the 1970 “Stories by Duane Michals” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. With “Talking Pictures,” Michals has added a soundtrack.

Duane Michals, still from “What Is Real” © Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Born February 18, 1932, Michals grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. He’s from a working-class Catholic family of steelworkers and is proud of his blue-collar roots. He remembers them going to work and doing their jobs, and “on Christmas, you have a shot of whiskey and a beer. You know like that. I liked it as a kid, and I still do.” 2

He’s come a long way from McKeesport, which also produced Andy Warhol, and from a home where the only book in the house was “maybe . . . a phone book.” Now his favorite author is the “eternally amazing” Jorge Luis Borges, and the painters he loves are Giorgio De Chirico, René Magritte, and Balthus. He listens to classical music exclusively and is “a huge fan of films like A Room with a View, L’Atalante, or Zero de Conduite by Jean Vigo or Repulsion by Roman Polanski.” 4

That might have been foretold when at 17 with money from his paper route, he bought his first book of poetry–Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It was a time when he was struggling with his Catholic upbringing and his homosexuality. 5

As a teen Michals took art classes at the Carnegie Institute and then continued his education at the University of Denver, studying art education to please his parents. After graduating with a B.A. in 1953, Michals spent the next three years in the army. “The army was the worst time in my life. Whatever problems I have to face now, I always tell myself that at least I am not in the army.” 6

Released—or perhaps one could say “liberated”—from the service, Michals moved to New York in 1956 to study graphic design at the Parsons School of Design; although he didn’t complete his studies, he did work as a graphic designer.

Michals came to photography by chance, and has no formal training for which has always been grateful since he never had to “unlearn the rules.” He had been designing promotional materials for Time Inc. magazines and in 1958 during the Cold War was given a unique opportunity to go to the USSR. Thinking he should take pictures as souvenirs, he borrowed a camera from a friend who also offered to lend him a light meter. “I refused because that meant I would be expected to take nice, serious pictures!” Instead the friend explained to Michals how to shoot in available light. 7

His decision to use only available light affected his entire career; 90% of the time that’s all he uses. But that has not impeded his career as a professional photographer. He “still managed to do major commercial jobs,” everything from the Paris collections to the 1968 Olympics for the Mexican government to ad campaigns for Elizabeth Arden and Pampers. Michals never eschewed commercial work, as it allowed him to do what he calls “private” work.

When Michals returned to the U.S., he interviewed for a job with “graphic guru” Henry Wolf. He brought a dummy magazine with his portraits of people in Minsk. (He had quickly learned the Russian for “May I take your picture?”)  “When I showed it to him, he said, ‘Who took these pictures?’ and I said I did, and he said that I should be a photographer instead of a graphic designer.” 8

With no formal training—learning as he went along—Michals uses rather basic photo techniques such as underexposing and overexposing, burning and dodging, long and multiple exposures, and sandwiching negatives to create the otherworldly effects seen in his photos. He continues to shoot film (Tri-X) with his 35 mm Canon cameras, using a computer only occasionally.

Michals is celebrated as a photographer, but his preferred sobriquet is “expressionist.” “I’m not a photographer or a writer or a painter or a tap dancer, but rather someone who expresses himself according to his needs,” as he told James A. Cotter in a 2004 story in photoinsider.” 9

Duane Michals, “Molly Bloom”, 2013, tintype with hand-applied oil paint, 8 ¼” x 6 3/8” © Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Before considering Michals’ “Sequences” and “Talking Pictures,” let’s dispatch with the “Tintypes.” In these he painted vividly colored abstract shapes over 19th-century studio portrait tintypes. The nonobjective additions don’t enhance his dour subjects or even seem related to them. This isn’t the first time for him to try this artistic ploy.

In the 1980s, he painted on his prints and those of others, including Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Back then he was adding “carefully rendered objects.” 10  But Michals candidly confesses that that work got terrible reviews.” 11 In my view, the more recent effort doesn’t fare much better.

So back to the “Sequences.” In these he uses a series of staged black-and-white photos to tell the story. They are not large by today’s standard; none shown at Solway are larger than 5” x 7”. “I always said I want my photographs to whisper. Whereas a lot of photographs shout to get attention. Now there are big eight, seven-foot photographs—that’s shouting. A little print you have to come up to—‘Say what? Tell me?’ It’s a whole different experience.” 12

Originally this work wasn’t well received by the photographic community. In a 1968 show in the funky 10th Street Underground Gallery run by Norbert Cleaver, Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand walked out with Winogrand dismissing the work as “not photography.” 13

And it got worse. Around 1974 Michals began handwriting or printing on the prints like one might in the margins of a book. A teacher at the School of Visual Arts “asked me, very alarmed: ‘What is this thing of writing on photographs?!’ The idea has always been that an image is worth a thousand words, and to have to write something to support or explain an image could only mean that the image had failed . . . But photographs fail all the time and all I did when I started writing in my pictures was to respond to the limitations of the medium. I’ve always thought that photographs don’t tell you enough. They describe very well. But when I write, I am pointing at things that can’t be seen. All this came from the frustration I felt about the silence of the still image.”14

There are five pieces from Michals’ “Sequences” on view at Solway. I’m conflicted about describing the photos. I don’t want to use a thousand—or even just a few hundred—words to tell what each picture looks like.

So instead of that, here are the eight photos from The Fallen Angel.

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

The story is simple to “read.” A nude angel awakens the girl/woman, but in satisfying his carnal need, loses his divinity. With remorse he clothes himself as he must give up heaven for an earthly existence. The piece is dated 1968, six years before Michals began to add more explanatory and/or confounding text.

As an art historian, I want developments in an artist’s oeuvre to proceed in a neat linear fashion. You can draw a straight line between the “Sequences” and the “Talking Pictures,” but it took 50 or so years to get there. Michals’ mime fables now have a spoken script but address the same issues: life, death, sex, lust, love, grief, fantasy, reality, spirituality, metaphysics.

There are also visual links between the still photos and films. Some of the effects Michals used in his black-and-white photographs, such as double exposures, layering of images, and fades, show up in the color films.

Duane Michals, still from “Double Talk” © Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

In Tickets to Heaven, Dr. Duanus (Michals) wears crudely lettered sandwich boards advertising tickets to heaven for $5.00 plus tax. Stationed in an alley and using a megaphone, he accosts a man dressed in black. The good doctor is so anxious to make the sale that he knocks off the tax, reduces the price, and offers to throw in the secret grip and the password needed to get past St. Peter: applesauce. Questioned about why “applesauce,” Dr. Duanus lays it out in the simplest terms: “Adam, Eve, snake, apple.” The man, who finds that the scam has a “certain charm,” gives Dr. Duanus a dollar, which he accepts as a down payment. As he passes the huckster, he acquires wings and becomes twinned apparitions on his way to heaven. After the credits, Dr. Duanus reappears, declaring he doesn’t sell tickets to hell, but you can get them from the Republicans down the street.

On the occasion of the 2014 Carnegie retrospective “Storyteller,” Eugene Reznik asked Michals how he felt about his success in his 80s. Michals responded: “I don’t have to prove anything anymore. I’ve defined who I am with the work, so it’s nice. It’s nice and my timing is good. If this had happened when I was 60, or whatever, it would have been quite different. Sometimes it’s bad to peak too soon. That would have been peaking too soon. I’m right on schedule in terms of peaking.” 15

“Duane Michals: Sequences, Tintypes, and Talking Pictures,” Carl Solway Gallery, 424 Findlay St., Cincinnati, OH  45214, 513-621-0069, fax: 513-621-6310, info@solwaygallery.comwww.solwaygallery.com. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 am-5 pm; Sat. 12 pm-5 pm. Through January 21, 2017.

FOOTNOTES

Jim Provenzano, “The Poet’s Eye,” The Bay Area Reporter Online,” July 5, 2007.

Eugene Reznik, “Interview: Duane Michals on 50 Years of Sequences and Staging Photos,” American Photo, November 12, 2014.

Ibid.

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, “Showing the things we cannot see, an interview with Duane Michals,” http://selfselector.co.uk/2013/12/11/showing/-the-things-we-cannot-see-an-interview-with-duane-michals/ Originally published in BuffaloZine, issue 2 [http://buffalozine.com/]

James A. Cotter, “Duane Michals” feature story, PhotoInsider, 2004.

Muñoz-Alonso.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Cotter.

10 Rebecca Robertson, “Duane Michals: Fighting Against Photography,” ARTnews, summer 2013.

11 Kristine McKenna, “Picture Imperfect: for maverick Duane Michal, a photo is worth far less than a thousand words when the questions are about the very meaning of truth,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1993.

12 Cotter.

13 Reznik.

14 Muñoz-Alonso.

15 Reznik.

Arts

Review: East Meets West in Coalfields of Eastern Kentucky

The coal mine, itself a central character in Emile Zola’s late nineteenth-century novel, Germinal, is described as “evil-looking, a hungry beast crouched and ready to devour the world.” When one of the miners spits out a black blob, another asks him if it’s blood. He declares, “It’s coal. I’ve got enough in my guts to heat me till the day I die. I guess I stored it up without even knowing about it. Well, it keeps your insides from spoiling.”

A recent exhibit at the Lexington Public Library, East Meets West, bestows this kind of dubitably dignified human face on coal which seems to exemplify the pride miners take in making an honest living, and the role they play in supplying their nation with energy and power. Paradoxically, though, black dust mingles with their blood and flows through their veins much like the seams of coal that run between the overlying and underlying strata of rock within the mine.

The two Chinese artists who created these works have a particular interest in this subject matter. Xiaoan Li is the Dean of the College of Fine Art at Shaanxi Normal University in China, and Dongfeng Li is an Associate Professor in the College of Arts and Design at Morehead State University. Although they share the same last name and a similar vision, they are not related. So to avoid confusion, I will refer to them by their first names.

In 2010, Dongfeng was awarded a four-year grant from MSU to compare coal mining methods and practices between China and the US. He selected two mines in Martin County, Kentucky (Inez) for his study and formed a collaboration with Xiaoan, whose university is located in Province of Shaanxi, the largest coal mining district in China. His initiative was to address the differences in mining facilities, working conditions, safety standards, rates of pay, benefits, and more important, the human factor, which the two men have dutifully and creatively expressed through their art.

Xiaoan is on leave from Normal University this semester to work with Dongfeng at MSU where their collaborative efforts culminated in this important body of work.  They spent many hours visiting and talking with miners (and their families) employed at two separate mines in Inez. It is from these repeated encounters and numerous sketches that they gained the soulful perspectives reflected in their paintings. Equally important, both artists’ medium and style are representative of the culture in which each is deeply rooted, the East and the West.

Dongfeng paints with watercolor (and occasionally pastels) on watercolor paper and yupo paper, a tree-free, synthetic, multimedia, recyclable paper that is gaining greater appeal with Western artists and graphic des