November - December 2001
Volume 7 Number 8
cover art by Ricardo Acevedo
Table of Contents
We see a lot of artless structures being built here. Yet, Austin is not an artless town. We have a great heritage of art in construction that we still can and do appreciate.
After we talked a while in his bedroom/living room/painting studio, Charles invited me to peak in his closet/bathroom, where he stores all of his work.
An interview with Cynthia Camlin, director of Creative Research Laboratory.
Being a visual artist is important because if you have something to say, you should speak out, you should do it.
I think my work has been to me an exploration of black and African American representation by African Americans or by others. It has also taken me to a critical point of advertising and its use of caricature, representations of blacks or African Americans in the 19th Century, and how those images or concepts remain in the present, in terms of their place in 20th and 21st century advertising.
--Michael Ray Charles
The relationship between music and visual media: an interview with Graham Reynolds and Peter Stopschinski, leaders of the groups Golden Arm Trio and Brown Whornet.
Do you still catch yourself doodling during life's most tedious moments? Chances are, if the answer is yes, you are recreating designs which have appeared for thousands of years: the spiral, the circle, the cross, and the star. Though ancient, these simple symbols continue to stream out of the human consciousness almost instinctively.
Let's ride, Baby! Foot on the gas means brakes are for suckers. Remember Red Light, Green Light? Here, the rules of the game are not maintained.
My first encounter with high art was on my hands and knees.
I can't influence how George Bush responds and I can't anticipate -- and prevent -- the next act of terror. But you know what? I also can't anticipate the next time a drunk driver is going to go speeding down East 11th Street and kill herself and other innocent people.
Art in Construction: A Lost Art? by Justin Davis
Construction and design are two things we see a lot of here in Austin. We see a lot of haphazard construction with a lot of careless design. We see a lot of artless structures being built here. Yet, Austin is not an artless town. We have a great heritage of art in construction that we still can and do appreciate.
Congress Avenue is an easily viewed example. Several of its older buildings, with their arches and detailed stone work, are a living testament to the fact that at one time construction workers actually were considered artisans. If you take a day and explore the Central Austin front-porched neighborhoods, you'll find artful construction here as well. And, on the South Side, around South First Street, you'll discover ornate tile work, woodworking and homes with vivid facades. Beautiful displays of creativity, emotion and internal life are exhibited for the entire world to see.
While all of the city's enclaves harbor a smattering of landscape construction artists, the South and East Sides seem to attract many of Austin's self-made ones. It is here where I found Thor, a high school art teacher, musician, self-made artist and self proclaimed "multi-headed monster."
Thor currently is making a home for himself. Like many people here in Austin, he has so many ingenious ideas, but so little time. However, he confesses that he is finding the time to transform his house into "a big sculpture," from "a shack to a palace," with the assistance of some old woodworking tools from around the turn of the century. Found at flea markets and on the internet, relatively cheap but well made, such hand tools were the only way to shape any sort of raw material before the dawn of electricity. When employing these rudimentary instruments, one not only gets a fundamental sense of their actual function but also have a surprising amount of control. This long forgotten relationship between the tool and wood endows the artisan with the patient dexterity necessary to create a distinct technique or image. The work may be slower, but it is more satisfying.
On the West Side in Tarrytown, where art is often bought rather than made by its residents, there is a construction site on a lot formerly full of brush and weeds. Alongside the emerging house, serpentine limestone walls meander throughout the lot to assemble a landscape and demarcate a garden. Paul Oglesby, designer and project coordinator, works diligently to put the final touches on one of two 1.5 ton limestone blocks that balance on the peaks of the walls' curves. Rare in his artistic impetus, this landscape construction architect will introduce climate-friendly plants to dry-stack limestone walls, towers and a pergola. His employment of simple hand tools and dry stacks (as opposed to mortar) fortifies the longevity, function and balance he envisions in his artistry.
"I definitely believe in using art in every way possible every day," Paul states.
To achieve longevity through art in construction, Paul believes you must understand all of what you are working with: the land, the surrounding buildings and your clients. You have the challenging task of negotiating present realities with lasting implications. You must create an appealing and functional design that will also stand the test of time.
"It's (the landscape design) not like some college conceptual art project where you're trying to create something to get some sort of point across. It's a living space," Paul stresses.
Cultivating such a space requires time and patience. For example, when planting a garden, it takes years to see the final product because plants are so infinitely variable. It is difficult to predict how they are going to grow and how the landscape will change. Paul has been experimenting with plants and horticulture techniques for over 20 years. He uses this knowledge to inform the decisions he makes about his current projects.
"There are certain key elements to a garden, things which people just like to have around them," he states. Stones, plants and water. Among the most basic elements of the earth, these landscape tools are nuanced over and over again in each and every one of Paul's projects.
But, he also admits, "Art is knowing when to stop creating and let the materials do the work. It (the ego) destroys art. You have to approach a project like a child. People have to be more humble when dealing with the environment (and) leave their egos at home."
Artful construction requires not only humility but also an understanding of the complexity of the world that surrounds us. "In a seemingly simple grassland, there's a lot happening that people do not see on the surface because all they see are the waves of grass. Underneath, you'll find all kinds of plants," Paul states.
Unfortunately, this type of complexity is often overlooked by today's construction industry. In fact, it is general practice for landscapers of all descriptions to forgo the kinds of systemic planning and building methods that consider the range of factors which influence the viability of a structure: aesthetics and beauty; the ecosystem and the natural environment; pre-existing structures and transportation systems; the economy; and longevity and stewardship to name a few. While most of today's structures do meet fire, safety and building codes, many fail to integrate themselves into the community that surrounds them. They fail to reflect the vitality of humanity. Rather, they multiply without a moment's notice, instantly obtrusive, infinitely consequential.
A growing number of people in Austin are reacquainting themselves with art in construction, particularly at their homes. In such a creative climate, this practice can only increase in the coming years. While we may not master the level of artistry displayed by European cities or even that of Austin in the late 1800's, we can at least attempt to reclaim a lasting, functional and beautiful aesthetic, one stone at a time.
A Conversation with Charles Randolph by Elizabeth Stanard
A 24 year-old Austin native of African American and Creole descent, oil painter Charles Randolph welcomed me into his East Side home to discuss the realties of being a young black visual artist in Austin. After we talked a while in his bedroom/living room/painting studio, Charles invited me to peak in his closet/bathroom, where he stores all of his work.
ADA: So, tell me about your art.
CR: It's all figurative. I'm not really into the abstract thing right now. I like to deal with social and political issues and throw in political images, words. But definitely realistic figurative painting, dealing with people and their bodies.
ADA: What inspires your realism?
CR: Anything that I've experienced, like this war that's going on or some girl. Anything I can really relate to that bothers me. It's usually something that frustrates me or pisses me off. Maybe I feel the need to change something. But I definitely feel like if you have any spiritual motivation in your life and you're an artist, then that should bleed into your work. Dealing with humanity. When I paint a picture, I want somebody to look at it and read it and walk away from it with something to think about the rest of the day. I take real events, and I kind of freak them out a little bit.
ADA: So how do viewers respond to your interpretation of reality?
CR: I've gotten some good feedback, a lot of questions on why I did this or why I did that. Like this painting of O.J. Simpson and Eldridge Cleaver and Emmett Till. And it's a picture dealing with interracial relationships. And I think that kind of offended people. They thought I was saying it was wrong. But you gotta read deeper. You gotta know who each character is and what happened to each character and what they experienced.
ADA: How does your identity as a young black man manifest in your work?
CR: Well, naturally. I don't sit here and think, "Oh, I'm going to make this a black painting." It's all meshed into one thing, and you're just spitting it out on paper.
ADA: What's it like being a black artist in Austin?
CR: If you want to paint anything ethnic, then you have to stick to your ethnic gallery as far as my experience goes. I've been to galleries all over Austin, and there are no ethnic painters there. They have their own favorite painters that they like to stick to. For instance, if I were to have a series of all black paintings, and go to some of these galleries in Tarrytown or Westlake, there wouldn't be a chance. The gallery owners don't think that there is a market for it. And they could be right because Austin alone doesn't really have a big art scene. So if Austin alone doesn't have a big art scene, then the black art scene is going to be very, very tiny. So the only places that we show at are the black museum, the Carver Museum, or at Harold's DiverseArts Little Gallery.
ADA: Is there a community of black artists in Austin?
CR: There's a black art community in Austin, but it's weak. There is a black art group here that I'm working with. But since there are no actual black galleries in town now except the Bydee Gallery on 6th Street, and he shows his own work, then there should be a lot of support among the black artists to push each other. And there's not. And I've noticed there's a lot of stuck up attitudes. They want to see a certain type of work.
ADA: And what is that?
CR: Pleasant work. I had a show at the Carver Museum. Bunch of great people. But I had a painting that was pretty explicit, and it had some religious messages in there. And they stuck it in the closet. They would not hang it.
ADA: So what do you think their concerns were? I see art all the time that addresses religious, cultural, sexual and social issues.
CR: I think one, it was a family show. But any art show in town is a family art show. I haven't been to one art show that says don't invite your children, except maybe an erotic art show. So they told me that, "Well, it was a little too much for us" and too extreme, and they didn't want to see it. And I didn't know until the day of the opening. It was a direct hit on the whole Jesus thing and religion, and I'm sure they weren't too happy about that. And there was a woman spreading her legs. But it wasn't erotic.
ADA: What do you think they were anticipating would happen if they showed this piece?
CR: I think they were anticipating bad media coverage, bad critique. I heard a couple of people saying that the news was there and they would have focused in on that one picture. My argument is that if you're trying to get publicity for your gallery or museum, any kind of publicity is good. If you want people to come and see your gallery, put some controversial stuff in there. If it's the same damn critique every year, pretty pictures by these local artists, people get bored with that kind of crap. You got to stir up the leaves a little bit to get people thinking.
ADA: What would you like to see happen to the black arts scene in Austin?
CR: Well, to have more than one place to show and to have a more open mind towards what black artists are painting and less restrictions. Come on, it's 2001. Let's do some serious work. Not bubble gum art. Being black and being of any kind of color, it's not pretty. As far as the black movement in Austin, I'd like to see something more raw and (for it to) quit being so damned passive.
ADA: How are you attempting to achieve this?
CR: Oh, everything I'm doing. Me, just keeping on painting the stuff that I paint. Not just trying to please the gallery owners. Going out and creating my own shows, finding spaces to put my own shows on. Just doing it all myself is the only thing I can do. I'm directing an art show in December at Blue Genie. I had this idea last year to do this huge art show/sale for three days. And as far as getting help, I've learned already, I mean them pulling down that one painting of mine, that shows me right there that you can't get too much help from a lot of people here in town, even if they are black.
[For more information on Charles Randolph's work and his upcoming show, "The Blue Bizarre," check out Blue Genie Art Industries' website at www.bluegenieart.com.]
Creative Research Laboratory by Theresa Reyes
An interview with Cynthia Camlin, director of Creative Research Laboratory.
ADA: What is the Creative Research Laboratory (CRL) and how did the idea come about?
Cynthia Camlin: The Department (of Art & Art History at UT) has known that the Blanton Museum would be moving and building a new art museum and would no longer be able to do department shows (during the museum's construction phase). We knew that we needed to have some kind of interim space and started looking off campus. And Flatbed (Press) was chosen. We gave the lab the name that we did because we didn't want to give the impression that it's just an exhibition space. Part of the space is for exhi-bitions. Part of it is for studios for grad students and more workshop and collaboration space for guest artists.
ADA: UT already has a nationally recognized art museum that is used by the community. Why create another public art space?
CC: Many people are working very hard to strengthen visual art institutions in Austin and to bring them to a new level. The Blanton has made extremely important additions to its collection in the last two years and is embarking on a new building, as is the Austin Museum of Art. TFAA opened the Jones Center for Contemporary Art, and a handful of other galleries have sprung up as well. This a pivotal time of growth for the visual arts culture of Austin, but it is potentially threatened by the economic situation. The UT Studio Art and Design programs are nationally respected and attract students from across the country and internationally. Yet, these programs are not fully utilized by the local arts community. CreativeResearch Laboratory, with a year-round exhibition schedule and a dedicated space for programs, will broaden the department's impact and contribute overall to Austin's visual arts culture.
ADA: How does the CRL plan to bridge the gap in the arts community that exists between UT and Austin?
CC: I think the fact that it's off campus is a big plus. I think it's going to make more people look at the work of faculty and students than in the past. We're reaching out and adding something to the community. We have an Art Education program and a Visual Arts Studies program that have partnerships with schools and community arts programs in the city. We've been talking to them about how we can have exhibitions that are related to their work in the community. One thing we did was host two Gallery 106 events in this space for the Cuban gallery.
ADA: Will the CRL show work created by artists who have no UT affiliation?
CC: It will be predominately UT, but there is no kind of policy that has been set about there not being non-UT people in here. In fact we're hosting a show of John Alexander who has no UT connection in December. We've had some ideas, although it needs to be things that have an education role and a community role. And we'll always be going between those two things and balancing them in the shows.
ADA: Will there be any collaboration between the CRL and other galleries such as Women and Their Work, d berman or ACA?
CC: There very likely could be some coordinated shows. I think that would be wonderful. They're all thrilled and supportive of this happening.
ADA: How is the CRL funded and how will it sustain itself?
CC: The operations of the lab are supported by the department, the College of Fine Arts and the University.
ADA: What are the CRL's current and upcoming exhibitions?
CC: This is kind of a transition year. The first three shows are all faculty. We divided it into three groups based on what people are doing currently. The second show opens January 17th and the third in February. Each show will have a different character to it. Then we'll have an undergraduate student show, an MFA show, and the senior design show will happen after that. Then we'll probably have some project shows by proposal in the summer.
[For more information on the Creative Research Laboratory, contact Cynthia Camlin at (512) 322-2099, or check out UT's Department of Art & Art History website at www.utexas.edu/cofa/a_ah.]
An Interview with Deborah Roberts by Sara Reiss
ADA: Can you give me a brief history about your background and influences?
Deborah Roberts: I started drawing in high school. And I'm an Austinite, so I went to the University of Texas here in Austin. My influences are the old masters like Rembrandt, Da Vinci. More recently though, I am being influenced by Van Gogh. My professional experiences were when I owned a gallery for eight years, but I had to quit because it was difficult to be an artist and run a gallery. And I wanted to devote my time to making work.
ADA: Let's talk about your art, and the work you are doing currently. How did you arrive at your current style?
DR: As I said, I'm influenced more now by Van Gogh, but I'm not too sure about that. My older style is more realistic. That's my main work, and I go back to it; but I'm starting to work in a more abstract, impressionist style.
ADA: What is your creative process, from the beginning to the end of a painting?
DR: I have a little black book where I do my sketches. Then I take the sketch and draw it out on the canvas, and then I paint it using acrylics. Sometimes the sketches are better than the painting. Sometimes I just can't get it to work in a painting, so I change it from the original sketch.
ADA: Where have you shown your art?
DR: I have shown in The George Washington Carver Museum and also in galleries in Philadelphia and Chicago. I really like Chicago. The doors here in Austin [are] more closed than in places like Philadelphia and Chicago for showing my work.
ADA: Why do you think being a visual artist is important?
DR: Well I think everything is important, like garbage collecting; the garbage collectors are necessary. Being a visual artist is important because if you have something to say, you should speak out, you should do it.
ADA: Does your art try to reflect your identity as an African American, and especially, an African American artist working in Austin?
DR: I have two types of work, my educational work, which is my bread and butter, and what I call my main work. I try to get out in my work the African American experience, which has been stereotyped, but I don't try and place a label on myself and my work.
ADA: Do you want to be identified as an African American artist? Can you tell me about your experiences here as an African American artist?
DR: No, I don't want to be labeled [as an] African American artist. They don't label white male artists and their work as "white male." Usually the label of African American artist is put on by the curators, if we can even get them to come to a show. Unfortunately, if you are ethnic, you are automatically [a] minority in the art world. My experiences here in Austin have been a lot of closed doors. There are curators here who have been here for more than ten years, and they aren't interested in bringing in anything new into the art world here in Austin.
ADA: Tell me a about the group that you started for African American artists.
DR: A few of my colleagues and I formed the African American Artists Coalition because we felt it was necessary. There wasn't a community here in Austin for African American artists, and we felt we had to form this group to make a community here. We formed the group almost two years ago, and in fact, our two-year anniversary will be this January.
ADA: Do you feel there is an "old garde" aesthetic within the African American arts scene here?
DR: There is definitely a split between artists who [are and] aren't interested in growth, and I am all about change and growth. But there are some artists who are getting known as sort of the "flavor of the month", and so they don't feel they need to push for change or have any growth. But then there are artists who do think there should be a change and there should be growth.
ADA: What do you think the Austin arts scene needs?
DR: The Austin arts scene needs an education in diversity. Definitely. Austin has to open up towards art and artists of African American and other ethnic backgrounds.
ADA: Are you a member of any visual arts organizations in town such as TFAA or ACA?
DR: No. I don't really like groups. They all seem fake. I call them the "Shakers and the Fakers". I like to be on my own. I mean, forming the coalition was necessary, for both young emerging African American artists who need resources and working African American artists, but I don't join other groups.
ADA: Where are you showing your work presently?
DR: I was recently in a show at the George Washington Carver Museum. And if anyone is interested in seeing or buying, they can call the museum. They know what to do.
[For more info on Deborah Roberts and her work, contact the George Washington Carver Museum at (512) 472-4809 or www.carvermuseum.org.]
An Interview with Michael Ray Charles by Elizabeth Stanard
ADA: Tell me about the visual art you create.
Michael Ray Charles: I think my work has been to me an exploration of black and African American representation by African Americans or by others. And it's taken me to many points, in particular, to the 19th Century, looking at minstrelsy and its influence on 20th century pop culture. [It has also taken me to] a critical point of advertising and its use of caricature, representations of blacks or African Americans in the 19th Century, and how those images or concepts remain in the present, in terms of their place in 20th and 21st century advertising.
ADA: What are you currently working on?
MRC: What I'm working on now is more or less an extension of those ideas in the last couple of years. I've managed to get further underneath the surface of the minstrel mask or the caricatured mask to explore the issues surrounding why certain images were constructed, why there was a humorous aspect, and how certain images were used in advertising. What is the significance of the power that the "Other" or any other gains by constructing caricatured, often exaggerated representations, whether it's gender or ethnic based? [I'm] just getting beyond and getting into some ideas that are not so humorous: issues about gender, sexuality, masculinity.
ADA: Where are you currently showing your work?
MRC: There are several traveling exhibitions that my work is a part of. One group exhibition opens in Berlin on November 17th. It's a sculpture piece that's being manufactured in Spain. It's more or less in line with much of what my work has been about. But this particular piece focuses on representations of Ethiopians in the 14th Century Hellenistic Period.
ADA: How does your identity as a black male inform and or manifest in your work?
MRC: This is a very important question because I think much of the world will sees me as a black male when I see myself as an African American, someone of African descent who is American, American born. black denies all connections to "Africa." black denies a place of origin. black designates, because of its relationship to color, the emphasis of one's color first and foremost. So, it's definitely something that I can use to influence my work.
ADA: Does Austin have a community of black or African American artists? And if so, what is your impression of this community?
MRC: I'm bothered by the term community. Must there be a community? In what sense? Is it the East Austin community, the North Austin community? There are artists out there who happen to be African American who make their art. The problems extend from how the term is generally used. I travel and lecture and I hear the same term: What's your responsibility to the black community or the African American community? Well, what's their responsibility to me as an artist? Some African American artists have support. But do they have large amounts of support by African American patrons? Probably not. You get involved with economics. Who has expendable money? Middle class, upper middle class, and the wealthy. Most African Americans who are in that upper tier are entertainers or athletes. They're not college professors or in upper managerial positions in corporations. Some purchase art and support artists. The majority of them don't. The majority of them find other ways to secure or to nurture their investments. They don't find that art is worth an investment.
ADA: But some would argue that individual artists have a need to identify themselves with and reap support from a group who shares similar experiences, especially those artists from "oppressed populations."
MRC: This is an old argument that is grounded in much of what was being discussed in the turn of the 20th Century by people like Dubois during the Harlem Renaissance. I understand the issues and problems at the forefront of living in the 21st Century, occupying both the black and African American designations. I don't want to run away from this notion of belonging to this larger group of people who are like me in physical appearance, who are like me because they grew up lower middle class and poor. So I understand there is a need to have support. What I'm saying is that, I think in many examples, the designation hinders and it only further pushes African American artists away and into this little group that is always outside and never in. And it does the same thing when you put the lens on Latino artists or gay and lesbian artists. My artwork has moved people young and old, Asian, Hispanic, Irish, Catholic, Protestant, Christian, gay, lesbian. Some have cried. Some have complained. Why should I be bound to an African American designation? I think I see it as a trap.
ADA: What about galleries like MexicArte and Women & Their Work who strive to create communities that address needs specific to Latino and women artists?
MRC: Don't get me wrong. I don't disapprove of what's being done. I don't dispute that that is not appropriate. In fact, I think it is. I'm saying that those places and what they do are valid. What I'm also saying is by putting a lens on this African American community is just segregating them. I'm sure there's a lot of people who would like to see, I, for one, would like to see an African American gallery, more African American galleries here. I, for one, would like to see more African American patrons of the arts. But there are other issues that are at the forefront here. It's an art community issue. It's not just an African American issue.
ADA: What changes would you like to see in the Austin visual arts scene, if any?
MRC: Well, you know, I don't get out much. I think if I had a choice, I still wouldn't. I'm really busy with working and family. I'm probably not the best person to ask that question. But I do try to know what's going on in Austin in terms of exhibiting and what not, to show my support when I'm able. I think what's most important is a museum and the maintenance of quality exhibition spaces that embrace aspects of making art that are of the quality and content and technique and sophistication that this growing diverse Austin community and surrounding area deserves because people come from all walks of life, all kinds of experiences. So I'd like to see institutions maintain a level of commitment to presenting diverse ideas and perspectives with a quality that is reflective of people that make up 21st Century Austin, Texas.
[For more info on Michael Ray Charles, go to www.utexas.edu/cofa/a_ah/.]
An Interview with Tonya Engel by June Rhee
ADA: Tell me about your art.
Tonya Engel: My art is not necessarily what some people would call "beautiful"; I think it's beautiful because it's a part of me. But some people think it's morbid, I think because it shows the two sides of beauty. The part that's bright and colorful draws you in, but when you look deeper past the surface, you find
thought provoking things that create dialogue and mystery. It pulls you in and makes you think about the other side of beauty. For example, "Bound" shows a strong woman who's growing with roots that also entangle her arms and legs; I call it bound because it binds her to the earth and portrays her natural growth as a human and as a woman. Sprouting from each root is a different part of her natural growth: childbirth; bringing another life into this world; growth, with the cocoon representing her personal growth as an individual. If you look closer, it also looks like she's fighting against growth, as some people do; sometimes there are different situations in life that make one deny what's happening, when one should embrace it.
ADA: How do your background and education influence your art? I understand you have no formal art education.
TE: That's right. I was born and raised in southwest Houston and took art classes in high school. My mother and father always supported my growing interest in art and spent boundless amounts of money on materials, which enabled me to grow in that area. I had a few mentors, such as a local, actually world-renowned African American artist named Burford Evans; he's an incredible representational artist. He's based in Houston and taught me color theory and texture and was just a great influence. Other than that, I have no formal training.
ADA: How much of a part does your culture and race play in your art?
TE: It's definitely a big part because that's who I am. The images I portray are part of my soul and who I am. The stories I illustrate could be from my personal life or from people who have influenced those images. I'm constantly growing as an individual and artist. I think that everyday I learn more about myself and the people of my culture. My art is about gaining personal experience and growth; as an African American, I think it's important as individuals and as a community that we grow and soak in our environment and actively take part in tha growth. My art is way of sharing part of myself and my experience with growth, and I strive to reflect that through involving people in my art, finding out how they feel when they see my art, explaining what is in my soul and heart, observing how they relate to me and vice versa. And if I have the opportunity, I can get feedback and share part of myself.
ADA: Do you consider yourself strictly an African American artist?
TE: Well, I am an African American woman; our culture has a wide array of identities and personalities. To say that I am only an African American artist would limit myself. I want to be limitless. I don't want to put myself in a corner or attach any labels to my art. I'm just an artist. If I'm in a gallery, it's great to know where the artist is coming from and all that, but I don't think that's the most important point. I think the point is that this is an incredible piece of work because of the artist's identity, not their race. Maybe one person can relate to it because of their race, which is fine, but another person could because of the textures. I don't want to alienate anyone.
ADA: Do you feel that there is there a community in Austin for you as younger, emerging African American artist?
TE: I do. I feel like there's a growing community that accepts us and is open to learning about what we have to share in our art. There are so many different art forms, like theater and music, in the big melting pot of culture, and we all influence each other. I feel that Austin is open to this awakening of cultural input and backgrounds, to new things.
ADA: How do you feel about the arts community here as opposed to the arts community in Miami?
TE: Well, I just came back from Miami where I lived for a few years. I got to know the art scene and saw lots of Cuban art. People there are pretty open to art, but I feel they were less accepting and understanding of thought provoking art; it's a little more superficial. They'd rather see things that make them smile rather than think. I think that in Austin, the reason why people here are open-minded about how they view and take in visual art has a lot to do with being so close to Mexico and how it's influenced our culture as Texans. I think that's why artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera have made such a significant impact.
ADA: Are you selling or showing your art soon?
TE: On November 24th at the Soulful Christmas Bazaar; ProArts Collective is collaborating for that. Check the Chronicle for location. I'm also putting in a proposal for the Carver Museum, which is a series of paintings I'm working on now. It's a series of stories of our ancestors that originated in the West Indies and South Africa and have been brought down for generations. I might publish them in a book later, but for now I want to invite storytellers to act out these stories with paintings. I think that we need to share these stories through the next generation. As African Americans, we forget our heritage sometimes and how our people struggled. As time goes on, like rumors, these stories change. Time sculpts those stories. People retell these stories in ways that people can relate to nowadays. A lot of these were written in Africa but retold by slaves; they tell of strength in numbers. During Christmas I want to show my artwork in restaurants and share with everyone, not just those who visit galleries.
[Visit www.tonyaengel.bigstep.com for more information.]
Mockery of Patriotism by David Davis Clayton
A horrid mockery of
Subdued beneath a lumpy
A canopy thick enough to mufle the
cries of fallen patriots;
Unacquainted still with the craftiness of
the seductiveness of gutting out the warm
Hearing the sweet screams of your
Smelling the thick blood...
Their spleens still pumping the vain bile
This is war.
Mortality on the Half Shell by Albert Huffstickler
I am concerned
with the fragility
of all that's mortal --
Sometimes all options
come down to:
keep up the act
or give up the ghost.
I can't tell
if I'm in
or my recline.
Given a choice,
said one member of
the Light Brigade, I'd just as soon
my ass shot off.
You want to experience
life on the edge?
Try getting old.
It was a French dream
with Japanese subtitles.
makes me jump.
makes me jump too.
As I approach her in years,
I think more of my mother,
of a certain tottering gallantry
with which she walked
the tightrope of this earth.
How everything assumes
for a moment
a certain clarity --
as though the very
veil of consciousness
had been removed.
My rent goes up
Am I living on
a fixed income
or a fixed outgo?
If everything goes
according to plan,
I'll get up in a minute
and go home.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
The relationship between music and visual media: an interview with Graham Reynolds and Peter Stopschinski, leaders of the groups Golden Arm Trio and Brown Whornet.
ADA: You provided soundtrack music for several silent movie screenings.
Peter Stopschinski: My group, Brown Whorenet, did the music for Nosferatu, and we joined with Golden Arm Trio on The Lost World.
Graham Reynolds: I've done some others like Battleship Potemkin, Pandora's Box, Bed and Sofa, and The Wind.
ADA: How did you go about putting the music together?
PS: We did a whole lot of watching the movie. You've got to get really familiar with it to improvise and play along. We brought the VCR into the practice space. When we discovered something that worked, we would set down the chords and melodies. We did this scene by scene; that resulted in about 20 different sections.
ADA: Was that hard?
PS: Well, it's pretty easy to follow old silent movies because early filmmaking techniques use simpler scene switching, like cutting back and forth from one scene to another (the vampire sneaking up on the sleeping victim), or the typical fade to black at the end of a scene.
ADA: What about with The Lost World?
PS: Graham had some pre-composed melodic ideas, which were developed while watching the movie and taking notes. We assigned the melodies more in a Wagnerian treatment. So we had a love theme, a villain theme, like that.
GR: As I watch the movie with no sound, I improvise to it, lay out general themes. Then I outline it, come up with 6 to 10 themes, which can be transformed for the different movie scenes.
ADA: How did that affect the music?
PS: Watching the movie without any music was difficult. Music makes the plot more comprehensible. Also the movie controls the pacing of the music. So our music became more of a slow, subtle progression moving in long ideas, which is very different than Brown Whorenet's stage shows. They're usually more frenetic.
GR: You come up with your own ideas of how the story functions. You guide the story with the music. On the other hand, when I worked on James Crowley's Journey Man, I had access to the director since it was a new release. I didn't have to wonder how the music should fit.
ADA: What kind of visual reference points did you have when you wrote your symphonies?
PS: I'm very visual when I listen to music. I have all kinds of pictures and scenes in my head, but I don't want to tell people what to see when they listen to my music, because that's part of the pleasure. My first symphony was very traditional, but the second had more cutting between scenes, like Carl Stalling's music for cartoons. If you just listen to his music, it's amazing how much it jumps around. It's totally visual.
GR: People often say my music has a soundtrack or narrative feel, but I don't write with any particular image in mind. But there's a close connection to the visual arts. Almost any creative theory from one art form applies across the board; the creative issues involved are similar. If you get beyond the boring stuff, the scales and technique, the creative language is the same.
ADA: What about the visual aspect of the symphonies, the physical relationship of audience and orchestra?
PS: The visual aspect of the concert was very important. Our symphonies use a lot of percussion, which I think is especially fun to watch. A problem with the venue for the first symphony was that the audience could only see the back of the conductor and the front row of the orchestra. For the second symphony, which was performed at Austin Lyric Opera, we brought in risers to give the audience a fuller angle, plus couches, table lamps and nightstands to give a real living room feel. These things definitely bring the audience into the performance more. We're also thinking about doing an orchestra in the round.
GR: With the proscenium, the old-fashioned stage, the sound is struggling to get out to the audience. With the second symphony, we had the audience right on top of the orchestra. You can hear the details. There's an energy that comes across, an energy exchange between the audience and performers, and it drives the music to a higher level.
ADA: What other visual art forms have you provided music for?
PS: Well, I haven't done much with stage plays. I've done a couple puppet shows, which were fun to do. About 10 years ago, me and Brian Wolf from Drums & Tuba did one. They gave us the song lyrics and we wrote the songs, which we then used in the overture and finale as well.
GR: I've done a lot of theater stuff. You can talk to a theater person the same way as a painter. You can get to the bottom-line issues since the language translates easily. The hard thing is choosing the reference points for the audience. Any art requires a certain amount of context, and what level of context you assume makes a huge difference in what kind of audience you will have.
ADA: What about upcoming projects?
PS: Eric Grostik, Graham and I will play as a trio for another silent movie, possibly Faust. That would be fun, with lots of devil music. I'm also working on some noise music with surround sound speakers, maybe for the Mercury. Visuals would be good with that. The more abstract the music, the easier it is to take in with visuals. You're able to relate it to something visual.
GR: We're doing the string quartet with Tosca at the Mercury on December 11th. As far as visuals, we've done stuff with projections before, but I'm not sure how it will be set up at the Mercury. We have worked particularly with Luke Savisky, who does film collages with as many as 10 projectors. Sometimes the film loops are set to music; sometimes the music is done to the visuals.
Reeling by J.K.
Even if high school is a distant memory, do you still catch yourself doodling during life's most tedious moments? Chances are, if the answer is yes, you are recreating designs which have appeared for thousands of years: the spiral@, the circleO, the cross+, and the star*. Though ancient, these simple symbols continue to stream out of the human consciousness almost instinctively.
Since the beginning of time, humans have utilized such symbols to create archetypes and myths to live by. Conjuring the symbolic can transform one-way roads into a network of paths. And when explored, these paths become organic webs of interrelationships, which make the individual's experience relevant to the collective whole. Thus, our isolated personal struggles become the shared hardships and blessings of all of humanity.
It is true that many symbols, archetypes and myths, especially those of past millenniums and distant cultures, don't rightly interpret our lay of the land in these times. Yet, many believe that our exposure to Shakespeare's characters over the years has enabled us to embody a dynamic range of personalities. And it also has been discovered that children can increase their intelligence by listening to classical music at a tender age. Therefore, it would seem the "cosmic" job of artists is to continually weave new symbols into the collective mythological web. Their discovery of new visual, tonal and linguistic patterns establishes a relationship between the archetypes of past and present, both distant and near, to create new mythologies all together.
Every culture needs such artistic bushwhackers to map out unknown territory with psychic machetes. Every culture needs artistic bushwhackers to dive into a dark future with a past awareness. Every culture needs artistic bushwhackers to report back on how the random dross of our lives might actually be a part of a meaningful order, an order that we can resurrect to both nuance and navigate through our lives.
David Lynch's Mulholland Drive suggests that America-Hollywood is not only in need, but also ready for a new generation of bushwhackers. Although familiar cultural symbols and icons appear throughout the film, rather than serve as hallmark keys for unlocking the story, they are a source of confusion. And while they appear out of nowhere without any context, these archetypes somehow imply a deeper significance. But this significance cannot be found in the narrative. Rather, the viewer is sent on a tangential quest away from the plot to search for the film's underlying relevance.
In fact, understanding the actual who, what, when, where, how and why becomes easier without the symbolism. When reconstructing the story's events, it becomes clear that the symbols are irrelevant to the actual plot. Instead, their discombobulated intrusions illustrate the protagonist's shifted perception of the world around her. The viewer witnesses how inappropriate her appropriation of these distinctly American icons and myths are and consequently registers that such symbols are insignificant, if not meaningless, to other cultures.
The old mythological maps of the US, if not reexamined, deconstructed and reapplied, will no longer provide us insight into the existential arena we find ourselves in. If we continue to embrace these myths without a critical consciousness, we will continue to pursue and believe in dead illusions. Though we may hear the sounds of the trumpet, we are listening to a recording. There is no orchestra. There is no conductor. There is no God. We are living under the guise of outdated cultural myths.
Critics of Mulholland Drive say it just doesn't deliver. I say Lynch delivers twice. Once, because the less we understand, the more we want to watch. And then again, because as we leave the theater, we trip over a bush and wonder what the hell just happened.
Gritty, dirt faced warriors... Guts pumping the bile of vast insurrection against that of organic transportation. A rumble in the bowels creates emissions evaluated by the ride wardens of state regulations. I crack my knuckles.
Visor muddied with body parts: brains, eyes, legs, abdomens burst into vehicular insecticide. Automated blades wipe and smear, wipe and smear, creating a thin resin which blurs images slightly enough to make them glow in their own halos of self righteousness. We wait on red.
Flash green and I mash, dipping through New Jersey streets where the laws bring Class A violations to be discovered. I'm a pimp! I'm an adrenaline rush junkie. Close call collisions are daily. Ignore horn honking; it's simply an expression of thought instead of a warning. My warming steed revs with go-stop-slow anticipation. My participation in the magmatic flow of Turnpike/Parkway volcanic ruptures attests to concentrational skill in its most paramount form.
Cars close like pyramidal bricks; can't slip a slice of papyrus between. Resting beasts swing open their doors and spill their human contents before relentless judges. And every time those doors open, it's right in front of your front end. Hazard lights. I'm stopping in the middle of the friggin' street. Foot soldiers jaywalk, tempting Jaguars to preemptive strikes. And monolithic busses thwart peripheral uprisings.
I feed my beast Italian sausage octane from Jimmy Buff's in West Orange. Drain the fluid from the top of a Tina's pie into my automatic transmission. Substitute the antifreeze coolant for the green-bottom-of-dumpster-water. Drip old coffee for break fluid and piss into my power steering.
Go time, Baby! I'm a Jersey street warrior. I blow my horn for no freakin' reason. I spit out the window. I try to hit old ladies walking. I try to avoid old ladies driving. I've earned my stripes, Baby! I've risen in the ranks of wreck shop riders.
I'm Mad Max's colored cousin. I shot the sheriff and ran from the cops. Found a rave and popped X into the tank for extra nitros. They say I've got to slow down. They say my engine is going to burn out.
My exit is Bloomfield Ave., Baby! I pay twelve tolls daily, awaiting my Red Badge of Courage. Dents and scrapes on veteran soldiers. No one escapes unscathed. Danny Boy, the pipes are calling... A mother sent all of her sons off to war. Only one returned. The pipes rev and tremble, emitting New Jersey exhaust, generating the piper's song. Danny Boy, the streets are calling.
One day I called for a man, but he wasn't there. The wife said his ashes were spread from here to Jesus. Said he met demise when a plane kissed the face of towering twins in destructive matrimony. Red light. Hold up. Wait a minute. Foot in it!
Raising Ammama by Elizabeth Stanard
My first encounter with high art was on my hands and knees. During one rainy hide-and-seek afternoon, I attempted to scrooch under my parents' bed before I was sought, only to nose into an arcane art barnacle barring my entry.
Vaunting the dimensions of a queen-sized mattress, "The Storm" was a marvel to my young eyes when it was later revealed. And MY great-grandmother, my Mama's mama's mama, had replicated this masterpiece, an oil painting by Frenchman Pierre-Auguste Cot, with such vivid precision that I was in disbelief that I could be related to someone as superhuman as she.
"Ammama studied art in New York," my parents boasted. "Her name was Elizabeth too, and you'll be an artist like she was." Unfortunately, this mantra was basically the extent of Ammama's limelight in the familial oral herstory; but, through its repetition, I soon began realizing its augury.
As genetics would have it, I inherited my great-grandmother's ability not only to draw but also to successfully plagiarize. At age 8, I won a whopping, cheek-blushing $25 for landing first place in the city-wide fire prevention poster contest by employing the same octopus-holding-eight-fire-hazards concept as my mother had thirty years before.
My childhood career as a visual artist was well on its way. Art lessons. Art camp. Art enrichment programs. And my favorite, art projects at home in The Art Room: the dark room bonus that my parents had acquired when purchasing the house, the cocktail party anecdote that was of no value but for that of mere entertainment, the glorified closet that permitted and contained the messes.
I remember the Crayola Caddy. And the markers that smelled like lemons and blueberries and cinnamon. And the smocks that had been demoted from my dad's shirt closet. And always pronouncing kiln as kill. And saturating paper with dripping watercolor paints. And never, ever forgetting to color in the sky.
When adolescence began to encroach on my childhood, the inundant conflation of teenage demands vied for any time I might have otherwise devoted to visual arts; although I still managed to design propaganda for my extracurricular activities and doodle in my drawing classes.
In college, I smattered in drawing and design classes to determine if sketching on a Strathmore pad still evoked those creative scintillations. Yes, sometimes. But more often than not, translating my visual aesthetic onto paper had become an exercise of automation in which I was merely a vessel through which my genetic inclinations passed.
Now ten years later, now that I have donated my PrismaColors to old roommates and 9 year-olds, I make an effort to at least visit art museums and galleries occasionally. And just more than occasionally, after unsuccessfully navigating through these labyrinths of sterility with a chronic disorientation, I happen upon a rectangle of art that arrests my petulant feet.
Recently I found myself at the Met, captivated by "The Storm" for a second time. Sitting Indian-Style on the floor, shamelessly incepting and venerating its glory, I chilled at what art could be and winced at what mine was not. No, I was not going to be a fireman or a nurse or an astronaut after all.
But before long, I began conversing with the creation. I invited it to unravel my tightly coiled phrases with silliness and wonder, to splinter and lube my sentence temples with its humid midnight air. It pulped and blended my poetic musings, pounded them into words that curved and frolicked into its lappets of emotion. Its luminous figures, simultaneously escaping and confronting parlous unknowns, conjured crisp dots of prose, poignant despite the wooden frame.
Yes, Saturday game-goers, that tribal paint, red and white or blue and gold, applied with her fresh manicured nails, glosses ecstasy near the depths of your white beer-belly buttons.
The visual, in all of its incarnations, be it written, baked or gauchely applied, is art.
So now Ammama, somebody's mama.......can you see past me free?
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
Do yo' dance, do yo' dance...DO YOUR DANCE!
Is it really a new world now? I mean, is the post 9/11 world a different place?
Today another jetliner fell from the sky. More New Yorkers,among others, died. As of today, 10:00pm on Monday, November 12, 2001, the cause of the crash remains unclear. Terrorism or not, the thought of getting on an airplane right now does not appeal to me. It's a bit strange, but the headlines, the CNN Top Story of the day for what's going in America, is beginning to look a lot like what we usually see/hear about life in Israel, Ireland, Columbia, or Kashmir. The rest of the world might not be so different today than it was prior to 9/11/01. But life in America definitely is. As my friend Kim would say, "I think it's all very interesting."
Waiting for my radical political statement on all of this?
It's very simple. And I invite all of you to share my plan of action. It's but a small thing and I think it's about all most of us are empowered to do. Pray for peace. Please pray for peace.
I tend to do a reevaluation, focus on what I call my artistic/cultural dilemma, every six months or so. I was due for one of those anyway at about the time of September 11. Because of what happened that day, and since, the whole process of reevaluation has gone into high gear. It's usually centered on my vocational/career choices (some would say my lack of career choice). This time there is no focus -- it's the whole enchilada, right there under the microscope. All spread out, dangling all over the place, broad and deep, lock, stock and barrel. This time my artistic/cultural dilemma (and I'd guess, yours too) is really more generally a dilemma about most other facets of my life, my life in America, my life as an American.
Can I oppose the escalation of this war and still be a good American? Could I be a good Christian and support revenge and more killing? Could I be a good Muslim and a good American at the same time? Can I just act as though none of this touches my soul and pretend to "go about doing what Americans do," without feeling terrorized? Regardless of what I think, is there really anything that I can now do to effect what George Bush or extremist Muslim terrorists have planned, in the name of God or American honor, for tomorrow? Is it possible for me/us to really fathom the mentality of those who would make heroes of anyone responsible for acts in any country that, within minutes, take the lives of 5000 fellow human beings?
Where do we find moral guidance here? Is there an ethical imperative that is clearly laid out to inform the decisions our President makes in our name? (By the way, considering the state of affairs, I think -- thank God -- George W. is consulting an authority higher than the Republican National Committee on all of this. It could be a lot worse.)
What would Jesus do? What would Allah advise? And what would God have us do now?
The thing that I will eventually get around to talking about is how all of this fits into how I'm looking at the need or want to do cultural work in these terrorized times. I am not, nor do I want to be, a political pundit. The thing that I cannot seem to get away from thinking about is that I, like so many others, have a 21 year old family member out there. He is on an aircraft carrier, in a location that he cannot reveal, sending plans out to drop bombs on Afghanistan. I am rooting for the home team here. I want/need my nephew to be on the winning team, coming home an alive hero. But what I realize is that I cannot do much at all to influence what his orders are. I can't pray to bring him home right now at the expense of another family's son or brother who would have to take his place. If you happen to be a young man who joined up during peace time for college tuition and a VA loan for a house, the situation now is that "it ain't over 'til it's over, over there."
This is all quite heavy; life and death circumstances for some folks. What the hell does it matter, some might ask, if the symphony has a season right now? What does it matter if arts organizations have funding, why should we care if Zach Scott is able to bring us more musicals or not; at least while the nation is focused on kicking some Afghani Butt?
The whole cultural work thing is tied to my situation. I work with an arts organization, publish this little magazine. My general thoughts, however, are more broad here. I do not know much. That I know. But I do know that I can' t do much to stop planes from falling from the sky. I can't stop poison letters from being dropped in the mail. I can't influence how George Bush responds and I can't anticipate -- and prevent -- the next act of terror. But you know what? I also can't anticipate the next time a drunk driver is going to go speeding down East 11th Street and kill herself and other innocent people. I pray that all of those kinds of things stop happening. I pray that George Bush acts on good, humane, ethical advice. But that's about all I've got to go on. Given the opportunity to decide, those are battles I would not choose. But we, fellow Americans, do not get a choice on those particular issues. Welcome to the New World Order.
As strange as it may seem, most of my life/lifestyle dilemma right now also ties in nicely with the message of giving thanks. I'm not talking about the myth of thankful Indians at Plymouth. I just mean that part of my personal reevaluation, in this time of terror, has a lot to do with recognizing the abundance for which I actually am thankful. And a good deal of that is the acknowledgment that there is so much about living, so many battles all around us that we have very little influence over. We just have to learn to live with them.
Given that there are so many screwed up battles out there that we don't choose for our selves (but are thrust upon us), it is pretty clear to me that the battles we do choose should be worthwhile, life affirming, enriching, cool and groovy as possible. And, that's where the blessing comes in. Because we actually can choose.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to accept the particular set of challenges I face. I bitch and moan and complain, but I do realize how blessed I am. I can't do anything about airplanes falling from the sky. Staying at home, glued to CNN won't make America more safe. Buying a gas mask won't stop poison letters from being dropped into the mail. Focusing my hate on Muslims won't get revenge for anything.
However, if I stop listening to jazz; if I assume that a debate on the state of the African American visual arts scene in Austin is not important; if I decide not to support the work of a progressive dance company; if I assume that the Lyric Opera doesn't need funding in these terrible times; if I stop trying to broaden the audience for live touring jazz in Austin; if I decide to just give up on keeping DiverseArts alive; and want to blame it all on the fact that airplanes are falling from the sky, then I stop living MY life because of the battles that other folks have chosen.
Especially in times of terror, if you are a dancer, you have an important contribution to make to assure sanity in these crazy times...
"Do yo' dance, do yo' dance, DO YOUR DANCE!"
I hope to see you on the dance floor.