Books

Drawing Deanna Petherbridge

Image29Is it absurdly presumptuous to assert that almost all art—at least in the strictest, most conscious sense of the word (after all, breathing and eating and suckling milk from a breast could all be done artistically)—starts with drawing?  The earliest forms of recorded human communication are in the forms of drawings, whether they be in caves or Egyptian tombs, and often the earliest memories of a great artist are with ink and paper. What is drawing? What really distinguishes it from painting? Is the former just the skeleton of the latter, and if so, who decides when the bones give way to flesh?

Author, artist, critic, curator, professor, lecturer, and Brit, Deanna Petherbridge has spent the majority of her professional life—which includes numerous exhibitions all over the world, an enviable list of residencies at prestigious universities, and notable works of criticism in all sorts of major publications—thinking about drawing. Her latest book, The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (as published by the Yale University Press with support from LA’s own Metabolic Studio) not only gives an exhaustive account of Western art history through the lens of the drawing, but also examines the art-form as a vital tool toward problem-solving.

Petherbridge is speaking at LACE this Thursday, October 21 at 7 PM, sketching out (bad pun intended?) some of the main concepts that are detailed in her book. Having only read one of her essays before, I, for one, highly recommend hitting Hollywood Blvd. after work to see her. She has a way of coming off as academic and passionate at the same time; like the best of Freud’s works, both extensively thought-out and curious.

I believe this stems from Petherbridge’s dual role as artist and critic, a sometimes paradoxical cast that LACE has been exploring in their on-going Salon Series, in which artists of differing minds and mediums host events in order to connect more directly with their audience. Her essay “Meditations On a Dirty Word,” for instance, takes time to account for the “deskilled” talents of Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Basquiat or Tracey Emin, while still, in a sense, arguing for the importance of training in art. Basically—if I may perform a brash and inept summary—Petherbridge believes in the co-existence of skill-based education and ‘genius.’ Active audience and artist.

Nowhere is this duality of skill and individuality more relevant than in drawing. Because embedded within drawing is a kind of mimesis. Take those early cave depictions of animals and body parts, or the human-like hieroglyphs. Drawing, even in the word itself, involves some sort of borrowing (or stealing). Does this mean that the best borrowers are also the best drawers? And if so, where does originality fit in? More questions. More questions. Maybe Petherbridge can provide some relief.

- By Joshua Morrison

LACE is located at  6522 Hollywood Blvd. For more information on Deanna Petherbridge and the Salon Series, please visit www.welcometolace.org.

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Franzen’s Freedom Isn’t Free

franzen1Jonathan Franzen is conducting a reading from his long awaited novel, Freedom, tonight, Thursday, September 16th, at the Aranti/Japan America Theatre on 244 San Pedro St. in Downtown. It will be interesting to see who shows up since Franzen is a bit of a controversial figure. And I think the warring views on his standing within the American literary tradition can be boiled down to three camps: the Franzen nuts, the Oprah Winfrey freaks, and the bitter elite.

The Franzen nuts—to whom I must confess to being closest in sentiment—believe that the 41-year-old writer of 2001’s The Corrections is our generation’s Great American Novelist, (there is even a recent Time Magazine article about Franzen titled exactly that). They think his ability to combine sprawling, politically-aware narratives with deep, human characters is unmatchable in our time; that he the great Messiah of serious fiction writing. And yes, I agree that The Corrections—along with many of his shorter, more personal pieces in both How To Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone—is more applicable to my own life than any other piece of contemporary literature I’ve read. My friends and I will find ourselves arguing about which charcter in the Lambert family we like the most or are most like (for me, it’s Chip, no question). But many of these Franzenites haven’t read his earlier two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion. I’ve only read the first, myself, and while it’s entertaining and contains much of the same aspects as The Corrections, it doesn’t feel as courageous. While reading, I never said to myself, “Oh my God, he did it.” The experience of The Twenty-Seventh City, for me, and I imagine many other devout fans who discovered his book-ography in reverse order, was one of realization: that’s he’s not a infallible genius. He, like his best characters, is flawed.

Which brings us to the Oprah-naughts. These are the people, mainly women, who regard Winfrey, not Franzen or any other actual author, as the great Messiah of contemporary literature. And anyone who crosses her path, whether it be James Frey or Jonathan Franzen, gets burned. The Franzen incident is quite dated by now, and anyone who’s actually taken the time to look into it, would know how utterly ridiculous the debacle really was, but it doesn’t change the fact that the shadow of Oprah still follows him to this day. (My well-read mother didn’t recognize his name until I brought up her name in association). Yet, I think even Franzen would be the first one to admit that Oprah helped him more than hurt him (in fact, he has accepted Oprah’s offer to put Freedom in her book club). He sold far more books because of it, developed a reputation, and awoke an historical literary debate in mainstream society: whether books should be art—and thereby too special for the plastic sticker of the Oprah Book Club—or merely entertainment.

Franzen brings up this debate over and over in his collection of essays How To Be Alone, and I think he tends to fall in the middle somewhere, that books are important and should be treated as so by the author, but never at the expense of the reader. Freedom, from all I’ve heard and the little I’ve read, is the closest he’s ever gotten to “the reader,” in both prose style and regard for entertainment value.

But as soon as someone as famously “elite” as Franzen starts to use more colloquial vocabulary, out storm the bitter class of critics and college professors. A recent review of Freedom by B.R. Myers in The Atlantic, a magazine which has published Franzen in the past, proved just as much. Myers insists that Franzen is overrated, and as opposed to the Messiah-lauding crowd, indirectly blames him for the demise of classic literature. Myers critiques the author’s use of words and phrases like “fucked,” or “she’s into him.” Myers even brings up the supercilious argument that every time someone reads a book like The Corrections or Freedom, they are missing out on a chance to read a classic like Madame Bovary (though couldn’t one argue just the opposite?). What I believe this reaction stems from is fear: the fear that books may just start to matter on a grander scale than in the annals of academia. So many people these days, including myself, bemoan the increasing attention deficit disorder of the American public, but fewer people allude to the possibility of a human reaction against it. As Franzen says himself, “We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we’ve created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful.”

- By Joshua Morrison

The reading begins at 8:00 PM at the Aranti/Japan America Theatre located at 244 San Pedro St. For more information, please visit www.jaccc.org/jonathanfranzen.php.

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Save and Misbehave: Amateurs to Auteurs

9780446550277There are some people who can’t see a film without unleashing their inner critic.  So long as they’re not doing it in your ear during the film, there’s nothing wrong with a little constructive criticism. Studying up on film and all that goes into it can help those critics sound less like Randy Jackson on “American Idol” and more like Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers.  Neil Landau’s book, 101 Things I Learned in Film School is just the kind of thing you need to get up to speed so that your judging the mise-en-scene and the juxtaposition as opposed to the Cameron Diaz’ comedic timing.

Landau will be signing and reading from his book at Book Soup in West Hollywood on Thursday night, giving you a crash course in everything from camera angles to getting financing.  Landau is a screenwriter whose credits include Doogie Howser MD and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. We know what you’re thinking, but this book is chock full of actual advice and lessons learned.  In Los Angeles, its smart to know these things even if you work in an entirely different business – it’ll help your client base as a dentist, for example, if you can ask a producer how his or her premiere went or what the latest box office numbers were.  It’s all about the universal language of film.

Neil Landau will be signing and reading from 101 Things I Learned in Film School on Thursday, May 27 at 7pm for FREE.  For more information, please click here.

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Moving Images

TheSecondsPass_WrongWayRyderEver wonder what happened to Ed Templeton?  That professional skateboarder turned internationally renowned artist, photographer, D.I.Y. innovator, entrepreneur, ‘Beautiful Loser,’ and book publisher?  Well if you haven’t, then Ed Templeton has.

His eclectic career as both a skater and an artist has always seemed to be about his own relationship to time and motion.  In his famous photography book, Teenage Smokers, for instance, each medium to close-up image of a young person with a cigarette has the feeling of personal impermanence, like a flash-memory of a kid you might have seen at the mall once when you were nine.

Templeton, especially in his most recent work, seems to be obsessed with these fragile, ephemeral moments, and what they might mean.  His 2008 book, Deformer, which took him 11 years to complete, examines his youth growing up in the ultra-conservative suburban “incubator” of Orange County, using childhood letters, notes, photographs, sketches, and paintings to tell his story with as much physical accuracy as possible—even if it’s all long gone.

His latest photography show, The Seconds Pass, at the Roberts and Tilton Gallery in Culver City once again has Templeton on the move.  These thirty-some separate collages of pictures, mostly all taken from the vantage point of a moving vehicle, attempt to capture exactly where he’s been these last few years, so as not to miss a passing second.

Ed Templeton’s The Seconds Pass can be viewed at the Roberts and Tilton Gallery in Culver City until April 3.  Roberts and Tilton is located at 5801 Washinton Blvd.  For more information, please call (323) 549-0223, or visit www.robertsandtilton.com.

Posted in Art, Books, Contemporary Art, Culver City, Exhibitions, Galleries, Low Brow, Neighborhoods, Old School, Personalities, Photography, Save + Misbehave, West LA No Comments »

Big Kisses, Bird Calls, and Puppy Dogs

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Pablo Uribe, Atardecer, 2008 (Dusk) – video still

This year, the Los Angeles Art Show made its home at Los Angeles Convention Center.  This venue change provided more space for gallery booths that ranged from contemporary works such as the Wall Project’s Shepard Fairey and Thierry Noir painted walls to landscapes galore — and even more space for project-based installations. The Vox Humana on-site art performance presented street artists Mear One, Kofie, Retna, and El Mac who showed off their talents over the length of the fair on large-scale canvases.  And speaking of more room, I wondered how Sidestreet Projects got one of their woodworking workshop buses into the fair.  These school buses are outfitted with project stations for elementary school children so they can make a nuts and bolts washer sandwich and one FUNdred dollar bills, which I am sure we all could use more of these days.

One of my favorite pieces of the art fair was Pablo Uribe’s video, Atardecer (2008), which screened in a makeshift dark room in the Guest Country program booth’s rear.  While looking at the other works from the 34° 53’ 0” S – 56° 10’ 0” W show, I heard animals sounds curiously mix with the ambient art fair noise.  Upon stepping into the screening area, there was a video of an older man standing before a black background looking as if he were about to perform a gorgeous aria.  Instead of sweet notes pouring out of his mouth, the sound of a dog’s bark came out.  And then the cooing of a bird!  The actor was imitating the sounds of native rain forest animals.

Willy Rojas’ photographs at Barcelona’s Villa del Arte booth depicted miniature figurines interacting

Willy Rojas, Egg

Willy Rojas, Egg

with their food-based environment.  Tiny people ski down slopes of salt or a wedge of hard cheese.  A man broke the shell of an egg with his sledgehammer while a couple ice skates on an orange hued soup.

Speaking of food, the Timothy Yarger Gallery presented Jean Wells’ The Giant Kiss quite literally.  The huge chocolate-scented foil wrapped sculpture demanded a tongue-in-cheek presence while paying homage to Claes Oldenburg’s shop.

The Rebecca Hossack Gallery held quite a few treats, including a gorgeous papel picado-esque paper cutting in the shape of a peacock (Ian Penney), a piece of toast with an image of Shakespeare burnt onto it à la the Virgen de Guadalupe (Maria Morrow), and also Phil Shaw’s photographs of brightly colored bookshelves, which was a voyeur’s delight to snoop the book titles.

And on my way out, I spotted three Jeff Koon’s puppy vases filled with fresh flowers guarding Jean Dubuffet’s Tapis at the Jane Kahan Gallery.  In my mind, they were the guardians of the LA Art Show — a much friendlier and kitsch version of Cerberus.

Fine Arts LA Jeff Koons puppy vase

Posted in Books, Bring Your Flask, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Festival, Galleries, Installation, Mixed media, Painting, Performance, Photography, Video Art No Comments »

Reinventing The Theatre

A mother prepares dinner in a sumptuously decorated upper-middle-class apartment, her movements slow and deliberate as she moves among the cold, stainless steel appliances of the kitchen, preparing dinner for her son waiting nearby. Their conversation is banal, barely audible. Despite the seemingly commonplace setting and actions, however, an eerie tension grows, almost palpable as we wait for some sort of a release. Much of the action in Purgatorio, Romeo Castellucci’s experimental approach to Dante Alighieri’s second part of the Divine Comedy, stretches on in this manner for the majority of the play, with a sense of sadness that grows so greatly under the pressure of the monotony, one hardly flinches when it finally bursts.

The play’s Italian-born writer and director, Romeo Castellucci, debuted at the age of 20 as a theatrical producer, quickly establishing the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio with Chiara Guidi and Claudia Castellucci in 1981. He went on to write and produce a litany of other productions, including, notably, the 37th Venice Biennale’s theater section, titled Pompeii: The Novel of the Ash, for which he received a UBU award in 2006. He is a prolific writer, having published numerous books and essays on his personal theories of stagecraft and dramaturgy.  His ideas for a new kind of theater have earned him international notoriety. Castellucci’s chief aim has been to liken theater to more integrally perceptible arts, such as music or painting, that can be appreciated on a level that exists somewhere above spoken language.

The play, co-produced by UCLA Live and showing at the Freud Playhouse until tomorrow night, certainly embodies Castellucci’s vision for this new kind of theater. It is intensely personal, taking the themes of sin and forgiveness so integral to Alighieri’s Purgatorio and twisting them into a play that is both surprisingly devoid of action yet intensely moving and disturbing.  While Dante’s journey through purgatory is a literal climb up a mountain in which he sheds the sins of his life in order to gain redemption, Castellucci’s modern rendering, centered around father, mother, and son  (perhaps the holy trinity?)  feels like a slide down into sin, with redemption coming when one least expects it, if at all.

Castellucci’s denial of a clear narrative allows him to delve into the dreamlike world of the story’s son and grapple with issues of morality abstractly rather than directly. We are moved not by the action but the lack thereof, the empty dialogue, the formal yet soft warmth of Castellucci’s lighting and set design supported by Scott Gibbon’s at once delicate and abrasive musical score. It is deliberate and rich and methodical. It is extraordinarily painful. It is profoundly beautiful. It is playing in America for the first time and not for long, so take advantage of a kind of theater you are unlikely to experience again any time soon.

- By Helen Kearns

Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Purgatorio runs at UCLA Live’s Freud Playhouse through tomorrow evening, October 31 at 8pm.  For more information, please call (310) 825-2000 or click here.

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