Category Archives: Arts

Arts

Scene&Heard at the Master Musicians Festival

The Master Musicians Festival 2018 sprawled over the sunbaked rolling hills of the Somerset Community College Campus. Food truck aromas followed the nose through booths offering crafts and tie dye t-shirts.  Good humored folks laughed and danced and sweated in the sun while an incredible line-up of musicians poured out hearts, souls and talents from the festival’s pair of stages.

The Eastwood Stage stage, nestled in the trees down a slight hill from the big main stage where headliner John Prine would play later that Saturday, was home to the local acts that were performing between main stage sets. Hosted by Eastwood Records, the second stage gave “the little guys a spot down here in the valley,” musician John Clay quipped when he opened his set.

Click on image for Cara’s chat with John Clay | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Since 1994, The Master Musicians Festival has hosted big names in Americana music on its stages for folks to enjoy. This year brought one of Kentucky’s legends as headliner John Prine shared his bill with the likes of Amanda Shires, JD McPherson, The Dead South, Dawg Yawp, and many more. Some hot local bands shared the big stage with those names, including Joslyn and the Sweet Compression and Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound.

But our attention was drawn to the second stage, a brilliant festival strategy of providing local artists opportunities to call attention to their offerings as set changes happen on the main stage.

This year’s second stage hosted several Eastwood Records bands in addition to John Clay and the Boxwine Prophets. The lineup included Dave Ernst and the Early Favorites and Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters. They shared the stage with other local favorites, including John R. Miller, Coby Langham and the Citizen’s Band, Eric Bolander Trio, Luna & the Mountain Jets, Bee Taylor, Magnolia Boulevard and the last night closed out after John Prine left the stage post encore with Reverend John & the Backsliders.

Wesley Allen founded Eastwood Records in Louisville four years ago, to honor his father, nicknamed “Eastwood” from his hometown of Eastwood, KY. In that time, he has come to represent some up and coming names in Americana within the mostly Louisville scene. Having a fond love for Louisville and Kentucky music, Allen “felt like it doesn’t get enough attention and I wanted to be the guy who changed that and put that out there.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Wesley Allen

Allen’s good friend Nathan Paul Isaac works in both camps, so the connection between the Festival and Eastwood Records was a natural fit. “I owe that dude a lot,” Allen laughs. The opportunity to put his musicians on a bill with such a remarkable Americana line-up was a great choice to make. “It brings an amount of exposure that you would have to pay thousands of dollars for anywhere else. The fan base that comes to this festival is heavily Americana, so to have three of my top Americana bands get to play here and get represented at festival with somebody like Amanda Shires or John Prine, you would have to beg for it, they literally just offered it to me. It’s a no brainer.”

John Clay, who plays on Eastwood Records as a lead act but also plays drums for several other bands on the bill, has been with Wesley since 2016. He’s been on tour for awhile playing drums with Colter Wall, and Nick Dittmeier before him, but is finishing working on two albums with Eastwood Records to be released soon.

John Clay and the Boxwine Prophets | Video by Cara Blake Coppola

John Clay sings with a soft warble to his voice, only to send his voice sailing loudly out over the hills in the next note. It’s an authentic voice that is powerful and feels like it belongs in those hills. He starts one song with a booming a capella that has a touch of twang and a load of truth. When he covers a TVZ song, folks get up and start dancing, despite the heavy July heat. His rocking honky tonk songs make people leave the cool comfort of the shade to move in the sunshine.

Asked how it feels to share the bill with John Prine, Clay searched for an answer. “It’s very shocking. A lot of my friends are on this bill. Most have been directly inspired by his music. To see your name on a bill with someone like that, it’s hard to explain.”

That seemed to be the sentiment of all the musicians I had the opportunity to talk with that day. It is surreal to be at home in such a friendly community as Somerset, nestled in the hills you walk daily, and to be doing what you love so much, in such astounding company. Everyone I talked with that day was walking in a sunshine- filled daydream.

Dave Ernst, who opened the Eastwood Stage that Saturday, was still reeling in the completion of his set with his band The Early Favorites. “It’s Amazing, my first time to the event. Blown away with how cool and friendly it is down here. It means alot. This place is amazing, stages are great, setting is wonderful.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Dave Ernst

Coby Langham was the next to play the Eastwood stage after Grayson Jenkins of Lexington finished his set on the main stage. Coby and the Citizens Band, named for Langham’s truck driving career, filled the stage as the day was still getting moving.

Cara chats with Coby Langham

Coby and the band nailed their set, singing solid Americana songs into the hot afternoon. Some songs were more playful, getting folks to tap their feet and move in spite of the heat, others more heavy like with lyrics like “a mountain of pills to swallow these hills.” His song “Sober Bible” was a sad, mournful tune about loving someone with an addiction. His songs sing of truth and life and the real poetry of real life. The harmonies were sweet, even pretty to contrast the dark lyrics that hit home to too many.

Coby Langham and the Citizens Band performing at the 2018 Master Musicians Festival | Video by Cara Blake Coppola

The parking lots were filling and people were setting up their chairs for a day in the shade. You could hear the music of the main stage from the second stage, so many settled in for the day amid the hammocks and children’s games thoughtfully constructed by the Festival. Golf carts whizzed by all day providing rides to and from the parking lots for everyone. Hot wooden benches were covered in soft woven blankets for comfort. Free water was given out everywhere. The festival felt very comfortable and welcoming, something mentioned by all of the musicians we interviewed.

After his set at the merch table Wesley Allen manned steadfast all day long in the heat, Coby and his band were happy and sweaty and enjoying their part in the festival. “This is the biggest thing we’ve done yet. It was the easiest ‘yes’ I’ve ever said to anything. To be here with John Prine, we’re going bonkers. It’s a real big deal for us.”

Later that night, John Prine took the stage and every musician mentioned was in the crowd. Prine’s music rang out over those hills to the love and adoration of everyone in the crowd. It was a great set, he played his classics “Dear Abby” and “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore,” along with several songs from his new CD Tree of Forgiveness. He started and ended his whole set with “Paradise” while the crowd joined in with nostalgic love. The musicians who were so grateful to share the bill with him joined in.

Like Coby Langham said, “It’s a real big deal for us.”

Arts

Scene&Heard: A Last Chance Dose of JoAnna James

When JoAnna James begins to sing, you tend to hold your breath. She captures the attention of the crowd as she whispers her voice into motion, and soon she has drawn the room into her craft. Her voice carries you along as she powers into the chorus, and when she hits those notes…those notes, you only then notice that you hadn’t been breathing because you have to gasp.

I first heard JoAnna’s voice at the first Leonard Cohen Tribute at Soulful Space. She sang “Ballad of a Runaway Horse” and “Anthem” with masterful skill. That treat was repeated at the second encore performance at The Lyric on April 28. One of the highlights of the evening, JoAnna’s voice shifted easily from the slow, meditative sound of “Ballad” to the gypsy-like rhythm of “Anthem”, singing Cohen’s famous line, “that’s how the light gets in” with the spellbinding effect that certainly would make the late singer-songwriter proud.

Produced by Anita Courtney and Purple Carrots Productions, the Cohen tributes were both sell out performances that brought together a diverse array of local musicians to offer their personal tributes to the master. On April 28th, the doors of the theater were thrown open to ventilate the heat as JoAnna and the others joined in verses of “Hallelujah” that spilled out into the streets. JoAnna took the lead on the final verse and belted out a righteous final farewell to Leonard, bouncing her powerful voice off the walls of that historic theater with a stunning, goosebump-inducing crescendo.

Joanna James performing with Richard Young (bass) and Anna Hess (violin) at the original Leonard Cohen Tribute concert

JoAnna came into music as a young girl when her grandpa picked up a violin for $100 from a nun in Mankato, Minneosta, near her hometown of St. Paul. The middle of five kids, her siblings refused the instrument and Joanna was given the violin and lessons with a kind teacher she greatly admired.

Joining orchestra in high school, JoAnna happened upon the guitar, songwriters who played the likes of Lilith Fair, and a book of tablature for Nirvana Unplugged. By 14, she was playing a three-hour gig in a Wisconsin bookstore to a full house. From there, her career has taken her across the country several times over and brought her into songwriting collaboration with a variety of musicians and labels.

JoAnna cowrites and collaborates on songs with many, including Josh Grange, pedal steel player for Sheryl Crow, and Jessy Greene, who has toured with Foo Fighters and Pink, all friends from the “small Minnesota music scene.” She first hears the song, she says, and then finds different processes for integrating the lyrics and music. Inspired by “that” teacher, Mr. Hanlin, who taught her “the connection between music and poetry,” JoAnna is highly adaptive, whether meeting strict deadlines for toplining gigs or musing through a stream-of-consciousness for her own original songs.

Motivated by friendship and a sad but necessary goodbye, Anita and JoAnna are pairing up once more for a show featuring JoAnna before she leaves the bluegrass for the mountains of Colorado. Moving to be closer to family, the show on July 27th at First Presbyterian Church Chapel on North Mill will be JoAnna’s big send-off. She will be joined by several stellar local musicians including Anna Hess and Richard Young, who accompanied her at both Cohen tributes, and Lee Carroll on keys. Maggie Lander will join with backup vocals. The show will be a combination of musicians as well as covers and originals, some solo, some with accompaniment.

 “For me, to produce a show, it needs to meet 3 criteria,” says Anita Courtney of Purple Carrots Productions: “feature great musicians in an intimate setting that pays the musicians well.  JoAnna’s show checks all the boxes. The chapel is beautiful, has great acoustics and seats 100 people. I call JoAnna the ‘goosebump girl’. She gets inside a song, really tries to understand it, feel it and convey that to the listeners.”

Anita is very excited about the combination of musical talent that will be on stage with JoAnna for the show. “Lee Carroll’s stellar piano, Maggie Lander’s beautiful vocals and the professional and soulful string instrumentalists—Anna Hess on violin and Richard Young on bass—and I think we will all be gobsmacked.”

“Gobsmacked” was the compliment Anita received after the Cohen tributes, and she ensures an all-JoAnna James show will be equally effective. The intimate setting of the chapel, JoAnna’s powerfully subtle voice, and a cast of stellar musicians guarantee that she is right. JoAnna feels strongly the power music induces, and she hopes for that exchange on the 27th.

“My biggest hope is what I always hope for with a show…that some sort of cycle of exchange happens, cause that’s what music is, it’s this experience through time, and to share it with these people who are willing to give you their time and attention. I hope that people can walk away with some kind of good feeling and catharsis. That is my hope.”

Cara’s conversation with JoAnna:

Arts

Where Sensation, Fantasy, and Reality Meet “Side by Side”

At Murray State University’s Doyle Fine Arts Building, nestled between the sixth and seventh floor, the Clara M. Eagle Upper Gallery is currently hosting the annual exhibition, Side by Side, produced by the Murray Art Guild, the Murray State University art education program, and VSA Kentucky. The “Side by Side” program is dedicated to providing MSU art education students opportunities to work with community artists on a professional level. This year, the program collaborated with VSA Kentucky, a group that fosters art education programs for youths and adults with disabilities in Kentucky. The project was led and coordinated by Debi Henry Danielson, current Director of the Murray Art Guild, and Dr. Rebecca Williams, Assistant Professor of Art Education at Murray State University. The 2018 workshop theme was “The Hero in You: Save the Day!” and will run through to July 9th.

The initial workshop began with eight art education students facilitating a group of eight participants in the K-12 age bracket tasked with creating a superhero persona for themselves, which involved creating their own costumes, comic panels, and Pop art inspired paintings. However, the project extended beyond the theme of superheroes and comic books, as each of the workshop participants coordinated with eight community artists to create a collaborative artwork. Each of the community artists also displayed individual works next to their partnered participant, making the exhibition feel cohesively structured to show each pairing of artists in their mutual effort for the project.

As different as the pieces might appear in the exhibition, they actually work to create a unique show for viewers by juxtaposing sensory experiences in art through choice in media. The exhibition replicates the artist bringing their artistic vision into a physical reality by complicating the viewer’s position in what they consider real or imagined in media. Overall, the show really touches on how people engage with art making and art viewing, particularly in the ways these experiences bridge the imagined and the real through the use of senses.

Garrison Kelly and Elaina Barnett’s ‘Rollercoaster’

Sitting directly at the center of the show, Garrison Kelly and Elaina Barnett’s Rollercoaster prepares visitors for a sensory experience through media as soon as they ascend the stairs to the upper gallery. Categorized as a mixed-media drawing, the piece uses a burlap canvas with various pieces of thread, yarn, and fabric stitched on top with minimal dashes of paint. Immediately, the viewer tackles a piece so abstract, yet with a title that beckons to something figurative, a struggle ensues on how to read the placement of the various media or if there are particular meanings attached to their composition. At the same time, there is an entirely different struggle on how to categorize the piece, as it is at once suggestive of a drawing with the use of canvas and paint, but also something very sculptural in the fabric and stitching.

One of the dominating features of the gallery are the displays of each participants’ comic strips and costumes. The comic panels featured photographs of participants acting out different scenes and poses within two-dimensional settings for their personas to perform heroic tasks, with costumes made from various materials next to them. Each of the participants in the workshop not only worked on creating a fictional character within a fictional setting, but were meant to imagine themselves embodying these roles. By taking photos of themselves in their respective costumes, they physically embodied their personas, bringing their imagined idea into a physical reality.

Ezrah Siler, ‘The Origin of Animal Lady’

For example, Ezrah Siler created The Origin of Animal Lady, where she shows the development of her character as she discovers her powers to communicate and save animals within five panels. This was made by combining a two-dimensional, drawn setting with photos of Siler in costume, as she interacts with the imagined environment and characters. This particular piece demonstrates how Siler imagines herself becoming the hero, bridging the gap between what is fantasy and reality when she literally acts out the role.

The use of collage is beneficial because it encourages the viewer to confront different forms of visual media in a single space. The drawing appears very flat and fabricated, making the visual imagination work slightly harder to read the image. Conversely, the photographs are more realistic and dynamic to make the image more recognizable. At once, the viewer notices the differences in visual realism through the choices in media, yet the narrative and composition creates unity between them because there is an understanding of how things cooperate in the panels. The multi-media approach helps facilitate questions for the viewer concerning what is real or imagined in art, similar to the participants embodying and performing a fantasy role.

Olivia Potter and Jo Bennett, ‘Purple Flowers’

Similarly, the piece Purple Flowers, created by Olivia Potter and Jo Bennett, displays the potential for different media to cooperate through the use of a bi-fold shadow box. On the left, a paper cut-out of a girl sits on a tree, surrounded by moss and other plant-life, while the right shows similar flora and cut-outs of purple, watercolor flowers. The mixed media piece plays on the idea of two and three-dimensional objects coming together within a single space. The viewer is met with the immediacy of sculptural realism in the greenery, as the moss encroaches out of the display and the plant-life appears real. Contrasting this are the drawings of the figure and flowers, but they are composed in such a way to encourage their natural place in the composition, even contributing to the background shadows in a holistic and consistent way that unites the objects within.

In this exhibition, the participants also created paintings with onomatopoeia, or words that represent sounds, often used in comic books as a means to communicate sound through text. Jayson Walker’s Sniff Sniff captures the essence of a comic book by using dots to create color fields, much like Ben-day dots, and an action bubble to outline the words “sniff sniff.” This is very interesting in the process of art making and the viewer’s senses because the eye can recognize dots of color individually, while also seeing the larger sections alternating between blue and yellow.

Jayson Walker, ‘Sniff Sniff’

The viewer can also read the text as a sensory experience by recognizing the codes and meanings attached to the language, or understanding the visual and auditory aspects when one hears the mental “voice” while reading. In Walker’s case, we understand “sniff sniff” to represent the sound of breathing in through the nose or the action of “sniffing,” perhaps even mimicking the action to smell the gallery itself. Part of this process crosses between what viewers experience in a physical reality and what they experience in their minds, or seeing an image versus contextualizing and complicating it mentally or sensorily.

Part of the success in the exhibition is the way dissimilar forms of media and differences between artists can actually come together to form cohesive thought and experiences. Kimberly Kinsland’s embroidered Fanta Sea really represents this ideal, as the media utilizes individual threads of different colors to collectively create a figurative mermaid looking on at a sunset. The thread is sewn in particular ways to create patterns for the eye to recognize, like the horizontal waves or the sandy french knots. The medium is also the perfect intersection to demonstrate a two-dimensional image and the sculptural potential of embroidery, reiterating the sensory experience from other media in the show.

Jo Bennett, ‘Outbloomed’

Throughout Side by Side, difference is emphasized and embraced between the artists and workshop participants, particularly in the ways media is used. It is a space where woodworking and metallurgy seamlessly coexist with drawing and embroidery. At its core, it sparks a conversation about the value of the art making process, and encourages the viewer to experience the diversity through sensation of those media.

Arts

“Pangaea” at City Gallery, Lexington


The exhibition Pangaea — now on view at City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington — brings together the disparate practices of Patrick Smith and Robert Morgan in a way that illuminates how the same ideas and impulses can permeate in different ways across both generations and media. Juxtaposed closely in this exhibition, the similarities ring out, making clear elements of both artists’ work that would likely be overlooked in the context of a solo show. As a show, Pangaea, therefore, functions in opposition to the supercontinent from which it gets its name; while the landmass dissipated creating cultural and ecological divisions that have marked humanity since our emergence as a species, the exhibition ultimately unites distinct individuals and shows the shared nature of their art and lives in so doing.  

Detail of Bob Morgan’s sculptural assemblages

One of the starkest distinctions between Morgan and Smith is how each man approaches art making. Morgan, a sculptor now in his 60s, has always identified as an artist. He has been making art out of found objects for as long as he can remember. Morgan’s practice has been consistent for decades, making assemblages that are complicated and congested amalgams of various items, ranging from goat horns and religious figurines to rubber snakes and car parts, all of which he covers with bright colored paint and patches of glitter. 

Smith, on the other hand, is a painter who came to art making relatively later in life, around the time he was an undergraduate at Transylvania University. Now in his 30s, his practice is still evolving, and he conceives of his practice as a direct reaction to his surroundings. For instance, his recent works — which consist of  small, intimate and hyperrealist portraits —simultaneously reflect the regional tradition of intimate craft practices with regard to their scale, while also working against the abstract tendencies that dominate both the painting practices taught in art schools in the area and the looser styles that characterize folk and outsider art in Appalachia more generally. As such, Smith’s practice is more informed by the particulars of time and space than Morgan’s, a notion that is further underscored by the generational differences between them. 

Various self portraits by Patick Smith

Yet despite these differences, Morgan and Smith’s works share a considerable amount in common. For example, both artists explore issues of queerness and sexual difference in their works. Patrick Smith’s work deals with elements of visible queerness and difference through his engagement with gender and sexuality as performance. His self-portraits, for instance, often play with elements of drag, with Smith appearing heavily made up and, at times, dressed in women’s clothing from various (sub) cultures. 

Self Portrait in black top, Patrick Smith

In these images, Smith never appears to be passing as a woman, per se, but rather complicates elements of masculinity by adopting women’s dress. For instance in one Self-Portrait, he appears in a sheet black top, with heavy black eyeliner, and pink lipstick, with his mouth pursed to a kiss. His face gazes directly out but his torso is slightly turned with one arm bent at the elbow and raised behind him and the other wrapping around his belly, adopting a pose often used by women models in fashion magazines. Though Smith has adopted feminine elements of dress and gesture, his gender performance is somewhat incomplete. His shaved head, muscular arms, and hint of a five o’clock shadow remind us that Smith is a man. As such, he is queering the conventions of gender performance, embracing elements of both masculinity and femininity in a way that celebrates deviation from heteronormative and patriarchal conventions of sex and gender.    

Moreover, for Smith, all of his portraits are performances. He often describes his sitters as “getting into character” and for his self-portraits Smith allows his appearance to be styled by various friends who collaborate with him. As such, these works are not emblematic of the subject’s lived experience, but rather illustrate how conventions of gender and sexuality are performed moment by moment. 

Installation shot, “Pangaea” at the Downtown Arts Center

The performative nature of Smith’s work stand in contrast to Morgan’s practice, which is largely derived from his personal history. Morgan, a gay man himself, has been a prominent figure within the LBGTQ community in Lexington for decades. He is widely known for his role as a caretaker having tended the sick and dying here during the A.I.D.S. epidemic in the 1980s and 90s and caring for the legacy of queer folk through his role as the founder of the Faulkner-Morgan Pagan Babies Archive. His art practice has been, as such, largely informed by both his lived experience in and his research of LGBTQ history; he notes that most of his works examine themes of “A.I.D.S., Insanity, Alcoholism, and Drug Addiction,” afflictions that have commonly plagued the queer community and further marginalized LGBTQ folk. 

Bob Morgan with sculptures

Morgan’s affinity for the marginalized manifests in the work he creates. His assemblages are made from piles of junk, objects whose intrinsic value has been lost or was never fully appreciated. Morgan collects these items and transforms them into something new, something with an aesthetic quality that is elevated and is meant to be seen, rather than to hide. That many of these assemblages of people whose experiences were similarly marginalized — like the teenaged drug addict that Morgan cared for and whose nightmare forms the basis of The Island of Lost Souls — and that Morgan himself has felt marginalized in similar ways imbues the sculptures with a particular kind of powerful resonance.

Religion, like queerness, is a theme that is explored in both Morgan’s and Smith’s work. As with his explorations of LGBTQ struggles, Morgan draws from his own religious upbringing in Catholic school as the basis of his work. Each of the seven works on display in this exhibition features an oversized vintage doll, which Morgan has posed and covered with various objects — often including devotional items like figurines of Jesus or religiously symbolic items like swords and snakes. To Morgan, decorating these figures  is reminiscent of the way that The Infant of Prague is dressed and put on display in the chapels of countless Catholic churches and schools, like the one Morgan attended as a child. Yet these sculptures aren’t simply Catholic in character. Some appear to have a more clearly Hindu iconography, like the allusion to Shiva in The Horned Toad, and others involve the hybridization of multiple religious traditions like in Pangaea. Morgan asserts that the appropriation of religious iconography is central to his practices, noting “I steal from every major culture,” and citing a particular predilection for Byzantine, Egyptian, Mayan, and Hindu traditions. 

The religious character of Smith’s work is more subtle. Some of his portraits employ elements of dress and gesture that are reminiscent of the long history of religious icons. For instance, the first painting of Armani, depicts the sitter with their head draped with a pale pink cloth, much like the veiling of the Virgin Mary in many Renaissance portraits of the Madonna. 

“Skull on Red”, Patrick Smith

Smith has also called upon religious symbolism in his depictions of skulls, both in portraits, like the one held by Pablo and on their own. Within Catholic imagery, skulls have often appeared at the base of crucifixion scenes to depict the connection between Adam, the first man created by God, and Jesus, his son. Similarly, skulls are prominent in Protestant imagery, specifically in the form of the Vanitas, a genre of still life that was popular in the Netherlands in the 16th  and 17th centuries, in which the skull serves as a reminder that material objects cannot transcend the mortal plane and thus faith and good works are essential for transitioning into the afterlife. 

Placed side by side, Smith’s and Morgan’s works balance each other out to create a fuller picture of each artists’ respective practice. The overt role of religion in Morgan’s work, for instance, helps to clearly draw out those elements at play within Smith’s. Conversely, the highly legible engagement with performative queerness in Smith’s hyper-realist portraits primes the viewer to read Morgan’s very symbolic assemblages more deeply. The result of this compilation of two different artists with two very distinct practices is ultimately a greater understanding of both artists’ work and the issues they explore. As such, Pangaea, on the whole, illuminates how the differences among artists and their work can ultimately reveal their overall similarities. 

Arts

High Spirits in High Spaces

In the first chapter of philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s 1964 treatise on the intimacy of personal spaces, The Poetics of Space, he notes that the houses of childhood daydreams are often vertically oriented. These dream spaces move from the fear and anxiety of dark basements and cellars to the bright fresh air of warm and sunny attics.

Such an orientation is not lost on Erika Strecker’s and John Medwedeff’s Exuberance! at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. The installation consists of seven aluminum kites that snake up two floors to finally hang motionless but graceful just below the expansive skylight that looms over the hospital’s lobby. Though the artists’ aim was at first something “happy and uplifting,” the installation adds more to its space than a pleasing and whimsical backdrop. Its effect is much more nuanced and presents an opportunity for prolonged and poignant contemplation that burrows much deeper than the brief time I was able to spend with it. The diversity of the space and those that use it is integral to what this installation is ultimately able to do.

In regards to materials, the artists combine a kind of industrial aesthetic that borrows from the space’s architecture and a softer, nostalgic core buoyed by shapes and objects of childhood play. The dull metal of the kites’ aluminum chassis, bracketed and bolted together in echo of the metal frames of the windows above, is balanced against thousands of glinting marbles in transparent tubes. Marbles, like the kites these objects take after, are the realm of a child’s interests and preoccupations. Positioned as the material heart of each kite shape, the marbles sustain the overall objects and further integrate them into the space through the subtle catch and recolor of light that filters down. The thousands of marbles, end to end in their tubes, add a subtle complexity that begins to move them beyond the logic of appearances to other spaces.

Like in a daydream, these kites emerge from a logical place outside of the reality of their installation. In their strangeness and even the unfeasibility of their material, as objects they allow the viewer to enter someplace else, a place where reality and all its traumas is potentially assuaged by childhood’s simpler concerns.

As an installation the work exists in more than one kind of space. Space plays a heightened role here, not just because that is the nature of installations, but the broader implications of the complex hybridization of the particulars of the building in relation to its uses. The work exists on a threshold, a literal and figurative lobby between the outside world and the building’s decidedly non-art interior. The larger lobby area of the hospital complex is open and breezy. Light pours in across the gently slopping walls from a plethora of windows and glass ceilings.

The ground and first floors are essentially contiguous, broken only by a mezzanine that meanders though the building’s several pavilions. Vitrines that contain an array of sculptural objects, from industrial assemblages to brightly painted folksy woodcarvings, are interspersed along walls also hung with prints and paintings. It might be easy to forget that just beyond these calm and quiet places, separated by only a few walls, are the linoleum-tiled floors of narrow hallways that branch off to patients’ rooms and surgical suites. Yet even in the midst of the hospital’s less publicly accessible interior, artwork is likewise displayed for the same purpose as in its lobbies and pavilions. Not cold and clinical, this is ultimately a place for health and healing aided by the collaborative effort of many artists and their work.

Such thoughts are not lost on the staff, children, or families who sit in these art-filled lobbies as a respite, if only temporarily, from the anxieties and realities of sickness so close at hand. It is in this way that the effect of Strecker’s and Medwedeff’s installation is most acute. This isn’t traditional art space, though there is still art here. Instead, art and people share the space in a more symbiotic way. While I was in the first floor lobby gazing up at the metal-framed kites and seeing how the light diffused through their hundreds of marbles, two women in scrubs sat at a low table in the corner and played a card game.

In many ways, my visit was uncommon. This installation is more an element of the ebbs and flows of the hospital’s daily life than something to be specially singled out and visited on its own. Yet even for someone who might only spend a few minutes gazing up at the work, it offers an opportunity for wonder and contemplation. There is still the potential for meditation in its presence even for such a short encounter, a fact that the artists seem to have consciously allowed to guide the design and implementation of the installation. In this space, the short-term and long-term are both offered as opportunities for healing.

Downstairs, the small circular sitting room where the first kite begins its journey was empty as well. From here, the kites seem to rise up into the brightly lit atmosphere above. Far away I heard the murmurs and footsteps of people coming and going. This mixed with the gentle humming of a TV that displayed a video game’s idle menu screen, another kind of lobby open to be taken up and used by someone in need of a distraction. It strikes me that this is the reality of Exuberance! and its presence here. In a place that needs to be something beyond the harsh realities of life and death, a meditation on childhood’s easy slip into wonder is a welcome offering.

Arts

A Hidden History of Black Men and Women in Kentucky

The central gallery of the the International Museum of the Horse, situated in the Kentucky Horse Park, is comprised of a single corridor that snakes its way along two floors depicting the historical relationships between horses and humans from the ancient Assyrian chariot horses and jousting steeds of medieval Europe, to the horses that helped move Conestoga wagons westward during the era of Manifest Destiny and the Thoroughbreds that draw millions to the races at Churchill Downs and Keeneland today.

At first glance, this equine inspired institution might not seem like a place to find a deep exploration of the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic white supremacy in the American South, yet punctuating the middle of this sprawling timeline is a new permanent exhibition entitled “Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf” that complicates the narrative history on display.

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

This new installation, which opened April 20, 2018, makes a clear attempt to convey the overlooked contribution of black men and women, both enslaved and free, to the rich horse racing culture of Kentucky and the United States more broadly. Using person-centered language, including multiple narratives, and incorporating strong explanatory notes to help fully contextualize the experiences of the men and women who worked in all elements of this industry, the show addresses the horrific realities of slavery and segregation head on, analyzing the relationship of these practices to the development of horse and racing cultures in Kentucky. As such, the exhibition neither equivocates nor exculpates these institutions and demands viewers to consider the legacy of oppression with regard to contemporary equestrian practices.  

One of the ways in which the exhibition faces down the hard history of slavery and segregation in the United States—and specifically in Kentucky horse racing culture—is the emphatic use of “person centered language” throughout the exhibition. More recent scholarship has involved a re-evaluation of the terminology we use to describe the practices of slavery; as Lucy Ferriss notes in a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education: “There’s been a debate about the language of slavery—or slaving, as some writers prefer to call the institution—for several years. The changes that many have proposed […] put the emphasis on the humanity of people who were brought to this continent against their will and forced to work in bondage for generations.” 

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

The curators have embraced this practice in their extensive didactic text, using the term “enslaved persons” instead of “slaves” and emphasizing fullness of the lives of each individual featured; the narrative texts, like those discussing Charles Stewart—who is described as “Farm Manager, Jockey, Horseman, Enslaved”—include the fact of enslavement, as opposed to solely focusing on that element of his lived experience, highlighting the whole human life that Stewart lived, for which slavery was only a single part. While such a gesture could run the risk of minimizing the drastic extent to which enslavement impacted Stewart’s life, the didactic text unabashedly acknowledges that Stewart’s role as a horseman was definitively linked to his experience of enslavement, and includes excerpts from his own biographical narrative from an 1884 edition of Harper’s magazine, a facsimile of which is reproduced below it.  

Moreover, Stewart’s narrative is one of many that are included in this exhibition, providing multiple accounts of black men and women’s lived experiences in the Kentucky racing industry during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The viewer is immediately presented with the variations of experience in the form of trading cards highlighting eight different figures—Ansel Williamson, Charles Stewart, Harry Lewis, Shelby Pike Barnes, Jimmy Winkfield, Isaac Burns Murphy, Marshall Lilly, and Edward Dudley Brown—that the audience is invited to take upon entering and is entreated to find the corresponding didactic text within the space of the installation.

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

In addition to these narratives, the exhibition highlights the experiences of several individuals who contributed significantly to black horse culture more generally, including Dudley Allen, who served as the Quartermaster Sargent in the “Colored Cavalry” of the Union Army during the Civil War, and Eliza Carpenter, a formerly enslaved woman who participated in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1893 and expanded the horse and racing industries out West. By presenting various experiences and perspectives, the exhibition avoids the pitfall of tokenism and expands the understanding of the variations that existed within the lives of black men and women living and working during the eras of enslavement and segregation. 

Beyond simply presenting multiple personal narratives, the installation contrasts those stories with a considerable amount of historical explication in the form of signs marked “History 101” scattered throughout. These texts directly confront the complicated legacy of white supremacy both in the practice of slavery and the systematic dismantling thereof. For instance, the placard “About the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution,” discusses the reluctance of Kentucky to ratify the 13th Amendment—which ended slavery nationally on December 18, 1865—until 1976, noting that “With the end of the Civil War, increased raids, beatings, and lynchings by vigilante groups made the Bluegrass countryside a dangerous place for the newly freed.” This text, therefore, challenges the common misapprehension that the transition from enslavement to freedom was smooth and beneficial for all, and that Kentucky, as a border state, was only passively invested in maintaining the practice of slavery. 

The harsh reality of life for black men and women in enslavement and under Jim Crow is also documented through ephemeral objects and images around the exhibition. Photographs of enslaved people engaged in arduous labor appear alongside many of the tools they used. Images that show the clear dichotomy between the white spectators and the black horsemen who trained and rode the animals during segregation accompany journalistic accounts of the hardships and exploitation that these men faced in an effort to earn a living. Combined with the multiple narratives and the historical explication throughout the installation, these images offer a stark contrast to the celebratory history that exudes from the rest of the museum’s exhibitions. 

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

Yet the curators have clearly gone through great effort to help the viewer experience this confrontation thoughtfully and introspectively. Within the exhibition space itself there are two points where the viewer is asked to reflect upon the information presented. At the “Conversation Station,” for example, the curators have posed the question “Based on the lives of Charles Stewart, Ansel Williamson, and Harry Lewis, do you think black horsemen were as highly revered as the horses they groomed and trained? Why or why not?” and provided the audience with post-it notes and pens to write their responses. The question itself incites the audience to deeply consider the ways in which the practices of slavery worked to dehumanize those in enslavement and how rhetorically and practically a slippage existed between enslaved persons and beasts of burden and the interactive nature of the activity allows the viewer to participate in the conversation that the exhibition is seeking to incite. 

Moreover, being the only site in the museum to focus more on the history of humans than the history of horses and focusing solely on the experience of black people, this exhibition does run the risk of reinforcing the aforementioned conflation of African Americans and animals. Yet it is abundantly apparent that the curators were aware of such an historical linkage and thus have carefully provided physical room for reflection helps to unpack the problematic elements of that linkage. This effort, in turn, works to combat that particular issue. 

The curators have gone through great lengths to confront the long history of racism in racing culture, providing the audience with a considerable amount of explanatory texts, ephemeral images and documents, and opportunities for reflection to help the audience process the thorough history presented in the space. This exhibition very clearly unearths the hidden history of black men and women within Kentucky horse culture and does so in a way that seeks to valorize their achievements and lived experiences while also confronting the challenges they faced and the legacy of white supremacy that we are still grappling with today.   

Arts

Fragment of Another World: Eddie Owens Martin and Pasaquan at Institute 193

About two hours south of Atlanta in Buena Vista, one of America’s prominent folk art destinations and environments showcases brightly painted buildings, walls, and other structures, decorated with iconography borrowed from religions and spiritualties of all kinds. It is called Pasaquan and was created by artist Eddie Owens Martin (1908-1986), also known as St. EOM (pronounced like the Hindu “Om”).

“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky. Courtesy Institute 193.

At Institute 193, Pasaquan is enshrined and sampled in an exhibition called “St. EOM: Pasaquoyanism.” The organization has transformed its gallery space to offer a taste of Martin’s compound, most vividly by painting the longest gallery wall sky blue, radiating to passersby on Lexington’s North Limestone street where 193 rests. The gallery is adorned with paintings, drawings, and other objects that, in tandem, emanate the kind of images, craftsmanship, and experience visitors to Pasaquan may encounter. As a system, the artworks in “St. EOM” function less as a presentation of select examples of an artist’s output and more as an archive or record of their creative trajectory.  

“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky. Courtesy Institute 193.

According to the exhibition statement, Martin moved to New York at the age of 14 and spent his early adulthood working as a hustler, gambler, oracle, and drug dealer. He was sent to the Federal Narcotics Prison Hospital in Lexington in the early 1940s after it was uncovered that he ran a small gambling and drug enterprise out of his home in Harlem. Martin began painting frequently upon returning to New York in 1943, notably creating scenes of ancient cultures out of discarded woods and other materials, but also developing a traditional skillset, as illustrated by the presence of a small oil painting of a home interior.

Eddie Owens Martin, no title, no date, oil on canvas. 12” x 16”. Courtesy Institute 193.

The inspiration for his paintings derived from visions he had experienced since his twenties. In them, Martin claimed to speak with spirits who took the form of tall, elongated, androgynous humanoids. These beings appear in many of the works at 193; they have ambiguous skin tones and hair colors, are depicted in groups, and, in some form or other, are surrounded by geometric patterns.  These figures instructed Martin to return to his native home of Georgia in 1957 to build Pasaquan, which still functions today and is scattered with shrines, pagodas, temples, and other structures.

The culmination of Martin’s visions, his life experiences, and the construction of Pasaquan led to the formation of Pasaquoyanism, a religious doctrine that combines elements of Eastern and Western faiths and spiritualties from multiple centuries. Perhaps more of a lifestyle than anything, Pasaquoyanism—the exhibition’s namesake—is succinctly documented in “St. EOM.”

“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky.

The notion of the archive is bolstered by the unifying power of the blue wall. Two pedestals are placed against it are also painted blue, practically going unnoticed if not for the single objects that sit atop each: a beaded necklace with alternating wooden cylinders and spheres, and a gourd whose bulging and elongated shape could easily spur a critical reading with sexual implications. Both objects are presented as if they were votive. In concert, they, as well as the nearby paintings and the bright wall, embody the kind of symbolism and participatory elements of Pasaquoyanism.

“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a mesmerizing, brilliant constellation of dots, diamonds, triangles, and rings orbiting around a single vermillion circle, the full diameter of the work as tall as the blue wall on which it is painted. It is a beacon for visitors, indicating the arrival to the sacred land. The pattern is reminiscent of Mesoamerican calendars, marking the passage of time cyclically and precisely. Despite most works in the exhibition lacking dates and titles, the mural is the conjoining factor in “St. EOM,” connecting all themes, palettes, and subjects. The mural amplifies the spirit—indeed, Martin’s spirit—that runs through every object on display.

The mural is a duplicate of another located at the Pasaquan compound. These kinds of images are rampant there, populating the interiors and exteriors of buildings, concrete fences, totems, and a vast array of other surfaces. The design at 193 may be unique, but it is far from the only mandala-like shape Martin painted. Yet its singular nature in the gallery may prompt a moment of pause for viewers, not only due to its size and striking color. With three paintings and a pedestal to either side, the mural is the moment of balance within the exhibition. It is the equalizer. Without it, the works included in “St. EOM” would seemingly lose their grounding as interconnected revelations.

Eddie Owens Martin, no title, no date, oil on plywood, 22” x 39”. Courtesy Institute 193.

The figures that visited Martin in his visions are described in many paintings in “St. EOM,” including in a red and violet dreamscape containing six incomplete faces, four snakes, four floating pairs of lips, and a penis that appears to be attached to a figure’s forehead. The work carries obvious phallic invocations. Yet the symmetry, color, repetition of the same facial features, and association with animals suggest this figure is deeply connected with the world around them—a deity, perhaps. It could be that they are someone Martin knew or dreamed up. In any case, the portrait functions as a representation of a force larger than a single human—could this be an embodiment of nature that Martin offers? If it were, the fleeting qualities of the painting, such as the isolated eyes, lips, and genitalia, likely imply that the figure is not wholly human and thus something else altogether.

Another figure is the focus of a different painting; their gender, ethnicity, and age are undetermined. The shirt they wear possesses a rigid interspersion of triangles, rectangles, and circles in bright turquoise that matches the color of the figure’s hair and pupils. They are haloed by fire-like streaks of orange and interlocking diamonds. 

Eddie Owens Martin, no title, no date, oil on canvas, 25” x 33”. Courtesy Institute 193.

Unlike the six-faced painting, this work peers at the viewer, as if it were inviting them into Pasaquoyanism, much like a separate painting of three sitting figures in a pyramid formation. Both paintings are of figures who acknowledge the viewer with their stares, ignoring the setting—whether atmospheric or scenic—in which they are placed. Visitors to Institute 193 are their main focus, and they seem intent on drawing them into their world. These paintings, like “St. EOM” itself, are a preview of what Martin’s religion looks like and how it visually behaves—as a lively, enigmatic mode of living, made manifest in the beings and landscapes Martin portrayed. 

“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism” is on view until June 22, 2018 at Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky. 

 

Arts

Scene&Heard: Johnny Conqueroo “Haint Blue”

It’s a cold night in early December, but the Green Lantern is packed. The trio of musicians assembles on stage, and the weight of expectation hangs heavy. For the uninitiated to the Johnny Conqueroo universe, this is the moment when blistering rock’n’roll might be expected. This is the band you’ve heard about for years. This is the band you’re supposed to accept as the Next. Big. Thing. So it’s just a tad confusing when the downbeat produces…slow and heavy 12-bar blues?

Okay, so you adjust your expectation – after all, they aren’t making some rote recital of a familiar form – they’re really digging into it, extracting every last ounce of grit.  It’s now a blues band you’re witnessing. And before the cymbals die out from the first tune, gritty guitar kicks in and the blistering rock’n’roll of their new single “Brick” begins, rejiggering those blues chops with meaty layers of deep bass and rock solid drums. Singer/guitarist Grant Curless stalks the stage like a man possessed, clinging to his guitar almost like a weapon to ward off the crowd, while Shawn Reynolds on bass and Wils Quinn on drums to lay in the pocket and anchor the action. Welcome to the real deal.

Johnny Conqueroo is not here to play to your expectations. Starting off with a heavy blues number in a rock show? Unheard of. Finding a home in the blues when much of the modern musical catalog seems to have abandoned it? Bold. Coming off as slightly reserved, intensely polite and complete pros during an interview? Isn’t this supposed to be a bunch of young punks?

It’s easy to overlook the fact that the members of Johnny Conqueroo are, in fact, well-worn veterans in the Lexington music scene and beyond because they started as a band relatively young (side note: so did Radiohead). It’s their complete professionalism that allowed Quinn to quickly suppress a strained grimace when asked a somewhat condescending question about whether the band’s relative youth provided them with a sliding scale of expectations.

“There’s a lot of bands that will kind of ride on that – ‘Look, we’re amazing and we’re kids.’ And that becomes their identity,” said Quinn, “and then all of a sudden they’re not kids, and it’s just, ‘Oh, they’re just a band.’ It definitely helped early on, because people were like, ‘Yeah, they’re in high school and they play the blues – isn’t that funny?’”

“It feels almost kind of gimmicky,” said Reynolds.

“It was a glaring fact,” said Quinn.

If the band (rightly) chafes under the mention of their youth during their band’s rise, it’s because it’s at this point where a hacky writer should discuss how the transition from “high schooler band” to “adult band” has had a marked difference on their music and given them a more mature sound as they have shed their teenage band persona. But that would be stupid.

Has their songwriting progressed? Absolutely, just like any band with years of experience. Is their sound more focused and tighter? Listening through from their 2015 EP to 2016’s “Washed Up” and on to their newly-released EP, “Haint Blue,” the answer is indeed “yes.” It’s the central tenet that there is a mandated maturation process to which the band has been exposed that breaks down – Johnny Conqueroo didn’t age into their musical craft – they’ve been at the top of their game since the beginning, and they’ve been doing this a long time.

“I started going to Nashville maybe fourth or fifth grade – started going down there a whole lot,” said Curless. “Started listening to the bands in the honky-tonks, which were cover bands, but would cover old country songs and old rockabilly songs.”

Curless’s interest in music formed there, shifting from old country like Hank Williams to rockabilly, and then…

“Slowly, that morphed into the blues,” said Curless.

Although the band has moved a bit away from its roots as a blues three-piece, it’s the genre that still informs their music to a high degree.

“I can’t really help it, to some extent,” said Curless. “You like what you like.”

“Listening to the blues – you kind of start to get an appreciation for the storytelling aspect,” said Quinn. “You can get an appreciation for that without going through anything other than just listening to those stories. They’re just fun stories, and if it’s good blues, it’s always told with conviction, too. It seems like it’s told by someone who really needs to tell it.” 

It also helps the group mine fodder for their material from stories around them.

“We have a whole multitude of weird friends and weird people and weird stories you hear in Lexington,” said Curless.

“You’ll start to pick up these inspirations from people you meet and friends and characters for weird ideas to jump off of,” said Quinn.

In addition to mining the local landscape for stories, the band has a reverence for the music that came before, sniffing out pieces and parts to add to their repertoire.

“Any time we hear a record or a 45 that just has an element to it that we really like, we try and incorporate that same element into a song or in the band in general,” said Curless. “The groove of funk music…”

“Like those little drum breaks from sixties garage band songs,” Quinn said. “Actively listening to that stuff and seeing what you could pull from it. The internet is basically the secret.”

On “Haint Blue,” their third release in four years, Johnny Conqueroo throws the throwback dance party they’ve been building to since their first EP in 2015. Jangly guitars, slapback vocal reverb and a trademark drum sound by knob-twirling local mastermind Duane Lundy all add to a potent mix of equal parts modern blues and Dick Dale. The title track takes these fundamentals sans vocals and turns them on their head in a raucous musical exorcism over a repeated riff that demonstrates the power in this power trio.

That power overtakes Curless on stage, turning him from a soft-spoken and circumspect individual in an interview into a howling banshee, ready to take no prisoners. His bandmates referred to Curless’s enormous stage charisma and excellent guitar face as a possession, relaying a story of one memorable gig where Curless was so overtaken with the energy of the show that he smashed his guitar at the climax of the song and ran off stage.

Curless shrugs off any idea that there’s some demon to exorcise. There’s no deep trauma underlying the complete transformation, no need to prove something to the world. It’s just a natural extension of Curless, guitar in hand, absorbing every electron of light in the spotlight night after night. 

“It just feels right up on stage.”

Johnny Conqueroo’s third release, “Haint Blue,” is out now on label The Fir Trade.

Arts

UMZine #1 Now Available Online!

All hard copies of UMZine #1, our curated guide to Lexington’s music, art, and literary scene, have been gobbled up. So we are making our fabulous little zine available to all. Feel free to download it, if that suits ya.

Just click on this link for you to get your eyeballs on UMZine #1

Arts

Scene&Heard: Short & Co.

The lineup at The Burl on a Friday evening in May was packed with a triple header of local musical talent for the fifth year anniversary of Alcatraz Shakedown. Following Magnolia Boulevard and preceding the headliner, Short & Co. took the stage and took over the room with some face melting blues and guitar work.

Jeremy Short is the front man for Short & Co, his first band as frontman and lead vocalist and guitar. A lifelong musician who previously played as guitarist and backing vocalist for others, including Sasha Colette and the Magnolias, this band and their first CD, Lost in a Spin, is his first foray as lead guitarist and songwriter, which he claimed to be “brand new, incredibly challenging and a steep learning curve for sure.” All who listened that night and have his newly released CD can agree, this is a good thing.

Jeremy Short can play the blues. And I’m not talking just playing. Playing a guitar is one thing, using that guitar to channel the essence that is The Blues is another thing. It requires a master of the craft. Short is undeniably a master of the guitar, and The Burl’s welcoming wooden walls were happy to embrace his music and his sound that night.

From a family of devoted musicians and singers, Short was raised surrounded by the voices of his family singing in harmony. As a child he lived with his grandmother, who had a piano at home and played at church, and his grandfather, the preacher of the Methodist church in Wolverine, Kentucky, a small town in Breathitt County Short describes as “on the way to Hazard.” He thought everyone started Sunday dinner with the family by singing praises, “that was normal to me”. While no one in his family took their talent to the stage before him, Short grew up with a love of music and harmony. That is quite evident when Short & Co. takes the stage.

Short & Co: (L-R) Corey Heim, bass; John Clay, drums, vocals; Jeremy Short, guitar, lead vocals

Joined on stage by Corey Heim on bass and John Clay on drums and vocal harmonies, Short & Co. sounds like much more than three people up there. Their vocal harmonies were tight. John Clay, a seasoned musician and vocalist out of Louisville, kept a solid back beat of drums while also matching his voice to Short’s with tight precision. The bass gave that solid foundation and held it while Short sunk down into deep, solid confident blues solos.

Jeremy Short

Whether using his slide or not, Short is quite familiar with the neck of a guitar. Playing it with ease and soul, he ran up and down the neck creating slick blues licks while the drums and bass danced behind him. Ranging from a more Chicago style song then into a poppy sounding song that echoes his love of all Steely Dan guitarists, his set ended with a song that had a Rockabilly sound to it. Covering “Dead Flowers” by The Rolling Stones rounded out the set, giving a deep variety of great guitar led music for the crowd that night, which danced enthusiastically all night long.

His mastery of the craft of the guitar solo has earned Jeremy Short enough attention to be invited to attend Tyler Childers’ panel during Bonnaroo this summer, discussing the guitar solo during the festival. He will also be appearing at the Bluegrass BBQ festival in downtown Lexington. His new CD can be purchased at shows, or on his website at shortandcompanymusic.com.

Photos and video by Derek Feldman

Arts

Celebrating a Century of Bernstein

You may not be familiar with the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde, but I would wager that you could conjure up a quote or two from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the play that inspired composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story which catapulted him into the limelight as the music man for all seasons and confirmed his unique sensitivity toward popular culture, philosophy, literature, religion, and the politics of his times.

His 100th birthday (August 25, 1918) is currently being celebrated (until August 25, 2019) by orchestras, singers, and dancers in cities throughout the world, and Lexington, Kentucky has joined the party. In keeping with his genius, Bernstein said: “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” Tempus fugit I thought as I sat in the Singletary Center and listened to the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra’s (UKSO) April 20th Season Finale: Bernstein at 100! 

Maestro John Nardolillo presented a remarkable program showcasing some of Bernstein’s greatest achievements, sharing the stage with five conductors, four choruses, eight soloists, and the UK Jazz Ensemble. Even the audience got in on some of the action.  As Nardolillo opened the evening’s tribute with the Overture from Candide, it became clear to all present that “tonight, tonight, won’t be just any night.”

Nardolillo, Orchestra, and Choruses

The Candide Overture is the shortest sonata form (ABA) I have ever heard. It commenced (A) with a tremendous burst of frenetic energy initiated by the brass and percussion, and rapidly spread into the strings and woodwinds as if it had gone viral. Then this structured chaos transitioned into a hymn-like movement (B) introduced by the strings and passed on to the other instruments before returning to the more energetic dance-like rhythms established by the horns and timpani at the outset (A).  The piece was a single movement less than five minutes long but it packed a wallop, ending with a whimsical whimper and a bang. UKSO’s delivery helped assure its immortality.

Before the performance of the second work, Benediction from Concerto for Orchestra conducted by Sey Ahn, Nardolillo provided some context for what was not originally a part of the Concerto but later became its final movement. Benediction was written in 1986 for the grand reopening of Carnegie Hall where Bernstein had debuted 43 years earlier as a substitute conductor for the New York Philharmonic when he was asked at the last minute to step in for conductor Bruno Walter. The personal prayer he uttered to himself that night before raising his baton became Benediction.

Baritone Taeeun Moon | Benediction

The Benediction began with the brass, sounding at first like a call to arms but then a soulfulness prevailed building steam as it progressed from the oboe to the clarinet and the strings. At the conclusion, baritone Taeeun Moon’s contemplative vocalization of Bernstein’s prayer, in Hebrew, asks God to keep us safe, shower us with his grace and light, and bless us with peace. It seemed like a blessing for the evening’s program as well.

The remaining three works prior to intermission played strongly to Bernstein’s musings on philosophical and religious ideas and texts, with John Nardolillo (UKSO) conducting the Serenade and Three Meditations from Mass, and Jefferson Johnson conducting Cinchester Psalms, sung by four choruses: the UK Choristers (Elizabeth Wilson), the UK Women’s Choir (Lori Hetzel), the UK Chorale and the UK Men’s Chorus (Jefferson Johnson).

Bernstein’s philosophical Serenade, based on Plato’s Symposium, is a lively musical exchange on the subject of love. The conversation began with an eruption of discord and dissonance as all the instruments tried to speak at once. But then guest violinist Daniel Mason (Concertmaster of the Lexington Philharmonic) inserted himself into the squabble and engaged in a dueling duet with the principal cellist as both expressed their views with equal gravity.

Violinist Daniel Mason | Socrates – Alcibiades

Mason appealed to reason with his deftly rendered solo passages even though the xylophone and drums kept playfully interrupting the discourse. Near the end, however, all the instruments seemed to agree to disagree and Mason, with his virtuosic reciprocity, got the last word. So what is love?  No one knows for sure. Socrates said the beginning of wisdom comes from understanding the limits of our knowledge. This was Bernstein’s premise as well.

Before the Three Meditations from Mass, Nardolillo announced the presence of two people in the audience who knew Bernstein personally and that guest cellist Benjamin Karp (principal cellist for the Lexington Philharmonic) had played under Bernstein’s direction at Tanglewood. This knowledge intensified the presence of Bernstein’s spirit for the remainder of the program. As for the three Meditations for cello and orchestra, the third movement, Presto, best captured that spirit.

Cellist Benjamin Karp | Three Meditations

The introspective and ceremonial musical elements introduced in the first two movements of the Meditations culminated in the third and Karp unified them with great strength. His skillful phrasing, subtle dynamics and bold accents were spellbinding.  Rhythmic drums paved the way for Karp’s solo ruminations and when the gong sounded, the strings followed his lead into a shamanistic fury of dance, highly spiritual and celebratory.  Then Karp imposed a cathartic sense of calm with a wistful melody before he engaged us with amazingly intricate bowing like an oracle intermittently disseminating words of wisdom. The drum and the harp accompanied the fading tones of his good counsel and left me in reverie, wanting to hear more.

When Bernstein composed the Cinchester Psalms, he specified that the second Psalm be sung by either a boy soprano or a countertenor. The voice of a boy soprano imparts a sense of innocence and spiritual purity, and a well-trained countertenor can sing with unrestrained clarity within the vocal range of a contralto or mezzo soprano. His voice resonates a distinct timbre simply because it is a male voice singing outside the limits of its ordinary range.

Countertenor Joseph Kingsbury | II Psalm 23; Psalm 2:1-4

Although Bernstein’s Psalms are sung in Hebrew, we are all familiar with the biblical text.  Jefferson Johnson conducted this demanding choral work as the combined choruses admirably rose to the occasion.  The first Psalm calls for us to live joyfully; the third pleads for us to live in unity; the second, bridging the first and third, encourages us to travel through life with faith and courage. And countertenor Joseph Kingsbury delivered this Psalm with mesmerizing articulation, tonality, and agility: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The second half of the program offered much lighter fare and focused on Bernstein’s compositions for theater, stage, and film which involved collaboration with with several lyricists, the two most notable being Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz. After Intermission, clarinetist Scott Wright, the UK Jazz Ensemble and conductor Miles Osland took to the stage with Bernstein’s Prelude (for the brass), Fugue (for the saxes), and Riffs (for everyone).

Clarinetist Scott Wright | Riffs

The Prelude was a jazzy, cool, and rhythmic exposition for the brass, drums, and bass. The mellow saxes teased each other unmercifully in the Fugue but were provided full support, be it point or counterpoint, in their individual and collective fugal moments. The Riffs ensued when Scott Wright (Professor of Clarinet at UK) took the lead with the big band sound as he masterfully interacted with everyone, fully engulfing the call-response format near the end that garnered the well-deserved acknowledgement he received from the ensemble and audience alike. I felt as if I had just been to church while heeding the call of the wild.

Conductor Miles Osland, Clarinetist Scott Wright, and the UK Jazz Ensemble | Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs

In the next segment, Nardolillo playfully interacted with the audience in a little practice for our participation in two numbers from the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.  Along with the chorus, and before the orchestra came back on stage (he wanted to surprise them), he had us snapping our fingers in the Prologue and yelling “Mambo” in the fourth movement by the same name.  We followed through and did no harm—Bernstein would have approved. 

Nardolillo coaches the audience on finger snapping with the chorus in Prologue.

The orchestra, of course, brought West Side Story back to life with these eleven Symphonic Dances. It made you want to sing and dance.  Fortunately, no one tried but it set the tone for What a Movie from Trouble in Tahiti with Logan Blackman conducting and mezzo soprano Audrey Adams as soloist; Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, and Glitter and be Gay from Candide with James Burton conducting, and soprano Jessica Bayne as soloist.

Audrey Adams and Jessica Bayne both were both spectacular in their respective roles.  They teased, they flirted, and cajoled with voices and drama worthy of both Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera.

Mezzo Soprano Audrey Adams | What a Movie

Maestro Nardolillo conducted the final number of the evening’s performance, the heart-rending chorale finale, Make Our Garden Grow from Candide, with soprano Jessica Bayne, tenor Michael Pandolfo and Mixed Chorus. This duet between Candide and Cunegonde (characters from Voltaire’s French satire, Candide: Or the Optimist) was Bernstein’s message to us all: And let us try, / Before we die, / To make some sense of life. / We’ll do the best we know . . . / And make our garden grow.

Tenor Michael Pandolfo and Soprano Jessica Bayne | Make Our Garden Grow

Pandolfo’s and Bayne’s voices were sublime as they shared Bernstein’s impassioned plea full of sincerity and optimism.  And as the chorus joined in, magnifying Candide’s and Cunegonde’s emotions, Bernstein’s plan to unite us and give us a glimpse of our humanity will continue long past his 100th. It doesn’t matter that the clock stops ticking, eternal truths keep on truckin’.

Curtain Call (left to right) for Maestro Nardolillo; Guest Conductors: James Burton and Jefferson Johnson; Choir Directors: Elizabeth Wilson and Lori Hetzel; and Vocalists: Joseph Kingsbury, Michael Pandolfo, Audrey Adams, and Jessica Bayne

Bernstein had a strong affinity for young people and he would not have been disappointed in the exuberance displayed by everyone involved in this community-based collaborative centennial celebration of his music.

If you missed this magnificent Season Finale, you still have an opportunity to pay homage to Bernstein this fall. The Lexington Philharmonic begins its next season Opening Night: Bernstein & Gershwin on Saturday, October 20th at the Lexington Opera House (7:30 pm).

And remember, you can always get a bang for your buck with Maestro Nardolillo and the UKSO when they launch their 2018-2019 season program.

Photos provided by Sally Horowitz Photography

Arts

Leonard Cohen Tribute Concert II: The Concert Video

Another sold-out house! Lexington sure does have an appetite for Leonard Cohen’s music poetry. Hallelujah. The Leonard Cohen Tribute Encore was held at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington, KY on April 28, 2018 .  Thirty-five Central KY musicians paid tribute to Cohen’s incomparable catalog by covering 20 songs and closing with all the musicians and audience participating in a Hallelujah songfest! The show was produced by Purple Carrots Productions and UnderMain. The original show in November was sponsored by First Presbytarian Church Music for Mission and was held at Good Shepherd Church in Lexington.

Did you miss the encore presentation? We’ve got you covered with a fantastic concert video filmed by Mark Rush / Shaker Steps Productions. You can watch the video of the entire concert here:

As a bonus we are also including the program for the concert so you can read about the performers and the songs. Just click right below and you can scroll through the PDF of the program.

So drink it all in one big gulp or sip it and savor.

I caught the darkness
It was drinking from your cup
I caught the darkness
Drinking from your cup
I said is this contagious?
You said just drink it up

From “The Darkness”- Leonard Cohen

Arts

Memorial in Process

Carleton Wing’s statement on “Sharing Time and Space,” the exhibition currently up at MS Rezny Studio Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, calls it an “exchange.” As the title also implies, this is something shared. On its surface this is readily apparent: here Wing and Paolo Dal Prá engage in a dialogue even across the gulf between life and death. But the objects also stake out their own positions and their own conversation. The cross between the materials and the bodies of work is also an exchange, one that can even speak apart from the intentions of artist, gallery, or viewer. This is where things become more complicated. Set up together, the works work things out amongst themselves.

‘Sharing Time and Space’, Installation view, MS Rezny Studio Gallery

At first the juxtaposition of crisp digital collages with rough wood assemblages, rustic clay figures, and heavy dark paintings comes across as uneven and jarring. Yet there is a sense that despite differences in form and material an animated conversation is taking place and affinities are being forged. Wing and Prá’s works are tied together in ways beyond the inconveniences of their contrasting mediums. In a way these works exist like a single thing, each object a part that contributes its specialized function to the organism as a whole. The exchange is symbiotic.

This is one way that the works fill in each other’s gaps. Separately, Prá’s sculptures, paintings, and drawings seem to be disintegrating. But their fragmented appearance is not really a product of being purposefully unfinished or aesthetically rustic. Instead this is the spirit of their “primitivism,” as if they are objects found, compiled, and now left to weather away. Prá’s works come across like some distant memory, a trace or a vestige of some half-remembered experience. The haziness and roughness of Prá’s paintings and sculptures feels like the melding of different realities. A painting like Figure, showing the curvature of the back of a human form breaking across a mottled surface, is like an image whose overall clarity comes at the expense of more specific details. The object itself and its forgotten source trying to push itself back to the surface meld together as one appears to wear away and reveal the other

Following after this same comparison to memory and its workings, Prá’s sculptures are likewise in the midst of a breaking-down. Their disintegrations are much more literal however. They take place in the physical form and materiality of the objects themselves. This nudges them beyond the realm of art objects to that of real things with a real stake in life and death. Inside of the aptly titled Figure are metal and springs, the guts and bones of things with real presence in the world. These objects become more logical and their existence more necessary as they take on a more vital character. The more this vitalism grows the more intertwined these works become.

In this sense there is also a somewhat sinister current that runs underneath and between these works. Where at first they appear to be starkly separate, they are bound together by the unpredictability of anonymity and autonomy. Together they hint at something outside of what can be seen but which regardless looks out and sees. In the case of Wing’s collages, there is a literality to the form he employs. In the sense that each one plays at being a model of the universe, the radiation from the center is in, out, and infinite. Yet they also hint at an almost conscious presence that peers out through the rapid circulation of the mandala form. Like the eye of a storm, the supposed peace at the center of these mandalas barely masks the fear and anxiety of what their forms in fact model.

This is where Wing’s mandalas really set themselves apart. Beyond their mundane source imagery (birds, prawns, onions), Wing’s mandalas are expansive even as they appear to shrink into the limits of their centers. More than attractive designs they are like eyes that look out from each little pinpoint. In the middle of each mandala, the design is pulverized into the smallest and sharpest possible extremity. The more abstract mandalas pull strongest toward the oblivion of their cores. Muskrat Jaw Secular Mandala and Shell Secular Mandala begin on their fringes as recognizable objects but quickly melt into carousels of frantic and chopped up lines and colors. The complexity of the designs ultimately breaks down into the simplicity of the point. Yet this simplicity is misleading. Through the static center the universe comes roaring through.

Paolo Dal Prá, ‘Horse’, 2017

So this conversation between artists and artworks is quite complex. Initial separation between the objects is bridged by the presence of a vital force that operates seemingly beyond human control. It is interesting that so many of Prá’s figures appear to be blind. But while they are eyeless or with eyes blank and unfocused, they still seem to look out. Even more, placed next to sharply gazing mandalas they are added a profound sense of penetrating sight. Together these works exist as the more unnerving viscera of existence. The universe stares back wildly through the centers of Wing’s swirling and anxious circles and Prá’s mysterious and half-completed figures. When the ghoulish decrepitude of Prá’s Horse plays against the cold prickly apparatuses of Wing’s Machine Part from Tower Bridge, London Secular Mandala, their combined effect is uncomfortable and uncanny. But even here life also flashes in triumph.

In the end it is a fitting memorial. What better place is there to celebrate than within art itself with all its contradictions and persistent questions? Here we are confronted with art as both mute and static objects and something much more active, unrestrained, and messily unresolved.

Arts

Ever-Present: Yvonne Petkus at Moremen Moloney

Part of the mission of Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky is to bring forth intellectually challenging work which addresses relevant issues and concepts in a manner that is both provocative and accessible. With Yvonne Petkus’s Witness: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, visitors are met with images that resonate, largely due to striking, straightforward representations of the enduring impact of the Bosnian War and sociopolitical conflict in the Balkan region. Through a combination of subject matter and visual redundancy, Petkus provides a somber reminder of the ways in which identity and place are affected by warfare.

WITNESS: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, 2018, Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery, Louisville, KY.

Petkus’s work in Witness follows the artist’s immersive study of and living in Bosnia and Herzegovina during spring 2017. Upon being granted a fellowship through the Zuheir Sofia Endowed International Faculty Seminar program at Western Kentucky University (where the artist teaches), Petkus travelled to the Bosnian region last May. In her statement for Witness, she describes the opportunity as “intense, beautiful, emotional, at some times difficult, and at all times supremely interesting and inspiring.” The resulting exhibition is a visual extension of the internalities she also expresses in writing.

Installation view with ‘Raw’, WITNESS: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, 2018, Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery, Louisville, KY.

Witness contains fifteen oil paintings, rendered on either plexiglass or board, dispersed throughout three rooms. The material on which each image is amassed affects the quality of how it is seen: for example, small areas of untouched plexiglass function as apertures exposing the wall behind a work to reveal shadows cast by the paint itself, simultaneously emitting backlight that often contributes to a painting’s ocular depth. Petkus’s application of paint is expressive, and the resulting surfaces are—save for the uncovered segments of plexiglass—dense and active, possibly reflective of an artist and creative stimulant that are both unsettled. The inherencies of Moremen Moloney, as a house-turned-gallery space, encourage viewers to imagine living with the work in their own homes, a sentiment apparent in the display of Raw (Siege of Sarajevo) (2018) over the mantelpiece. 

Every painting in Witness features at least one specific figure: a nude woman with long dark hair and apricot colored skin splotched with deep reds, typically with mouth agape, and showing obvious indications of distress and exhaustion. The repetition of the woman, in addition to the blue atmospheric background she normally appears within, generates a sense of narrative throughout the exhibition and this particular body of work. 

It cannot be assumed that these are self-portraits, though they do transmit a kind of personal affiliation Petkus has with the figure she construes. Raw (Siege of Sarajevo) contains the figure in double; the painted woman locks hands with, and seemingly calls out to, another. The scene suggests the two are attempting to pull their counterpart nearer, as if both are in need of saving. The women, despite their hand-in-hand connectedness, are largely removed from each other. As an output of Petkus’s research and study, Raw (Siege of Sarajevo), titled after a prominent event of the Bosnian War, captures the intensity of the siege itself as well as the legacy of the communal trauma it spurred.

Yvonne Petkus, ‘Caught’, 2017, oil plexiglass, 36” x 30”

Throughout the exhibition, the figure is in some state of incompletion. For instance, in Caught (2017), a woman stands in an unknowable substance, turning her back toward the viewer and reaching outward from her left side. Except her arm dissolves, or rather, is consumed by the surrounding area. The woman looks over her shoulder, but offers no gaze towards the viewer—her eye sockets are deep cavities. Caught evokes Petkus’s perception of the degree to which local history resonates in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, the woman is a metaphor for the artist’s own interactions with the region and people who inhabit it.

Notions of distress are embodied in the woman Petkus portrays, enhanced by the characteristics of the locations the woman is placed within. Petkus, at most, will afford viewers with just enough directional contours or value shifts to indicate depth, but more frequently paints the figure amongst a sea of indeterminate objects and forms. 

Yvonne Petkus,’ Raw II (Siege of Sarajevo)’, 2018, oil on plexiglass, 30” x 36”

Raw II (Siege of Sarajevo) (2018) is a case of the former. Like the previously mentioned Raw (Siege of Sarajevo), this second iteration holding allusions to the siege of the Bosnian capital features two women joined at the hands, pulling the other in anguish. In the distance, the pretense of another figure, standing and facing away from the women, can be seen amongst impressions of architectural structures. Yet these components are minimal, and could just as well be interpreted as abstracted shapes. Petkus is sure not to give too much away—these faint gestures retain a sense of uncertainty, as if they are memories of the women in the foreground, remnants of their shared pasts.

Witness is, in addition to being a record of lingering feelings of political upheaval Petkus sensed during her Fellowship, a trial of the viewer’s endurance. Indeed, just as Petkus marks the pervasive aftermath of the Bosnian War, the exhibition at Moremen Moloney, through the persistence of a specific figure and locality she occupies, may fatigue viewers with recurring palettes and forms. 

‘Witness’, 2018, oil and acrylic on plexiglass, 11” x 14”

Petkus intends for this, surely. Witness (2018), the inclusion possessing the same name as the exhibition itself, not only stands as an emblem of Petkus’s observations, it is a reminder that the viewer is also under scrutiny. Witness is one of few up-close portraits in the exhibition, presenting the same women as before in a more intimate fashion. She watches visitors to Moremen Moloney, waiting for them to experience the same sensations of depletion she feels. As she travels from painting to painting, her fatigue evolves, at times accompanied by others.

By describing the struggles of others, the artist prompts viewers to recall their own harrowing encounters. In Witness: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, Yvonne Petkus employs a lively handling of paint to both illuminate an aftermath of violence and contest viewers’ own perceptive capabilities. While her paintings may only reflect a portion of the condition of the Bosnian region, they are testaments to collective struggle and, eventually, restoration.

Arts

From Many Angles: Daniel Ludwig

Spread over three distinct locations, in three different municipalities, the retrospective of Daniel Ludwig’s practice—currently on view at Heike Pickett Galleries in both Versailles and Lexington and at the Georgetown College Art Galleries—presents a multidimensional perspective on the artist’s work over the last 35 years. Working primarily in painting, with a handful of works of sculpture, Ludwig has developed a clear aesthetic that combines elements of “the great art of Europe” with that of American vernacular painting; presented in this distributed fashion, this retrospective offers the viewer the opportunity to ruminate on specific elements of his practice in relation to the totality. 

Heike Pickett Gallery & Sculpture Garden: Versailles

Nestled in a 1792 Federal House just off of Main street, Heike Pickett gallery is a small, independent gallery, open to the public on Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm or by appointment. Ludwig’s retrospective dominates the main gallery space, comprised of one large room with various alcoves that serve to further divide up the area. The age of the space, which exudes with the creak of every step along the hardwood, stands in stark contrast to the body of work on display, focusing exclusively on Ludwig’s work in the last several years. 

Daniel Ludwig, “Graces”, Oil painting, 60″ x 46″, 2017

From this exhibition, it becomes readily apparent how much Ludwig’s recent practice has been informed by a reimagining of canonical themes and motifs. For instance, one of the first images that you encounter is his work Graces, in which Ludwig presents three nude forms—only one of which is identifiably a woman—standing in interconnected poses, with free floating drapery dashed around and between their bodies, clearly alluding to the “three graces” of Greek Mythology and the myriad representations of these figures. Yet Ludwig subverts the conventional depiction of these figures by imbuing the work with a heavy use of arbitrary color, rendering two of the figures in a pale purple, as well as invoking the visual rhetoric of Surrealism by portraying the figures as somewhat translucent, revealing elements of the background landscape through the outlined form of their bodies. 

This juxtaposition of many different painting traditions thus offers something altogether new, an illustration of the spectral presence that these historical depictions maintain within the current art world. They make clear to us as viewers the long legacy of art history that the artist must engage with in the name of innovation and provide one indication of the implications of that gesture. Other works in the space similarly engage with this long, Euro-centric art historical convention, making clear that as Ludwig looks back on his own art practice, he is both acutely aware of his personal history and his position as inheritor of the legacy of the European canon. This balancing between old and new, canonical and avant-garde is thus further affirmed by the relationship between the works and the architecture of the gallery.

Heike Pickett: Lexington

Whereas the Versailles gallery is an historic setting, the satellite space at CMW Architects — which is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm — is a new, more industrial space. Located in the active offices of an architectural firm, the gallery space comprises of a long corridor, adorned with work on both sides, culminating with a large piece on the wall opposite the hallway at the far end. It is a unique sort of aesthetic experience, one in which the viewer may expect to have their experience interrupted by the sounds of typing or the faint smell of one of the employee’s perfume, all of which, undoubtedly will have some form of impact on their engagement with the work. 

Daniel Ludwig, “Figure and Clouds IV”, Oil, 40″ x 30″, 1989

Proceeding through the space you get a greater sense of previous elements of Ludwig’s practice, revealing a different tradition that is prominent throughout his body of work from the middle of his career, specifically the rhetoric of American Realist painting. While Ludwig frequently cites the influence of seeing European Masterpieces during his time abroad in college, it is also abundantly clear in works like Bathers (1989)—which features three nude swimmers wading out in the ocean—the debt that Ludwig’s practice owes to the traditions of artists like Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and, especially, Edward Hopper. Ludwig’s attention to the light and shadow, and the volume to which he gives his figures combined with a clear painterly quality of his brushwork and the high concentration of color all give the image this sense of a uniquely American experience within a singularly American landscape.

The particularly pastoral character of this work plays off the industrial nature of the space in a way that parallels the viewing experience in Versailles. Yet again the visual elements of the artwork diverge from the setting in which they are immediately found, allowing the viewer to experience the stark character of these scenes through the distinctions and contradictions that emerge in their presentation in this particular site.  

Georgetown College Art Gallery:

Whereas the two previous sites have a clearer focus on a particular era of Ludwig’s practice, the exhibition at Georgetown college fits more in line with the traditional retrospective, a fitting gesture given the conventional nature of the gallery space itself. A well-lit white cube in the art building, walking into the Georgetown College Art Gallery, the viewer can expect to engage with the work in a more conventional and academic way. It is only fitting then that this space offers a more comprehensive survey of Ludwig’s practice, highlighting his early career, starting in the mid 1980s and extending to his most recent work. 

Daniel Ludwig, “Anne with Necklace”, Oil on Board, 24″ x 16″, 1982,

In this space the viewer can see clearly how elements of European and American painting have always been present in Ludwig’s career, but that the extent to which he engages with one tradition over the other varies at any given moment. For instance, during the 1980s he made very clear references to German Expressionist traditions, such as the almost uncanny parallels between Paula Modersohn-Becker’s 1906 Self-Portrait and Ludwig’s Anne with a Necklace (1982) with regard to color, texture, and composition. At the same time, his more recent works, such as the painting Disfruta, maintain a clear reference to early 20th Century American art, evoking the social realist elements of works by artists like Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and Kentucky’s own Edward Melcarth through the clear depiction of industrial labor and American manufacturing in a manner reminiscent of WPA muralism.  

The context of a university gallery thus affords a more academic and historical consideration for his work, preparing the viewer to engage with the full range of his practices through the site specific cues that prime the viewer to approach the art in a particular museological manner. 

A Complete Retrospective

Taken as an aggregate, these three galleries do ultimately form a cohesive retrospective and offer the viewer a unique way to consider the life and career of a particular artist. Because it is impossible to see all three shows simultaneously or even within quick succession, the viewer is given a chance to pause and reflect between sites and to consider elements the various narratives surrounding Ludwig’s practice constructed in each space. It is, therefore, a unique viewing experience to construct an understanding of an artist’s work through deliberately stepping away and then back towards his work.

In addition to offering the viewer an opportunity to see concentrated pockets of work and take time to consider the show in each of the three spaces, the distribution of the exhibition across three different gallery sites also means that, more so than in other exhibitions, the experience of the viewer is heavily informed by the order in which they see it. Recognizing this to be the case, my experiences reflect only one possible permutation with which the audience can engage with this exhibition and should be noted as such. Moreover, what is unique about this model of a retrospective is that it presents multiple angles from which one can consider Ludwig’s work, effectively creating a more open curatorial experience through dispersed viewing.   

 Reference Note: Fowler, Harriet, “Essay,” Daniel Ludwig Retrospective (Georgetown, KY: Georgetown College Art Galleries, 2018) 8.

___________________________________________________________

Daniel Ludwig: New Works 2016-2018

Heike Pickett Gallery & Sculpture Garden

110 Morgan Street, Versailles, KY 40383

Through June 8, 2018

Hours; Friday and Saturday, 11 am- 4pm and by appointment

(859) 233-1263 www.heikepickettgallery.com

_____________________________________________________________

Daniel Ludwig Retrospective: 35 Years of Artworks in Kentucky Collections

Ann WrightWilson Gallery at Georgetown College

Through May 25, 2018

Hours; Wednesday through Saturday, 12 am-4:30 pm and by appointment

(502) 863-8399

______________________________________________________________

Daniel Ludwig: Selected Paintings and Drawings

Heike Pickett Gallery at CMW

400 East Vine St. Lexington, KY (859)233-1263

Through June 8, 2018

www.heikepickettgallery.com

Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 am.- 4 pm.

Gallery Hop with the Artist, Friday, May 18, 5- 8 pm

Arts

Storytelling By Design

Fifteen years ago, a symposium exploring the interplay of public art, architecture, and history would have drawn interest from many quarters but probably not historic preservation professionals.  What does public art have to do with preservation, some would have asked? Now, however, the question is hardly necessary. Preservationists of many stripes have recognized that valued buildings, no matter how important, have little hope unless someone cares. Meaningful connections to place are cultivated in multiple ways, and those connections lie at the heart the factors that compel preservation. Public art and architecture are powerful vehicles for stimulating intellectual and emotional investments in place – and the varied activities that aim to “preserve.” 

The presenters and audience at the 2018 University of Kentucky Historic Preservation Symposium made these points repeatedly during a lively day of discussions that explored the developing nexus of activity around historically informed art and architecture. Held on Friday, March 30 at the UK Athletic Association Auditorium at W.T. Young Library and at Memorial Hall on the University of Kentucky campus, the symposium attracted more than 50 people, and others viewed it via a Facebook livestream.

Featured speakers included Jerome Meadows, an award-winning artist known for large-scale public art and landscape installations; the three members of the Selvage Collective, a curatorial trio based in Atlanta, Georgia; and Rebecca Bush, the curator of history at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia. A panel discussion on public art projects in Kentucky communities and a keynote address by Alan Ricks, co-founder of MASS Design Group, rounded out the schedule. By the end of the day, all in attendance had learned about pathbreaking projects that have compelled people to grapple with underappreciated histories, to think differently about the past, and to see opportunities for healing and reconciliation. 

Meadows began the symposium with a presentation that surveyed several of his best- known projects and one that is now underway. A native of New York City who now resides Savannah, Georgia, Meadows is acclaimed for thoughtful, deeply moving artwork that interprets African American life and history. The African American Heritage Park in Alexandria, Virginia (1995), one of his earliest efforts, combines a series of sculptural forms and interpretive panels overlooking an African American burial ground.  The African Burying Ground Memorial in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, honors the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked in Portsmouth or passed through the town because of the role of its merchants in the international slave trade. In recounting the origins of these designs and the ideas they express, Meadows left the audience awed. The sensitivity of his work, his creative prowess, and the historical information incorporated into each project demonstrate what is possible when difficult subjects are treated respectfully, honestly, and provocatively. 

Meadows is currently developing sculptural forms for a memorial to Ed Johnson, an African American man lynched in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in March 1906. Like hundreds of black men in the Jim Crow South, Johnson found himself wrongly accused of raping a white woman, tried before an all-white jury, and sentenced to death. Then, in ritualized fashion, a mob stormed the local jail and broke Johnson out of his cell. Immediately before his executioners hung him from a bridge across the Tennessee River, Johnson spoke his last words: “God bless you all. I am an innocent man.”  The memorial will create a space for remembrance and contemplation at the south end of the Walnut Street Bridge in downtown Chattanooga. To secure the commission, Meadows partnered with a landscape architecture firm to develop the site and ensure a graceful setting for his sculptures.  

The Selvage Collective followed with a tour of the four projects the group has completed to date. Founded by Julia Brock, Teresa Bramlette Reeves, and Kirstie Tepper at Kennesaw State University, the Selvage Collective is committed to revealing and visualizing “alternative narratives and history.” As the group’s mission statement explains, they “work in the borderland of fact, hearsay, and fiction, wherein one finds multiple voices and stories to share.” The Selvage Collective’s first project, Hearsay, was an exhibit displayed at the Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University from July 26-October 25, 2014. By displaying a series of solo projects that challenged well-known narratives of southern life, the exhibit offered “alternative points of view to the historical cannon.” Narratology, an installation in the Welch School Galleries at Georgia State University, followed in January-February 2016. In asking how international artists rise to prominence, the installation juxtaposed narratives of individual accomplishment with news about political events, international exhibitions, and curators in order to complicate narratives of individual genius. 

The Selvage Collective’s most recent projects have moved into the digital realm and placed temporary exhibitions in public space. ATLas, part of the ATLmaps website, explores the role of female artists and art administrators in the Atlanta art scene of the 1970s. An interactive map provides access to video interviews, historical information and images, and geospatial data to illuminate the lives and work of ten women. The Mystery of Stark Alley explored physical change and forgetting in the Wildwood neighborhood of Columbus, Georgia. While investigating maps of the area, the group noticed that Stark Alley, one of two alleys original to the neighborhood, disappeared by 1950s. In October 2017, Selvage installed a 70-foot textile representation of the alley border and a small exhibit at the Smith-McCullers House, the childhood residence of famed writer Carson McCullers. In recounting the process employed in developing the installation and exhibit, Brock related the central question that motivated the group’s work: “How can the residual become an engine of meaning?” 

After a short break for lunch, the symposium reconvened for presentations that placed the interplay of art, architecture, and history in a broad perspective and highlighted projects in Kentucky communities. Rebecca Bush traced the development of artists’ involvement in interpreting contested historical subjects and the major trends she sees as shaping the public art-history relationship today. Bush is coeditor of the recent collection of essays Art and Public History: Approaches, Challenges, and Opportunities (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017). Her comments emphasized artists’ role in helping communities approach difficult histories and produce artwork that encourages contemplation, reflection, and tolerance. A panel discussion followed. Sarah Lindgren, public art administrator for Metro Louisville Government, spoke about the Public Arts and Monuments Advisory Committee that Mayor Greg Fischer recently charged with developing principles for evaluating existing art and monuments in response to debates about Confederate memorials. Nathan Zamarron, the Community Arts Director of LexArts, discussed several projects his organization is working on, and Garry Bibbs, an acclaimed artist and an Associate Professor in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky, spoke about his work and the centrality of storytelling to his creative process. 

For the keynote address, the attendees walked across campus to Memorial Hall to hear Alan Ricks speak about MASS Design, the firm that he and five other students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design founded in 2008. From the beginning, Ricks and his partners envisioned a different kind of architectural practice. In the years since, the group committed itself to “architecture that promotes justice and human dignity.” Ricks’s lecture showcased schools and health care facilities that MASS Design has created in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. The firm’s most recent work includes several memorials. Ricks spoke in depth about a proposed memorial to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in Kigali, Rwanda, and a planned Holocaust Memorial in London, England. In discussing these projects, Ricks emphasized the difficulty he and his colleagues encountered in developing forms capable of representing horrific events and the importance of memory as a guard against future atrocity. 

By the end of the day, all who attended left with a great deal to consider. Art and history have a long and intricate relationship, but the ways in which artists and architects are now engaging historical subjects marks a turn away from traditional forms of remembrance. The degree to which art and architecture can bring forgotten histories into view and force contemplation is potent testimony to the power of the material world to shape human thought and emotion. Although historians have long favored written narratives, the work of Meadows, the Selvage Collective, and MASS Design suggests important alternatives. The emotional resonance of their work underscores the power of art to convey sentiments that might otherwise remain marginalized or hidden completely.

How, then, is historically informed art and architecture part of preservation? As the Czechoslovakian writer Milan Kundera observed, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Without physical remains, remembrance becomes difficult, prone to loss, amnesia, and varying forms of erasure. Although preservation advocates once saw the care and protection of valued remains as paramount, no longer is that true. Growing attention to historically informed art and architecture demonstrates the importance that advocates and professionals now place on public interest. In making challenging histories visible, artists and architects are pioneering methods for highlighting the relevance of the past and connecting it with contemporary debates. Although the outcomes are always uncertain, the results are consistently impressive. Sustained interest in the past is a wellspring of meaning and a path toward a more just and equitable world. Working toward such goals necessarily involves respectful treatment of valued remains. However interest in the past is fostered, it holds the promise of meaningful dialogue about the roots of our time and the promise of the future. 

Arts

Designing Women at The Speed

Thoroughly Modern: Women in 20th Century Art and Design was conceived as a sequel to the Speed Art Museum’s blockbuster exhibition, Women in the Age of Impressionism.  But this small, elegant display of women’s work stands on its own merits as one of the Speed’s best recent installations.  The exhibition consists of only 35 objects or dinner ware sets but is mostly pottery.  The show is on view until July 1st at the Speed in Louisville.

The artists are given momentous status with blown-up portraits of each on tall wall graphics placed between cases and wall works.  As a display strategy, it works brilliantly.   Modestly scaled decorative arts gain in interest through the borrowed glory of their makers’ heroization.  

The artists are by birth American, Austrian, British, French, German, Hungarian, and Russian, and their media include woodwork, paintings, prints, textile, silver and ceramics.  This is a homegrown endeavor organized by the Speed’s curators, drawing on the strengths of the Speed’s own holdings, local collections, and the University of Louisville’s Hite Art Center.  The artists range from Susie Cooper and Eva Zeisel, towering figures in the history of 20th century decorative arts, to a gifted amateur china painter, Althea Moore Smith.  None of the women have been given proper recognition for the magnitude of their artistic achievements, and the fact that most are relatively unknown piques heightened interest.  

Anne-Marie Fontaine French, (birth and death dates unknown) “Vase Fontaine #2”, 1934, Porcelain

Two vases by Anne-Marie Fontaine, (birth and death dates unknown), a designer for Sèvres porcelain in the 1920s and 1930s, are a case in point.  To my knowledge, there has never been a museum exhibition in the United States dedicated to 20th century Sèvres. Fontaine’s supernal decoration of a three-part cylindrical vase is ethereal: overlapping gold and blue clouds rise in curved bands, interspersed with a sun, rain, feathers and stars. One can imagine Fontaine’s vase set off against rectilinear white walls in a LeCorbusier house of the period.  The pot’s restrained elegance, cosmological whimsy, simple geometry, and integral relationship of its motifs to the vessel’s form mark it as an Art Deco masterpiece.

Eva Zeisel American, born in Hungary (1906-2011) Century Platter and Bowls, designed 1950 Whiteware

Not all the works in the exhibition are luxury goods. Eva Zeisel (1906-2011) designed for a mass market, working for manufacturers like Hall China in Ohio, Shenango Pottery in Pennsylvania, and Red Wing Pottery in Minnesota, and towards the end of her life, Crate and Barrel. Eva Zeisel’s 1955 Century platter and bowls anticipate Aero Saarinen’s TWA terminal: Their extended undulant curves made the set easy to stack for storage and easy to retrieve.  Zeisel’s pottery is often characterized by a covert anthropomorphism: the handles of the Century dishes rise in hallelujah exultancy. In 2004 Zeisel wrote, “I have rarely designed objects that were meant to stand alone.  My designs have family relationships.  They are mother and child, siblings, or cousins.  They may not have identical lines, but there is always a family relationship.” 

Eva Zeisel American, born in Hungary (1906-2011) Town and Country Salt and Pepper Shakers and Teapot, designed 1946 Earthenware

Zeisel’s biomorphic salt and pepper shakers for her 1946 Town and Country china precede by two years cartoonist Al Capp’s cartoon invention, “shmoos” which had comparable shapes.  Zeisel’s implements intertwine and seem inseparably affectionate.  Pertinently in a 1987 New Yorker interview, Zeisel asserted, “I think with my hands.  I design things to be touched – not for a museum.  A piece is ready when it has the shape of something to cherish.”  Wit is a continual factor in Zeisel’s art: the lid of the Town and Country teapot is off-center, giving it the comical air of a jaunty beret.

Zeisel worked in Germany in the late 1920s, and then traveled to Russia where she rose to the position of art director for the Soviet glass and china industries.  Imprisoned for plotting against Stalin, she eventually was released and made her way to the United States.  She was given a one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, and is credited with designing the first all-white modernist dinnerware. She continued her protean creativity until shortly before her death at the age of 105 in 2011.

Susie Cooper, (1902-1995), is also profiled with wonderful examples.  An English artist born in the Staffordshire town of Burslem, Cooper’s most characteristic product is the trio, a cup, saucer and cake plate suitable for Britain’s ritual breaks at elevenses or at afternoon tea.  In contrast to Zeisel’s functionalism, the diction of ceramics in Cooper’s work seems more about convening, contemporaneity, and the contract of hospitality between host and guest. Her customers were the emerging British suburban middle class, who embraced 20th Century values of informality, enjoyment of color and innovative form. The patchwork enamel hues in Cooper’s earlier works are be-jazzed cousins of Sonia Delaunay’s Orphism.

Susie Cooper British, (1902-1995) Vase, about 1925, Earthenware

A lusterware vase depicting a leaping antelope in front of an orange tree has a jubilant rhythmic composition characterized by unexpected intervals between figure and ground.  The antelope was a favorite motif of Cooper’s, and was used in one of her pottery marks. Cooper could be more restrained in her designs. In a 1931 trio on view, the decoration shifts to delicate patterns of scrolls, circles, dots, and plant forms. 

Susie Cooper British, (1902-1995), Cup and Saucer for Coffee Service, 1933, Earthenware

Of the paintings in the exhibition my favorite is the 1930 Two Cats on Stairs (Tooky, 10th Street by Marguerite Zorach, (1887-1968), whose reputation until recently has been overshadowed by that of her sculptor husband, William Zorach, the apostle of the ideology of direct carving. Marguerite Zorach was one of the first Americans to embrace the Fauve palette; a textile artist as well as a painter and printmaker, her painting in the exhibition is an exercise in Cezannesque pictorial tension, with its reverse perspective (the bannister recedes towards the viewer rather than into the distance, a red sill in the foreground is bound together with the wall of a brick building in the distance, the view of the roof through the window is angled up, the stairway tilted to the right). There are six interlocking rectangles in the painting giving the radiant backlit cats a supercharged stage set.

Marguerite Zorach American, (1887-1968,) “Two Cats on Stairs”, ca. 1930, Oil on canvas

Blanche Lazzell American, (1878-1956), “Abstract Petunias”, 1946, Color woodcut on laid Japan paper

Morgantown, West Virginia native Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956), is represented by a painting and a print.  Like Zorach, Lazzell domesticized European innovations: her 1917 loosely pointillist painting of Woodstock, New York, is constructed of large patches of overlapping complementary colors.  It was done at Byrdcliffe, an arts and crafts school well-known for their costumed revels.  Lazzell subsequently worked in Provincetown, Massachusetts – like Louisvillians Fayette Barnum, Maude Ainslie, and Mary Spencer Nay, who also worked there and found opportunities in the less sexist, more relaxed environment of summer art colonies.  Lazzell’s 1946 woodcut, Abstract Petunias, is a cubist arrangement of spiraling flat planes of color: Lazzell was one of many Provincetown woodcut artists, like Cincinnatians Maud Hunt Squires, Ethel Mars and Edna Boies Hopkins, who used Japanese ‘white-line’ woodcut technique.  Many of Hopkins’s most memorable prints depict Appalachians in Eastern Kentucky. 

Thoroughly Modern succeeds because it is an exhibition of unfairly overlooked artists: it provides new visual information for all but specialists in 20th Century painting and decorative arts.  It obliterates conventional distinctions between ornament and abstraction, undermines the primacy of painting and sculpture, and subverts the canonical hierarchy of male artists working in familiar styles.  Most of all, it is an affirmation of the rich and still only partially discovered pathways of modernism.

 

Arts

Daniel Ludwig Presented by The Heike Pickett Gallery

The Heike Pickett Gallery is presenting a retrospective of works by Daniel Ludwig in three locations this spring.

An UnderMain review of these exhibitions is forthcoming, but in the meantime, check out the artwork in person at the following locations.

Daniel Ludwig, “After Image”, 2017, Oil on Linen, 60 x 40 inches

DANIEL LUDWIG: New Works 2016-2018

April 21-June 8

Heike Pickett Gallery & Sculpture Garden

110 Morgan Street

Versailles, KY 40383

Daniel Ludwig, “Woman with Ochre Shade”, 2005, Oil on Linen, 50 x 40 inches

DANIEL LUDWIG:  Paintings and Drawings

April 15-June 8, Gallery Hop May 18th 5 – 8 p.m.

Heike Pickett Gallery at CMW

400 E. Vine St.

Lexington, KY 40507

 

Daniel Ludwig, “Another Season II”, 1996, Oil on Linen, 70 x 54 inches, Private Collection

DANIEL LUDWIG:  RETROSPECTIVE

Thirty-five Years of Artworks in Kentucky Area Collections  

April 22-May 25, Reception April 22nd  5 – 7 p.m.

Anne Wright Wilson Gallery at Georgetown College

Corner of E. College St. and Mulberry

Georgetown, KY 40324

For further information:

www.heikepickettgallery.com

phone: 859-233-1263

email: info@heikepickettgallery.com

Arts

Horse Feathers Fly in Horse Country

The opening notes of “Without Applause,” the first track off the forthcoming Horse Feathers album “Appreciation,” belie the NPR-blessed “Beardy Pacific Northwest Folk-Pop” status the band has achieved in recent years. It’s an up-tempo throwback that feels more at home in the mid-seventies singer-songwriter era than in the catch-all frame of “indie folk.” The ascending melodic lines in a major key, the hint of conga drums, some tasteful soul piano and a big finish complete with choir vocals defy a genre lately stagnating from a distinct lack of these added elements. All this goes to say that Astoria, Oregon-based Horse Feathers isn’t your standard indie folk band. Hell, Horse Feathers isn’t your standard band, period.

Horse Feathers isn’t so much an ongoing group as much as it seems to be a shifting collective of musicians wrapped around the singular songwriting prowess of Justin Ringle. There have been multiple iterations of the outfit in the 14 years since its founding, and the only constant has been Ringle. It’s this unconventional assembly of lineups that refreshes Horse Feathers, providing longevity and a creative wellspring.

“The blessing and the curse of this project and being able to sustain a 14-year project,” says Ringle, “is the fact that I’ve had multiple incarnations of the band.”

Justin Ringle (Horse Feathers) – at home, Astoria, OR | Photo by John Clark

“On one hand, that’s been the Achilles heel – to keep personnel around. But, the positive of that – working with different people and collaborators – has kept the project alive in a different way and kept it interesting for me.”

The current form of the band includes longtime collaborator Nathan Crockett, as well as two new faces rounding out the rhythm section. Of course, these faces may be new to Horse Feathers, but anyone paying attention to Lexington’s burgeoning music scene over the past several years would be able to pick J. Tom Hnatow and Robby Cosenza out of any lineup.

May 4th will see the release of “Appreciation,” an album recorded in Kentucky between La-La Land Studio in Louisville and Shangri-La Productions in Lexington with local recording wunderkind Duane Lundy (for more on Lundy, see “Duane Lundy’s Crossfade Moment”).

“Upon a stop by the studio, while I was in another session,” recalled Lundy, “Justin and I hit it off pretty quickly and found a kinship in texture and depth of field, and how it could potentially serve as an interesting backdrop to Justin’s very intelligent and nuanced songwriting, arrangement, and productions.”

It might sound like a stretch for an Oregon band to record in Kentucky, but Ringle describes it more as a moment of serendipity. He has ties through his partner to Louisville, and he crossed paths with Hnatow and Cosenza on the road on several occasions. When it came time to round out the band for the next album, they came on board and provided the last tie to Shangri-La, where both have been major repertory players in Lundy’s operation.

Duane Lundy | Photo by Brian Powers

Lundy said Horse Feathers presented him with an opportunity to work in a very focused and liberating way. “Justin and the band allowed me a great deal of freedom to engineer, and mix in a way that felt fresh, but an outgrowth of what I had been working towards over the last couple of years.  Working on such detailed material was in particularly refreshing with Tom and Robby on the session.  We were all being challenged to stretch out in some different directions, and it served as a very healthy thing for my own process.”

Solidifying a band with members based nearly 2500 miles apart might seem a daunting task, and it often is.

“It’s us vs. geography in a way,” says Ringle.

Hnatow shrugs it off, however, noting, “I’ve never been in a band that’s all been in the same city.” His time spent in These United States and Vandaveer, both multi-state outfits, gives context to his devil-may-care attitude.

Cosenza sees the distance as even a positive, forcing the group to focus.

“The benefit is we don’t see each other the same way. We do a lot of work in a succinct amount of time.”

Time seems to be the one thing Horse Feathers has plenty of. After 14 years at it, Ringle considers himself a lifer, although he’s fatalistic about what that means. Where others would speak of a life of music-making in only positive terms, Ringle sees in it a certain quiet inevitability.

“You kind of reach a point where – [after] you get into a decade or longer time period – where you don’t know how to leave it,” Ringle said. “I don’t think I’m able to do that. After it becomes your identity, you can’t get away.”

He’s been at it long enough to be able to eschew the standard-issue aspirations of rock superstardom and an endless supply of cash for broader goals of personal enrichment.

“I just want to have different experiences,” says Ringle. “For some, it’s about vertical ascent. For me, it’s all about expanding horizontally into new facets. All I’m looking for are angles.”

Cosenza augments this with his own goal: “I just want Bob Dylan to open for us at Madison Square Garden.”

Arts

Critical Mass II: A Short Video Summary

On Wednesday, March 28th, 2018, UnderMain held its second Critical Mass panel discussion on critical thinking in the arts, examining, in part, what role criticism plays as Kentucky artists and institutions engage more readily with a national and international dialogue. This year, our partners were The Great Meadows Foundation and KMAC Museum, with KMAC Curator Joey Yates moderating. We conducted Critical Mass I in 2016 in partnership with the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Critical Mass III will take place in Northern Kentucky in 2020.

Our featured panelist this year was New York-based curator Dan Cameron. Dan shared his extensive experience as a curator, writer, and critic as well as the inaugural Critic-in-Residence for the Great Meadows Foundation. During his March residency he made studio visits to a number of artists in the region as part of the foundation’s goal to help strengthen and support the critical growth of Kentucky artists’ work.

UnderMain promotes robust critical discourse in our region as it aids in the development of the individual artist and an awareness about Kentucky’s position within the larger art world.  Missions aligned as these three partners believe that exposure to criticism plays an essential part in an artist’s development and a community’s growth. Dan’s thoughts were well-balanced by the insights of our three other panelists, Emily Elizabeth Goodman, Tiffany Calvert, and Vinhay Keo.

For those of you who could not join us, we have composed a short video for you. Ten minutes or so of the juiciest stuff. Hope you enjoy. 

Video and Audio
© 2018 UnderMain, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
UnderMain, Inc. would like to acknowledge the following for helping us organize Critical Mass II and producing this short video:
Julien Robson, Director, Great Meadows Foundation
Joey Yates, Curator, KMAC Museum
John Williams, Principal Photographer / Producer SoundART Management™
HD PERFECT™ VIDEO & PHOTO
Eric Cade Schoenborn, Designer, Culture on Demand
Raleigh Dailey, Pianist/Composer
Savannah Wills, Chellgren scholar
KMAC Staff

PANELISTS:

Dan Cameron

Along with his ongoing curatorial projects, Cameron is a widely published art critic, with several hundred book, 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.

Emily Elizabeth Goodman

Emily Elizabeth Goodman is a Lexington, KY-based art historian, curator and critic and Assistant Professor of Art History at Transylvania University. She received her B.A. from McGill University and her MA and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. Her doctoral research focused on the use of food culture in feminist art in New York and California during the era of the “Second Wave.” Her more recent scholarship and curatorial work — which includes the exhibition New Domesticity concurrently at the Morlan Gallery and the Parachute Factory — has focused on contemporary women artists’ examination of craft and domestic labor in the American South. She is the author of a forthcoming article in the journal Performance Research and writes for various art publications including Number magazine and Hyperallergic.

Tiffany Calvert

Tiffany Calvert is Assistant Professor of Painting at the Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville. Tiffany’s work has been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions including Lawrimore Project in Seattle, Visual Arts Gallery at SVA New York, and Carl & Sloan Contemporary in Portland, OR.  She has been a recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Fellowship and residencies at the ArtOmi International Arts Center (NY) and Djerassi Resident Artists Program (CA). In 2010 she was awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant.

Vinhay Keo

Vinhay Keo is originally from Cambodia, where he spent the first 10 years of his childhood. He earned his BFA from the Kentucky College of Art + Design at Spalding University. He received the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship to study at Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art, a Great Meadows Foundation recipient, participated in workshops such as Anderson Ranch Art Center and Anne West’s writing reflection. His work has been exhibited throughout galleries in Louisville, Kentucky with a recent solo exhibition at Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery.

Vinhay Keo, “Model Minority” from the Confront 2017 series shown at the Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky

 

UnderMain, Inc. – a Kentucky 501(c)(3) – is an arts, cultural, and topical online publication that has a wide bandwidth. Cultural affairs is a big basket. Arts of all kinds, community issues, controversies, contests, events, people, and critical reviews. UM is serious and fun. We love playing in the digital sandbox and presenting vivid content to you, ad-free, as we offer support to some of Kentucky’s most talented writers, artists, and performers. (www.under-main.com)

 Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation, launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands. Named for the home that Al and his late wife Mary created, the mission of Great Meadows Foundation is to critically strengthen and support visual art in Kentucky by empowering our community’s artists and other visual arts professionals to research, connect, and participate more actively in the broader contemporary art world. (www.greatmeadowsfoundation.org)

 KMAC Museum is a contemporary art museum located in the West Main District of downtown Louisville KY. Through exhibitions and educational programs the museum examines the multifaceted landscape of contemporary artistic production and material culture. (www.kmacmuseum.org)

  

 

 

 

 

Published by UnderMain, Inc., P.O. Box 575, Lexington, Kentucky 40388

Arts

Scene&Heard: Marble Creek Rangers at the Elkhorn

The room at Elkhorn Tavern greets its visitors with an inviting warmth as embracing as the tantalizing aroma of BBQ and the fire burning in the fireplace. Closing out the cold and freezing rain pelting the bustling Distillery District on Manchester Street, the room is full of happy, warm folks listening to the Marble Creek Rangers. Between the smell of food, the charms of the fire, all the people glad to be there and loving the music Eric Cummins and his band were providing, it was the perfect place to be on such a cold, dark night.

The Marble Creek Rangers lead is Eric Cummins, who pulled the band together mostly from his other two bands, the more electric sound of the Eric Cummins Band, and the beloved Allman Butter Band. The Rangers are a more acoustic sound, but very eclectic, hitting everything from Johnny Cash to Gillian Welch, The Allman Brothers, Billy Joe Shaver and Alejandro Escovedo in their covers, mixed with originals mostly written by Cummins, with a fast, upbeat bluegrass sound. But even those are not just Bluegrass.

“We cut a wide swath,” Cummins says of his band’s diverse tastes and talents. Joined by Martie Clough on bass and harmony, Brandon Bowlds on mandolin and harmony, Mike DeLong on drums and Don Rogers on fiddle and singing, the Marble Creek Rangers are a powerhouse of solid musical talent.

The room was full of people grateful to be off work on a cold Friday night. UK had just won the game, their colors were adorned on sweatshirts and hats throughout the room, the playoffs played silently on the television behind the bar, and the feel in the room was so comfortable. The Elkhorn Tavern serves food ordered at the bar, everything from beer cheese plates to BLT’s and Hot Browns. Serving a diverse selection of spirits, including their own brands of several kinds, the Tavern gives the feel of an old neighborhood pub. The stone walls, hardwood, classic bar candles burning and animal trophies adorn the space, and the Rangers fit perfectly by the closed tasting room.

The drums were nestled back in the corner, Eric’s back was to the door and the sound of the band resonated and filled the space. Everyone seemed happy: happy to be there, happy the game was won, happy the band was playing high-quality songs with a good vibe.

Eric’s voice is solid, he can shift from Johnny Cash to Gillian Welch to Bruce Springsteen smoothly. His band is tight and has his back at every step, with every note. The fiddle and the mandolin partner perfectly, taking turns with their parts and making the music so alive folks were dancing around the room. Whether two-stepping or just shaking it where they stood, it was clear they were quite pleased with what they heard.

“Our best gigs come when folks are music lovers out in the crowd,” Eric later commented, and that synergy was clear on this recent night at Elkhorn. Musicians and crowd exchanged energies, and the friendly staff handing out delicious plates of food and good drinks made the fit quite pleasant.

 The Rangers feed off the crowd as well-seasoned musicians do, and reflected that in their playing. They are the kind of band that can play steadily to a crowd full of talking people but still command their attention enough that they all join in on the chorus. Their songs are recognizable, and the originals they bring into the mix perfectly with the sound. Eric and the band do not do setlists for gigs. Rather, they have a treasure trove of songs they all know and have played together, and even more they could fall into with Eric’s lead should he feel inspired to do so. That is the beauty of a well-seasoned band of great musicians.

Fellow musicians have called Eric fearless in the past, winging gigs with faith in his musical talent and his bandmates. “In everything I do I like the element of danger. If it works out it’s a big thrill, like ‘hey we did it!’…people don’t mind seeing you be human. That’s the fun thing about getting off your couch and going to see someone play…something will happen.”

After a long life where he attempted music full time, even busking down in Florida, and realized it wasn’t a solid “business plan” for a man with a family and wanting a home, he began working at Wilcutt Guitars on Southland Drive and has worked there ever since. He knows many successful rock stars through his work but is happy to be a local musician who makes music with his friends after work is done, and gets to play for receptive crowds like the folks at Elkhorn last night.

Cummins on Lexington…

“That’s the rewarding thing for me at this point: to go and play well and have fun making music with my friends.”

Eric plays regularly around town. You can catch The Eric Cummins Band at Parlay Social in downtown Lexington and the Paddy Wagon in Richmond regularly. The Allman Butter Band is playing The Burl on March 31st, and Marble Creek Rangers will be back at The Elkhorn Tavern later this month and are playing Inclusion Palooza at the Moondance Amphitheater April 21st.

After the Elkhorn show, Cara sat down for a chat with Eric Cummins:

Arts

The Art of Collage and Assemblage Take Wing

In his Rooftop Soliloquy, Roman Payne states that “All forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art.”  Collage and assemblage artist Carleton Wing could take umbrage to this statement but I doubt that he would. When he began making art in the early 1980s, he considered himself an introvert, a shy person with low self-esteem and his art was a safe way for him to assert himself quietly.

Wing is no stranger to the Lexington arts scene where he owned and operated Wingspan Gallery for several years on the corner of Jefferson and Second Street.  He sold the gallery six years ago after being diagnosed with leukemia and his only option for survival (20 percent) was a bone marrow transplant. Facing better odds (70 percent) in Florida than in Kentucky, he moved to Tampa where he received a stem cell transplant from a 20-year-old male donor living in Germany. Now back in Lexington, his life has undergone a transformation and his art a transfiguration.  Both speak the unspeakable. They shine.

Wing in his studio getting a big hug and kiss from Bella for being a good boy and sticking to his schedule. | Photo by Jim Fields

Wing creates his collages and assemblages by “removing familiar images and objects from their original context and rearranging them to illustrate a new notion or idea.” Although his subject matter is serious—gender, religion, war, politics, and class, he often uses satirical titles and humor to further engage his viewers, to make them think and maybe walk away with a smile on their face.

The Cownolfini Wedding, a take-off of Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding, is prime beef. George Orwell’s Animal Farm came to mind when I first saw it. The pigs, Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer may be missing from the scene but Animalism still rules the day. The period garb of the two central figures is borrowed directly from van Eyck, and Wing’s crafty placement of the mirror on the tree not only reflects the rear-view image of the original painting but also serves as a reminder that we occasionally need to take a closer look at ourselves—even hindsight will do.

The Cownolfini wedding took place on a pleasant October day in New Hampshire. Her two children, from a previous marriage, look on as the Magistrate enjoys the sun and the Mayor sings Ave Maria

Unlike the bride in Cownolfini, Katrina is not the marrying kind. A hurricane of a woman, she is more like Brunnehilda who, in myth, could be approached only by a man able to surpass her in strength. Wing’s title provides levity and perspective to a perplexing and unsettling work because it imposes a different order on our preconceived notions of reality and sexuality. It is ambiguous and symbolic; it is the surreal inner voice of a bizarre dream.

Katrina has little use for men.

Wing has a definite kinship with artists like Salvador Dali and Renne Magritte, contending that surrealism can actually bring us closer to reality because it mimics the contradictions and absurdities of the “real” world.  And there is method to his madness. Had he given this piece a different title such as The Lady or the Tiger, it would have altered the narrative and the way we look at it.

At the outset of his career 35 years ago, Wing relied on countless images from glossy magazines such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Architectural Digest for his constructions.  However, the translucent multi-layering effect that characterizes his more recent work was not possible with opaque paper cut-outs. The Internet, Adobe, and archival quality digital printing now provide him with endless resources and creative possibilities, bringing his story-telling to new level.

So for Wing, making art is about making choices and then seeing where it leads.  His process begins with a single image or object that interests him and then he subconsciously adds other images until he discovers what he is trying to say or until a story emerges, at which point he consciously takes control and works with intent based on how he wants the narrative to unfold as in Jesus Wanders.

Jesus wanders the wilderness on the best he could get from Steeds-R-Us Rentals

Here, Wing brings the Temptation of Christ into the 21st century and Jesus is not exactly slouching toward Bethlehem. He sits upright on a humble beast that travels slightly faster than the speed of a turtle, so he will have plenty of time to absorb the wilderness of modern civilization.  It is a complex composition with a penetrating sense of perspective and perception.

The desert is dotted with vignettes, each with its own story.  Is that Mary Magdalene sitting there in the lower left with her greyhound?  Every line and object, particularly the road and buildings, contribute to the visual depth of the image except for the decorative figure of Christ on the rhinoceros. It is flat, non-dimensional, and stops the eye before it can wander any farther into the landscape.  He stares directly at us perhaps leaving us with that single all-important question: What will (not would) Jesus do?  I suspect he may stop in at Jax’s for a round with the locals before he heads into town.

But In the Great Hall poses a different question—one of self-examination. Evoking consternation rather than a smile, it demonstrates Wing’s power to draw in viewers with his process of digitally layering multiple images with such translucency that it is next to impossible to feel you are looking at a single work of art.  From the dogs guarding the chicken-footed framed faces that haunt the foreground and the diaphanous swooning females on each side of the background to the pair of eyes overseeing all, the artist presents an allegorical narrative on human nature—we, too, get to make choices.

In the Great Hall of Consequences, Grief and Atonement

The rather stern Miss Sturgehill, however, appears to be propelled by a lot of confidence and few regrets.  Besides never having lost a road rally, she never misses a photo op either.  Wing’s wit, sarcasm, and humor come to the fore in this collage and, being a cat lover, I like to think it began with the single image of the devoted and fearless feline, Mr. Whiskers.

Miss Sturgehill has never lost a road rally with Mr. Whiskers as her navigator.

In most of Wing’s collages, as apparent in Miss Sturgehill and Christopher’s Pastime, the heads are a bit too big for the bodies; the size of various objects are not in direct proportion to others far or near, and the perspective, in general, is a little off-kilter. No, you are not suffering from Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AiWS), but you are experiencing Wing’s playful Lewis Carroll effect where both the familiar and unfamiliar are distorted to make us rethink what we think we see or know—or to simply make up our own stories. 

Christopher’s favorite pastime is playing with his friend Randy.

Wing embarks on a similar journey with his assemblages, beginning with a single object and then improvising until it takes a form that dictates what he should do next.  His Warrior Turtle began with a turtle shell, a doll’s head mold, and a pair of bronzed baby shoes.  The rest came from whatever he had on hand that knew it belonged to the warrior.

Turtle Warrior (front view)

The codpiece is actually a corn husker; the arms, forks; the weapons, a spear and a kosh; and the headgear, mangrove seed pods. The pieces of leather overlapping the shoulders, the leopard skin fabric, the beads, and the iconic crosses strengthen the ceremonial primitive spirit of this warrior king.

Turtle Warrior (rear view)

The back of the warrior is flanked with seashells and adorned with a deer’s tail.  The anklets which look like chainmail are made from gutter guard.  I think you get the point. Question: When is a potato peeler not a potato peeler?  Answer: When it gets into the hands of Carleton Wing. 

Two years into recovery from his stem cell transplant Wing came back to his drawing board and it renewed his spirit, aided his healing, and improved his outlook on life.  His recent collages of secular mandalas, 10 of which now hang in the Markey Cancer Center, further demonstrate to us an artist who sees the infinite in the finite, who sees many worlds within the one we all share.

Bee Eater

These mandalas, geometric figures that represent the universe, also signify our search for completeness and self-unity. They have no beginning and no end. The patterns and designs are as infinite as those of the snowflake and as limitless as our imagination when we are not afraid to open our eyes. This is the perspicacity Wing shares with us through amazing works of art such as Bee Eater and Orchid.

Orchid

I had some questions for Wing:

And…

Wing has two upcoming shows. The first, Short Stories from the Near Side, at the Carnegie Center’s newly renovated Skydome – 251 West Second St. (859-254-4175), opens on Friday, March 16 with a Gallery Hop reception from 5-8 pm, and closes on May 14, 2018.

The second, Sharing Time and Space, an exhibition of his Mandalas in a duo show at M.S. Rezny Studio/Gallery – 903 Manchester St. (859-252-4647), runs from April 10 through May 26, 2018. An artist’s talk is scheduled on May 12 from 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, and a closing Gallery Hop reception 5-8 pm on May 18, 2018.

(All images courtesy of the artist)

Arts

Illuminating The Underrepresented: Presenting Edward Melcarth

Two recent exhibitions in Lexington, Kentucky operate as a collaborative undertaking that sheds light on an artist left to historical obscurity, yet one whose creative fervor and technical skill equate with his contemporaries. Edward Melcarth: Rough Trade at Institute 193 and Edward Melcarth: Points of View, on view at the University of Kentucky Art Museum through April 8, delve through the canon of American Modernism and uncover a lost gem: Edward Melcarth (1914-1973).

Melcarth left his hometown of Louisville in his youth for New York, where he would spend most of his adult life and made the majority of the paintings in the two exhibitions. And it shows—Melcarth’s canvases describe the nuanced intersections of maritime industry, physical labor, and leisure time experienced by the working class in many of America’s booming coastal hubs during the mid-1900s.

On view are an abundance of portraits and figurative scenes created during a historical moment when abstraction reigned as the premier American style. Yet a visitor who enters Institute 193 or the UK Art Museum is sure to detect traces of certain methods employed by abstract painters, especially in the expressiveness and vitality of Melcarth’s brushwork and handling of paint.

​Installation View, Edward Melcarth: Rough Trade, ​​​​​Institute 193, Lexington, KY. Courtesy Institute ​​​​​​193.

Indeed, Melcarth depicts his subjects with an apparent responsibility for the preservation of their individual identities. At Institute 193, a display of thirteen solo portraits indicates the nature and implications of Melcarth’s identity as a homosexual man living during an era when overt, often physical demonstrations of masculinity domineered nearly every social realm (recall Hans Namuth’s photographs of Jackson Pollock in his studio forcefully flinging paint onto canvas in 1950).

As for Melcarth’s paintings, rarely are the men looking directly at the viewer. In “Man Leaning on a Windowsill”, a shorthaired, shirtless man folds his arms as he diverts his stare downward out of a white frame. He is muscular and young, and Melcarth captures the light that hits his skin in a rich spectrum of warm tones. The man is literally and figuratively undressed, removed from labor and the outside world; here he is himself, and Melcarth is seemingly cognizant of the man’s identity as well as the potential for his painting to serve as reflection of the artist’s own sexuality.

Edward Melcarth, “Man Leaning on Windowsill”, oil ​​​​​on canvas, 20 x 16”.

Not all of the men featured in Rough Trade, however, are as evasive or exposed as the subject in “Man Leaning on a Windowsill”. The majority are clothed with their heads raised, and Melcarth utilizes numerous formal elements to evoke the social pressure he—and presumably the men he paints—endured to conceal their homosexuality from the public eye, not least of which is the application of stark lighting.

Light in Melcarth’s portraits frequently discloses, whereas shadows are vehicles for concealment. In addition, Melcarth at times positions the bodies of his figures away from the viewer, as if to represent the pressure he and the men he painted felt to shutter their identity from the public realm. The man in “Blond Youth with Brown Jacket” turns his head over his back towards the viewer, careful not to make eye contact. He whistles, denying conversation, and his reversed position implies his intention to move beyond the scene. Although his stature is unmoving in the painting, he signals uneasiness or perhaps surprise, seemingly taken unaware by the viewer’s presence.

Edward Melcarth: Points of View, Installation view, University of Kentucky Art Museum

Edward Melcarth: Points of View, Installation view, University of Kentucky Art Museum

At the UK Museum, themes shift from intimate portraiture to Melcarth’s life and vast capabilities as an artist. In Points of View, Melcarth’s breadth of expertise is showcased in paintings, sculptures, and drawings of still lifes, physical labor, bar scenes, and more. The array of artworks exemplify why, according to the exhibition’s statement, collectors during and after Melcarth’s life, such as Peggy Guggenheim and Steve Forbes, were drawn to his divergence from the periodic norm of abstraction. Melcarth’s ability to work in large-scale is arguably the focal point of Points of View; his monumental paintings marry classical themes and mid-twentieth century ways of life.

In “Excavation”, two men tend to a sea vessel’s floor. One man holds a large rope in his hands that is seen snaking over the boat’s edge in the background, while another man in a white sleeveless shirt rushes to his shipmate’s aid. The painting, like many other artworks in the exhibition, focuses on men engaging in a physically demanding activity, the contours and motion of their bodies exaggerated to the point of fascination. What’s more, what “Excavation” shares with it’s neighboring objects is a unique, inward looking viewing angle. Melcarth’s expert translation of this seafaring task is compelling in both its simplicity and accuracy, but “Excavation” is most intriguing as an indication of the artist’s capability to mold a remarkable composition.

Edward Melcarth, “Excavation”, oil on canvas. Collection of Timothy Forbes, New York

Melcarth pursues visceral movement as subject matter throughout Points of View, as evinced in works like “Rape of the Sabines”. The title of the painting refers to a well-known Roman myth that carries motifs of abduction and calamity; artists throughout history, including Giambologna and Picasso, have employed the myth as inspiration for their art. The iteration on view at the UK Museum, which contains figures twisted amongst themselves rendered with anatomical accuracy, is a testament to Melcarth’s dedication to precision when illustrating the human form.

Edward Melcarth, “Rape of the Sabines”, oil on canvas. Collection of Steve Forbes, New York

Where Melcarth breaks from other artists’ versions, however, is the portrayal of men—not only women—as victims of violence committed by other men. Possibly a subtle invocation of suppressed sexuality Melcarth and some of his subjects endured during their lives, “Rape of the Sabines” stands as a definitive expansion of timeless material.

​Edward Melcarth, “Last Supper”, c. 1960s, oil on ​​​​​​canvas, Collection of Steve Forbes, New York.

But it is Melcarth’s “Last Supper” that draws considerable attention in the museum. Painted on a canvas that is elongated horizontally, Melcarth’s take on Jesus’s final meal before his crucifixion allows viewers to act as witnesses to a crowded bar of young, working-class men in bustling conversation, dodging other bar patrons, and attempting to hail the bartender. The countertop is scattered with bits of food and spilled mugs, and viewers are able to peer into the shelf below the bar’s surface accessible only to servers, which contains a range of food and dishes.

Historically, many artists make clear which disciple is Judas when describing the Last Supper, usually by turning him from the viewer or filling his hand with a sack of coins. In Melcarth’s scene, the man in the yellow shirt, with his left tricep flexed toward viewers, potentially fits this mold, but his role as bartender—the one serving others—arguably positions him as Jesus.

Melcarth, here, appears to imply that good and evil function not as a binary but as a spectrum in which the difference between the two is difficult to detect. An insight to his personal experiences, perhaps: Melcarth was an outspoken communist during his life whose sexual orientation and political views combined for reason enough for the FBI to keep a close eye on his activity, as noted by the exhibition statement at Institute 193.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s interpretation of the Last Supper is possibly the one that resonates most in public consciousness. In it, Jesus is situated at the center of the table, arms spread in an upside-down “V” formation. In the far right of Melcarth’s painting, a man in a red shirt mirrors Jesus’s position. Although he overlooks the scene, rather than frontally facing the viewer as Jesus does in Da Vinci’s work, his arms descend in the same arrangement. Were this hunched man in red Jesus, Melcarth’s scene would only simulate half of Da Vinci’s composition—viewers are only able to see the left half of the famed Renaissance fresco. Under this reading, Melcarth omits a crucial section of a dominant trope. His work is, inevitably, incomplete. Totality is withheld—a recurring theme as it pertains to the representation of identity in both Melcarth exhibitions.

The statement for Points of View calls the project a “homecoming of sorts, a chance to assess and appreciate” Melcarth’s work and career. Although the forces that have omitted Melcarth from the history of art are called into question with a critical eye, exhibitions at Institute 193 and the UK Museum function most pertinently as a joint celebration that posits Melcarth as an artist deserving of substantial recognition. As Rough Trade and Points of View indicate, Melcarth necessitated a conceptual break from popular forms of mid-century artmaking. These exhibitions are departure points for exploring why Melcarth diverted from abstraction, ultimately reexamining what we know about the trajectory of art.

Edward Melcarth: Points of View runs through April 8, 2018 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Edward Melcarth: Rough Trade showed at Institute 193 from January 13 – February 17, 2018. Both institutions are located in Lexington, KY.

Arts

WRFL hits ‘Big 3-0’

WRFL, at 88.1 on the FM dial, has been fulfilling its mission in Lexington for an incredible thirty years. Next weekend, March 2nd through March 4th, WRFL will be throwing an epic party in celebration of thirty years as a pivotal force in Lexington.

Photo by Arden Barnes

WRFL was started back in 1988, when “College radio was a vibrant media platform for punk rock and alternative music culture,” says Phillip Kisling, the station’s promotions director. After a year of research and fundraising by Kakie Urch, lovingly referred to as their “punk rock godmother”, WRFL hit the airwaves to offer Lexington “a source of music, news and other programming not regularly found through other media outlets in central Kentucky.” In doing so, the station has been foundational in the education and training of many of Lexington’s broadcasters, sound engineers, and music producers, fulfilling the first part of their mission, “to provide its members with professional training and guidance in radio operations management, program development, and quality broadcast performance.”

For thirty years, WRFL has been providing a creative and informative outlet for Lexington and has helped greatly in fostering a sense of community around town in the music and art we celebrate. While affiliated with UK, WRFL works with the entire community, accepting interns from many area colleges. Students in fields such as broadcasting, journalism, marketing, business, engineering, music or art can find a place to learn their career with hands-on training and encouraged creativity.

Being a DJ at WRFL is an opportunity many around Lexington can claim. They have an open door policy at the station: as long as folks commit to three training weekends and some studio time shadowing an experienced DJ, anyone in the community –not just UK students, can host a show of any theme as long as the content complies with FCC and UK stipulations.

Featuring everything from social activism, to mental health issues, LGBTQ topics, to Russian radio, WRFL is a blank canvas that encourages the creativity of the community to thrive. “We’re really an open door, despite being in a basement,” Ben and Phil joked, and are excited for when the studio gets to move into the new Student Center that is currently under construction.

WRFL has provided that “bridge or handshake” between UK students and the city where they may be finding themselves for the first time. Kisling spoke of how he hated Lexington when he arrived as a UK undergrad from Louisville: “It wasn’t until I found WRFL that Lexington opened up to me.” The station became an introduction to Lexington’s alternative music and art scene, and in turn, many of those musicians and artists have appeared in the studio or have been a dj themselves.

All of this successful collaboration, creativity and love for commercial free radio will culminate in the 30th Birthday Bash for WRFL happening over an entire weekend at The Burl. The lineup for the venue is to celebrate WRFL, and will feature a special draft from Blue Stallion Brewery, a mango IPA called “The Only Alternative Left”, celebrating the station’s motto.

Washed Out is the big headliner on Friday the 2nd, with openers Idiot Glee and Helado Negro.

Kisling and Allen are very excited to bring such a big name to Lexington, offering their supporters and audience a chance to see a band they would normally have to travel a long distance to pay much more money to see at a bigger, less intimate venue. There is an after party for that show as well, featuring Hell Bent Hearts, Just a Test, and The Yellow Belts.

Saturday’s festivities begin during the day at the Downtown Arts Center, where thirty years of DJs will reunite and celebrate at a free, family-friendly exhibit of Rifle Magazine, the station’s program guide. The evening will be back at The Burl headlining Cults, with openers Ellie Herring, Hair Police and Devine Carama, along with an after-dance party with DJ’s.

The next day they are hosting a “Hangover Brunch” and are bringing in all the nostalgia, with bands that were playing when WRFL was first hitting the airwaves all those years ago, featuring Ten Foot Pole and Nine Pound Hammer, along with the younger phenoms of Johnny Conqueroo. That brunch also promises to feature a collaboration between the generations when some of the original musicians will be performing with their own musical kids, as the generations pass the baton and the great music keeps on playing.

Such a magical celebration the folks at WRFL have put together for us, a celebration of thirty years of alternative music on commercial free airwaves, a collaboration of some of the best and hardest working creative minds in town. For thirty years WRFL has held true to the mission, and next weekend’s celebration promises to be an incredible apex for the “Only Alternative Left.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Phillip Kisling and Ben Allen:

Arts

Lavish! Capturing Nature’s Beauty One Stitch at a Time

“If people fall in love with something, they’re more likely to take care of it, so I thought, ‘what suggests care and love’, and I thought that embroidering was an interesting one because we embroider things we care about.”

Lavish!: New Work by Zoé Strecker is the latest exhibit on display at Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery by Associate Professor of Art, Zoé Strecker. Its purpose is to showcase the beauty of Pine Mountain, which is a natural community of the most biodiverse forests in Kentucky. “It’s actually the second most biodiverse temperate forest in the whole world, like the entire planet, except there’s a spot in China that’s very similar but has greater elevation differences,” said Strecker,  “This little treasure is just three hours from here and maybe unappreciated. I just wanted to do work about it and had started making notes, doing some writing, and it just was an idea that grew from how do I help other people fall in love with this place.”

Strecker gathered mainly volunteer embroiderers in groups or as individuals from various places around Kentucky as well as across the nation. These volunteers stitched over top of images taken primarily by Strecker of the natural communities of Pine Mountain, which she also edited into a circular shape, and printed out onto silk organza. The stitching enhanced the images by giving them depth with a 3D appearance. Some of the photos taken were close-ups of tree trunks that had moss or some sort of growth on them, and this is where Strecker or one of the volunteers would stitch to create an interesting effect for people.

Preparation in Strecker’s studio

“I imagine them [the images] as windows into each of the types of forest communities,”  Strecker said.

She proceeded to show me the various circular panels, where a large portion of the stitching was done by volunteer embroiderers. Good news doesn’t always spread quickly, but in this case, it did. Finding volunteers wasn’t difficult Strecker said, “Here in Lexington, I just invited people that I knew, and people associated with Transy friends, and then they invited friends or posted to Facebook, and their friends said ‘that’s so cool, may I come stitch?’”

Strecker stitching over image photographed on Pine Mountain

While the pieces themselves are stunning, the design of the exhibit is certainly something to be noted. The major, circular installation that holds the pieces measures 22 feet in length, and 10 feet in height, and is positioned off to the left side of Morlan Gallery. Strecker said she designed the space to help people feel as if they were surrounded by nature. “I made a bent wood frame and it has sheer walls and then these [panels] hang on it. Everything was done to be as minimal as it could be so that it has a very meditative, ethereal feeling in the space, and I also have audio of the forest, I have sounds of the background, water, wind, trees and bird sounds and bird calls. I also have aroma in the show, so all of these things are gonna come together,” she said.

One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is that it will continue to evolve, even after opening in the gallery. “The project will continue during the exhibition, it will continue after the exhibition, so we will keep stitching. There will be at least three more images and then there are lots of small ones also that are individual organisms. It’s a living work in progress” Strecker said, “It will continue, at least through the end of the summer for the stitching part, because there are three more big ones, but I’ll look for more exhibition opportunities that may include more stitching too.”

The process of putting this show together took place over a period of years and required extensive research and time. Strecker has been formulating the ideas for Lavish! since 2014, and began to conduct the research and do the traveling over the following few years.

Lavish! is especially unique from other art exhibits in the sense (literally) that aromas accompany the artwork.  “I had spent a fair amount of time over the last few years on and off researching perfumers who dealt with non-traditional smells, in other words not just flowery types of perfumes you think about wearing, but smells that you connect to a place, and I found several different individuals and companies that do that, and in the end I was able to get some that were affordable that are separate accents,” Strecker said.

She visited perfumers in their spaces to explore and research the scents, but in the end, “I just had to smell them with my nose.” she laughed. “I have six separate things that will be emanating through the space and I have them in little miniature vaporizers that look like little humidifiers, and I mix a very little of the perfume with water, and it just sort of gently emanates through the space.” Strecker is eager to see how the scents play out in the space she was given. “I’ve tested this all out in my studio, but to put it in that space which has a different square footage and a different heating system, and has different objects in it, I’m just so eager to see how well it works, but it’s up for a month, so I can tweak it. I can start with how I think the scents will be most powerful and then increase or decrease things. It’s definitely a living project” she laughed.

A display of images concealing small vaporizer placed behind on a small shelf

It was easy to see that Strecker was eager to finally get the show open after all the work she and everyone else has put into this exhibit. “I guess what I’m really curious about is whether it creates this sort of meditative, contemplative space I think it will and because I worked on the parts separately and they’re coming together for the first time all in one space in the show. I personally want to see if it is creating that space the way I think it will. And of course I get a chance to see how other people react, and that’s the fun and also maybe the terror of putting something in public. But I feel that this has been so supported already by people involved in it that I’m not really afraid, I’m more excited.”

These pieces appear all around the circular structure, imitating how they would appear in nature.

The idea for this project originated almost twenty-three years ago, when naturalist for the state, Marc Evans, discovered what he thought was an old growth forest while doing aerial surveys of the Pine Mountain area. Strecker said, “It was way bigger than he thought, and they saw that the massive tree crowns went further and further than he ever imagined, and they checked on the ground and found that it was true.”

Evans was in the same circle of friends as Strecker, and Pine Mountain sparked her interest when she heard about the discovery. “I’ve always loved wild places, I’ve always been a hiker and an outdoors person every since I was tiny, so I just became fascinated and kind of got involved.”

Strecker said that besides taking the photos for the project, she loved being out in the secluded forest. “Being out in the forest for long stretches of time, just sort of getting to know the sounds and the visuals of the place and the smell—all of those things, I just love them so much.”

An image that was heavily embroidered to create a 3D effect.

“For a few of the natural communities, I went with botanists who were doing fieldwork, so there were two people from the Kentucky State Nature Reserves Commission who were full time botanists, and they go out and do field work. I asked if I could come along, and they went off trail and they were counting species I was just looking for photo opportunities. That was really fun, you know, we had to move by GPS and we had to wear snake gators because we were going way off the trail, and we carried bear repellant in case, so we were very far out there.”

In addition to the main pieces in the exhibit, there’s also an exhibition within the exhibit on the other side of the gallery, by artists who are a part of the Pine Mountain Collective, which is a retreat that lasts three days at Pine Mountain and is co-hosted by Strecker. The retreat has been attended by over 100 artists, some who have work displayed in Morlan Gallery.

The artists chosen for the Inspired by Wild Places exhibit were Brian and Sara Turner, Rebecca  Allan, Erika Strecker, and Vallorie Henderson. “We have a show within the show, and an evening of musicians and readers,” Strecker said.

Lavish!
 is on exhibit in Morlan Gallery through April 2nd. There will be an art talk with Strecker on Thursday, March 8th at 6 p.m. in the gallery, and Wild Things: Selected Artists from the Pine Mountain Sessions on Friday, March 23rd from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. in Carrick Theater, which is also located in the Mitchell Fine Arts building.

Arts

The Nude: Brutal Beauty at Lexington Art League

Nudity and nakedness are complicated and often overlapping concepts in the history of art; while historically, nudity has been associated with heroism, virility, divinity, and confidence, and nakedness considered a state of vulnerability, shame, and lasciviousness, contemporary artists have continually blurred the boundaries between these two concepts, leading to new understandings of the bare human form.

In the Lexington Art League’s exhibition, The Nude: Brutal Beauty, now on view at Loudon House, the connotations of both nudity and nakedness—as well as their points of intersection—are on full display, creating a show that questions the historical provenance of nudity in art, as well as our own understanding of nakedness today. Furthermore, building on the dialectic between nudity and nakedness, the works in this exhibition challenge us to consider other diametrically positioned notions, specifically the distinctions of past/present, West/East, human/animal, internal/external, or dead/alive. The result of the exhibition, which spans two floors and contains work by over 20 artists from around the world, is a thorough survey of many of the complex issues that arise when considering the stripped down human form.

One of the prevalent issues the exhibition examines is how our contemporary understanding of nudity is not only informed by but also challenges that of previous moments. Two artists in particular, James Volkert and Kiana Honarmand, appropriate canonical, art historical portrayals of nudity in order to make comments on the state of the body in art and society more broadly in our current time. For instance, in his piece la beaute, comme la verite: After Courbet, Volkert has appropriated two (in)famous images by 19th century French realist Gustave Courbet, Sleep and L’Origine du Monde, both of which brought scandal upon Parisian society for their frank depiction of women’s sexuality and the sexualized female body. Volkert has placed the works on rotating slats, the handles of which employ another historical nude—the Venus de Milo—and which can be turned to create one of 2048 possible combinations, pointing to the shifting and ever changing conceptions of nudity and nakedness from antiquity to the Victorian era to the present day, a notion further underscored by Volkert’s inclusion of Courbet’s own words: “La beaute, come la verite, depend de l’epoque ou l’on vit” (“Beauty, like truth is relative to the time one lives”).

James Volkert, “la beaute, comme la verite: After Courbet”

Like Volkert, Honarmand also considers the implications of historical nudes on the present moment, but her appropriation of imagery—largely history paintings from the Italian and Northern Renaissance—involves a more direct intervention on the form in an effort to make an explicit comment on contemporary politics, specifically covering over the naked bodies with lines of Farsi poetry, blocks of color and pattern, and, occasionally, sculptural elements, all of which are derived from traditional Iranian art. The resulting covering of these bodies with this kind of imagery is a direct comment on the programs of censorship and modesty in Honarmand’s native Iran. This gesture also calls into question the role of nudity in both Western and Middle Eastern art and society, both historically and in the present.

Kiana Honarmand, “The Birth of Cupid 2”

In addition to attending to temporal and geographic dualities with regard to the nude, the exhibition also sheds light on how nakedness is a defining line between humans, the only species to clothe our bodies, and all other animals. For instance, Canadian artist Jessica Sallay-Carrington’s ceramic pieces, Self-Love, Preening, and her serial works Bits and Pieces 1 & 2, involve a hybridization of animal heads—often derived from more than one species, like the rabbit face and ears, lamb’s neck and goat horns in Bits and Pieces 1 & 2—that rest upon a naked human body. Similarly, in his photolithographs, Bathers and Nora, Lexington-based artist Todd Herzberg also juxtaposes bird heads on human bodies, but in these cases, Herzberg makes clear that the hybridity is merely masquerade, as we can see the eyes of each of the humans peering out through a slit in the bird’s neck. In both artists’ works, however, Herzberg and Sallay-Carrington call attention to the limits of associating human nakedness with animal nudity.

Jessica Sallay-Carrington, “Preening”

Todd Herzberg, “Bathers”

At the same time, other artists explore the very human nature of nakedness, looking at nudity and exposure as a fundamental aspect of our shared experience as a species and as a community. In his photographs The Head and The Body I, Jim Allen juxtaposes anatomical imagery—a diagram of the intracranial structures and of the muscles of the torso, respectively—onto the body of an older man. The result is an exposure not just of the nude body, but of the naked structures that lie beneath it, revealing the viscera that is common to all humans. This gesture thus uncovers that nakedness does not stop at the surface level, highlighting the vulnerability that is implicit in both exposing our bodies internally and externally.

Finally, while Allen’s work calls into question the duality between the internal and external forms of the human anatomy, Vinhay Keo’s work Surge from his series Sanctuary/Purgatory considers the dichotomy between the living body and that of the dead. In this image, Keo, whose body has been painted white, appears splayed out in a white cave partially buried within a mound of shredded paper; his head, arms, and one leg emerge from the pile, giving the appearance of a dismembered corpse in the process of decay. The whiteness of his skin evokes the image of bodies covered in lime that have been found in mass graves at the site of numerous atrocities, further underscoring the idea that this body is, in fact, deceased. Yet the position of the body, the tilt of his head and the haphazard placement of the arms, might also suggest that he is not quite dead, but rather has endured “la petite-mort”—a French euphemism for orgasm—and has fallen back into the embrace of the pile as a result of this ecstasy. This ambiguity thus reveals how nakedness has a connotation of both life and death, especially in considering the body during moments of temporary or complete surrender.

Vinay Keo, “Self-Purgation”

Many other complicated distinctions arise throughout the work within the exhibition, especially when considering the sheer volume of art that it contains. As a survey of the nude in contemporary art, and one that aimed to allow the artists to “present depictions and investigations of their own perspective on the human figure in all its rawness and wonder,” it has certainly succeeded to capture a breadth of different interpretations thereof. The exhibition therefore builds on the long tradition of nudity and nakedness within art history and does so in a way that shows that there are still further avenues to explore even within the most conventional areas of artistic portrayal.

Images provided by the Lexington Art League.

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

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

‘A Little Bit’ More Working to Be a Whole Lot More

“Music is our drug of choice, I guess you could say,” said Jill Hamlin, one half, the other being Reed Fields, of the duo A Little Bit More.

As vices go, there are less expensive ones than music, but to Hamlin and Reed, it’s the one that exists as a lifelong pursuit, as necessary as oxygen.

“It’s kind of just like breathing. If we didn’t have music, I don’t think we’d be able to survive,” said Hamlin.

By day, both Hamlin and Fields work with youth. Hamlin, who has a Master’s in Social Anthropology Ethnomusicality from Queen’s Unversity Belfast in Northern Ireland, is a program director for Sunrise Children’s Services, while Fields applies his Master’s in Teaching at Bath County High School. By night, the pair set out to spin heartrending ballads and straight barroom rockers in joints stretching from the iconic Bluebird Cafe in Nashville to New England.

What comes through on “Silhouettes,” their debut album, is a back-to-basics approach. The duo seeks to showcase in their influences, ranging from rock to gospel, but they aren’t necessarily interested in deconstructing the country genre in the same vein as fellow eastern Kentuckians Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. They brand their music as Americana, but it often exists more as a strain of purer country, the kind not heard ever since a more modern, pop sound has taken root in the mainstream. Shades of Emmylou Harris shine through, and the compressed finger-picked acoustic on the opening of “I Don’t Lie to You” might be at home on any of Steve Earles seminal albums. Both are cited influences on A Little Bit More’s work, but nothing feels forced.

In fact, authenticity is part of what makes A Little Bit More so familiar and lived-in. When there’s a bit of Eastern Kentucky accent shining through in the lyrics, it’s genuine expression rather than affectation. Hamlin and Fields sing how they talk – they aren’t exaggerating it for effect, and they aren’t toning it down to satisfy contrived mainstream appeal (for more on the complications surrounding an Eastern Kentucky accent, head here: http://www.under-main.com/proper-english-yall/). That sense of place anchors the music, and the lyrics reflect their Owingsville, Kentucky, setting, plumbing both the dark and light sides for depth.

“Music is about celebrating,” said Hamlin. “It’s about bringing to light good things and bad things.”

Reed Fields | Photo by Chrissy Perkins Photography

Jill Hamlin | Photo by Chrissy Perkins Photography

Both the good and the bad abound in the text of A Little Bit More’s music. Hamlin’s plaintive vocals on “Where I Am” are a quiet reflection on the ravages of addiction, speaking to her belief that this scourge has become something almost as devastating as cancer in its expanding reach.

“Everyone knows someone who has been touched by it,” said Hamlin, a condition that seems to her to have only reached this prominence in recent years. “Where is the hope?”

Fields teases an upcoming tune, “Crooked Town,” which looks at small-town corruption that he hints may be less than fiction.

Counteracting the somber notes of these songs are “Beer Bottle” and “Get Up Crowd,” which bring the duo back to a more celebratory mode that makes you want to scoot a boot across the dance floor, complete with just the right amount of twangy guitar.

To record their debut, the duo brought their full band contingent to studio Station West Nashville to work with engineer Kyle Manner (Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson). The experience was surreal for the pair.

“He (Kyle) treated us like we were somebody,” said Hamlin. “We’re used to being a ‘garage band.’”

After a month of preparation and four solid 11- and 12-hour days of recording, the result was “Silhouettes,” a 13-track album of original music, released in March of 2017. That hard work returned an unexpected benefit in the form of a win for “Album of the Year” at the Lexington Music Awards in early 2018. The duo hopes this award will be a boon locally, where they have been building a steady following, which sometimes manifests itself in interesting ways.

“We were playing a writer’s night at Bobby’s Idle Hour [in Nashville] – which is the last actual writer’s night place that they have on Music Row,” said Fields. The place was crowded when Hamlin and Fields made their way in, asking some seated patrons if it would be okay to sit at their table. Fields sat down and began messing with his guitar to get ready to play.

“They tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You don’t recognize us?’,” said Fields. “Four of our fans from Lexington had driven all the way there to watch us play six songs.”

“At 10:45 at night!” interjected Hamlin.

“On a weeknight!” Fields laughed. “So we love the music scene in Lexington.”

A Little Bit More’s fandom has taken on an even more unusual form: a line dance captured in a series of YouTube videos, with one garnering almost 40,000 views. Fields found this out almost by accident when he started searching for the title of his songs and saw a result that seemed to be a match.

“I clicked on it, and there’s these people in China dancing to it,” said Fields.

An Irish choreographer created the dance to the strains of “Save Me Tonight,” and she has been teaching it (and filming it) with groups around the world. That level of audience buy-in spurs Fields and Hamlin onward.

“The final defining moment is when you play a song and you see people reacting,” said Fields, recounting an early moment in the duo’s tenure when an original song moved some audience members to tears.

“That, to me, is the ultimate for music – you can create something that people could relate to that strongly.”

That moment for Hamlin came during a set of covers when audience members started requesting their original tunes.

“It was a humbling experience,” she said.

For A Little Bit More, those experiences are happening more as the hard work begins to pay off. They continue to hone their craft, working their way through the ropes in famous songwriter locales in Nashville, while somewhere on the other side of the world, a new group of line dancers learns the steps to a song from a humble duo from Owingsville, Kentucky.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Four Seasons, Many Moods

The first sight that greets you when entering the Lyric Theatre is a wall of local art. Immediately, this wall serves to situate you: you are not here for only a show, or a concert, or an exhibition or a community gathering. Instead, this wall seems to emphasize that every single piece of art that takes place inside this building is part of a larger context of local artistry and engagement between artists and what political theorists call civic society—those people and organizations that go out of their way to build a sense of community.

The Lexington Chamber Orchestra, which performed in a matinee at the Lyric, is exactly that sort of organization, They are, first and foremost, a community ensemble, drawing their onstage talent from the Lexington community. And in return, that community supports them. Though admittance to the Chamber Orchestra’s performances is free, most everyone I entered with donated to support the orchestra.

The program, mostly lighter fare, was titled Four Seasons, and seemed to welcome back audience for the first performance of the New Year. While Jan Pellant, the Music Director of the Chamber Orchestra, had only programmed three pieces, each contained an internal variety that allowed the ensemble to move through a wider range of moods than a quick glance at the program might suggest.

Maestro Jan Pallent | Courtesy Lexington Chamber Orchestra

The concert began with 4 selections from J. S. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge. Translated, the title simply means ‘The Art of the Fugue,’ and Bach had under this title written an entire course’s worth of demonstration and model of the fugue form.

From a compositional perspective, a proper fugue is a difficult thing to do well—a fugue is a series of rhythmically and harmonically interlocking musical phrases in which each phrase could, in theory, function as a predominant melody. Holding together that level of complexity is a tricky task for any composer, but Bach was the undisputed master of the form. He wrote Die Kunst der Fuge towards the end of his life, and left no indication of what instruments were to perform the piece, how fast or how loudly they were to play it, or even whether he even considered the piece to be properly finished.

All of this ambiguity could be considered a challenging task for any conductor. But, as Pellant points out in his program notes, “these points give the artists opportunities to create uniqueness based on personal creativity” as well.

In performance, Pellant gave the score a respectable shakedown, imbuing variety to the orchestration and performance choices. The first movement, light and quick, was an excellent demonstration that the Chamber Orchestra knows how to balance a technically complicated piece to both demonstrate each individual element and create a unified whole— not an easy thing to accomplish with Bach, who can sometimes feel like a lecture from your math professor on the numerical properties of pi. The second movement elaborated on the technical distinction of the first.

The third movement was a real highlight that emphasized the ensemble’s harmonic balance, and the low voices thrummed away at the base of chords that are passed through the upper three voices in a rhythmically steady pulse that unwinds through the ensemble.

The final movement continued this rhythmic development, rolling through the ensemble like a well-built clock.

The most fascinating aspect of a good Bach performance is that it’s both utterly predictable, in that you can usually make a pretty good guess as to where he’s headed in terms of rhythm, melody, harmony, and the overall structure of the piece, but the craftsmanship of each individual element is such that you don’t find yourself minding it all that much. Often, the best way to enjoy Bach is to let yourself sit back and enjoy the music as it presents yourself to you. This is especially true of his fugues, which unfold with an exacting mathematical precision. The real talent of the Chamber Orchestra lay in the clarity with which Pellant held each part strong to its own voice, maintaining the counterpoint without allowing it to dissolve into a multi-part mush of predictable harmonies.

The second piece was an excerpt of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5; the Chamber Orchestra performed the Adagietto section, which is one of Mahler’s most excerpted pieces. However, the Adagietto was nonetheless an interesting choice for such a tiny ensemble. The rich, almost overdeveloped late romantic chords of Mahler’s symphonies can tax even the large string sections of full-size orchestras, and for a smaller group, especially the intense layering of chords can be a challenge.

Here Pellant had to toss about his hands, one after the other, to each section, making a thousand tiny adjustments on the fly. His long, stentorian frame remained firmly planted in front of his score, but his left hand would flicker and shudder, always coaxing out more vibrato, more emotion, from the scraping bows.

The lights remained up in the audience throughout the performance, giving it a participatory feel for the listeners. The boxy design of the Lyric’s theater, in which the stage sits bluntly in front of the audience,  helped to collapse the distance between orchestra and audience, which diffused a great deal of the stuffiness that often invests classical performances.

The final piece came from the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Taking his inspiration from Vivaldi’s famous (and famously overrated) Four Seasons Suite, Piazzolla wrote a set of four pieces for strings ensemble and solo violin that described the seasons of his native Buenos Aires. Mixing high-minded classicism with the rolling and rumbling rhythms of Latin dance music, Piazzolla wrote incredibly technically complicated pieces for string performers.

For the final piece, the Chamber Orchestra was joined by soloist Kyung Sun Lee, a violinist who has held teaching and performance positions at Oberlin College, the University of Houston, and Seoul National University (all schools with music departments of the highest order).

Kyung Sun Lee | Photo courtesy of the Lexington Chamber Orchestra

That training was pushed to a dramatic degree, as Piazzolla wrote a violin part that approached the technical complexity of Sibelius’ legendary Violin Concerto. Lee played with expressive sensitivity at the very highest end of her violin’s range, and her fingers danced through a score that included double stops, glissandi, and portamento demands far beyond even that normally asked of internationally acclaimed soloists.

The Chamber Orchestra kept up admirably with this furious pace. The rhythmic impulse was, throughout each movement, absolutely wonderful. Pellant kept the orchestra driving, clearly articulating complex syncopations that both held the beat aloft for a moment in midair but nonetheless returned it to the ground with a cadence even more propulsive than before.

The result was a powerful but lighthearted end to a concert that brought a feeling of generosity and welcome to the audience.

The Lexington Chamber Orchestra rang in their new year with a smile and a cheery wave of the hand, and Lexington’s 2018 is the better for it.

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

0E7A8971.jpg

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.”

~0~

Please share this article on your social media channels and encourage discussion. 

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 momentu