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Patrick Kelly, Photo Credit, the Guardian

Patrick Kelly, Photo Credit, the Guardian

Saturday’s and Elsa Klensch were about as regular as watching Soul Train for me in the 80’s, and when I first saw Patrick Kelly on Klensch’s CNN weekly style rewind, I was inspired.  He was one of the first black designers I ever saw and he was one of the first designers that made an “it” item.  I wore one of his signature red buttons on my Levi’s faded jean jacket.  He was one of the first designers that was relatable and showed me that fashion was attainable.70251006

What I didn’t realize about Patrick Kelly was that he spent the majority of his short-lived career in Paris.  When he moved to Paris from New York (Kelly was originally from Mississippi) in 1979, he designed costumes for Le Palace, one of the infamous Parisian night clubs on par with Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage.  His runway shows were legendary for being theatrical and irreverent.  Between his design and my adolescent love for all things Benetton, this is where my unfulfilled childhood dream of being a model began.

His talent, like so many young men in design and the arts in the 80’s, was taken from us all too early.  His work was full of love and joy.  I’m writing this post while listening to a Larry Levan mix and dancing in my chair.  Absolutely perfect.  For a glimpse into the fantastic world of Patrick Kelly, here is a video from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 2014 retrospective of his career in fashion.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD

This painting by Beauford Delaney out of all his portraits of fellow artists really stuck out to me, not just because it is a beautiful piece, but I wonder why he chose to obscure the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald amongst this colorful palate of brushstrokes.  Delaney’s work transitioned from figurative to abstract upon his move to Paris to flee the persecution and isolation he felt in New York as a gay black man in the 1940’s. This piece seems to demonstrate the artists transition.

One thing I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald was that she was horribly shy and extremely meek when it came to recognizing her own talent.  This is so shocking to me for someone who is so universally cherished for their talent.  Perhaps what was more shocking to me was a comment I heard in an NPR interview featuring a singer from the Manhattan Transfer that said, “I never listen to Ella for emotional depth”….

… and she proceeded to laud Fitzgerald for her technical prowess and the precision of her voice.  WHAT?  Without question Fitzgerald has one of the most dynamic, precise voices but to dismiss it as lacking emotional depth was strange to me.

That blew me away.  I look at this painting of Beauford Delaney and listen to Ella Fitzgerald with this new knowledge of her shyness and hear something very different in her music.  Taken together, I hear so much more than Janice Siegal manages to distill and I have a deeper, more profound appreciation for what Delaney conveys in this portrait of her.

"The Family", John Biggers. Photo C/O Golden State Mutual Insurance Comapny, CACLO

“The Family”, John Biggers. Photo C/O Golden State Mutual Insurance Comapny, CACLO

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There are photographers that make me wish I was in an MFA program for creative writing.  Their work begs for a story to be told. This is how I feel about Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series.  Using a simple setting Weems was able to create a rich albeit fleeting glimpse at complex relationship dynamics in this series of photographs.  This project allowed the artist to explore her creative voice in a familiar setting.

It swung open this door of possibility of what I could do in my own environment.”~Carrie Mae Weems

The idea of limitations leading to liberation of thought is interesting.  Our creativity is only limited by emotional or psychological constraints, not physical ones.

"From Here I saw What Happened and I Cried", Carrie Mae Weems.  Photo Credit: the artist

“From Here I saw What Happened and I Cried”, Carrie Mae Weems. Photo Credit: Carrie Mae Weems

Another series of photographs that are captivating, haunting and compelling is “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.”  In this series, the artist takes images historically used to categorize, simplify and fetishize our existence as African-Americans and she brings them to life by adding a voice to the photos.  It is a sobering way of forcing the viewer to think of how these images have shaped both our perceptions and those of others over time.

For more on the Kitchen Table Series.

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Charles Gaines, Numbers and Trees IV Landscape #4. Photo Credit: The Hammer Museum

There is something so oddly compelling about Charles Gaines work.  The first time I saw one of his pieces, it was a beautiful piece seen from a distance.  When I looked up close I was hit with a puzzle I still cannot figure out.  Up close was a pixellated mass consisting of uniform squares containing numbers.  I immediately was drawn into the work and attempted to crack the code to no avail.

Gaines’s work is a deceptive algorithm that I still cannot comprehend.  Taken at face value his work conveys a seemingly simple figurative subject but the closer you gaze at the deconstructed work you are forced to think of it’s deeper purpose or true meaning.  It becomes more complex as it is made simplified.  Conceptual work is so subjective, it is extremely hard for me to quickly write about my visceral, first impressions. All I can say is that the meticulous nature of the work amazes me.  It is a perfectly ordered piece of art and there is something oddly comforting in the order yet the ambiguity of the deconstruction is challenging.

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Kehinde Wiley, Houdon Paul-Louis, 2011.  Photo Credit: Brooklyn Museum

Los Angeles born artist Kehinde Wiley has developed his career in New York as a portrait artist whose work is being celebrated in an exhibition that recently opened at the Brooklyn Museum.  In  “A New Republic” his work depicts men and women placed in traditional forms of portraiture fusing that history with a present day aesthetic.  It is a revisionist, liberating view of the medium that transforms portraiture from an aristocratic to a pluralistic art form, thereby making the work accessible and relatable.  While Wiley is known for his colorful, saturated, and rich tapestry-laden paintings, I really like this bronze that is featured in the exhibit.

The strength and pride radiating from the man emerging from the hoodie is simultaneously a nod to the French neoclassical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon and an homage to black men.  While this piece was cast in 2011, I see it as a commentary on today’s events in so many ways.

In the wake of the Oscars last night I came across this clip of Nina Simone that was quoted during one of the acceptance speeches.  It perfectly encapsulates the work of Kehinde Wiley and once again, I find myself wishing I was able to travel to New York to see this important retrospective.

Director Ava DuVernay delivered a wakeup call for me as I found myself stuck in a #OscarsSoWhite funk over the lack of recognition she deserved for Selma.  If my attitude was ignited over Selma’s snub (the best picture nomination, while good was overshadowed by non-recognition of the directorial triumphs of DuVernay and David Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. King), it was stoked by this interesting historical look at Oscars struggle to celebrate diverse storytelling created by Bard Edlund.

Diversity Among Winners at the Oscars from Bard Edlund on Vimeo.

I loved how Ava DuVernay put the whole Oscar controversy into perspective.

When we get to the statues and the patting each other on the back it isn’t as important as the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act is violent and ongoing and very much an emergency.”

Today is a rainy Oscar day, and because I live in Southern California this means I will not be traversing the L.A. freeways today. Since I am stuck in the house enjoying the rain with some coffee, music, the New York times and some books (the perfect rainy day set up), I will not be watching the Oscars tonight.  I see Hollywood as a monolithic institution that has not challenged itself to innovate, grow, or change.  The other day I heard that the Oscar producers, in a gesture mindful of “optics” (corporate speak for lip service), wanted us all to know they will be featuring people of color in presenter roles during the broadcast.  Ok, that’s nice, I will not be buying.

What I appreciate about Ava DuVernay during this Oscar journey is that this was not all about her. We have made it that way in making this a story about how she was snubbed, but during this process she has been mindful of bringing others into the spotlight in a selfless way that I have truly found refreshing.  In her depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. and Selma she also chose to tell the story of the people around him.

A good leader knows how to “amplify” the people around them.  In every video I have seen of her she has chosen to highlight others, one of which was cinematographer Bradford Young, who DuVernay has worked with in both of her feature films. Young’s eye is such a great complement to DuVernay’s vision.  That level of creative synergy was beautiful to see develop. Young’s use of shadow and light is incredibly stunning and is equally strong in static and dynamic contexts.

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Bradford Young’s Cinematography work for MGMT’s Cool Song No. 2

The work that Young did for MGMT’s video for Cool Song #2 is some of the best work I have seen in a music video. Young’s simple comment on his evocative process:  “I like to fill the frame with heads.  I use faces as landscapes, as architecture. That always feels like the right place to start.”  He has a way of capturing intense emotion with his close crops and subtle yet strong use of lighting.  It was a characteristic of the film that I have remembered long after seeing Selma.

For more on DuVernay’s thoughts on the Oscars and Hollywood’s Diversity problem including those who are actively trying to change it, check out this piece by Democracy Now.

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