Artwork of the Week for June 29, 2009

martin sharp explosion

Martin Sharp
Explosion (Jimi Hendrix); 1967

This week’s artwork is inspired by my recent viewing of HAIR and my general obsession with the visual culture of the 1960s (oh, and Jimi Hendrix).

1967 was the Summer of Love and California’s Bay Area was its epicenter. 100,000 hippies wore flowers in their hair and converged on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to find somebody to love, to practice political dissension, to trip on LSD and pass some joints, to groove out to folk singers and acid rockers alike. People realized Life was a multi-sensory experience. Psychedelia shaped the late 1960s visual world. Musicians were gods and music (enhanced by a few hallucinogens) was a conduit to higher planes of consciousness. By 1967, a counter-culture became the definitive culture.

Perhaps my favorite visual relics from the 1960s are concert posters. Ineffective as advertisements (seriously, you have to spend 10 minutes deciphering the lettering) but stunning as art works, they combined the sinuous curves of art nouveau with the bold colors and the ephemeral of psychedelic experiences. Martin Sharp, an Australian who made his way to the Euro hippie center of London, was an iconic designer and artist in the late 1960s (he did several album covers for Cream). Sharp’s “Explosion” captures the color, vision, feel, and sound of 1967. Hendrix was a phenomenon in his day — 20th century rock’s virtuoso — and 1967 was the year of his famous appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Sharp used a photo of Hendrix by Linda Eastman (later, Linda McCartney) as the base for his poster. To capture the raw emotion of his subject’s performance, he dissolves the image into bursts of electric colors. Sound becomes color and Jimi Hendrix becomes an experience.

How appropriate.

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Gimme a head with HAIR!

assorted early summer and NYC 019I saw 2009 Tony Award winning HAIR today. I don’t generally like Broadway musicals — I have a slew of reasons. HAIR, however is no typical Broadway musical. A surprisingly complex reflection on the times in which it was written, Hair is the story of the turbulent 1960s and of a generation fighting to feel alive when death, emotional and physical, seemed to loom around every corner. The soundtrack reflects the variety of musical genres that shaped the 60s — from acid rock to doo-woop, sitar to guitar. The bottom line? I loved it. Yes, give me a head with Hair, long beautiful hair!

About HAIR: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
HAIR debuted off-Broadway in 1967 before shaking up Broadway in 1968 with its nudity, open discussions of drug use, irreverence for the American flag, and its racially mixed cast. Even by today’s standards, the show is controversial — and that’s not just because of the full-frontal nudity (in 68, the cast turned its naked backsides to the audience… 41 years later, we get the full monty).

Religion, race, sexuality, environmentalism and drugs are all on the table in HAIR. It is a far cry from the Phantom of the Opera. There’s something to go home with from this musical, besides a stellar soundtrack. The sophisticated commentary on the 1960s, the sense that this was a historical moment, is almost too good to have been written without the benefit of hindsight. And it’s amazing how relevant the show and ALL its messages still are.

“How dare they try to end this beauty?/To keep us under foot/They bury us in soot/Pretending it’s a chore/To ship us off to war.”

My mother saw it when it was on Broadway those many years ago and eventually rented the movie for me in middle school, though for some reason we never quite got round to watching it. In high school, my father thought it was clever to wake me up to “Good morning Starshine” off the soundtrack. The 5th Dimension’s famous version of “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine” has been on my iPod for as long as I can remember. Thus, in many ways, HAIR is a musical I grew up, though truth be told, I really didn’t know much about it.

Probably, like most that hadn’t seen the show, I expected HAIR to be a celebration of Love and Peace — a generally bright musical about free love, Timothy Leahy, counter-culture and bell-bottoms. But HAIR is more than an acid rock-musical about the day when “peace will guide our planet and love with steer the stars.”

The guiding narrative is the plight of Claude — a native of Flushing Queens, born into a Catholic home, who is “a genius, genius” that dropped out of school and finds life “dreary dreary.” He’s grown his hair long, borrows his mother’s beads and roams the streets of New York with Berger, Crissy, Dionne, Wolf, Hud and the rest of the hippie Tribe. Nagged by his conservative parents, Claude is caught between life as a free spirit and as a dutiful son of his country. When he’s drafted to go to Vietnam, he is immediately forced to choose — rebellion or submission?

Claude is the sacrificial lamb, representative of all the innocent young men sent to war to die for their nation. All he aspired to do is perform miracles. As a solider, he is unwillingly put on par with America’s most esteemed heroes. He is the son of a Nation defined by war and conquest. If in the first 15 minutes, you haven’t figured out that Claude is an incarnation of Jesus… well, then you’re just not paying attention.

Will Swenson in action as Berger

Will Swenson in action as Berger

While Berger perhaps more fully represents the rebellious, free-love attitude of the hippie counter-culture, Claude is the most articulate in explaining what makes his generation different from those before. In a song called “I got Life,” he tells his mother and father that essentially there is np physical different between the children of 1947 and the children of 1967 — the difference is emotional. The children of 1967 have chosen to live, to experience and to challenge.

The Performance
Claude is portrayed by Gavin Creel, whose voice, magnetism and portrayal of youthful innocence carry the audience through to the final scene. But it’s Will Swenson, who plays his buddy Berger, that steals the show. With his perfect torso (which ended up in my face during the performance — believe me, his torso really is perfect), endless energy, and engaging charm, he’s impossible to ignore.

The second act is centered around Claude’s hallucination after Berger passes him a joint. But as the act moves on, we come to realize that Claude’s vision of war in Vietnam may not be conjured, but may in fact be reality. Lights flash, guns pop until finally, the snow falls and a single light glows. The final song may be Let the Sun Shine, but it turns into a funeral procession. Our hero is fallen and we’re left jarred.

In the end, the audience joins the cast on stage swaying to Let the Sun Shine, revealing in the performances they saw, reeling from the emotional roar of the second act, and ultimately celebrating being alive. Just as the tribe said, Claude went so we didn’t have to.

Artwork of the Week for June 23, 2009

jGibson

Jeffrey Gibson
Headache (2009)
Oil and spray paint on digitally printed canvas
40″ x 32″

Brooklyn-based artist Jeffery Gibson’s art is bold, colorful, urban and personal. His city setting, his Native American background, and his global experiences all heavily influence his work. In the upper regions of “Headache,” buildings emerge from stripes of highly saturated neon paint, only to dissolve into disembodied bands of color towards the bottom of the canvas. Amorphous, yet suggestive, forms interrupt the geometry that attempts to organize Gibson’s imagined urban landscape.

From the NMAI’s 2007 exhibition, Off the Map:
“In 2004, painter and installation artist Jeffrey Gibson (Choctaw/Cherokee, b. 1972) began creating fantastical landscapes using layers of intensely colored marks, glossy and transparent pours, and his signature pigmented silicone. The environment he has created and explored with his work in the last few years reveals a narrative of emergence into a utopian state, which will lead, inevitably, to corruption and collapse.”

Headache will be up for auction at 10% — a fundraiser for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation — on Wednesday June 24. For more information about the event, cli

I have a Kindle

I’m famously not a good reader. I’m slow and plodding. I never read without a pencil near and it can take me months to finish a book of only 300 pages. I’ve been reading Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures since January and I have about 100 pages still to go. The problem is I love to read, but I rarely have the chance to just lock down and consume words. And here’s the other truth, I love to read, but I love books more.

So when I was given amazon’s Kindle as a graduation present, I wasn’t sure how to feel. My pragmatic side said it was a good idea — I’m a gal on the go and the kindle is easily transportable, I’ve run out of shelf space, I’ve got a summer ahead of me to read books for fun. The booklover in me cringed at the thought. Imagine! Reading a digitized Austen! I was skeptical. Books without pages? No dog-eared corners. No pencil notes in the margins. No smell of glue and aging paper. This doesn’t make any sense. How can you fit a book on screen and still enjoy it the same way.

But today, as I sat on a small S-80 bound for Dallas, I was grateful for my kindle. Despite not being done with Old Masters, I have begun “Seven Days in the Art World” — which I am thoroughly enjoying and would never have gotten round to if it weren’t for the kindle. Add to that the fact I was toting 2 suitcases and a backpack through airports, the weight difference between a 400-page hardcover and a slim i-pod like kindle was much noticed. Now that i know how to work the highlight, bookmark and note features, I’m more fond of my kindle. In fact I kinda enjoy it pressing buttons on the device rather than stopping to frantically search for that pen I took out but can’t find.

For me, the kindle will never replace owning the paper-copy of most books — in particular, Victorian classics and art books — but it is a technological innovation I have embraced and a gadget I am rather happy to have been so generously given.

Art Work of the Week for June 15, 2009

Bakst_Nizhinsky

Leon Bakst
Nijinsky as the Faun in L’apres Midi d’un faune , 1912

Under Sergei Diaghilev’s directorship, the Ballet Russes (1909-1929) became one of the most influential ballet companies of the 20th century. Diaghilev took many risks, in his musical selection and choreography (he was an early patron of Balanchine), but most interestingly to me, in his patronage of young Russian artists, who he hired as set and costume designers. Perhaps the most celebrated designer for the Ballet Russes was Leon Bakst, a painter well-known for his portraiture. Vaslav Nijinsky was one of the most recognized male dancer in the troupe and Bakst’s design for Nijinsky’s Faun costume is Bakst’s best known design. The drawing itself features the sinuous, organic lines so iconic of the art nouveau period. I also love the image for it’s sense of movement — how appropriate for a design destined to be worn by the human body.

You can watch a performance of l’apres-midi d’un faune here, the costumes and sets are based on Bakst’s original 1912 designs.

It’s that time of year again

Yes, it’s Prom season. The time of year when young men rent their first tuxedos, when young ladies buy over-priced single-use gowns and spend hundreds of dollars on over-coiffed hairdos and porn-star makeup. For some, it feels like a dress rehearsal for a wedding, except, perhaps, for the fact that we’re far less particular about our Prom date than about our bridegroom/bride. And then there’s also the fact that a solid white dress at this senior year tradition is perhaps one of the biggest prom faux pas.

The truth is that I had no intention to go to my senior prom. It took a fair amount of convincing to get me to hand in my deposit, and even then I wasn’t sure I was going to go through with it. Since I was ambivalent about the event, I was ambivalent about dress shopping (imagine, me ambivalent about SHOPPING). But if you’ve ever wandered into the evening wear section of any department store, you know just how many dresses, mostly bad, there are to wade through. The task of finding a decent prom dress is daunting. Mission Impossible? Pretty much. I had visions of passing hours, days, even weeks trying on Jessica McKlintook monstrosities and finally having to resort to some sort of pink, multi-tiered confection of tuile and crinoline. No, no, no, no, no.

my prom attire 002Determined not to show up at my prom in the same dress as someone else, I decided to leave the suburbs and try my luck at the Bloomingdales in Manhattan. I wandered around the racks of floor-length gowns, dumbfounded. A voice rang from behind me: “Why don’t we try couture upstairs.” Thanks, Mum. 5 minutes later I was in the dressing room, trying on a hand-beaded tea-rose pink silk dress made by a boutique London designer named Meghan Park. 15 minutes later, it was in a garment bag and we were heading upstairs to Le Train Bleu for lunch, my prom dress in hand.

It was the first dress I tried on. And it was an ace. A safe bet — the kind of dress that would look better if I lost 10 lbs, but didn’t demand weight loss to make me feel fantastic; the kind of dress I would wear again and again, for the next 30 years if I so choose. At the cocktail dress length of mid-calf it was nontraditional for prom. In fact, on the day of the event, there were only 2 of us who didn’t have something that skirted the floor. Today, there seems to be a split between the shorter numbers and the toe-hiders.

The straps were added post-prom to make them NYC ready

The straps were added post-prom to make the NYC ready

The shoes were more of a challenge. Bergdorfs, Bloomies, Nordstroms, and Neimans all came up empty. Ironically, I found the shoes in Kansas when I was in Kansas City for a fencing competition. They were Stuart Weitzman and simple d’orsay pumps. Like the dress, they have been worn since (and modified to make them even more wearable). I also did my own makeup, and as for the hair, only curlers to enhance my natural wave,

It’s too late for me to lend any advice to the current prom-goers — dresses have been bought, appointments with the MAC cosmetic artists have been booked, and the updo already tried, tested and approved. Though I will say to current juniors starting to think about senior year, graduation and prom — ladies, buy a dress you’re going to wear again, and gentlemen, don’t try to match your cummerbund with her dress, you’ll just look like an idiot.

People are so interesting

My friends do amazing things. They win awards; they follow their dreams; they go after the things the believe in; they keep fighting; they keep me and the rest of the world smiling. Recently, a few of them have done some particularly awesome things:

Kristen quit her job in real-estate and now designs furniture. Her stuff is beautiful in its simplicity and functionality. the WINTERCHECK FACTORY is officially open and ready for business.

Christopher has been working in Cambodia for the past year, reporting and editing for the Phnom Penh Post. Recently, he won an award from the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) for Excellence in Human Rights Reporting. Congratulations Chris! Next stop: Pulitzer.

Annie graduated with another degree from Columbia. Besides keeping the world laughing through her blog, she is to have an essay published in Cinemascope, an independent film journal.

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