Category Archives: ART INTERVIEW

Aggregate Space Gallery: Featherboard Writing Series Reading & Reception – This Saturday 5pm

The second stop on our brief Art Murmur Friday night a couple weeks ago was another West Oakland spot called Aggregate Space Gallery. Though our visit was relatively short, this blogpost is not. I was so excited about this space I needed to know more, and so do you! So here goes…

At first we were enticed by the current Solo Video Show. I thought, video? Not many of the galleries feature video work and I learned in my “prep” for the show that Aggregate Space is particularly well suited because they’ve built a full-fledged screening room. Then I thought, solo? Even when video works are incorporated into galleries, it’s rare to see a solo show where an artist has the quantity and breadth of work to take over an entire space. Or rather, it’s rare to see a gallery allow an artist to do so because, let’s be honest, most galleries are in the business of selling art, and it’s a lot easier to sell a painting than a piece of video art.

But this is just one of the things that makes Aggregate Space Gallery unique. What’s commercially viable doesn’t really interest them. What does, is genre-bending, experimental, boundary-pushing work that has little hope of being seen in more conventional galleries. And this is exactly the type of work they’ve been featuring for over two years now.

I know this because I went back to meet them again last weekend to talk a bit more about how the space came to be, what they’re hoping to accomplish, and what the future holds. And they were kind enough not only to spend a great deal of time touring me through the space, answering all my questions and introducing me to fellow involved-artists, but they also loaded my arms with Chapbooks from their Writing Series (more on this later) and a beautiful soft-cover book commemorating their two-year anniversary show “Not Each, But All.(great write-up of show here)

The title of that show, as well as the title of the gallery itself (aggregate is such a great word: adjective, noun, and verb!) is truly indicative of the collaborative art space its founders, Conrad M. Meyers II and S.D. Willis, have created. The empty warehouse they secured in 2010 was transformed into the stunning multi-functional space it is today by the dedicated work of fellow artists, friends and family, each with a unique set of skills perfectly suited to complement each others’, thereby forming the “aggregate.” I won’t go into the full history here as that’s already been covered in an in-depth interview with Meyers and Willis, which includes photos that beautifully portray the extent of the transformation. Check it out… In Conversation with Aggregate Space (SFAQ).

What I do want to share about is the video show we enjoyed during our first visit (Broadcast Standards by Doug Garth Williams), and its final run this weekend when it will be accompanied by the next installment of Aggregate Space’s Featherboard Writing Series. This I find fascinating and completely unique… they’ve created a format that integrates cutting-edge literature with cutting-edge art in a “cross-genre partnership”. Very cool.

Broadcast Standards

So first the video show… “Doug Garth Williams is a filmmaker and video artist who specializes in creating imagery that is both bizarre and self aware.” His installation at Aggregate features nine short films, all looped for continuous screening. The first to greet you is Black Bars, a clever and funny portrayal of self-censorship that, along with the show’s title, sets some expectations for the viewer before fully entering the main space.

Next in line are the Average series of films, six altogether. Each is composed of layers upon layers of found footage relating to the topic at hand, i.e. Average Car Chase, Average Sitcoms, Average Cats, etc. Through what I can only imagine must be a painstaking editing process Williams weaves together the images by dialing up or down the opacity of each layer to reveal different narrative moments in time. I found these completely mesmerizing and stood transfixed as the beautiful montages morphed before me. Apparently, these were equally inspiring to Aggregate’s current writer-in-residence, Kari Marboe, who’ll be featured in this month’s Featherboard Writing Series, but more on that in a bit…

aggregate-space2

As you continue into the gallery you come to the 3-channel piece Videos for Humans. Though more straightforward than his abstract montage works, I found these videos equally mysterious, but in a completely different way. They’re character driven, featuring a hot Asian woman, an ugly alien man, and some really cute little bunnies. I can’t tell you what it all means, but it’s compelling nonetheless.

aggregate-space1

Finally you pass through a small door into the screening room to see the delightful Wait for It. I actually shot a video of this video to share here, but then thought against it. You should really just go to Aggregate Space Gallery yourself so you can see all of these films in their proper venue–to feel yourself in the space in which these works were spatially placed with such careful intention. But if you want a bit of a teaser in the meantime, they’ve posted a quick walk-through on Facebook.

Featherboard Writing Series

Ok, so the Featherboard Writing Series was started by their friend and fellow artist Steffi Drewes with the idea of promoting a “one-of-a-kind-dialogue” between artists and writers as they share their work with each other. It all began with a poetry reading by Drewes at Diesel Bookstore in Rockridge (note: I wrote about Diesel ages ago here, and one of the things I highlighted was their amazing author events).

This was in the early days of Aggregate Space (December 2011) as they were gearing up to launch only their second show, titled Ostranenie, a multimedia show featuring film, sound, and video artists. Aggregate Space asked Drewes if she’d be willing to curate a poetry reading to coincide with the closing reception of the show. She did, gathering two other writers in addition to herself to perform readings, and the event was somewhat surprisingly a big hit. (This is the kind of risk taking that makes this gallery so cool.)

Meyers said an unexpected benefit of this collaboration was the expansion of their artistic community. By bringing in the literary crowd to join the art crowd, there was a sudden growth and cross-pollination that hadn’t existed before. And hence, the Featherboard Writing Series was born, pairing a literary event with the closing reception of each art show.

Added more recently in 2013 were the Writer-In-Residence Program and Chapbook Series extensions, which further enhance the dialogue between artists and writers. A Writer-In-Residence is selected for each show installed at Aggregate, for the duration of the show, 4-6 weeks usually. The writer is provided keys to access the gallery as needed, utilizing an office space upstairs, but also having unlimited access to the installed artworks themselves. The idea is that the writer’s work will then be influenced by the content of the installation artist’s work.

In addition to reading at the closing reception of the show along with two other selected writers, each Writer-In-Residence gets to produce a limited edition chapbook to be distributed at the event. Now I wasn’t familiar with this term and actually had to look it up, so for those who don’t know… “chapbook” is a term now used for small publications, typically of poetry. But its roots date to centuries ago when the ability to print books first became widely accessible (more history here).

These small books are bound at Aggregate Space and, though consistent in their 8.5″ x 5.5″ softcover format, are truly blank canvases for each writer to “paint” freely. Some choose to incorporate imagery (photos or sketches), some work in prose, or dialogue, and others stick to poetry. All are created with editorial assistance from program manager Steffi Drewes.

chapbook

The Writer-In-Residence for the Broadcast Standards show is Kari Marboe. I was fortunate enough to get to speak with her a bit about her plans for this weekend’s event. She explained that she typically works in site-specific text-based installations, and opted to treat this project the same way, considering Williams’ installation of video works as her site.

She spent time in the gallery and was intrigued by the Average videos, as was I. In interviewing Williams it became clear that there was a “formula” he used in creating these pieces. It goes something like this…

  • Found Content – he worked with exclusively found video, rather than originally created content
  • Layers & Opacity – approximately 30 videos were incorporated into each work, all 30 videos simultaneously layered over each other but only revealed at times through shifts in opacity
  • Timing – each individual layer, or “story”, is revealed for somewhere between 3-5 seconds

She decided in creating her works for the Writing Series, she would apply the same formula. It’s brilliant!

She’s utilizing found texts (handwritten apology letters for example, found through Google images), and is weaving them together in a similar fashion. She wants her process to closely mirror Williams’ process so she’s spending a lot of time editing her text snippets together since she knows his montages were heavily edited.

I asked how she could address opacity with respect to text, especially since she’ll be reading the pieces aloud, and she said she’s interpreting different levels of opacity through the different emotions and intents of the original writer. Fascinating.

If this sounds fascinating to you too, get yourself to Aggregate Space Gallery this Saturday.

Aggregate Space Gallery
801 West Grand Avenue
Oakland 94607

The gallery opens at 1pm. The Featherboard Reading and Reception start at 5pm.

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Colin David Harris discusses AHC’s new mural in West Oakland

AHC mural, west oakland mural, san pablo mural, super heroes mural

A wonderful new mural is gracing the underpass of the 580 freeway at San Pablo in West Oakland.  I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I must have driven past this previously blank stretch of concrete in my 10 years of living in West Oakland. I always thought… Man, it’s too bad there isn’t something fabulous painted there. I even dreamt up various artistic scenarios, but they stayed firmly planted in my brain and never made their way into fruition in the real world.  Until now.

Organized and implemented by Attitudinal Healing Connection, Inc. (AHC) – an organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by breaking the cycle of violence, through platforms for creative expression and communication for children, youth, adults and families – the piece is part of the Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project, slated to produce 5 more murals in this stretch of West Oakland adjacent to Emeryville.  I can say from personal experience, this neighborhood could use a little love, and I’m thrilled about the prospect of transforming a somewhat bleak stretch through art filled with positive messages of vibrant community.  If you feel the same way, please help by support the project.  Donations are needed but there are other ways to get involved as well.

Lots has already been written about this project – I am a bit late to the game as usual (damn that day job!), so I’m not going to try to encapsulate everything you could possibly want to know.  Rather I’ll let one of the artists, Colin David Harris, share his experience of involvement through our conversation below, and I’ll include some links at the end to other relevant posts.

west oakland san pablo mural, AHC mural

ARTIST INTERVIEW with Colin David Harris

* How did you get involved in the project?  Did you respond to the Call for Artists put out by the organizing entity, Attitudinal Healing Center (AHC) in Oakland?

I am one of the Art Esteem Instructors that work for the Attitudinal Healing Connection, teaching art enrichment classes during school hours to K-8 students throughout Oakland. I applied for the mural project through them along with two other teachers, and was one of about 12 artists that came together to work on the project.

* I understand AHC orchestrated much of the design work with local middle & high school students.  Were you involved at all in this stage?

I was not involved with the students at McClymonds High School where the students helped to design the mural but was teaching at West Oakland Middle School  in the hopes of working towards another mural concept.  Amana Harris, the director of Art Esteem, worked with the high school students in conjunction with Aaron De La Cruz and lead artist David Burke. (more on these three lead artists)

* Can you talk about the experience of either having input into the design, or working towards executing someone else’s design, depending on answer to previous question?

The design was already complete once the painters were brought into the mix but David Burke worked very well with the crew and had the concept and reference imagery down.  It was a very pleasant experience being able to just paint the students vision and not have to focus on my own.

california hotel, oakland california hotel

* I see from your own blog that you work with all kinds of artistic mediums… mixed media, sculpture, printmaking, painting, etc.  Had you ever worked on a large scale mural before?  If so, how was this experience different (or similar) to previous experiences you had?

I have.  In 2006 I was commissioned by the Hospice to paint a mural in the morgue of Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.  This was a very solitary and long mural process but extremely rewarding for me personally and professionally.  As an art instructor I have also painted murals at three elementary schools in Oakland through the AHC.  These were large scale murals and at Santa Fe Elementary school Ryan Martin and I installed 12 murals that were composed of hundreds of one by one foot wooden tiles that we mounted onto the walls all around the school.   The mural on San Pablo Ave. is the largest piece that I have worked on so far.

* What made you want to be involved in this project?

I wanted to be apart of this project to work with a team of artists, and to be apart of such a large scale work that will affect the community so directly.  For 2 years I lived on San Pablo ave. and on 34th st. close to where the mural is located.  I have worked at various schools in the neighborhood,  and done a few steel installations as well.  I have a strong desire to add as much joy and beauty to the neighborhood as possible, there are way too many dreary buildings with huge blank walls around not to!  It would be great to see West Oakland looking like the mission district in San Francisco in the next five years.

AHC mural, Art Esteem

* How many other artists were involved and how did you all work together?  Did any of the middle & high school students who worked on the design also paint?

There were about twelve other artists working on this project including an additional six volunteers and high school students that painted throughout.  David Burke was the lead artist and he really spent a lot of time orchestrating how we would all work together.  Every day we had to assemble and disassemble the scaffolding and store it at the AHC, it was time consuming but everyone did their part.

* Can you talk about the difference, to you personally, between working on a collaborative project like this versus an artistic project you would work on solely as an individual artist?  And the difference between working on a public street project versus something that might only be seen in a gallery?

I love working collaboratively with other artists though most of my work has been done alone.  I have found that to be the main downside as an artist is that you are forced to work in a solitary environment the majority of the time.  While I enjoy solitude more than most I also find that there is more of a spontaneous playfulness that happens when working with others. It was amazing working with this group of painters, all doing our part to complete the massive undertaking. I have often gravitated more towards playing music because of this sense of connection and try to balance between music and fine art as much as possible.

Lindsey Millikan, Rafasz

* My understanding is the goal of the project (and the continued mural series – 5 more are to be painted in the next 3 years) is to “revitalize, beautify, uplift, positively transform and bring hope to the West Oakland/Emeryville area.”  What are your thoughts about art and its power to transform?

Art has an amazing power to heal, uplift, and shine a light of hope in dark dreary places of the mind.  I have seen people whose self image is as negative as you can imagine, find a creative voice for the first time, and in an instant their reality changes.  Most people are discouraged from pursuing creative options as a career by their parents and the school system, and suffer through numerous failings in life because they can’t easily integrate into the system. Art or any form of creative expression for that matter can transform lives, instill confidence and change how someone perceives the world around them, from a locked door to an open and inviting place of self discovery.  In underserved communities such as West Oakland it can really make a difference in presenting positive outlets for the youth and positive changes to the visual landscape that negatively affect peoples psyches over time.   Murals such as this can, if nothing else, at least brighten up someones day for the 5 minutes they walk past that before was just another 5 possibly miserable minutes through the same old concrete jungle.

Peace and Freedom, Darius Varize, Antonio Ramos

* Over how long of a period did the actual painting take place?  And did you receive any kind of feedback from local neighborhood folks and random passerbys while painting?

The painting of the mural took place over 18 days of straight painting from early in the morning to 5pm every day.  Very few painters worked that entire time but it was still a breakneck schedule that got the job done.  The feedback we received was overwhelming from the constant deafening horns and thankful exaltations to the many pedestrians that personally thanked us and talked to us during the whole process.  There was a very obvious powerful change in the energy under the freeway and it was great to be a part of that shift. It was truly an amazing experience.

* OHA’s website mentions that they surveyed residents of the local neighborhood to describe positive & negative aspects of the neighborhood, as well as their hopes and dreams for the community and future public art pieces.  How important is this step to the process?

I would say that this is a very important step in the process. It isn’t as meaningful to fill a neighborhood with outsiders’ ideas of beautification.  Not to say that people from outside the community can’t have input and create  public art pieces, but to really raise the community up and instill a sense of pride and unity it’s best to have as much input and participation from the people in the neighborhood as possible.

Shaina Yang, Amana Harris

* The mural actually reminds me of a much older mural on San Pablo that I featured on my blog (https://oaktownart.com/2010/04/22/street-tattoo-mural-san-pablo/) in that it depicts positive scenes of an engaged and diverse community.  My understanding is the older mural featured real persons and that the images were fashioned together from photographs.  Does the new mural feature “real” people?  Any thoughts on similarities or differences between the two?

The Mural does feature real people.  Many of the people depicted are students at McClymonds that posed for the images.  There is also a historical aspect involved near the far left of the mural there are Blues and Jazz musicians painted who actually played at the California Hotel next door and other venues in the area back in the day.  They also used real houses from the neighborhood in the painting too.

* Lastly, what’s your favorite color?

Blue

mural designed by high school students, McClymonds High School

For more info…

Oakland Mural Project Press

Colin David Harris’s blog post: The West Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project

Our Oakland’s blog post: New mural adorns Oakland underpass

Art Esteem, self-awareness, mindfulness and compassion

ART INTERVIEW: Few & Far Mural Project Oaktown

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Here’s the latest mural installment in West Oakland… it spans two huge warehouse walls along Mandela Parkway, was produced by 17 graffiti artists from around the country, and check this… they’re all women!

The event happened over the course of a few unusually cold & rainy days earlier this month, so props to these ladies for busting out some beautiful work in less than ideal circumstances. One of the artists, Meme, organized the event under the moniker Few and Far, and it will include future mural installations in various cities around the country (and possibly world). Check out my interview with Meme and photos of their amazing work…

seattle graffiti artist 179, 179 graffiti

179

few and far mural project

INTERVIEW with Meme

The graffiti art and street art scenes definitely seem to be male dominated.  But the new walls you and your crew painted on June 4th were done exclusively by women! That’s amazing. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like why you wanted to do a project with just women?

Well like most hardcore things, most men are more likely down to what ever it is. As being a female into “male dominated” things you seem to find other females that sometimes want to build a bond cuz there are fewer of us… I am that type that loves all people and has love for women doing hardcore things! So I decided with help from KSRA/Mags that we would put together a jam.

Beth Emmerich artist, Beth Emmerich mural

Beth Emmerich

Are the women & girls you worked with from Oakland? Or from all over?

Hahaha well, I think four girls are either from here or now live in the Bay area. Mags, Dime, Agana and Muse. Three of them I didn’t invite or know before, they just showed up. I liked them, so I let them paint. Very happy they came!

Here’s a list of the rest of the crew and where they’re from: Toofly (NYC), Myla (Australia/LA), Acet (NJ), Reds (Miami), KSRA (Seattle), Hops (Seattle), 179 (Seattle), Meme (Nor Cal), Beth Emmerich(SD), Rachel Pelican (Grass Valley)

mandela parkway murals, few and far murals, oakland murals

Rachel Pelican

I see that your project “Few & Far” is going be traveling to a number of cities throughout the world to do similar projects.  What’s next on the agenda?

Yes, we will be!! Watch out fellas! In Miami we will be doing a smaller F&F production during Art Basel. (Oaktown Art here:  For those who haven’t heard of it, Art Basel Miami bills itself as “the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas… [and] the sister event of Switzerland’s Art Basel, the most prestigious art show worldwide for the past 41 years.”)

And will you pick up different artists in different locations?

Basically, we only want to surround ourselves with dedicated ladies that work well together, and aren’t competitive with each other, which happens a lot with other females. I don’t have time for that princess shit! Really any girl/women can join our collective, if their attitude is right.

siloe mural, siloette graffiti

siloette

myla graffiti, myla oakland mural, myla few and far

Myla

How did you get into graffiti art?

Long story.. All I can say is it’s a long, bumpy, rough road that you can’t get off!! lol

Are there many female role models for girls who want to get into graffiti art and street art?

YES!! I think that there are more and more every year!! And I feel we are not hiding anymore. There are some heavy hitting ladies out there world-wide, those who paved the way for us are still killin’ it, and the up and comers that are killin’ it too!

The women I admire, just to name a few are: Miss Van, Swoon, Ursala young, faith 47, Lady Pink, MadC, The Stick Up Girlz, the F&F women and so many more, too many to name! The ladies in Few and Far are very well known for being female artists. There are female gatherings like B GIRL B, and zines like C-O-P magazine, plus “Graffiti Women”the book.  Not sure there is much more than that out there…. kinda lame.

muse graffiti, women graffiti artists, mural by muse

Muse & Acet

Toofly mural oakland, Toofly few and far project

Toofly & Dime

Do you think that the themes explored are different for female artists than for men/boys?

Sometimes males tend to do perverted, macho, tough, gross stuff, which I love cuz if everything was flowery it wouldn’t be realistic. But being a female, I love pretty things just as much! But this is not true for everyone, just the majority.

Maybe you could talk about a few of the specific pieces on the Mandela Parkway murals…

Oakland has tons of graffiti right now its crazy!! Mandela pkwy has lots of murals right now which is beautiful!! Such a change from the same ol’ grey wash walls. Don’t you agree? (I do!)

meme few and far, few and far project

Meme & Hops & 179

mandela parkway murals, mandela pkwy murals

Lady Mags & Hops & Myla

It looks like each artist got their own stretch of wall.  Were any of the pieces collaborative? (I didn’t see a signature on the dragon)

The dragon was by this amazing woman 179! The Seattle girls drove 16 hours straight, got out of the car and started painting like mad women!! 179 did multiple characters and a piece as well as the cute bunny & bacon’n’eggs which spelled out 2011. We ALL worked very hard on the wall!! Reds, Beth, Rachel, Agana and I stayed out there so long I wondered if the hotel was a waste of money! We were straight camping out there!

I feel we all worked equally hard to move the ladders, scaffolding, clean up every night… we were a solid team. It took us 3 days with heavy rains and cold weather, there was definitely no little girl shit here!

179 2011, women graffiti artists, girl graffiti

179

girl graffiti murals, west oakland graffiti, oakland graffiti art

KSRA & 179

Lastly, why do you make art? And more specifically, public art?

I don’t consider myself as an artist really, I just paint graffiti. Now I’m at the age where I want to fine tune things, explore everything that interests me. I also don’t like painting in front of people, it makes me very nervous. But I’m learning that painting with positive people makes all the anxiety go away. The community in some cases loves what we are doing, so that makes me feel proud of all the years and millions of hours I put into it…

I feel art is like music, ever flowing… no one knows why, what or where it comes from, it’s this force that you can’t stop. I just wish cities were more open to art, music, youth, etc. Free for everyone to experience, no matter what age, sex, race, religion. Our society as a whole, has a lot of growing to do. We all have so much to learn from each other. So get ready… Few and Far is here! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, to every single person who helped and showed us love!! I appreciate you all and couldn’t have done it alone! ~ MEME F&F

Reds mural oakland, girl graffiti, female graffiti artists

Anagan & Reds

Anagan mural oakland

Anagan

More reading:

And lastly, if you want to get involved, contact Meme at FewAndFarEvent@gmail.com or the blog Few and Far.

ART INTERVIEW: Kim Larson

kim larson art, kim larson mosaics, impressionistic mosaic

Kim Larson is a local mosaic artist who stretches this medium to an extent we haven’t yet seen. She often works in three dimensions, crafting whimsical sculptures for the home or garden, and has a new body of work that pushes her two-dimensional pieces into the realm of abstract impressionism.

We’ve seen a couple of her public pieces already (New Art Walk in Jingletown), but today we’re going to see a number of works from her private collection, some even in progress.

I had a chance to talk with Larson about the medium of mosaics, her process, and art in general while touring her home, studio, and garden – all fantastically adorned with mosaics!  scroll below photos for interview

Below and above you see some of Larson’s nudes series… these are a relatively new exploration for her, focused on more abstract representations.
fine art mosaics by kim larson, nudes by kim larson
Below is the basis of a 3-dimensional sculpture. If you remember paper-machéing a piggy bank from a balloon in grade school (I do!), this process is similar, but instead of dredging newspaper strips through flour & water, the form is constructed from mesh strips and a concrete mixture.
mosaic sculpture, concrete form for mosaic
Here we see one of her nearly completed sculptures. Most of the glass pieces have been affixed but the overall piece has not yet been grouted (you can see the gaps between the glass squares). Keep in mind that all these little pieces of glass are cut by hand! Perhaps this why Larson says mosaics are “crazy-making”…
kim larson flounder, kim larson mosaic sculptures

More garden fixtures…
Saundra Warren tiles, garden table
garden mosaic sculptures, kim larson garden mosaics
outdoor mosaics, garden mosaics, oakland mosaic artist
dragon fly mosaics, garden mosaics, kim larson mosaics

INTERVIEW with KIM LARSON

How did you come to be involved in the Jingletown Arts community?  Did you ever live in the neighborhood?

I “discovered” IMA in March 2006, started trying mosaics, took classes and volunteered on several projects. I was also employed there as a production artist from June ’07 – Jan ’08. While I was there I became aware of JABC, saw their printed materials – postcards, posters, etc – and knew I could help! I just love the name “Jingletown” and felt that, as an outsider, I could offer graphic art work and bring more recognition to them.

For a little more info:  http://kimlarsonart.blogspot.com/

I see that you’ve worked in many different artistic mediums (paint, drawing, sculpture, etc.) throughout your artistic career.  Can you talk about how you came to work with mosaics?

I was laid off in 2005 from my graphic art job. I asked the universe for my next step, specifically something I could become obsessed with. And then I happened upon a business card for Mosaic Studio Supply – the store inside IMA. I was curious as to what a mosaic studio is and what it needed to be supplied with. So I went there. I was taken by the shiny, sparkly, colorful products as well as the art on the walls, the classrooms, etc. So I decided to try mosaics.

And what do you find particularly appealing and/or challenging about working in mosaics, as opposed to other mediums?

Appealing? I find mosaics to be crazy-making! At times I have to admit I walk that fine line between sanity and insanity because each cut, each piece, each color, each placement  has to be perfect! Specifically, I like to work with sparkly, mirrored, textured, brightly colored glass. I feel like I am painting with light. The reflective qualities of the glass force the viewer to move around the piece to see it truly take shape and reveal itself. Mosaics using glass is not a static medium. The play of light adds an extra dimension one doesn’t find in many other art forms.

I’ve noticed that some of your work tends to focus on animal forms.  You have some recent mosaic sculptures and older folk art pieces that showcase different animals.  Can you talk about your inspiration here?

This isn’t a deep answer: I think they are just easy. And they appeal to people.  However, mostly I rely on images and visions just popping into my head. One day the image of a frog in a particular position, came into my mind and I started creating small mosaics based on that vision. They were – and are – VERY popular and have sold like hotcakes. [see photo below] It turns out that the spiritual meaning of “frog” is “transition” and I was definitely in transition at that time in my life. That’s why I like to rely on images that pop into my mind. They are authentic to me and will resonate with the viewers.

In general, where do you look for inspiration?

I have synesthesia – my brain is wired in such a way that I see colors when I hear sounds or get a massage or feel physical pain, etc. I also see letters as colors, numbers each have a color…etc. I can “see” music especially – each note and chord is a different color and music is a swirl of shapes and hues in my mind’s eye.

So I am always in touch with the color, music and emotional meaning in the physical world around me. And I can evoke responses in viewers by the colors and shapes I use.

My mind is full of imagery so I don’t look far for inspiration!

You worked on a  couple of the pieces on the new-ish Jingletown Peterson Street Art wall – the Virgin of Guadalupe (as a solo installation) and the mosaic tree with friend and fellow artist Saundra Warren.  Can you talk about the differences in working as a solo artist vs. as a collaborator with others?  Which do you prefer?

I find mosaics to be a very lonely art. One works hunched over the substrate – walking along a precipice of insanity!! – making hundreds if not thousands of decisions a day. Working alone, I can hear my own thoughts and am not distracted. I am not a person who asks others what they think I should do next to a piece of art. I like to keep my own counsel. Then the final product is mine – good, bad or ugly! When I work with others, I happily chat, we make decisions together, I learn from them and it isn’t lonely. However the final product is a collaboration and one must share the accolades.

I like the total control I have over my own fine art pieces.

However I also really like installing mosaic murals – the time when they actually start to go up on a wall involves physical labor and is very exciting. And that is where a finely tuned team is a joy!

When approaching public works of art, is your process any different?  What about your objectives?

When I’ve created public art, I call on my past experience as a graphic artist – creating presentations, working with clients to realize their visions, discussing what will and won’t work in specific situations, designing on the computer, etc.  However I can’t totally rely on my inner inspiration when working with a committee.

My objective is always to make a great piece of art that people love!!

What do you think the role of public art is in our society?

I think the role is at least twofold – to give artists work and to elevate the human spirit. Whenever I see art in a public space I think: Wow, someone – a politician, most likely – had the guts to push for public art! I am always happily amazed to see the range of public art, the styles, colors and ideas that artists come up with. The work can be simply pretty or awe-inspiring or make the viewer ask “how did they do that?” Public art adds a dimension to our lives that is immeasurable. And art where you least expect it is a beautiful thing!

I am always struck by how many regular people hang out their shingles and open their doors during Open Studios here. It’s like people are showing us their hidden world of hopes and dreams to say “I am an artist too”!

Art in public places inspires people’s inner artist!

I see you’ve had a long career as a graphic artist?  Does your commercial work in any way inform your personal?  Or vice versa?

I have the ability to communicate visually – I always have, since I was small. Both the commercial and personal art is intertwined, I’m sure. Although the commercial work is always controlled by the client and that can be very wearing! My personal work is all mine – my inspiration, my choices and ultimately my responsibility.

Did you have any formal training as an artist?

No I really haven’t had much formal training. I spent one year in college as an art major but dropped out for many reasons. I decided to pursue my art path on my own terms and have mostly stayed away from classes and teachers. I have had artistic talent and been getting accolades for it since I can remember. Art materials have always been easy for me to learn. But it has been my responsibility to keep up the discipline to take this talent seriously and develop it.

I’m taking my first mosaic class at the Institute of Mosaic Arts this weekend?  Any advice for me?

I would say that you should learn the materials inside and out. There are “right and wrong” ways to use materials. Then keep up with your artistic development on your own….there is no “right and wrong” there. Discover your own voice – learn to make the materials speak for you.

Thanks Kim!!!

frog mosaics, frog mosaics jingletown, garden frog mosaics

EarthDance Film Festival – Thursday Night

So there’s a pretty cool event happening tomorrow night… The 8th Annual EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival.  I should tell you right off the bat that it’s not actually in Oakland (rather Berkeley), but I am writing about it for a few reasons…

For starters, its founder Zakary Zide is an Oakland resident.  He worked at the Oakland Museum of Art for years and it was during this time, and through the museum’s support, that the festival originated.  Plus one of the films included this year is Oakland’s own homespun documentary “Scrapertown” about the Scraper Bike movement in Oakland.

Having established the festival’s proper Oaktown street-cred, what’s more important is that this event is cool, thought-provoking, inspiring, entertaining, and fun! You can read more about it in my interview with Zakary, below photo.  In the meantime, here are the details:

EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival
2011 Official Selections (PG-13)
9 films, 90 minutes.

A serious and light-hearted exploration of nature, culture and environmental design.
Featuring an eclectic collection of comedies, documentaries, adventures and animations, films range in length from 3 – 30 minutes.
Short is Sweet.

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
7pm and 9pm (two screenings, same films for both)

24/7  ticket hotline:  800-838-3006
On-line:  BrownPaperTickets

The David Brower Center
2150 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA 94610
(map here)

photo by Rus Anson

Hi Zakary,

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about your 8th Annual EarthDance Film Festival, screening tomorrow night at the David Brower Center in Berkeley.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen several of the previous incarnations of this festival, even back to its early days when it was screened at the Oakland Museum of California.  Can you talk about its genesis?  How you came up with the idea?  And the involvement of OMCA towards that end?

It’s great that you’ve experience our collection!  Thanks for following our event!

I started the EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival in 2004 for 4 reasons:

  1. I wanted to demonstrate that stories about the environment aren’t always political and aren’t always gloomy and doomy…the natural world is full of humor, quirky characters (the praying mantis – come on!) and inspiration.  My friends, colleagues and I weren’t seeing the kind of environmental stories that we could relate to.  Most things being produced at the time were either of the Croc Hunter variety or predictable to the point of being annoying.
  2. To provide a container for people to come together; a venue for people to share their stories and multi-media explorations of their relationships with the natural world.  Environmental films aren’t just for eco-freaks.  We all have a relationship to the natural world; even if we’re only talking about an ant invasion in your kitchen. How you deal with the ants, that’s the interesting bit.
  3. To help create a ‘culture of nature’ and raise money for environmental issues.
  4. To inspire and be inspired to take action.

I was working at the Oakland Museum at the time. I presented the idea to the powers that be and eventually got funding for a “pilot” year. The goal, among those above, was to help the museum with new audience development.  Fortunately, EarthDance did what we had hoped.  The Film Fest bolstered museum membership. And existing members were happy to have something new to get excited about.  As a result, I got more funding to keep the project alive.  I’ve since left the museum, but thankfully they have remained supportive.

Were there other environmental film festivals that served as examples?  Of either what to do, or what not to do?  (You don’t have to name names).

There were a few, but we were one of the first environmental film fests.  Now it seems that everyone and their uncle has a film fest. I should really talk to my uncle about starting another one.

I believe the festival’s been referred to as “eco-tainment”.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

People like good stories, for good reason.  I’m not a fan of sensationalism, but I do appreciate an entertaining story that has a meaningful message.  I think this explains the popularity of such films as Super Size Me, and Michael Moore’s documentaries.  In this way, I don’t think one should have to sacrifice entertainment for ecology.

I think too many TV shows and films with important messages to tell get caught up in a scripted narrative, or else frighten or bore their audiences to death.  There are so many different ways that people relate to the natural world – from the hunter to the vegetarian.  I’m interested in telling everyone’s story.

What I love about the films I’ve seen in years past, is the enormous variety of subject matter & film styles.  Everything from 30 second shorts filmed under a scientific microscope, to 30 minute long foreign animated films, short documentaries following eco-warriors, and so much more.  There’s really something for everyone.  And typically lots of laughter.  Can you talk a bit about your process of selecting films for inclusion?

I’m glad to hear your feedback on this!  This is exactly the kind of response that we try to elicit with our curation!

We intentionally cast a wide net.  This is another reason why I felt like the Short-Attention-Span nature of the film fest was essential – variety.  People’s time is short and as great of a film as Who Killed the Electric Car is, not everyone wants to sit through 90 minutes of one eco-themed story.  We wanted to include more people and expand the conversation.  We’ve found that people really appreciate our variety. We often hear that our collection is “not what we expected, and that’s a good thing.” Specifically we look for films that are passionate, provocative, and funny.  We look for personal stories that have not been told before; quirky, inspirational, and generally non-political.  And of course, they have to be 30 seconds to 30 minutes in length.

I know a particularly memorable one, both because it was hilarious, and also quite recent, was the short film “Spiders on Drugs.” Does each year consist of entirely new material?  Or do you carry over audience favorites from year to year?

Each year is a fresh collection. We do, however sell / lease compilation DVDs of all of our collections for both public and private screenings.  It’s probably time that we have a “Best of the Best” screening!

It seems a common perception problem with issues of conservation and/or sustainability is that it’s just not fun.  It’s like your mother nagging you to turn down the heat and put on a sweater instead.  You know it’s the right thing to do, but somehow it feels… what’s the word… um, burdensome.  Are you trying to change this perception?

Absolutely! A little sugar helps the medicine go down.  As one of our festival attendees put it, the environmental awareness of our fest hits you more like a fine wine vapor than a sledgehammer.  I think we go for the subtle and sublime as opposed to the guilt.

As an ecologist and educator myself, I learned first hand that facts and figures don’t often move people as much as a personal connection and the rich flavor and depth of the story.  We have found that if people can relate to the story that it’s easier to get inspired, and then they will take it upon themselves to take their interest and awareness to the next level.

We all know on some level that the environmental situation – our relationship to the natural world – is being tested and strained.  We don’t need more gloom and doom stories.  Now is the time for stories and meaningful media that reconnects us to the source of life – the very stuff of our spiritual, physical, and psychological sustenance.

Has your perception of the world, and our place in it, changed at all through your years of curating of the festival?

I think that more people are waking up to their relationship to the natural world, and that the economy is reflecting this.  Of course we have to be careful of greenwashing, but I think it’s great how many more eco-friendly products and designs are available today vs. 8 years ago when the festival first launched.  Green products and services can always be improved. But humans will always have an impact. We consume. Mitigating our consumption and giving people healthier choices is a step in the right direction.

What do you hope the festival’s viewers will experience?

Surprise, joy, inspiration, celebration and motivation to explore their relationship to the natural world.

I know there’s a question and answer period following each screening.  What’s the craziest question you’ve ever gotten?

Would I ever make love to a polar bear?

Hah!  Thanks again Zakary.  See you at the screening!

ART INTERVIEW: Get Up

Did anyone make it to Art Murmur Friday night? I saw a great show on urban street artists (specifically black calligraphers & muralists) tying in nicely with my street art theme of last week, so I’m gonna continue to roll with that for a bit.  I’ll have more on the show, titled Aero Soul 2,  later in the week.

For now, I have my next artist interview installment.  I had initially hoped to have these monthly, but seeing as this is only my second in over a year, you can see that I got a bit off track (ahem). But I have high hopes to get back on track, so if you’ve seen something interesting recently and want a bit more info about the art and/or artist, send me a note and I’ll see what I can do…

Here’s another piece by Get Up – we’ve seen this one before, but with a different color scheme. It exemplifies a cool feature of stencils – that they can be used over and over. My interview with him follows…

Large Wheat Paste art, east bay wheat paste, get up graffiti art

Are you a formally trained artist? What’s your background?

No training or school. I’m pretty new to the whole art thing. I used to draw alot when I was young, up until maybe 7th grade, but I was never serious about it. I’ve done music since I was 13. I started off DJ’ing and then shortly after started making hip hop beats. I have an album out under a different name that features some songs with MC’s and some instrumental tracks.

About a year ago I realized that the music I’m doing, and that I really want to do, is different from what I had released under my previous name. I liked “Get Up” because I wanted something simple, a verb or command, something positive, and I just felt like it went with the theme of the music. Get up and dance, get up and do something etc.. At the same time I thought it would be cool to do some street art-type promo to get the new name out there. I started with the dancing couple with bandannas. I was just having fun, getting a rush doing it, and right away I started getting lots of positive feedback and people were taking it a lot more serious than I was. I really enjoyed painting and the idea of having visuals along with the music. That’s when I decided I would try and branch out more and do music and painting equally. My first piece went up in June 2010 in San Francisco.

Can you talk about some of your influences? (other artists you admire for example)

I really don’t know much about or follow art or artists. I see lots of stuff on the streets and stuff but I rarely know who it’s by. I’m familiar with most of the more popular artists, and I’ve learned about and met lots of artists since I started doing it. My influence is just the world around me and my experiences. I grew up in Philly so I’ve been surrounded by some of the best graffiti for most of my life. I have a few friends that are street/graff artists too so I’ve picked up some things along the way.

What is it about street art that appeals to you?

I love how it’s in your face and so many people see it every day. You can’t do that with music, short of standing on a corner with a boombox. Another thing I love is the interpretation aspect of it, or art in general. It’s also just lots of fun and I think its awesome when people tell me it made them smile or how they enjoy seeing it everyday going to/from work.

It seems that street art has really come into mainstream acceptance in the art world recently (gallery shows, etc.) How do you feel about that?

It’s cool I guess. I don’t really follow that world too much but I have been involved with it a little bit recently. There’s still a huge difference between a street piece and a canvas, but if people like what they see on the street and want to enjoy it in their homes, there’s gotta be somewhere to facilitate that. I do believe that if you are going to sell pieces you should have plenty of affordable art and not just expensive pieces.

How did you get started?

Just wanted to try something new to promote my music and have some fun at the same time.

I’ve seen a number of your larger pieces around Oakland and they seem to be primarily stencils. Is this your main mode of working and if so why?

I started with stencils because I was only interested with doing lots of pieces easily. I didn’t start stenciling to be an “artist”. I’ve been doing simple graphic design for a few years, just for my own music stuff, so I basically just wanted to take what I was doing on the computer and put it everywhere I could. Another thing I do a lot of is painting on cardboard, wood, or canvas and leaving it in the streets for people to take home. I also do lots of stickers and just started doing screen printing.

I’ve noticed that some of your stencils are done on large sheets of paper and then pasted up, rather than painted in place. Can you talk about your process?

I prefer to paint when possible, but some spots are just easier to paste. With posters if you get caught in the act you can still take it down and no damage was done. With paint you’re most likely getting a ticket or going to jail. I was arrested when I was 14 for graffiti, and then in November 2010 I was locked up in London for doing stencils. It’s always best to avoid jail. Posters have the advantage of being able to have more detail and color and still be put up in a minute or two. Paint is more permanent and can go on spots that posters might not stick to.

You seem to have the idea of music incorporated into many of your images, and I understand you’re a musician as well. Can you talk about whether your music inspires your visual art and whether your visual art also inspires your music?

When I started it was strictly to just get my name out there for the music, so that’s why mostly all my pieces are music related. Over the past few months I’ve been getting a lot of interest in the stuff I’m doing so I do see myself exploring other themes that I’m passionate about, and doing stuff more as an “artist” rather than just doing street advertisements. I’ve been doing lots of canvas painting and trying out different media and mediums. I definitely see the music and art inspiring each other. Whether its making a painting to match a song or vice versa.

Are there other central themes you focus on in your work?

Positivity, color, or just things I think are beautiful.

How do you hope to affect people who come in contact with your work?

I always hope for a positive response or feeling, but any reaction is good because it means people are paying attention to whats around them. If I can bring a subject, or situation some attention and get people to think about or discuss it than great. I know I’m probably not going to save the world or fix any problems by putting something on a wall, but If I can brighten up a block and make someone smile, or inspire them to do something positive or make some art themselves then I’m about as happy as can be.

Do you have a favorite color?
Probably green. It represents so many different things but mostly life and growth to me.

Thanks for your time – I really appreciate it.  And thanks for bringing your art to Oakland!

ART INTERVIEW: Mark Bode

Hey kids… so I kind of wrote a lot yesterday, eh?  And this here post is even longer, twice as long in fact.  My dear friend who knows of these things says the average blog post should be 250 words… no more, no less.  This interview clocks in at more than 5 times that!  So I’m going to take a bit of a breather… take the weekend off, give you folks a chance to catch up.  Plus I’m going to see bluegrass! Have a great weekend and I’ll see ya’ll next week…

P.S. – all photos (except last) courtesy of Mark Bode

First Mark, let me thank you for bringing your artwork to West Oakland! When we met briefly a few weeks ago while you were working on the Nymphs mural. I hope it’s ok that I call it this… does it have a real name?

I refer to it as the Forest Fairy mural.  It was inspired by my friends who are amazing artists from Brazil who call themselves Os Gêmeos, which means “The Twins” in Portuguese. They are simply amazing artists and they visited me recently for the first time.

You mentioned that you had been part of a similar mural project in the mission district of San Francisco.  Can you talk a bit about that?

I was a part of The Lilac Street Project between 24th and 25th and Mission.  It’s an alley way behind Mission street where the tagging and activities there had become seedy and out of control. So a group of artists and a very savvy couple by the names of Randolph Bose and Lisa Brewer spearheaded the transformation with mural work.  And it worked like a charm.

As the artists completed the murals, more and more tourists came through to photograph them, transforming the alley into a tourist attraction which actively stopped the tagging and caused the seedy activity to move elsewhere.  Amazing!  The owners of the property were very happy for their decision and it was a positive thing for the neighborhood. Overall there were around a dozen local and international artists that contributed to the cause. The artists were taken care of with grant money from the efforts of Randolph and Lisa.

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Did your experience with the Mission project influence you in wanting to do something in West Oakland?  Why West Oakland?

Of course! I went to The Arts School at Peralta High School on Peralta Street around 1977. Now one of my art school teachers Kathryn Porter owns property in the area, and at a recent high school reunion at that location I told Kathryn I would love to do some mural work in the spot where my friends and I first started doing art. And she agreed.

More times than not people TALK, but don’t do the WALK. I followed up and did the walk, maybe partially because of my teacher and partially because I met my life long friends there and felt I owed something to the neighborhood.  Thus the Peralta Street Project was born… we will see if the city of Oakland agrees.

What I love about these murals is their juxtaposition to the immediate neighborhood that can, at times, feel very bleak.  There are boarded up houses nearby, industrial warehouses, the nearby recycling plant that draws many disadvantaged locals pushing their shopping carts full of bottles and cans.  It can be a little depresssing.  But these murals are beautiful, and very serene I think.  The asian woman with her hair and the ribbons behind her flowing in the wind, and the nymphs with their delicate wings, bathing in the mystical pools.  Can you talk about why you chose these images specifically?

I only know that I have images that make me feel a certain way that I want to paint. I don’t have a political agenda and I don’t want to preach to the people who live in the area.  Just positive imagery. And what I want to paint is my motivation, I have infinite images I want to paint… I’m not sure what spurs it.  I want to keep going but I can’t fund the work on inspiration alone as I have a living to make and must move on…

Are the characters from some of your comics?

No , this is from another place. Comics are tedious and small.  Sometimes I have an urge to go big with imagery and use my whole body to convey an image I might have. I must go big before I am too old to do so.

And what does the lettering behind the asian woman say?

It’s Japanese…  it says DREAM and LOVE. Maybe not in that order, but it doesn’t matter. Alot of street artists make their pieces hard to decipher  and it becomes a code between individuals.. I feel if we start utilizing each other’s languages in the same pieces it may be that we can relate and communicate to each other through that other language,  much like music and how it is a universal code.

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I asked another muralist about the distinction between graffiti “art” and a lot of the tags I see that don’t seem to require any real skill.  Do you see this distinction?

Tagging can be a form of urban art or a territorial thing… in most cases it is an eye sore and is much need of a face lift. If I tag for instance I always put an image with my tag, maybe a beautiful woman or a character that says this is who I am, and I made this spot interesting. Not all will agree. I think taggers should use their flow in a positive way and show they can beautify and not destruct or destroy public property, even if it’s mundane and sterile at times.

In fact, I noticed you had to come back and clean up a couple of these tags on one of your murals.  Is it difficult to see your work altered?  Or is that just part of the whole street art thing?

It can make you angry if taggers go over such wonderful things and start a war of mind and thought, “Why did they do this?  Why can’t they see the positive thing we are doing for the very same neighborhood they live in?”  Well, I know in most cases that a true street artist will have respect for what the artist has done and won’t deface it. Sometimes there is a situation where a young person feels empowered by the act.  For me,  I love doing the piece and I just get to work on it more if I have to touch it up. I was, in an off-handed way, glad to return to the piece.  But that attitude is rare… I don’t make beef, I just wonder “why deface a positive to the hood?”

Are there any “rules” about altering other artists’ works?

If it is a spot that is permanent then yes we have a rule.  Like Peralta, I am trying to make a more colorful place for people to live in.  If someone has a different vision, we should work with them.  But if they are defacing our work there is a social or economic problem that is deeper than the imagery.  Maybe they need a hug!!!

It seems one of the great things about street art is that you have exposure to a much broader audience than people who would typically know of your work (comic book fans, graf artists, etc.)  What do you hope the random passerby takes away from his/her experience of these paintings?

It already happened while the piece was being created…  I teared up when a homeless person looked up and said “I love her” and smiled.  That is worth every moment, and I heard that multiple times during the creation of the Maki piece. People love her and it makes them feel a good feeling as they do their daily grind, whatever that may be.  Ill do it again in a second if I can..

What are your plans for future murals in the neighborhood?  You mentioned working with the folks at Custom Alloy Recycling.  Any movement there?

We will see what happens there… they seem receptive. I hope the art will prevail and we can cheer up West Oakland and the bay area with ART!

And lastly, if folks want to get involved and help out with your next mural, is that possible?  If so, how should they contact you?

I always work 3 days a week at Sacred Rose Tattoo in Berkeley and I’m always receptive to new artists.  So contact me and I will surely direct you as best I can.
www.markbode.com

Thanks for your time Mark.  And thanks for bringing your positive energy to West Oakland.

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