Sunday, September 29, 2013

One From The History Books: An Evening At Smitty's

In a much older post I talked about a show I had (Surfacing) at the Next II Gallery in New Orleans back in 2005.  In that post, I had a link to a separate (now defunct) website where I described the experience(s) that lead to me making An Evening At Smitty's shortly after Hurricane Katrina bulldozed its way through Louisiana and Alabama.  I thought that I would re-post the backstory here on the anniversary of Katrina back in August.

Blah. Blah. Blah. It didn't happen then, but it's happening now.

Back in 2005, my show Surfacing was at The Next II Gallery in New Orleans.  You can read about the gallery and its neighborhood here.  On August 29th Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding after the levees failed caused The Next II Gallery, and the rest of the city to flood.

In mid-November, I went down there with my friends to see what wee could salvage from their home and the gallery.  Power was slowly being restored to New Orleans, but that process was nowhere near complete.  Next II was located at the intersection of St. Roch and Maranais and it was the only 'corner' out of the four to have power.  The gallery literally was sitting at the edge of the area that had power.  At night, beyond that corner, was just the dark silhouettes of water-logged buildings, flooded-out cars and mounds of haphazardly piled debris.  There were people in that area of town, but as soon as the sun went down, they dwelled in the murky darkness.

If you headed in the opposite direction from that intersection, you wound up traveling slightly uphill and away from the devastating flooding.  The first establishment were you could find food, 'groceries', and some semblance of nightlife was 'Smitty's'.

Smitty's struck me as a 21st-century version of a wild west saloon in some lawless frontier town.  There were alot of understandably dispirited patrons swilling drinks, smoking smokes, and partaking in other enterprises of a less savory (and less legal) nature.  It took me a few moments to realize that the sum total of women in Smitty's that night was two.  To describe this feminine duo as 'plain' would be mostly accurate and highly polite.  But their lack of comeliness was no deterrent to the dingy, ever-more inebriated clientele that was watching them with the intensity of pack of wolves staring at a wounded stag.

I also wanted to capture some of my impressions of New Orleans itself after the hurricane.  Some of the older (and more well-to-do) parts of town were built on slightly higher ground and escaped the flooding nearly unscathed.  Other neighborhoods, that had been flooded, were various shades of a brownish-gray coating of mud (and probably other things as well).  Many places literally bore the 'line' of how high the water rose.

So on the frame for An Evening At Smitty's, I have a line which demarcates the colorful (nearly unscathed areas) from the brownish-gray flooded areas.  I wanted to capture some of my impressions at the disparity between the rough/ugly flooded areas and the still colorful parts of town.  Essentially I set out to make an ugly* frame, and succeeded.

*Note to aspiring artists: You have no one to blame but yourself when you set out to make something ugly and you actually succeed in making something ugly.  The ugliness of this frame has always bothered me.

All of the buildings had a circle with an 'X' spray painted on the outside.  In each of the quadrants that are formed by the 'X', were a series of letters or numbers.  They indicated what 'crew' came to the building, whether they entered the building or not, what date they were there, and the number of bodies found inside.  I suspect that in 100 years or so, the ubiquitous circle with an 'X' will have found its way into the wrought iron architecture of the city -with few of its current inhabitants aware of its original meaning.

There you have the abbreviated story behind An Evening At Smitty's.

Next time we give 'thanks'.....

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Slow Simmer -Tony Cavallo Style.

So earlier this Spring, back when we were receiving too much rain, I took some pictures to document 'the flood'.  While I was on the Skybridge I spotted the chariot (an old ambulance) of an artist friend of mine parked on one of the higher points of a parking lot that was going under water.

For many people with only casual knowledge of the downtown and its full-time denizens, the old ambulance is some kind of quickly dismissed curiosity to drive by and continue on with their 'business'.  When I see the ambulance, I know, not far away, Tony Cavallo is slowly roasting away in his studio contemplating whispers of innuendo, subtleties of shadow, and the most minute nuances of color.

That may sound like hyperbole, but realistically it is an understatement at best.

I met Tony over a year ago and he has basically devoted his creative energies towards this one painting for that entire time span.  Its surface is like nothing I have ever seen.  Crudely, I have tried to document what he has accomplished with pigment and texture.  My efforts fall short of doing justice to what he has created, but ya still gotta check this out.

I don't know the title of this piece (or if it even has one).  To me, that barely matters.  What does matter is that it has consistently been an 'experience' to see this work with each visit to Tony's studio space.  Tony Cavallo has built layer after layer of paint to create a luminous surface.  Oil paint is translucent, so building up layers allows several small color interactions and nuances to show through.  You couldn't mix these colors directly and get the job done with one coat or paint.  It requires a succession of layers to achieve.

We'll start big and work our way towards the surface.

Each brush stroke makes a contribution to how the painting catches the light and the slight energy/undulation to the surface.  A smooth, flat surface just won't 'behave' the same way.

Another portion of the painting shows The Skybridge in the background.

Tony's studio is littered with dozens of palettes, -each one covered with globs of paint with just the slightest variations of color.  A few weeks ago, when Tony was gracious enough to let me interrupt his work by bringing over a couple former students of mine (who were in town for the end of 'Questionable Architecture' and the opening reception for 'What's In The Box?' (a quick thanks to Amanda, Catlin, and Heather for making the trek)) to see this piece, I saw one palette that had a dozen slight variations of a brown/yellow ochre/orange mixture.  Each blob was different, and each blob may have only been used to produce just a couple of marks of the surface, but each blob was necessary to create the whole.

The painting has two people sitting at a dining table.  Here is the other figure (*note The Centennial Bridge out the window).

These gives a better sense of the male figure and the environment (with a splendid still life on the table as a bonus).

Pardon the glare.....

To make sure he gets the shapes, sizes, proportions and the lighting just right, Tony frequently turns the canvas 90 degrees (and then another 90 degrees, and so on) to make sure he is truly seeing what is taking place on the surface versus what he thinks is taking place on the surface.  Constantly shifting, adjusting, building, and fine tuning.  He even has set up mirrors to flank the piece so he can double-check his perception/perspective on the painting.

The title of this post comes in part from how damn hot it is in Tony's studio.  When you go into the space, you can feel your pores open up.  I brought my thermometer along on my most recent visit to document how hot it is in there.  Just a mere 93 degrees (when I returned to my studio, it was a far more reasonable 88 degrees).  Tony's nights melt into days and his consistent companions are the painting, and the heat.  Music shows up frequently too, but I suspect that there are numerous hours of silent contemplation as well.

The painting will ultimately go into the restaurant below his studio so many people can see it.  I suspect only a fraction of them will be able to comprehend the single-minded devotion it took to bring that piece to life.  Even fewer could ever understand the willpower it took to endure the heat, the solitude, the misadventures with parking enforcement, and the occasional under-nourishment that Tony faced in order to complete the painting.

In case you were keeping track, the bar just got raised......

Focus. Like. A. Laser.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Merican-Tastic! II: The Son Of Tastic! Is Up And Running!!

Ahhh show openings......

Realistically, I can summarize the entire opening reception for Merican-Tastic! II: The Son Of Tastic! with the following three images. 'Thank You' to everyone who came out for the opening.  Thanks to Megz for tackling photo duties!

Of course I will go into slightly more detail, but when you get 'felt up' from behind within the first half-hour of the show, it's......well, it's like having dessert first.

Random groping aside, here are some shots from the opening.

A necessary shot of my 'South of the Border' fashion sense.

A little sumthin' sumthin' for the fans of The FP (imbd link)...

Back to some non-FP shots.

Terry Rathje chatting it up.

Heidi Hernandez and company.

.....Some stylish stylings.......

At one point, the Tastic-ticity was too much and an emergency 'breathe deep' exercise was required.

A few more.....


..............I'm spent!