Category Archives: San Francisco

Artist Focus: Interview with John Felix Arnold III

Portrait by Eric Palozzolo from Past From the Blast @ Kitsch Gallery

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” – Charles Mingus

Interview with artist John Felix Arnold III

Rae: Now let’s begin with the interview, nice to have you with us today….Tell me about your work? What does it symbolize for you personally?

John Felix: Man, that’s a very complex question. My work keeps me alive on a lot of levels, that’s the root of it.

Without creating things I would probably spontaneously combust or wither away into nothingness so therefore it represents life to me. It keeps me moving forward and allows me the opportunity to bring something I deem to be positive to the world.

Art has always come naturally to me. Speaking and asking questions through visualization is something that happens through me. I find joy in its creation and those that search to be around art. When I am really involved, it’s almost as if I am not the sole energy making it, but I am more of a conduit for something much larger than myself aiding me in making a contribution to the future. I could go on and on about my influences, inspiration, conceptual framework, technique, evolution, and what not.

But what I am explaining here, while it may come off as sounding vague, is the spiritual essence of why I do this. It represents a spiritual connectivity.

To me what I make represents my personal dialogue with the world. It demonstrates gratitude for the life I have through pain and pleasure, through the mundane and the monumental. On a basic level, I am creating exhibitions that aim to make the viewer feel as though they are walking into a life size graphic novel set in a post-apocalyptic future world. This being said, anyone who has ever read, Blade of the Immortal, Akira, Sandman, Elektra Assassin, or any graphic novel knows that works in print like these are created out of a need to understand our place in the bigger picture.

Capriquarius 5'x4' Mixed Media on Wood Panel

Rae: Looks like you are an artist of all trades…what is your most favorite medium at the moment right now?

John Felix: The medium I am having the most fun with right now, aside from the conceptual nature is basically mixing all of the disciplines I enjoy into one explosive element. It is definitely the construction of the large panels I am using for my paintings as of late.

My favorite part right now of the process is taking all of the found wood and then organizing it and setting it piece by piece into these beautiful, rectangular, debris, and tapestries. They are like these amazing organic real life 3-D design pieces that hold years of stories and experiences in every single piece of found material. Creating these as a vehicle to begin painting with, is really an awesome experience.

Event Elation 4'x8' Mixed Media on Wood Panel

Rae: What role would you say an artist has in society?

John Felix: That’s a great question, one which I don’t think enough people really give a lot of thought to, I mean people call Drake an artist right? (laughter) To me an artist’s role in society is to inspire dialogue, pose questions, and be fearless in developing their voice as a part of, and as an observer of society.

                                                                                                                

An artist’s role is to be an intense and integral member of society while at the same time having the ability to look at it from outside and comment on it so as to inspire dialogue within it, that hopefully aims to advance it in a positive light.

Artists are like chefs, we stir a bunch of things up and then serve it to the people to give them something to sustain a part of themselves, to think about, and evoke emotions and reactions.

Rae: I certainly agree with that! How has your practice changed over time?

John Felix: I recently found drawings I did as an infant, before I had any concept of survival in the face of societies expectations, fitting in, before I had any idea that so much of our world is run off of fear, status, image, and the cult of personality. The drawings were fun, fearless, and beautiful. For years I concentrated so hard on technique and developing an acceptable style and coping with a world that I felt alienated from, that I felt like I lost pieces of myself and wasn’t really living.

Now my practice really lies in reaching back into this childhood fearlessness within concepts that I confront as an adult armed with an arsenal of techniques, discipline, and design knowledge that informs a very organic style that is now evolving all on its own accord. After a very crazy life thus far, I get to appreciate years of really rigorous technical practice (that kept me focused in some dark moments) which have become a perfect companion for the free flowing energy that I now get to experience when I’m making art.

Lady of the Lake 5'x4' Mixed Media on Wood Panel

Rae: What themes do you pursue within your artwork?

John Felix: The main theme I am pursuing at present is exploring an idea of what people and certain archetypes will be and do in the face of an inevitable reset of human society.

I guess it really boils down to examining the rate at which we as a society are consuming limited resources around us. Creating multitudes of things which we really do not need, which in turn consume us spiritually, physically, emotionally, pretty much across the board, to perpetuate a system which turns the great majority its members into “self-sacrificing parasites.” 

Christopher Burch, whom I am showing with in New York in March, gets the credit for that term. It happens to fit the work I am doing as well as his and many others at the moment. Other themes examined in my work as well are: lose of control, creating things which consume us, spirituality or lack there of within society, love, what it means to be strong, how to move forward into the future, shelter, how things that are deemed “necessary for survival” will change once the world as we know it now ceases to be, you know light hearted stuff (laughter again).

Rae: Any books that inspire you at the moment, if any?

John Felix: Actually yes. Mirrors, by Eduardo Galeano, is really inspiring at the moment. It is a large companion of short paragraph pieces dealing with historical figures and questions throughout the history of civilization, which have shaped the world as we know it, and aims to get the viewer to really question their own intentions so as to gain some sort of insight into a positive way to move ahead.

Rae: Wow, I’ve got to look into that book, sounds fascinating! What do you love most about being an artist based in the bay area?

John Felix: People in the bay area simply love art, enjoy art, and support art in a variety of ways. The Bay Area is currently a great pool of creativity and freedom of expression for obvious historical reasons and thanks to an amazing history of forerunners. Where else can you run into Emory Douglas, Barry McGee, and Monica Canilao all in the same day.

The Bay is one of the most diverse parts of the world in terms of race, culture, spiritual practice, sexuality, academia, philosophy, technology, politics, and of course the arts.

It is the home of two of the oldest and most important art institutions I know of, SFAI and CCA. It has been called the birthplace of lowbrow art, has an amazing graffiti history, lots of pride behind its local art makers and movements. There are wildly different art movements happening right here right now in the Mission, the Tenderloin, and the greater Oakland area. I love the art community here and the commitment that so many artists have to continually challenge themselves and those around them.

Rae: Having studied at two different art schools in your lifetime? What attracted you most about the programs?

John Felix:Pratt is an oasis of imagination, incredible technical instruction, historical accomplishments in the arts, rigorous training, and amazing professors in one of the most amazing and craziest fucking parts of the world.

It is a home to a variety of disciplines. Something about having alot of disciplines, enabled us to engage one another on a daily basis. We dealt with professors that hold no punches and are not afraid to rip you a new one, if you don’t demonstrate that which is necessary to make it, this creates a great atmosphere.

The program I was in was just designed extremely well, and I benefited more than I could have asked for from it. It prepared me for things to come. We had a pretty epic class, in my department while I was there. Also they gave me more money than any other NYC school to make my home there.

SFAI’s prestige in the arts community, the fact that I won a pretty large scholarship, their history and print making facilities were pretty attractive. SF seemed like a great choice, and working w/ Tim Berry in the Print Making Department was a big pull! After a year though I really didn’t feel that it was the right place for me to be at, so I dropped out and saved myself from going pretty deeply into debt. I might move back to Brooklyn someday, we’ll see.

Rae: Any upcoming projects you’ve been working on at the moment? Could you talk about what you are trying to achieve with them?

John Felix: I have “The Love of All Above” Saturday February 4th at Queens Nails Projects in San Francisco. It is a continuation of my series of installation environmental pieces that act as an altar and a place to give praise as well as a stage and a vehicle for performers to engage the audience.

A Conversation with Charles Mingus About the Inevitable End of the World 8'x3' Mixed Media on Wood Panel Assemblage

A Conversation with Coltrane About the State of Spirituality 8'x3' Mixed Media on Wood Panel Assemblage

I am working musical performers Cassettes Won’t Listen, Bisco Smith, Grimace and Turnbull Green all from the Daylight Curfew Crew. Also performing will be Kool Kid Kreyola and a husband and wife duo called Him Downstairs. I am trying to create an installation environment that exist in the world of “Unstoppable Tomorrow”.

I want people to feel like they are part of a night of rituals and ceremony through art and music inside of this post apocalyptic setting that hopefully takes them out of their normal daily humdrum.

I want to create an environment where I can not only exhibit my new installation and painting work within the installation setting, but also engage performers to work within it, and collaborate with the environment.This I hope, will make the audience feel more part of the piece and the imaginary of all these concepts, disciplines, and personalities.

Then Christopher Burch and I are off to Brooklyn, NY for our March 1rst opening at an amazing space called Littlefield NYC, which will consist of drawings exploring this idea of societies “self sacrificing parasites”. Ninjasonik and Ken South Rock will also be performing at the opening of that show. Then it’s a solo show at Old Crow in Oakland in July. I am incredibly excited about this due to the fact that I get the whole space to explore by myself! Then back to Japan, to go on tour and do live painting with the band Ken South Rock. Pretty busy.

Rae: Any other artists you would love to collaborate with in the future?

John Felix: David Ellis, Tomokazu Matsuyama, Katsuhiro Otomo, and I wish I could go back in time and work with Hokusai and Yoshitoshi!

Rae: Any amazing galleries you love in the bay area?

John Felix: I was part of the Luggage Store’s “In the Moment” group exhibition this past November. I love and have loved the Luggage Store since I first found out about it when I moved here in 2006. There are a lot of amazing galleries here, they all seem to have their own distinctive voice and place and there are a handful I would like to work with for specific projects. I definitely have to say that my favorite gallery to work with thus far, who has also really been a pleasure to build with and evolve with is Old Crow in Oakland.

Rae: Music or bands inspiring you right now. Go.

John Felix: These cats Main Atrakionz out of Oakland are sick. I know everyone is saying Odd Future these days. Dipset all day. I just found the J Dilla Rough Drafts cd at Amoeba for like 10 bucks, that is a really sick one. The Ghost in the Shell soundtrack, Stand Alone Complex. The Akira Soundtrack. Japanther and Ninjasonik no doubt. Daylight Curfew, Kool Kid Kreyola, been listening to some Indonesian Rhythmic Recordings lately. Japanese Koto Drums all day. Always have my early nineties Hip Hop that I grew up with on speed dial. Rediscovered some At the Drive In recently. Been listening to Charles Mingus and Coltrane a lot.

Rae: More inspiration… more! What was your most inspiring moment as an artist so far?

John Felix: Definitely having “Past from the Blast” at Kitsch in the Mission last March (2011) with Japanther finally happened. In the middle of the show I looked out into the crowd and the world went into slow motion for me as I saw over 200 kids going absolutely ape shit inside of my art installation while Japanther rocked out on an altar platform/stage that was the focal point of the installation I built for the show. That was rad! They were rocking the universe inside of my artwork man.

Rae: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

John Felix:

Don’t overdo it man. You don’t have to feel like you have to carry the world on your shoulders. Do what you can because that shit will kill you and you won’t be any good to anybody.

Rae: Thank you John Felix Arnold III! Your future art shows are a must-check- out!!!!

Shouts TWNY, 57, IPD, 138, Dirty Durham, Old Crow, Big Sheikh Deluxe, Faetm, Brooklyn, The Elite

Links to check out this artist: artist website, wordpress blog, tumblr site, facebook, Daylight Curfew Creative Collection, Art Now SF

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Artist Feature: Erlin Geffrard aka Kool Kid Kreyola

“My name is Erlin Geffrard aka Kreyola Kid and bitch I paint!” – Erlin

Rae: Let’s begin, do you have an alias?

Erlin: In a way yes, I have a project named “kool kid kreyola” which is an art persona that I create work under

Rae: Tell us about your artwork? Do you challenge the world’s thinking with the art that you make?

Erlin: umm wtf….that is a lot of pressure…the world could suck it man, I am creating work for fun!

Rae: How many hours a day do you create?

Erlin: Depends on the day. I stay painting, I don’t focus on the time, I just paint.

Rae: What is your most favorite medium at the moment right now?

Erlin: Booty? I paint on butts….it’s fun!

Rae: Is there anything you consistently draw inspiration from?

Erlin: I love ancient art all over the world: Egyptians, Nubians, Mayas

Rae: Any books you’ve been reading at the moment that has been inspiring towards your artworks?

Erlin: Hero With A Thousand Faces, and The Alchemist

Rae: How do you recharge when your creativity hits the wall?

Erlin: I hit the crack pipe jk. I just relax the mental and go back to the basics!

Rae: Describe the process within yourself when you are creating a new piece?

Erlin: Shit, I just keep it nasty like I get it wet, then I put it in, ya feel me!

Rae: Yeah, I understand how that process is. Any upcoming new projects, shows, or travels?

Erlin: I got a show coming up at the Luggage Store Art Gallery! Feb 9, 2012.

Rae: Nice! Looking forward to that! What percentage of your work is collaboration vs. say, interactive? Or are the terms in your work interchangeable?

Erlin: Awww man like 50%- me, 50% colab i think more community art projects are the future. Less ego art world b.s., more rainbow togetherness…I worked with Spencer Keeton, Rye Purvis, Moe, Triple Mike the Shooter, D-nice, Quin Arnason, Quinn Arneson, Camus revel, the list goes on dude

Rae: Studying at SFAI, what have you learned most about there?

Erlin: no comment

Rae: Which cities have you lived in?

Erlin: I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida and then moved to sf, dats all!

Rae: Any artists you would love to collaborate with in the near future?

Erlin: R. Kelly, and John Baldessari

Rae: What do you like most about the art in San Francisco?

Erlin: The growing interest in new artists. I feel like their eyes are on us now.

Rae: Favorite place traveled? Why?

Erlin: my dreams cuz I travel nonstop

Rae: Has your art style changed at all during the years?

Erlin: kinda

Rae: Working on any new series of work?

Erlin: yeah um urban hieroglyphs

Rae: If you were to stop making art, what would you replace it with?

Erlin: pimping

Rae: Any artists that you admire, that influences your work?

Erlin: Spencer Keeton

Rae: What type of music or bands are you listening to right now?

Erlin: Whale Cries

Rae: Finally, What has been your most exciting moment as an artist?

Erlin: smoking out with Carlos Villa

Rae: Thanks for the interview Erlin, looking forward to seeing more of your works in the upcoming future.

Check out Kool Kid Kreyola’s website: http://bitchipaint.com/

Interview with Featured Artist: Ivan Bridges

“I just had the most beautiful dream; I was out there, over the Grand Canyon, in the sky. Out there in the universe. Dark, but there were stars. It was like we were in bed at night, talking in the dark. But somehow above the world as well, in the dark. We laid down, the two of us, on what felt like the sky and went to sleep. On a clear surface that was totally invisible. In the dream, I also met an older lady and I threw up a little bit inside her mouth, like a bird, and she liked it. A video camera is what I saw at the end of my dream.” – Ivan

Rae: Tell me about your artwork, what does it represent for you personally?

Ivan: I really identify with Duchamp when he says that all of art making is an urge, and the thing that just can’t be explained any more than that. I do see it fundamentally as an urge, so personally it represents to me some type of obsessive urge, maybe destructive? Maybe not. It’s hard to tell, you know, but I’ve never been able to quit so much, so it seems to put it in it’s place as an urge.

Rae: Can you recall a memory of when you first started making art? How did you start being serious about it?

Ivan: I’ve always been interested in drawing. I remember one of my teachers in elementary school saying to me that she hoped I’d never stop drawing. I wrote a poem too when I was very young and it was being read in the auditorium of the school during some kind of rally. I don’t remember much about it, but they picked my poem somehow. I remembered being both embarrassed and also deeply connected to that moment of hearing it spoken.

Rae: What do you love most about being an artist living in San Francisco?

Ivan: I love walking around at night thinking to myself as I look up at all the lights on inside the rooms I pass, maybe south of market or on Polk street, thinking to myself as I see the high ceilings and shadows cast what possibilities all these spaces have. I keep imagining different lives I’d live in each one of these open windows I pass in China town, the clothes hanging out the window, I imagine a room with a subject, a painting, a camera, a typewriter, I see it all.

Rae: Which cities have you lived in? Traveled to?

Ivan: I’ve lived in London, I grew up in New Orleans, I have a second life in Costa Rica with my father. I’ve seen Rome, Florence, Madrid, and spent a week inside an old convent with my cousin in Siena.

Rae: Having been in class with you at SFAI, I know that you grew up in New Orleans. How do you think living there had influenced you in your art making?

Ivan: New Orleans is a dark place. And I remember I used to walk to school before the sun rose and then standing in that schoolyard looking at the large brick building I’d always hear these crows cawing. It’s also a religious place, that elementary school was named Holy Name of Jesus. Being originally born in Portland, Oregon and then transplanted to New Orleans at eight years old to live for the next ten years in this religious school system had a deep effect on me. I became obsessed in my own way with the symbolism of the church, only to find when as I got older that my own relationship to that symbolism was somehow not okay with the specific dogma of the church. I eventually broke with the identification as a Christian probably when I was eleven or twelve years old, but that experience has deeply shaped my inner life.

Rae: Studying at San Francisco Art Institute, who was an influential teacher of yours? What did he/she teach you most about?

Ivan: Rob Halpern, the class was called “The Dead and the Living, paranormal messages in literary texts,” and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been the same again. Well, English classes have had that effect on me and I just don’t see how engaging deeply with literature or theory could not affect ones life deeply. But to talk about a few of the things I learned, the notebook being a primitive technology is one, also that I can grieve while reading. I learned that with Primo Levy.

Rae: What about their program, attracted you to go to SFAI?

Ivan: The idea that you can’t teach art.

Rae: Has your style changed at all through the years?

Ivan: yes, sometimes it’s the limits or constraints that keep me changing. For example, I used to be very hung up on the idea that for me, painting or art making had to do with oil painting. And it was when I had the lucky opportunity to be invited into a shared studio situation that I was unable to paint in oil, the times I was allowed in were infrequent at best and the time in this studio was filled with my supposed partner talking to me more about the news than what would inspire me to paint. It’s one of those experiences that sounds amazing, beautiful studio great location, but there is a catch, all my oils are going to be locked up most of the time leaving me to have to find another outlet. It ended up that I started using watercolor, as a way to cope with this, and that became my primary medium, which I use today. I’m actually going through that same process right now where all my watercolor stuff is in another studio, this time it’s my own, and I’ve been thinking about writing instead! Maybe renting an art studio for me is a great way to discard a medium.

Rae: Speaking of motivation, is there anything or anyone that exceptionally inspires your artwork at the moment?

Ivan: Proust, and Georges Bataille, both of these writers exhibit a type of freedom in their prose, a pure unfolding deeply provocative material that dwells below the surface. I think, of the human experience. It’s given me a little bit of extra courage to move more deeply into my own hidden drives or fears about what might come up if I really push myself to show what I’m terrified to show in my art.

Rae: Any other artists you would love to collaborate with in the future?

Ivan: Sophie Calle, Nalini Malini

Rae: Describe your process for creating a new piece and what sorts of materials you prefer to use?

Ivan: I love to collage; I also like taking pictures, writing, video. It’s funny someone told me recently that the foe artists have a hand in everything, so I guess I’m not a real artist then.

Rae: Any amazing gallery that you love in the bay area?

Ivan: Honestly, I’m not too familiar with galleries in the Bay area, but I do love certain bookstores, the Green Apple is one, I think of it as a type of church. I also love Forest Books on 16th street; The Ocean is a great place to go as well on a foggy day or night.

Rae: When is your most creative….time of day?

Ivan: It’s either early in the morning or late at night, but I think creativity is such a mystery really. None of this stuff really makes any sense does it, but I do think it’s important to remember where you are when you get ideas. For me I walk late at night through soma or up Polk Street. I also have a couch in a room where stacks of books cover the walls; I lay there and think as well.

Rae: What inspires you to continue making art?

Ivan: I just can’t imagine not doing it. I would say that for me it’s a matter of psychological health.

Rae: Could you talk about your latest series of work and what you are trying to achieve with them?

Ivan: My latest project is a video; these are some of the initial ideas around it:

  • I wanted to crawl up into the smell in the hallway, it reminded me of the bath with Terri, I peed in it and she saw and asked me if I did, I said no. Millaudon Street New Orleans, I’m 17. I miss it, those mornings. But tonight is something new. I’ve painted. Terri is gone. She’s the one I can’t seem to get over. But they weren’t exactly days of roses and I feel the green sunlight of a photograph I know well, I don’t remember the day but the photograph for sure. I also remember that porch, waiting for the night to begin. At night we took drugs and in the day we waited. I lived for most of it like that but oh I never knew her all that well and besides she never even loved me. I’ve never known anyone all that well except for artists, ones who are dead who I can think about. This primitive notebook, I can feel it opening to me, take me in your arms. I want to give all of myself, good and bad.

Rae: Any good advice you want to give to other artists?

Ivan: Don’t give up. Unfortunately it may take people a long time to realize the value in what you are doing. You have to see it yourself, and you have that be the sole guide for why you continue.

Rae: What type of music or bands are you listening to right now while making your pieces?

Ivan: ????

Rae: Tell us about new upcoming projects, solo/group shows, or trips you are working on.

Ivan: I’m working on publishing a talk Marcel Duchamp gave in San Francisco in 1949; also I’m currently writing for video work.

Rae: Finally, what do you do for fun? How do you relax?

Ivan: I go somewhere once a week with myself, it’s my way of taking care of myself. Almost always, I try to avoid it but all of my best ideas have come on these excursions. The idea is to have a good time and not work when I’m out on these excursions, and also I can’t bring anyone with me, it’s like tagging along with you and your Dad’s new girlfriend. It’s a way to reconnect with what I enjoy.

Rae: Last one. Favorite quote?

Ivan: “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.” – Goethe

Rae: Thank you for the interview Ivan.

Here is Ivan’s performance video:


ivanbridges.com underconstruction…..e-mail at ivbridges@gmail.com for any inquiry at the moment

Ivan Bridges is an artist based in San Francisco, Ca.

Improvisation: It’s not all about jazz

I recently went to Thee Parkside to see Judgment Day with a group of friends; we were all stoked because we had each seen them a handful of times before and knew we were in for a great show. We always know what to expect when they play tracks from “Peacocks/Pink Monsters” or “Dark Opus,” but this time was different.

Judgement Day. Left to right: Anton Patzner, Jon Bush, and Lewis Patzner. Photo by Riki Feldmann (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brokenobelisk)

At the end of their set, Anton and Lewis Patzner initiated an improvised violin vs. cello battle. My friends and I exchanged glance, shrugs, and smiles as if to say, “What is this?! I’m not sure… but I like it… a lot.” When their set ended, we burst out laughing, shared an obligatory exchange high fives, and repeated variations on “That. Was. Amazing.” There was something so exhilarating about having your expectations demolished and collectively experiencing an anomalous moment with your friends and fellow audience members.

This got me thinking: As a Bay Area native who has attended local shows for going on ten years, I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands more than once. Well versed with their studio albums and live performances, I come to a show more-or-less knowing what to expect. I know when to sing along and nod my head to the beat, I know when to anticipate a potential mosh pit, I can feel when there is going to be one of those pregnant pauses where people who don’t know better will think a song is over… but it isn’t.

However, improvisation changes all of that. This particular Judgment Day show couldn’t have been the only time I had ever attended a partially improvised performance—where has my head been?

I investigated this further by asking Lewis more about this show in particular. He explained that in his experience, improvisation is something that the audience innately picks up on regardless of whether or not they’re familiar with the a band’s discography. Lewis mentioned that from both the musician and audience’s point-of-view, when it’s done well it “seems right…[successful] improvisation make something unpredictable seem inevitable.” It’s nearly seamless, and if, as an audience member, you aren’t present with this progression in the performance, perhaps you could miss it. However, the energy exuded by a performer at the moment of conception of something knew is “hard to fake.”

Robin Landy and Eric Kuhn of Silian Rail

Silian Rail, a Bay Area-based band and long-time favorite of mine, recently posted an improvised piece on their Facebook page. I asked Eric Kuhn, Silian’s drummer, to share some of his experience with improvisation with me. Much to my surprise, Eric’s insights on the subject were compatible with my own initial thoughts. Without wandering too far the realm of cheesy kumbaya talk about feelings, I would be remiss not mentioning the essence of the matter: Art and music in particular are mediums by which we can express ourselves and our emotions, often times from an unconscious place. Improvisation is as much a feeling as it is an action, for both the performer and the audience. In regard to live improvisation, Eric articulated some of the finer points of the overall experience:

I would say improvisation in a live setting can be particularly powerful because it acknowledges that that one context for the sharing of music is completely unique– the physical setting, the particular place and time, the particular group of people there to witness it and the energy they bring, the equipment being used– all of these things, which you can multiply out to infinity, are variables which shape the music in to the one distinct thing that it will be in that moment and no other moment. So, improvisation is a nice acknowledgment and celebration of that fact, and it also gives the artist a chance to create something which is intentionally born of that unique moment, rather than taking something pre-existing and fitting it in to that context.

In the handful of conversations I had with diverse groups of people on this subject, they repeatedly returned to the idea that improvisation operates within a conventional context, then goes on to break away from our expectations and rational thought.

Perhaps needless to say at this point, but these conversations got me really stoked. So much so, that I had to explore how other people, specifically non-musicians, integrate improvisation in to their work.

Lauren Baines

Lauren Baines.

Lauren Baines, a contemporary dancer based in the South Bay, expanded on the implications of improvisation on modern dance. I have to admit, I had never thought of dance in those terms. Before speaking with Lauren, my knowledge of modern dance was laughable and my personal experience with dance non-existent. Lauren explained that modern dance, like modern visual art, is about “setting yourself free from tradition, expectations, and structure and instead allowing the personal voice of the choreographer and the dancers to have free reign.”

Lauren recently performed with ahdanco (Abigail Hosein Dance Company) in Ernest Jolly’s installation at the SF Arts Commission’s window front gallery space.

A trio of dancers

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery Ernest Jolly - Natural Reaction. ahdanco performance

performed a partially improvisational dance. The structural foundation was a “follow the leader” format where Abgail would do a movement and the other two would copy her. None of the dancers knew what movements Abigail would do, it was completely spontaneous. The other catch? They were all facing different directions in the space.  This added layer of complexity challenged them as dancers to try and see what movement she did, then repeat in our own space. Did I mention they were also in several inches of water? This is another instance where I can’t speak to what the audience’s expectations were going in to this performance, or if they could tell it was improvised, however, Lauren images “there was a certain spontaneity to that section…to see the movement echo through the dancers in slightly different forms… as if the three dancers were all going through similar thoughts and emotions, but not connecting with one another.”

Brian Chu, editor and director with The Werehaus, had encountered improvisational elements in film making. A lot of time and thought goes into pre-production and planning what type of shots and lightening to use, but Brian said it really all comes down to the subject (and as we all know, people are unpredictable). With Brian’s documentary film making, “unplanned shoots have come out feeling so natural and real…more so that I could ever imagine.” As a visual medium, films with a documentary point-of-view purposefully capture genuine unscripted moments and present them to an audience with the expectation of sincerity and authenticity without leaving too much on the proverbial cutting room floor. It’s a delicate balancing act between improvising when the subject of a film takes the conversation or action in an unexpected direction, and responding by crafting the narrative around a moment of spontaneous inspiration.

What are the implications of all of these ideas to us? Here is my charge to you: Put yourself out there, attend a performance that you are interested in but know little about, and go without holding tightly to your expectations. I think you may surprise yourself when you tune in, listen and watch carefully. It wasn’t until after I finished writing this blog that I realize how Artlarking-centric this idea truly is; I first thing I always tell people about Artlarking is that the heart of the mission and vision revolves around collaboration. Improvisation is a quintessential form of collaboration on a number of levels, but keep a sharp eye, otherwise you may miss it.

Controversy in local and regional art

Artlarking readers, I have something a little bit more personal to write about this week. I’ll preface this post with this brief disclaimer: Some of you will not agree with my point-of-view in this post, and that’s great! Please continue the dialogue with by commenting, discussing these issues with friends/family members/significant others/the guy you always see on Muni, etc. There will never be a full-stop neatly concluding any subject within the contemporary art world. Diverse opinions that challenge my own are part of the reason I fell in love with studying art, and this blog will share of few of those points-of-view with you.

Staircase, 2010 by Verese Lazyers

I feel as though the artwork has gone topsy-turvy in recent weeks, and I sincerely wish I could attribute it to a lunar alignment. SF’s own Ritual Roasters on Valencia removed Verese Layzers photographs because they was perceived by the owner to be “too serious.” The SFist quoted an e-mail from the owner to Layzers saying art in cafes should be “fluffier stuff, stuff that doesn’t make people think about the tough questions in life.” Layzers photographic series deals with losing a loved one, and isn’t that something we can all universally relate to? It’s unclear if the owner objected to the work itself or the artist’s statement, regardless, I think Ritual Roasters patrons missed out on seeing a high quality exhibition.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m in a coffee shop, casually enjoying an iced coffee, I usually take note of how incredibly mundane or tacky coffee shop art can be (not unlike paintings and photos in hotel rooms, woof!). I would enjoy seeing more works of art that challenge me, and draw me in by a greater theme. In fact, I think it would make for fabulous conversation over coffee. This particularly irks me because I recently mentioned Ritual Roasters in a previous blog post, complementing them on bring art to the general public. My opinion of Ritual Roasters still stands, but heavy sigh.

I recently finished reading Marcia Tucker’s memoir, and as the founding director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, she had seen a lot of ground-breaking, unconventional contemporary art works in her career. I agree completely with her sentiment on works of art that challenge its viewers:

The work I like most is always the art that I don’t understand—the stuff that sticks in my mind but eludes me in every other way. It nags at me, making sure that when I least expect it, it’ll interrupt my dinner or my sleep with stupid questions like, “Why do I make you uncomfortable? Why can’t you just accept me as I am? (Marcia Tucker, A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World, Prologue, page 1)

Moving on to another art world scuffle on the opposite end of the spectrum: An artist I worked with last year presented a public art installation so well-received that the idea is being stolen. Literally. I coordinated a public art program for the 2010 01SJ Biennial titled “Play Me, I’m Yours” by UK-based artist, Luke Jerram in which upright pianos are placed around cities, decorated by the community, and made available for the public to play and enjoy. The installation has traveled around the world, and shortly before the San Jose iteration of the installation, “Play Me, I’m Yours” had a brief stint in NYC. This year, New York has brought back the project, bigger and grander than ever… and dropped Luke in the process. The New York Times recently covered the issue, and I have to admit I read the article more than once because I was in such shock. Sing for Hope, a performing arts non-profit, will host another iteration of “Play Me, I’m Yours” without giving Luke any credit or consulting him on the project. There isn’t even a thinly veiled public relations campaign to convince the people that they are modifying the idea and making it their own. Same city, same project.

Removal of the mural by the Italian street artist known as Blu. Commissioned by MOCA as part of the "Art in the Streets" exhibition.

Finally, and in my opinion the most controversial event featured in this post, the censorship of art in LA. The MOCA commissioned a piece by Blu, a notable street artist, for the “Art in the Streets” show that has garnered a flurry of media attention. The LA Times reported that the anti-war mural was painted over by the very institution that commissioned it. It’s no secret to anyone that Blu has an anti-capitalistic bent to his work, and this particular work certainly sparks further investigation and reflection. At the very least, I think the MOCA could have moderated a discuss on the work even if they were committed to removing it. Maybe the fleeting existence of the physical work only goes to serve Blu’s agenda on the relationship between money, power and influence.

Art is inherently emotional, and when it comes to expressing our feelings about a work of art, there is no wrong answer. I’ve always been of the opinion that the greatest works of art the take ideas you’re uncomfortable with and shove them underneath your noise so you can’t help by confront them. Similarly, I find value in works of art that I don’t find immediately aesthetically pleasing (the phrase “aesthetically pleasing” also opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to debates about art and its function). I’ll wrap up this post with a quote from Leo Steinberg, “If a work of art disturbs you, it probably a good work. If you hate it, it’s probably great.”

I’ll turn it over to you Artlarking readers, what do you think?

Featured Musician: Seabright

Seabright is a one-man musical project that seamlessly fuses electronic with live instrumentation. Lots of reverb, near-unintelligible vocals, and layers upon layers of majestic pop hooks form the basis of Seabright’s sound. Its creator, Justin Morales of the South Bay Area, was gracious enough to accept both an invitation to perform at Neon Nature and to provide the answers for this very interview. Let’s get to know him a bit better, shall we?

Artlarking: When I googled the word “seabright,” my first results were a brewery, an insurance company, and a city in New Jersey. How, exactly, did you come to settle upon the moniker?

JM: Seabright is the name of a beach that I used to go to a few years back. At the time, I was just getting back into making music and I needed a name. I’ve always been pretty much obsessed with the beach. So Seabright just made sense and I went with it.

Artlarking: Your newest release, Dark City, is listed as an EP on various websites, and yet there are 11 songs on it. What gives?

JM: Haha, yes. When I started working on Dark City (October 2010), I didn’t know what it was going to be. I was just making songs, and I guessed it would be an EP. But then it really got crazy and I started finishing tons of songs. I decided to finish as many as I could up until January 1st, 2011. It’s an EP only in name, but I didn’t want to change it.

Artlarking: What led you to form Seabright as a solo venture? Also, there only appears to be one other musician on Dark City – who is Sunyoung Kim, exactly?

JM: When I first started Seabright, it was while I was finishing grad school (2005). All my old friends that I used to make music with were either in different cities or not making music anymore. So I just decided to utilize all the new recording software and do it all myself. Sunyoung Kim is my girlfriend and also a really good singer and piano player, so sometimes I convince her to make music with me. 🙂

Artlarking: I understand that you’re a schoolteacher by trade. How do you balance your daily obligations with your artistic pursuits?

JM: Yeah, teaching takes a lot of time and effort, so during the semester, I can really only make little beats and try little ideas. Then, during my breaks, I will record and do all the big work. As far as shows, I usually just play locally, so it’s not too big of a problem. I was able to do a little mini-tour to LA this spring during my spring break though.

Artlarking: What do you think about sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc.? Have they helped independent musicians to thrive or are they simply cluttering the internet?

JM: I love all of them. I was really devastated when Myspace fell off because that was my main site, but now I realize that it was a blessing. Soundcloud and Bandcamp in particular are really essential and exciting developments that let independent music reach the masses. I’ve found some amazing stuff on Bandcamp just as a listener. I’m still warming up to Twitter, but it is obviously essential too. I’m curious about what new websites will pop up next. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure them out too.

Artlarking: Which older “classic rock” acts do you model yourself after? Or alternately, which newer, more recently emerging acts do you model yourself after?

JM: My ‘classic’ rock influences are definitely the Beach Boys, Kraftwerk, the Velvet Underground and Neu! Then I’m really influenced by 80’s new wave and synth pop, then 90’s indie rock, ambient and trip hop, and finally by lots of other bedroom/laptop musicians like myself. It’s great to be part of a scene and to see other musicians who have been able to take so many styles from the past and put them together, almost DJ style, and create something new and fun.

Artlarking: I understand that you have an active fascination with the sports world. Will the Giants repeat as world champions for the second year in a row? Who do you predict will win the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks or the Miami Heat?

JM: Hahaha. Yes, I love sports! I would love for the Giants to repeat, but I’m a little worried about our injuries (get well soon, Buster*!). For the NBA Finals, GO MAVS! It would be great to see a team like the Mavs, with so many awesome old players, win a ring.

(*Buster Posey, the Giants’ starting catcher, broke his ankle on May 25th of this year, effectively sidelining him for the remainder of the season – ed.)

Artlarking: You reside in the East Bay. Which San Francisco venue has been your favorite to play thus far?

JM: Actually I’m from the South Bay, but I would say that the Elbo Room and the Knockout were my faves, along with Epicenter Café!

Artlarking: Good answer, and sorry for the geographical flub! Which 5 *South* Bay acts would you most like to promote? Most of our readers live within the city limits, so it’d be nice to know some good up-and-comers to look out for.

JM: I really like Ugly Winner, Sour Patch, Guests, Doctor Nurse, and from Santa Cruz, Atlantic at Pacific.

Seabright plays early in the evening at this Saturday’s “Neon Nature and the New Currency” event; make sure and be there no later than 6 PM in order to catch the entire set. Also, big thanks to Justin Morales for his insightful answers and timely response!
AME

“Neon Nature and the New Currency,” a free event hosted by Artlarking.com and MAPP, will be held at the Box Factory at 865 Florida at 21st in San Francisco, CA. It begins at 5 PM and ends at 11 PM. Other performers and artists include Uncle Rebel, Cartoon Justice, Anna Ash, Shantell Martin, Kristin Farr and Richard Parker.

The Art of No Fear: Jennifer Maria Harris


I interviewed artist Jennifer Maria Harris last week at Samovar Tea Lounge about social action, childhood, persisting as an artist, and her upcoming collaborative work.  An exhibition for her Fear Not Project  is currently on display at the Red Poppy Art House.

Harris will also be contributing to Artlarking’s June Neon/Nature and the New Currency show  in collaboration with local band Cartoon Justice.  They will be doing a live musical remix of audio files from the Fear Not radio project, where people call a hotline with voicemails to spread the No Fear message.  Check it out June 4th at the Box Factory (865 Florida @ 21st, SF)!  And read….
The Interview!

Alison Dale: Your site is tallpainter.com.  So who is this tall painter?

Jennifer M. Harris: When I was first working as an artist, I was just doing painting, for probably the first 5, maybe even ten years.  When I was in school I’d always done many many different things and enjoyed them.  But interestingly at one point one of my main painting instructors had expressed the opinion that you shouldn’t cross-craft and diversify, and you should focus.  And although I think there was value to that, that is not the way that I work.  I actually really benefit from doing many different things.  So… straight out of school I was listening to him and I think it also made sense just for me to kind of hone my craft… and I also just love it.  But as time passed I got more and more drawn to other projects from the past:  ….printmaking, but primarily doing different projects that would be installations, public art, social action- I was always really interested in that.

The Man in the Napoleon Hat, the Dog, the Lamb, and the Cat by Jennifer Maria Harris

AD: Yes, I’ve noticed you have done quite a bit of conceptual art pieces. A few of them are chalk based projects- what was that about?

JMH: Yeah- growing up as a teenager during the time of the birth of graffiti art, I did a bit of graffiti.  But I got more interested in doing this kind of impermanent, unsophisticated, and in many ways uncool street art -chalk on sidewalks, like children do.  I figured the benefits are: no one’s going to arrest you for it, you can do it pretty much wherever you want, and it’s this very benign entity.  I also got interested in the fact that it disappears over time.  All of the pieces I did were about sharing stories and how they affect us over time, so that made sense with the medium, as something people would run into and then they slowly disappeared as they walked over it.  And I love seeing how over time the older ones would fade and the newer ones would be the strongest, but it was a nice gradual process.

AD:You were trained as a painter- where did you attend school?

JMH: I initially  went to Virginia Commonwealth University.  I got really lucky getting into their program – I had no idea how good it was, but it’s a fabulous program.  And as part of it, I was able to get a scholarship to study abroad at Loughborough College of Art and Design in the UK.

AD: How did you decide initially that you wanted to be an artist?

JMH: I always wanted to be an artist, was always drawing as a kid….  When I was really small, 3-4 years old, my mother ran a  hair salon.  At one point she had me enrolled in this daycare where kids were running around screaming at each other, and I don’t really remember any adults being present- I”m sure they were, but …. i was really unhappy.  At one point she peeked through the window and saw that I was sitting in the corner crying, kids were hitting eachother, all this chaos.  So she pulled me out and made a deal with me that if I could quietly entertain myself in the salon I wouldn’t have to go to the daycare.  One of the big things that i did was to draw people and animals to keep myself company, because it would get very boring.  I always think of this as an important stage, because a really important aspect of art to me has been creating characters-  many of them are animals, so… entities, beings?  that I really wanted to spend time with but who did not yet exist in the world.   It’s almost like that feeling of missing somebody, and then you see them after a long time- that was how I always felt working.

AD:  How did you decide on art school, officially?

JMH:  Going to art school and choosing it as a profession was a random process, and a bit of a surprise.  In high school I was not in the healthiest place, didn’t apply to colleges.  The process of application at VCU was quick enough that I could commit to it- Literally you just go for an interview, one day, and they told you if you got in.  I think I did my portfolio staying up all night the night before, my typical procrastination at the time, went there, and thankfully got in.   Everything changed for me.  Once I got there, I just got healthy on all kinds of levels .  One of the most healthy parts was learning how to commit 500 percent to what you love.  In terms of artwork, that should always be first and foremost in what youre thinking – not what’s gonna sell, or what other people  will like , but what you love.  And secondly, how to communicate that clearly, so that everyone can hear it.

AD:  Would you absolutely recommend art school to aspiring artists?

JMH:  Yes, because the best way to learn is through lots of other people.  When other people have gone before you doing all of these things, then you can learn quickly from the environment.  VCU accepted around 70 percent of their applicants, which I think is a great idea because who can tell who really has “art skills” when they’re 18?  Because you know, it’s not all about draftsmanship, and how can you tell who’s going to do what?  So they would accept 70 percent and just really kick your butt your first year, so it was all about who cared enough to persist.  And that’s a good way, because when you really get out there it’s the same- I’d say that almost all of the people I know who are working as artists now are really the ones who care enough to persist.

AD:  How do you define art? What is art to you?

JMH:  An interesting thing I recently read about the word art is that the root of it has to do with the place where two things join- almost like the word “joint”, just this place where two things connect and where they articulate- where they connect and move…. I thought that was really cool.  Etymology is obviously really interesting to me.

AD:  One  of your current projects is the Fear Not project.  Can you explain this concept a little bit?

JMH:  The Fear Not Project is based on this idea: iif we were all paying attention to both looking for anti-fear messages in the media and the world around us, and also focusing on sharing those messages with each other, we would benefit.  This, rather than what I think our natural inclination is, which his to look for things that we need to be afraid of, and share that information about what to be afraid of.  I think especially in our current times there’s just so much information everywhere that I think you can end up getting an incorrect view of what the world is like.  And that’s not to say that there aren’t things to be afraid of out there, or really difficult situations, but I do think that our level of focus on fear is not only bad for us, but affects our view of other people.  It makes us more likely to be afraid of other people.  Boundaries like race, religion, politics- for those to be stronger, and more negative because of the emphasis on fear.  Part of the idea behind having people share these anti-fear words is about having them say those words- there’s a nice thing about hearing hundreds of people telling you not to be afraid.

Fear Not Library at Root Division, from fearnot.com

AD:  That’s one thing I’ve seen as a common thread throughout your work, storytelling about that larger connection to people.   JMH:  I really at the heart of it, it’s about having people connect with each other and be united in a goal, without caring about if that other person agrees with them on abortion, or if that other person shares their religion, or is a democrat, or is liberal enough, or republican enough, all of these things.  Because I think in reality the world is a much less scary place when you are connecting with people without regard for those things.  And I know that when people have been willing to connect with me, even if I know that on some deep level they may disagree with how I live my life- that makes me feel so much more inspired with everything that I do, and just safe!  It’s sttange but it’s true, that one person can actually make a difference.
AD:  People can connect to your work May 2nd to June 13th is an exhibition of Fear Not at the Red Poppy Art House (the opening reception was on May 11).
What can we expect at the exhibition?

JMH:  The ongoing exhibition will have over 150 images of Fear Not indirect mail, the hand-written part of the project where people send me written messages that I turn into magnets and put them on the street for other people to find, and the finder can report the find on the website, and also share a little bit about themselves and what they think of it.  Fear Not radio is a sound installation of people who call in to verbally assure us to have no fear to this Hotline:   1-888-END2FEAR (1-888-363-2332)  And Fear Not library is 18 of the best selling books of all time- so that includes books like the Bible, and Quotations from Chairman Mao, but also books like Harry Potter, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull- all of the text in these books has been whited out except for the words “do not be afraid” or similar messages (the Bible has 366 instances of this phrase).

AD:  What are some upcoming projects on your horizon?

JMH:  I’m currently working on a collaboration with Dr. Gino Dante Borges, who has a project called The Wild Self (http://www.thewildself.com/).  The Fear Not/ Wild Self collaboration is going to be called the Yip and Yelp project (a website will launch in June @ http://www.yipandyelp.com).  It’s about connecting with the wild part of our nature and finding a voice to maintain a connection with the animal part of our nature; embracing the uncivilized.  It will be a safe place for people to experiment with this idea.  We will have a toll-free hotline to call as well (1-888-yipyelp) where people can call in and record their wild sounds- all sounds will be anonymous.  These sounds will then be divided by location on an interactive map online.  When hearing these sounds, it will be interesting because it can bring us back to our unseparated, animal nature- like, “is that my accountant, or a the guy from the gas station?”  We also plan to do flashmob-style events to bring the wild nature of people to a public space.

AD:  How did you begin this collaboration?

JMH:  Well, I’ve done very few collaborations- not since I was out of art school, really.  This year is all about bringing more people into my art space.  Gino and I met at a show we were both in at Trickster Art Salon, and then we contacted each other at the same time, kind of serendipitously.

AD:  What is the benefit of collaboration and what is your process?

JMH:  No one told me in art school how collaborations can be important- but they are.  In collaborating with someone, you get a better sense of what you bring creatively, because of how your work can be shown in contrast to theirs.  Also working with people that closely you get to learn so much- they can be great teachers.  Gino Borges is a philosopher- he also brings an awareness of marketing and organization to the table.  I’m more timid at getting people to participate in art projects, and he’s more marketing oriented- together we strike a good balance between coaching people and being a little more aggressive, and being cautious and non-pushy.

We meet once a week at Samovar tea lounge, work 2-3 hours together and discuss, separate tasks for the week, and email throughout when needed.  I feel like collaboration has energized and amplified my work- it’s become a great deal of what I want to do with my artwork as the ideas from Fear Not Project have developed.Thanks to Jennifer Maria Harris for the interview!