The paranoid and racist John Birch Society is alive in new guises.

 

trayvon-painting

Courtesy blacksteve.wordpress.com

The other day I had lunch with a handful of former colleagues from The Capital Times in Madison. Inevitably the sorry state of journalism’s health as a profession came up. We kicked the poor dog around a bit but I don’t think we felt too sorry for ourselves, or too self-lacerating.

But we did shudder collectively at the prospect of the Koch Brothers’ insidious bid to buy The Tribune Newspapers. The following statement by David Simon, producer of the profusely acclaimed HBO drama series The Wire and a former newspaper reporter, states the case regarding journalism cogently and eloquently:

http://bit.ly/SimonSaysNoKochBros

(Full disclosure, the Simon statement includes a petition solicitation but not a request for money.)

But what troubles me especially amid retrogressing cultural tendencies — like the George Zimmerman acquittal and the “stand your ground” laws — is how a  paranoid and self-serving individualism has reasserting itself as one of America’s ugliest characteristics. Let’s consider how this has played out in a historical context.

As the Daily Koz blog points out, “The 2012 Republican Party is barely distinguishable from the John Birch Society.  It is funded in large part by the Koch brothers, the heirs of Fred Koch, one of the Birch Society’s founding members.  The Kochs may not be members of the Society, but their ideas — extreme laissez-faire capitalism with communism lurking in any regulation, unions, health care and even Civil Rights laws — are virtually the same. (One of the current right’s few attempts to avoid looking like Birchers is morphing communism into ‘socialism.’ No need to explain to the faithful that they’re really the same.)” 1

One of the Birchers looniest conspiracy theories — about water fluoridation being a communist brain-hatch — was brilliantly lampooned in Stanley Kubrick‘s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, in which the character General Jack D. Ripper initiates a nuclear war in the hope of thwarting a communist plot to “sap and impurify” the “precious bodily fluids” of the American people with fluoridated water.

(It agonizes me to know that the Birch society is still alive and that and its current headquarters is in Grand Chute WI, with local the chapters in all 50 states. This underscores how politically and morally conflicted my home state is. We’re also known for Fightin’ Robert LaFollette and the birthplace of “The Wisconsin Idea” and Progressivism and yes, socialist mayors in Milwaukee.)

You may recall that the Birchers also accused Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. of being a communist. At a certain instinctual level, the notion probably arose because he embodied the fearsome black “other” who will do horrible things to “us” if only given a chance, especially if he’s a slender teenager wielding a bag of Skittles candy in the dark, in the rain, alone, minding his own business.

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It’s time for many more people than Trayvon Martin’s father (right) to speak out about injustice. Contact your congressional representative. Courtesy thestartingfive.com.

And before you fade into doubts about Zimmerman being the violent perpetrator of a lethal crime, consider: He was fired from a 2005 job as a security guard for excessive aggression, a former co-worker told the New York Daily News Thursday. The paper reports that Zimmerman had worked on and off for several firms that “provided security to illegal house parties.”

“Usually he was just a cool guy. He liked to drink and hang with the women like the rest of us,” the paper’s source said. “But it was like Jekyll and Hyde. When the dude snapped, he snapped.”

Uncontested facts that show a lethal progression: Zimmerman was the police-disobeyer, the aggressor, the provocateur and the killer — of an unarmed youth. Where does “Self Defense” come into this scenario?

Many articulate comments have arisen in response to the Martin/Zimmerman verdict. But The Nation provided a few excellent points in the August 5/12 issue.

The lead editorial notes that the outspoken, book-hustling Juror B37  “reminds us that all jurors — like police, prosecutors and judges — are beholden to their own fears and prejudices, no matter how objective they believe themselves to be carrying out the law. Laws can never be separated from their cultural context — and the fear of black men driven criminal justice policy in this country.”

Then Micah Denzel Smith proposes what real justice would be in this case. “Zimmerman sitting behind bars for 25 years isn’t justice delivered,” he writes. “Our prison state doesn’t work, and relying on it to bring justice for any of us is a fool’s errand. Instead, justice should be an entire society doing everything we can to ensure that what happened to Trayvon never happens again. This a commitment to recognizing the humanity in black and boys. It means divesting the racist belief that black men are preternaturally violent, creatures, inherently criminal. Justice is black boys not having to grow up with that hanging over their heads.”

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Courtesy Americanurban.com

That’s why this case can’t just be the cause of the week. Trayvon Martin may fade in memory but only to our eternal shame, if changes are not made to wrong-headed laws that serve revenge-besotted vigilantes, not truth and justice. Do we want a racial profile and paranoia-enabling, shoot-if-they’re-black judicial system? Is that what America is about in 2013?

Smith then recalls the great jazz singer Nina Simone’s initial response to the 1964 racist bombing of a church in Alabama, which killed four little black girls. At first Simone went to her garage and actually tried to make a gun itself. She told her husband she “wanted to kill someone.” He replied, “Nina, you don’t know anything about killing. The only thing you got is music.” So, she wrote ”Mississippi Goddam.”  2

I want to share her powerful response to that tragedy in song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBiAtwQZnHs

There’s also the most eloquent purely music response I know of, John Coltrane’s elegiac “Alabama.” This video beautifully ties Coltrane’s piece to a Rev. King speech about the tragedy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiJ_0gp-T9A

Please listen to these two pieces. Then we might begin working anew – using each of our best skills and talents – for justice for all the Trayvon Martins and for the despoiled ideals of a nation built on the foundation that all men and women are created equal and must be treated that way, in our flawed and broken hearts, and in our morally floundering legal system.

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Thanks to my friend Richard Meyer of Madison for alerting me to Simon’s statement.

1 http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/06/08/1098463/-Doesn-t-Anyone-Remember-the-John-Birch-Society

2 The Nation, August 5 /12 2013, pp. 3, 6-7

Inside a real wild animal sanctuary

(Below) Young lions seem especially fascinated by their peer’s physical selves.scan0208

A Westerly Cultural Travel Journal Vol. 4

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When the stars threw down their spears,

and water’d heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

 

Tyger, Tyger! Burning bright

in the forests of the night,

what immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

– from “The  Tyger” by William Blake, Songs of Experience

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Keenburg, CO —  The tiger’s nine-foot-long body pulses and twitches with power, sinew and ferocity. It turns and strides stealthily back, and then turns to pace, again and again. I see many large carnivorous creatures on this day. But the tiger alone makes me shudder. Almost any of the nearly 300 animals viewable at The Wild Animal Sanctuary could kill me, if they were hungry enough and I vulnerable enough.

The huge, relentless tigers are unmistakably the most lethal athletes among the wild creatures. On this 90-ish degree day most of the other animals lie under shade spots. But the new tigers pace and pace. My witness to this extraordinary facility is not to evoke fear — rather respect for these astonishing creatures. And the tiger in its lithe grandiosity and gold-orange and black stripes coat is as beautiful as it intimidating. And here is where Blake’s sense of wonder is so apt.

These mighty cats had recently been rescued and were still in relatively enclosed quarters, until they grow accustomed to the sanctuary environment. Then they will be released into the tiger potion of the facility’s 720-acre refuge, located about 40 miles west of Boulder.

Understand how special this place is. You can view virtually all of those acres thanks to the sanctuary’s design. A mile-long walkway — perhaps 35 feet above the wildlife terrain — traverses the vast facility.

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Here’s a portion of the 1 mile-long walk way over the wild animal sanctuary.

Perhaps you’ll get somewhat closer to such species in a conventional zoo. But here they are given a free, natural reign, perhaps as well as humans have devised to date. In a sense, you have the safe, voyeuristic ability of a bird hovering over the African Serengeti, or the great North Woods inhabited by wolves or Grizzlies. Or in the wilds of Alaska, where suddenly you look down and spy a massive Klondike bear lolling contentedly or roaming through easily crushed forest thickets for a meal.

This organization does not capture wild animals. All the creatures are rescued or legally confiscated from situations and entrapments where misguided or abusive humans had the animals. Or from circuses that have poorly-cared-for animals including from Bolivia, whose circuses were outlawed from using live animals.

And after seeing the unnerving new tigers, the sight of the lions was stunning — they appeared still as if carved granite. They rested in their prairie, one completely alone, its magisterial shape and mane declaring his rule of the domain. But as I peer more closely I notice an unmistakably rich tawniness in their massive necklaces of fur.

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Like the tiger, the lion has a severe degree of beauty that rivals its fearsomeness.

I begin to realize some of the psychological effect of seeing large wild animals that could tear me to Kevin tenders. Here’s one startling difference between a wild animal sanctuary and a conventional zoo.

The zoo allows the viewer to scrutinize the animal in a dispassionate and objective manner, as a scientist might. That can be valuable within the limits of that viewpoint, for the human at least. It’s because you presume a posture of existential imperviousness and do not experience it as a truly wild animal. It is in captivity and relatively safe.

But the safeness here is merely you from it — physically. The human design providing safety does not entrap the acclimated inhabitants which, I then realized, was surely part of the encaged new tiger’s restlessness.

But those new tigers are promised a provisional freedom to roam and behave as they would in their natural home except without other large living animals to prey upon, thanks to the fencing layout.

You gaze in a sort of literal suspended animation. It’s as if you are in a different time and space from the animal, and you are. They can’t touch you despite your relative proximity. And though you experientially share the animal’s time in its presence, which is rendered irrelevant for avoiding the “nasty, brutish and short” time it would take the carnivore to track you down and pounce on your neck. One supposes philosopher Thomas Hobbes might have come up with his famous adjectives regarding the survival of the fittest, in precisely a place like this.

On the other hand, if it seems peculiar contemplating philosophy of life and death amid wild meat-eaters rather than with Homo sapiens, it may be because philosophy tends to be — like so many other of our activities – human-centric, unless you’re a bioethicist or a staff member of a place like this.

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The regal resident tigers love to loll and Lord over the sanctuary.

So I stand there with a fresh appreciation of the experience as I watch the acclimated tigers lounging on wooden stands that provide shade and high points from which to lord over — not unlike your adorable house cat perched atop your dining room armoire. These tigers look utterly relaxed, so it follows that they’re mentally and psychologically healthier than the nearby new tigers.

Two arctic wolves loll seeming dead to the world, as if they’d just consumed a polar bear.

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One lies on its back, its limbs sprawling in space like a furry astronaut in free fall. Then his head swivels and he sees me (left, above). I wonder what’s going through his brain because his eyes fix on mine, or perhaps on me. I gulp like a cartoon character. In the same moment, I feel certain affection for him. As with the others, I see the unfettered beauty of this creature — in the depth of his glimmering eyes and wondrous shades of grey in his fur.  A short walk further brings me above two timber wolves. I focus my binoculars and my eyes plunge into the wonder of their deeply textured presence. The wind rustles the charcoal and sienna fur, changing its colors as a painter waving an invisible brush over them.

They are alive and at peace, and so am I.

Another creature is not so comfortable; or rather he’s getting there, slowly.

An attendant tells me this is a new Kodiak bear, named Max. He weighs 1,700 pounds. The sun is merciless. But he’s partially submerged in a tub of water with a stream flying over his landscape of a torso.

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Max, the new Klondike bear at the sanctuary, cooling his jets.

You have to wonder what doofus captor allowed Max to gorge on what mountains of junk to reach this grotesque weight. He probably thought it was cute. The world’s largest teddy bear.

The poor guy heaves ponderously with each breath and admittedly has an almost doll-like circular face despite his ungainly girth. Max looks up at me and now I feel more pity than fear. I sense that if he’s released to the wild he probably becomes easy prey, because of his obesity. So he seems to inhabit the best of all possible worlds, right now.

A red tree fox here was born blind, and was unable to survive in the wild, but he now uses his senses of smell, touch and hearing, and can run and play with other animals, the attendant says.

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Some of the wild animals at the sanctuary in Colorado a very acclimated to the sanctuaries environment. Of course she (above) can go virtually anywhere she wants to, like under the cool concession-area canopy.

— All photos by Kevin Lynch

Signs along the way explain circumstances of rescue. One woman bought a wolf and tried to breed it with a dog to tame it, then gave it to someone as a gift. The experiment failed. In another instance, African lions were kept in tiny circus cages for years. They kept having stillborn offspring due to no contraceptives and a lack of proper nutrition. Another woman kept two large wild cats in the small basement of her New York apartment building.

It is always a question of honoring the animals’ well-being as we always presume to prioritize our own, often at the expense of other living beings.

One rule here is: No dogs allowed. One can imagine what chaos a bark-happy dog might create in this fully open air environment.

As I walk back to the entrance, a water truck pumps hydration into the new tiger cages. Two new black leopards lie suspended above them – only a few feet below me – but secure in a small cage. Hues of red in their exquisite coats glisten in the sun. I hope to return when they too feel at home here.

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Clyfford Still? Yes, the great American painter still holds up, in a whole museum

Clyfford_Still_Museum_120_slideshowA visitor contemplates a painting in the Clyfford Still Museum. Photo by Rebecca Jacobson/PBS newshour

A Westerly Cultural Travel Journal,  Vol 3.

“Memory, Myth & Magic,” through September 29 at The Clyfford Still Museum, 1250 Bannock St., Denver, Colorado. 

https://www.clyffordstillmuseum.org/

Boulder, CO — Any art lover visiting the Denver-Boulder area should not do what I did circumstantially — miss the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.  So I offer brief but ardent encouragement to visit rather than an exhibition review.

There’s something symbolical in the name Clyfford Still, because he still holds up today well where many of his contemporary abstract expressionists seem dated. It helps that he’s among a small handful American artists who have a museum dedicated to their work.

His mysteriously original art — spacious, meditative, yet severely incisive — has found a home within that institutional reality. You must give cultural credit to Colorado.

As for me, I was hoping see, in the oil, a sort of secret inlet into truth or possibility or beauty, which his work has always promised, a painterly utterance always delivered in a comparative whisper, or insinuations, unlike the loud, splashy proclamations of many of his Ab-Ex contemporaries.

Still’s canvases are typically vertical rectangles and at least the size of a door so the notion of a hidden truth doesn’t feel outre.

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Clyfford Still,  No 1 (PH 385), oil, 105 x 81 inches, 1949. Copyright: Clyfford Still Estate. Photo by Peter Harholdt

Though Abstract  Expressionism is identified as a New York movement a Western locale for this museum is fitting in that Still, a North Dakota native, spent much of his formative years and teaching years in various West Coast locations. And his paintings’ vast scale and craggy majesty can also evoke the Rocky Mountains.

Irving Sandler once wrote that Still’s images drew from a “wide-open prairie landscape, reminiscent of the environment of his youth.”

But the color-field aspect — combined with his utterly personal and almost unsettling way of handling the jagged edges and interior fragmentations of paint — mark his style.

3860_2_1957 J No  2 PH 401 Harholdt

One also will find a tersely zig-zag vertical gash down much of the length of a number of significant canvases, as in the one he posed with for renowned Ab-Ex photographer Hans Namuth in 1951. That slash recalls for me the long white scar that ran vertically the full length of Captain Ahab’s body, supposedly the work of a lightning bolt.

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Photo of Clyfford Still, 1951, by Hans Namuth. courtesy luxury-insider.com

In fact, fellow painter Robert Motherwell’s reaction to first seeing Still’s work was to call it, “A bolt out of the blue.” 1

There was a kind of imperious solitude to Still’s career not that removed from Ahab who, despite his vengeful monomania, famously had “his humanities.” In the decade of the 1950s that he spent in New York, Still grew to despise and disdain the art world. He moved to Maryland and rarely returned to New York. His reclusiveness in later life and the unyielding stringency of his will have not served him well in posterity, despite his importance. Only three big exhibitions surveying his work were mounted in the last 30 years.

But his will stipulated that his massive estate of art – more than 2,300 works, comparably only to Picasso’s estate in sheer size — be released only if a museum were built exclusively for his work. In 2007, Denver and its mayor John Hickenlooper took up the cue.

Thus, the museum and now its current show, Memory, Myth & Magic, running through September 29.

The museum’s web statement on the show explains:

“Clyfford Still’s art and thought are pervaded with powerful, albeit subtle, allusions to memory (both cultural and personal), the ancient past and to long-established aesthetic traditions that are sometimes summoned only to be shattered afresh in his hands. This exhibition—covering a span of approximately forty years (c.1929-70) and including over fifty paintings, photographs by the artist himself, works on paper and sculptures—explores these currents of imagery and ideas that surge through Still’s figurative and abstract compositions.”

472_2_1936 PH 77 Harholdt

Sandler also identified another symbolic image underlying Still’s work: “dualities of sun and dark earth, male and female – metaphors perhaps for good and evil.” 2

There’s plenty to explore is such a metaphoric duality, and this show should provide that opportunity. But I leave that for you to discover, and much more.

The museum website statement adds this comment from Clay Spohn, an artist and colleague of Still’s: “After seeing many of Clyfford Still’s works I have come to the conclusion that he is a sorcerer with powerful magic…Nay! An Earth Shaker.”

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1 Steven Henry Madoff, Unfurling the Work of a Lifetime, New York Times, March 18, 2007.

2 Irving Sandler. The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism, Praeger, 1970, 162

 

 

 

The Tedeschi Trucks Band: As Timeless as the Red Rocks of Colorado

 

 

RRA

 Goldman-stageA Westerly Cultural Travel Journal, Vol. 2

MORRISON, CO. —The scenery on my drive to Colorado diminished as I headed west: the farmland of Northern Illinois and Iowa are verdant but without the rolling sumptuousness of “God’s country” in Southwest Wisconsin, which I forsook for a quicker route. Nebraska unfolds as increasingly flat. I didn’t find it boring though, as it put me into an expansive Zen-like mode wherein I tune into the sky more with land as backdrop. And with four largely sunny days there and back, I traveled beneath myriad lovely cloud variations, from full-figured cumuli promenades to wispy flourishes by the atmospheric cloud painter. Have I looked at life from both sides now?

Still, I was stunned as many surely are, by the experience of crossing the border to Colorado. Almost immediately you encounter an extremely arid landscape dominated by slightly undulating plains and scuffling flora, mainly small bushes waiting to be liberated as tumbleweeds. A few scattered trees seemed to hang on for dear life, some slightly bowed in thirst, or as if praying for rain (Colorado’s devastating Black Forest wildfires raged while I was out there.)

Things finally perked up as a got closer to my destination, Boulder, Colorado. The purpose of the trip was to hear the mighty Tedeschi Trucks Band at perhaps the most beautiful concert venue in America, the Red Rocks Amphitheater in nearby Morrison. Rolling Stone recently voted this “The Best Amphitheater in the US,” in a vote of musicians and music industry pros. “Red Rocks is the most spiritual place on earth,” raved Dale Dawson in a discussion comment on the Rolling Stone site. “I’m proud to say I have a guitar made from the redwood of row 1, seat 1. They replaced the 50-year-old benches five years ago.” (The guitar is displayed in the visitors’ center at the top of the RR venue.)

Indeed, listeners gather inside a majestic mountainside cavern, between two massive sandstone wings, as if a prehistorically giant Icarus and his magical appendages had crashed into the earth after flying too close to the sun. Dinosaurs once roamed here. More importantly, the wings — twin leaning rock towers — provide a perfect acoustic setting, the park proclaims. For sure, it’s a musicians’ Mecca. 1

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Approaching Red Rocks: The first glimpse of an amphitheater crowd in The Hall of the Mountain King. Photo by Kevin Lynch

In this exalted setting, TTB proved they’re working hard to raise the high bar they’ve already set for themselves. For example, Derek Trucks seems to be perfecting a superb sense of architecture and drama in his guitar solos. His finger style-cum-bottleneck playing remains indebted to Duane Allman. But Trucks is evolving unprecedented technique and conception. He’s refining the inherent bottleneck fluidity and at times it seems like his very breath informs the articulation. He consistently folded in softly nuanced notions while retaining the Southern rock-blues edge. We hear that growth in his sitar-like aspect, what he calls “swamp raga.” Here’s where micro-tonal modes meet the blues down at the crossroads.

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Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi rock at Red Rocks. Courtesy CBS Denver

On the clear-eyed, low-flying ode to personal loss and urban suffering “Midnight in Harlem,” Trucks’ solo peaked with a stunningly long line — traveling the guitar neck’s whole length — like an aural infinity sign, which revealed the limpid outer limits of musicality in one crystalline moment. Only Jeff Beck remains Trucks’ superior among electric finger stylists, but Derek is closing fast.

Susan Tedeschi remains virtually supreme in her blues-soul-gospel idiom. On one new rollicking swinger from their forthcoming CD Made up Mind, she engaged the melody as if grappling with her soul like it was an alligator. She climaxed with a spring water-clear extended note that sounded like a river racer plunging over a waterfall, death be damned. So I chuckled to hear Tedeschi’s little-girl speaking voice after her gusty-mama belting. It sounded like she was inviting the teeming throng down for a cup of tea. 1012 Susan Tedeschi at Red Rocks. Photos courtesy CBS Denver

“Bound for Glory” rode its heaving waves of radiant spirit to lift any listener to a palpable light, regardless of one’s belief or lack thereof. Organist Kofi Burbridge unleashed a deep-pocket solo worthy of the late, great Charles Earland. When was the last time a gospel song was a crossover hit? “Can you feel it?” Here’s a video of “Bound for Glory” http://www.axs.com/events/248204/tedeschi-trucks-band-tickets?src=AEGLIVE_PTEDEDEN072514AEG001&em=AEGLIVE_PTEDEDEN072514AEG001&skin=redrocks

All the new material also rang strong. Though I could only make out the title phrase of “It’s So Heavy,” I felt the weight of a down-in-the-bones sentiment. And the band unveiled a fresh talent, the solo singing voice of trombonist Saunders Sermons, faintly recalling the late Marvin Gaye and his tender, lovelorn falsetto. The horn players proved more self-disciplined in their solos yet as resourceful and daring as ever. The free-jazz sorties on “Nobody’s Free” asserted their ironic sense of defiance.

Quibbles: I would’ve gladly heard one of Tedeschi’s two best covers (both on their live album) Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” and John Sebastian’s “Darlin’ Be Home Soon.” Both songs seem incongruous, given their style, but demonstrate their knack for fleshing out lyrical material without overloading it. You can’t have everything, especially when a band is presenting new material. Among the new songs, “Part of Me” has a shimmy-shake groove so infectious as to transport the listener to Motown 1968.

The crowd danced jubilantly to the latter part of the set, and when they called the band back for an encore Tedeschi proved her generosity by bringing out Grace Potter to join her in a simpatico cover of John Prine’s quietly magnificent “Angel from Montgomery.” It was actually Potter’s moment of musical redemption.

I missed the actual opening act, swamp-rock bluesman JJ Grey & Mofro, honoring the time considerations of my gracious hosts and concert mates, Jim and Kris Verdin. As for Potter and the Nocturnals, I’ve seen her in a convincing blues-drenched mode on You Tube. Perhaps because of this expansive destination-venue, she felt compelled to amp up the sound and theatrics. So we got plenty of posturing, glitzy costume flourishes and big-hair shakes from Potter, who seemed lost in a vast private fantasy more akin to Harry Potter, but without J. K. Rowling to translate her phantasmagoria.

There was little Grace in her performance. Rather than sticking to the Hammond B-3 organ, which she plays with reasonable competence, she spent more time out front dancing and pretending guitar. She slung on a flying wedge and played what amounted to air guitar with a real one. Perhaps in a nod to Derek Trucks, she pulled out a bottleneck, but the effect was a swift slide into screech, which lacerated our eardrums, even in the 60th row.

But it’s TTB that amazed, because they’re still just getting started. Trucks is the youngest guitarist on the Rolling Stone Top 100 Guitarists of All Time (ranked 16th). Their stylistic range is staggering because nothing sounds contrived and they demonstrate how related the various American roots musics are. At an execution level, it’s all about chemistry, as bassist Otiel Burbridge says on the TTB website. 2 and what Tedeschi calls a commitment to an inclusive family-like environment in the band’s collective lifestyle.

This must have plenty to do with the band’s discrete yet integral inner units: husband-wife leaders with backup singer-songwriter Mike Mattison as a third lead mentality; the Burbridge brothers on keyboards, flute and bass; two drummers playing as a one eight-limbed rhythm sorcerer and the three loosey-goosey horn virtuosos. Forsooth, it’s become Shakespearean — “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” — a phrase methinks sister Susan doth not protest. After snagging a Grammy for their debut album Revelator, this band was recently nominated for Australia’s Helpmann Award for Best International Contemporary Concert.

They’re worth a long drive anywhere.

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Photos of Red Rocks Amphitheater courtesy redrocks.com

1 The area of Red Rocks, originally known as the Garden of Angels, has attracted the attention of musical performers since before the turn of the century. The majestic setting of the Amphitheatre, along with the panoramic view of Denver, makes for a breathtaking scene. In the early 1900’s, John Brisben Walker had a vision of artists performing on a stage nestled into the perfectly acoustic surroundings of Red Rocks. Walker produced a number of concerts between 1906 and 1910 on a temporary platform; and from his dream, the history of Red Rocks as an entertainment venue began. In 1927, George Cranmer, Manager of Denver Parks, convinced the City of Denver to purchase the area of Red Rocks from Walker for the price of $54,133. Cranmer convinced the Mayor of Denver, Ben Stapleton, to build on the foundation laid by Walker. By enlisting the help of the federally sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Work Projects Administration (WPA), labor and materials were provided for the venture. Denver architect Burnham Hoyt designed the Amphitheatre with an emphasis on preserving the natural beauty of the area. The plans were completed in 1936, and the Amphitheatre was dedicated on June 15, 1941, though the actual construction spanned over 12 years. In 1947, the first annual Easter Sunrise Service took place. Since then, Red Rocks Amphitheatre has attracted the best performers to its stage. From: http://www.redrocksonline.com/ABOUTUS/HistoryGeology.aspx

http://www.tedeschitrucksband.com/video/the-burbridge-brothers

Riding with another African American as “guilty” as Trayvon Martin, and Pip

A Southerly Cultural Travel Journal,  Vol. 1

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“Ahab’s cabin shall be Pip’s home henceforth, while Ahab lives.” – Moby-Dick, Heritage Press, 1948, Illustration by Boardman Robinson

 

 “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. “ — Frederick Douglass 

(NOTE: I decided to re-post this slightly revised blog column from April 29, 2012, because it seems even more pertinent than ever with the current convolutions of the George Zimmerman second -degree murder case.)

This first posting documents an incident that occurred on my train ride back north to Milwaukee from Carbondale. However its timeliness and troubling nature allowed it to rise to the surface). 

The black youth settled in beside me on the train and within minutes pulled his hood up and seemed to doze off to the gently numbing rhythms of Amtrak. Glancing at him, I figured he was in his mid-to-late teens and, of course, I thought of the late Trayvon Martin. Sadly, this boyish male was risking profiling and even racist threat by wearing a hood in southern Illinois, not long after Martin had been gunned down in Florida for doing barely more than this tender-faced young man was. Sitting beside him, I could sense his slenderness; his frame virtually swallowed up the loose-hanging top and threadbare jeans.

Nothing about him threatened me, even though I’m aware that some people use hoods to hide their identity, while up to no good.

Yet sure enough, within ten minutes a porter arrived, roused the youth from his slumber and addressed him. By then I was reading and enveloped in the voice-muting hum that makes train transportation comfortingly attractive. The porter said something to him about “this section.” The youth — likely flashing on the sudden demise of his peer Martin — promptly stood up and headed for the rear. All I know is that it was the coach section of the train, which ostensibly has no limitations on passenger access. And yet here was a young black being deported from it. Was it merely the “threat” of his beardless brown face in his hood, and perhaps his jeans, which might’ve been low-slung?

A young woman, who soon replaced the young black man in the seat beside me, was just a scruffily dressed — wearing a faded peace symbol T-shirt and tattered, low-slung jeans– but she was white and female, and nobody disturbed her. So I ended up in pleasant conversation with her, which I might just as well had with young black man.

Melissa Harris-Perry points out in the April 16 issue of The Nation that “sagging pants laws” in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas now attempt “to legislate the public performance of black bodies by making it illegal to enact particular versions of youth fashion associated with blackness.”

I confess that pants hanging so low that the wearer must shamble along with one hand holding his pants up strike me as somewhat absurd fashion. But is it any more ridiculous than women wobbling around on five-inch spike heels — an extreme fashion that never goes out of style? Both fashions virtually disable their wearer’s mobility as a pedestrian. Both the black youth and the high-heeled woman make easy prey for real muggers of any color or even a hole in the sidewalk that slightly trips them up.

Of course, no one — except a few graying, bushy arm-pitted bra burners — seems to object to high heels, a convention codified and sustained by the patriarchal approval of the sexual allure such contrivances provide, even as they’re demonstrably harmful to women’s feet and body, over time. Not to get too self-righteous: My own libido and conscience struggle with the dichotomy.

But what if every Sex in the City babe strutting in spike heels was forced to wear instead clunky Air Jordans and barely upheld jeans? Would we outlaw the jeans? Unthinkable. Leering patriarchs would tacitly approve of the potential peek at plush tush cleavage. So the sagging pants laws present another one of our cultural hypocrisies.

I mean, anyone of any color can put on a hooded sweatshirt and be a devil or a saint, or more likely just another person passing through a chilly day.

I’m embarrassed to be an American again, underneath the great sense of tragedy that I feel for Martin’s family, for all black people and for all Americans. And before indignant flag wavers respond, know that for decades I’ve written about American culture by striving for a strong sense of inquisitive pride in all things the people of this nation produce to justifiably call it great, in ways that have enriched the world in every sense of the word.

But I’m also honest enough to admit my shame when our gun-toting, might-makes-right, testosterone-loaded adolescent mentality raises its ugly head again. This mentality — that gunned down an utterly innocent young boy — demonstrates the immaturity of our culture: that a man like George Zimmerman can build up an obsession that leads to a supposedly “self defense” killing of a teenager toting nothing but candy on a street. Then the laws ostensibly allowed the killer to go free until a national protest arises and we begin to think about how we behave toward black males as The Other in our society. Martin is akin to the Ishmael outcast Melville identified 160 years ago as an American kind of outsider, typically an immigrant, who felt compelled to go to the sea to escape “the damp, drizzly November in my soul.”

Ishmael saw the sea as a means of flight from society and also from what in himself he understood to be Narcissus, because he could not “grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain,” and consequently “plunged into it and was drowned.”

But that same self-image “is the ungraspable phantom of life,” Ishmael concludes, with his redemptive gift for philosophically grappling with the mysteries of existence. He would have us understand that the phantom is a mystery we all share, in our condition of narcissistic self-love, with which the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights give us full rein to pursue — individual freedom and self-assertion and self-betterment. Peoples and nations all over the world have since grown to emulate that American freedom of self-regard and self-assertion.

And yet Ishmael sensed the contradictions in the society that proclaimed freedom for everyone, while not according it to many, so he had to flee to the sea. That’s not so easy for anyone. Ishmael’s story in Moby-Dick shows that whaling was a dangerous, often fatal alternative life. And by the turn-of-the-century, W.E.B. Du Bois identified all blacks as Ishmaels — pointedly seen as societal problems because of their skin color. I suspect DuBois might not be shocked, but he would be profoundly chagrined to know how his racial descendants fare in contemporary America.

Oddly enough, when I began this post by trying to first dictate Trayvon Martin’s name on my Dragon dictation system, the computer wrote “unmarked grave.” It’s as if somehow this young dead man is computed as unworthy of a headstone with his name, or of acknowledgement of his premature death. (For me, reading signals of all types is part of the cultural process). How far have we come since the horrendous murder of young black Emmett Till in 1955, which spurred the modern Civil Rights Movement?

In a way we’ve regressed because Till supposedly “provoked” by talking to a Southern white woman. Zimmerman’s deadly response was codified by our recent laws. We certainly won’t fight another Civil War over the abuse or exploitation of African Americans. Reactionary race-based laws or culture will never again face such heroic and tragic resistance. So our national psyche continues with its long, ingrained racial responses to physical presence, style and imagery.

Each of us needs to deal with this racial response within him or herself. As New York Times columnist Brent Staples commented, “Gun laws that allow a community watch volunteer to run around armed are hardly responsible. But Trayvon Martin was killed by a very old idea that will likely take generations of enormous cultural transformation to dislodge.” 1

(Thar he blows! Another damn Moby-Dick sighting again, straight ahead, port side. Abandon ship or proceed.)

I think back to the two main black characters in Moby-Dick. Pip is an African-American cabin boy and Daggoo is a large African harpooner. Pip signifies the vulnerability of a youth like Martin, when he falls out of a whaling boat and is almost abandoned in a shark-infested sea. A cruel sailor had warned the unsteady Pip he’s not worth losing a whale. The experience leaves poor Pip with what we’d probably call now a post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet even monomaniacal Ahab realizes what this young man has endured and takes him under his wing, with surprising paternal tenderness for the remainder of the fateful voyage.

And the mighty Daggoo is framed as the heroic presence his great physical stature and abilities should command. In a famous scene, the ebony harpooner hoists the diminutive third mate Flask on top of his six foot five-inch frame to allow the mate a better view of whales yonder. Melville (as Ishmael) writes:

“But the sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious; for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, noble Negro to every role of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen haired Flask seemed a snowflake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. Though truly, vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious little Flask would now and then stamp with impatience; but not one added heave did he thereby give to the Negro’s lordly chest. So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her seasons for that.” *

Why could an observer like Melville so aptly understand, in turn, the human vulnerability and the human majesty of black males in 1851 — yet in 2012, we flounder in according them their due as members of our same democratic country? If the earth does not “alter her times and her seasons” for any man, why should we?

Apparently we do alter our laws because a young man like Martin is not innocent, as Harris-Perry notes with dripping irony. He is guilty of being a “problem,” that is of “being black in presumably restricted public spaces.”

So Martin’s very public being is indicted, as I suspected my seat partner was, rather than anything they actually did.

This existential travesty, of course, flies in the face of our whole judicial philosophy, that a person is innocent until proven guilty. The black man’s being is inherently guilty; how can he ever claim the right of innocence. we have bounty values on their heads in several different ways. Witness the millions spent on incarcerating blacks often for mere marijuana possession.

Conservative commentators noted that Martin had previously been caught with an empty bag containing traces of pot, among other trivial offenses. Here is another cultural hypocrisy: The drug he may have possessed is one that renders a person mellow and even compliant, unlike the belligerence and dangerous aggressiveness of many people intoxicated by alcohol — the drug our culture embraces with unabashed passion.

Where do we go from here? Surely we seek justice for Trayvon Martin’s needless death. And with justice we find hopefully some clarity about the cruel absurdity of recent sweeping self-defense legislation – like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, or my own state of Wisconsin’s newly imposed “Castle Doctrine” (which recently allowed a man to kill another innocent black youth) — and threaten to shuttle us back to the era of lynching Jim Crow horror.

As Tony Judt has recently noted, echoing Tocqueville from Melville’s era: “The US is more vulnerable to the exploitation of fear for political ends than any other democracy I know.”  Judt (a British-born historian) provocatively calls this political demagoguery a “native American fascism.”

Perhaps. Ahab, at his worst, was the archetypal American demagogue in our literature. Yet even he “has his humanities,” as we see above.

Judt sees today’s American “fascism” in right-wing talk show hosts and unapologetic warmongers like Dick Cheney.

Or is it more likely we face our own version of the institutionalized “banality of evil,” which Hannah Arendt warned smug Western society of, during the darkest days of the Third Reich? Surely it is the numbing application of poorly justified laws, as much as fascist fanaticism, that can insidiously infect a democracy that lives in uneasy tension with its legal order.

Today, as vast tides of easily infected electronic info-tainment lull us, true citizens must remain on the lookout for  “evil” springing leaks in the American ship (or train?).  Otherwise we continue to sink into a democracy waterlogged and infected with cold-blooded, every-man-for-himself survivalism. Black males remain the perennial Other to fear.

Like Melville and Frederick Douglass, I still think we’re better than that.

 

 

— Kevin Lynch

*Moby-Dick Chapter 48 The First Lowering

1. New York Times, op-ed page, April 15, 2012

2. Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century, Penguin, 2012, 324.

 

P.S. On Trayvon Martin post. Is Zimmerman a provoker or a victim? (Give us The Watchman!)

A friend of mine pointed out I used the term “murder” twice in my posting about Trayvon Martin when the more precise term should be “alleged murder.” I’ve erred on the side of caution and changed my terminology in that posting to “killing.” (Linked here:)

http://kevernacular.com/?p=214

However the issue of self-defense in this case is as compelling as it is debatable. The photos of a slightly bloodied Zimmerman suggest he was injured in a scuffle when, as he claims, Martin attacked him after Zimmerman confronted him with his gun.

Zimmerman’s back-head injuries the day of the Martin killing. Courtesy Florida state attorney’s office/AP

However the Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump questions whether these wounds were self-inflicted as a self-defense strategy.  He comments: “If he had these injuries, why didn’t they take him to the hospital?” he said to to the Miami Herald.

“This happened at about 7:30. In the police surveillance video taken 30  minutes later, you can see with your own eyes that the fire rescue people didn’t  so much as put a Band-Aid on his head.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/trayvon-martin-marijuana-system-night-gunned-article-1.1080182#ixzz1vdcEthPz

Reports that Martin had traces of marijuana in his system the night of his death would, if anything, undercut Zimmerman’s story that the youth attacked. It is common knowledge that marijuana —  unlike alcohol — is an inhibitor to aggressive behavior. There are virtually no cases of murder committed under the exclusive influence of pot. Compare that to the staggering statistics of alcohol-related homicides.

The point of my original post column was that Zimmerman was an overly aggressive and overly suspicious provoker with a sense of moral purpose and justice that was self-delegated as a vigilante neighborhood protector with no legal authority. These circumstances allow an observer to easily imagine that he had anticipated and premeditated such a situation.

The thinking might go something like this: If I kill someone I think is dangerous to someone or myself, how precisely do I defend my actions legally?

Zimmerman is a premeditated actor in this scenario margin, even if Martin did assault him, reacting to the provocation. So for all its possible nuances of circumstance, the case still gets back to the premeditated provoker and his motivations to confront a person whose mere appearance and presence were presumed to justify his motive and subsequent deadly actions.

So What do we make of his judgement of Martin’s appearance and presence? This gets back to the startling act of apparent racial profiling by an Amtrak conductor I witnessed on a train, of a hooded black youth comparable to Martin.

Once a person is accosted in such a prejudicial manner the subject’s rights, and even his very life, are ripe for abuse by a person presuming in some manner of self-generated moral authority.*

So let’s not take our eyes off the ball in this case. Justice is so easily obscured by  prejudice, whether the prejudice lies in the heart and mind of the defendant, the lawyers, the judge, the jury or Joe blow blogger.

That’s why I’ve taken a little more time here to sort through this, using “cool” legalistic language that, I hope, would less likely stir prejudice in my rhetoric and thinking.

Milwaukee Riverwest crimewatch hero The Watchman. Photo by Mike De Sisti/ Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

*Citizen vigilance is hardly a crime in itself. Consider where I live, in Milwaukee’s racially diverse Riverwest neighborhood. The closest thing to a crime-watching vigilante is an admittedly eccentric guy called The Watchman. The 6-foot, 200-pound, 30-something crime fighter patrols Riverwest in a fire-engine-red-masked superhero costume, with a flashlight and pepper spray on hand – and a black Motorola cell phone as his weapon of choice. He uses no guns, despite the fact that Milwaukee recently passed an ordinance legalizing concealed weapons, which could put The Watchman at increased risk if he confronts a thief or mugger. That’s a hero, in my book.

“It’s about reporting it,” he told The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Contacting police, or getting an ambulance out here if it’s a medical situation.”

As for super powers? None, he says. “I’m just a guy. I may look a little funny, but I’m just a guy. And I’m out here to let everybody know that they can do their part.”

He’s not the only guy. The Watchman belongs to the Great Lakes Heroes Guild. “We combine resources, work together and share information,” he says.

What do you think about all this?

BTW consider the latest “trending story”: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/trayvon-martin-shooting-witnesses-change-stories-ahead-zimmerman-133743219.html?fb_action_ids=4025302879400&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_ref=type%3Aread%2Cuser%3AUyMrKlzXtsm0wSl5hn1dnOEgjOU&fb_source=other_multiline&code=AQDGedKmiKYi8PtLfS8Xdx_qYD_aCiYiFFgUgNKJUoTdSKAsj_WyYDLVdPlQ5eHk_feuK3jyEvo4J6XAt0CTzn-IwAzCVMCh2SYI_eGq24dPvVkua5XS3alJ0LiYDXgiY1NX3XB4HmFI2YlG721nRFE_WlaEbrDRCZg5tOusKhGBHfP7CM-F-dHnl8AOKuA6wYU#_=_

 

 

 

Three Decisive Days of the Civil War, 150 years ago this week

images This painting depicts the Civil War’s fiery and crucial Mississippi River battle for Vicksburg. courtesy of ashvilleoralhistoryproject.com

Happy Independence Day. Today means many things to Americans and to people around the globe for sure. I think of the phenomenal military and political feat of liberation that the colonists and the founding fathers pulled off,  against a massively better-armed foe. How many of them could’ve imagined what stands today, the greatest country in the world, despite its deep and troubling flaws.

I suspect the biggest thinkers among them, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Washington, dreamed of something like this. But what counted was their freedom, opening the door to a redefinition of living democracy for modern times.

And yet, this July 4 is worthy of remembering the other great war fought on our own land. It is the 150th anniversary week of the two Civil War battles, Gettysburg and Vicksburg, that turned the heartbreaking stench of defeat into the first glimmers of victory for the Union and for the emancipation of slaves.

old-pic-gettys

The Gettysburg battle unfolding around a soon-to-be finished railroad track, which the North fought for control of.courtesy adventresults.com.

My story, published in the latest edition of the Shepherd Express, delves into Kenosha’s Civil War Museum exhibit concerning this historic turning point, with a strong Wisconsin storyline. I hope you enjoy it:

http://expressmilwaukee.com/article-21384-civil-war-wisconsin.html

(By the way, you can make a day of it in Kenosha by also visiting the dazzling Dinosaur Discovery Museum and other attractions, highlighted in a separate SE feature.)

What we should never forget is the human cost of war, and that war’s death and suffering was as a terrible as any this nation ever fought, as evidenced by the this photo, taken after the hellish three-day Gettysburg struggle.

images (1)

Courtesy paranormal.about.com

 

Collage: Piecing Together Snips and Heaps of a Common Cultural Act — in Colorado

Cut-and-Paste_newsflashDetail of “Geisha Bath,” a collage by Jeff Raphael from “Cut & Paste” at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Courtesy bmoca.com

A Westerly Cultural Travel Journal, Vol. 1

“Experimenting with your own life is the most fundamental medium we have” — environmentalist artist Natalie Jeremijenko, The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, June 30, 2013

“Kevin, why don’t you pick up some of your snips and heaps.” — Kathleen Naab Lynch

Cut & Paste: Contemporary Collage Art by eight artists.  Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th St., Boulder, Colorado. Show runs through September 15, 2013. link

Boulder, CO. — An image in print catches your eye and imagination. Out come the scissors. Cut and save — or paste. The idea has ancient wellsprings as a cultural act. Making a collage can be the stuff of child’s play or a sophisticated artistic strategy. If only I still had my big old collage constructed around Archibald MacLeish’ s Cold War-era poem “The End of the World,” which is itself a small verbal collage *

The early 20th century, the Cubists, Surrealists and especially the Dadaists brought collage into modern art. Such movements captured the chaos, absurdity and dislocation of modern existence — of industrialization, immigration, genocide and war. Collage could manipulate and recast heavy subjects with ingenuity, illumination and surprising wit.

Even Picasso’s vast 1937 masterwork of war protest, Guernica, though an oil painting, is influenced by the peculiar tension of imaginative fragment-building that the collage contains.

How different are things today regarding the collage? Cut & Paste, a delightful and fascinating show, begins to answer that question. These collage artists may not have some of the radical agendas and pretenses of, say, the Dadaists. Contemporary art today is a sprawling postmodern collage of directions and trends, of genius and triteness and many eccentric bursts of unpredictable assertions — and associations. That’s partly why collage seems very apt and up-to-date, even timeless.  The medium’s seemingly endless mutability suggests why these artists can entertain, sometimes enlighten and even challenge the viewer.

Most computer users know “cut and paste” as the virtual-reality power to relocate texts and images as we see fit, for creative, editing or even expedient purposes. Increasingly artists exploit the potential of digitally manipulated imagery, which promises to keep the collage mentality alive in the appreciable future, for tech-savvy millennial artists and beyond.

However, one of the most accessible and technically accomplished works in the show is as old-school as a yellowing pulp Superman comic book. Adam Parker Smith’s large six- panel collage “Super Flight”   contains scads of images of Superman lovingly and precisely hand cut by the artist from comic books and assembled brilliantly and ambitiously into a massive composite image. It looks like The Big Bang of Superman, which “mild-mannered reporter” Clark Kent experiences in a sweaty dream he wakes from, forever changed and empowered.

Super

Adam Parker Smith’s “Super Flight” blows away a lot of Supermen, but is it really just a sweaty Clark Kent dream? The super dudes go out with a POW!

“Super Flight” is an astonishing welter of flying muscles, windswept capes, S-emblazoned chests and sound effects: ZAAAAAP! YEAAAGH!, and our hero’s mighty punch – CHROKK! You sense myriad dramatic and dynamic moments in the history of perhaps the greatest comic book superhero. It’s also a testament to Smith’s snip-snip-snip obsessiveness, captured perfectly beneath clear resin. The director of the latest Superman flick Man of Steel should’ve somehow included this powerhouse image in his movie.

Brooklyn-based Smith is one of today’s more provocative contemporary artists. A second untitled work from 2013 is a kitschy, mock-decorative installation on two adjacent corner walls, which includes a miscellany of items arranged on the walls, including cookies, penny candy (Bit o’ Honey!), tiny toy high heels, fake flowers and enough jellybeans to stir Ronald Reagan from the grave to croak, “Mister Smith, tear down that wall. I want to eat it.” I’m not implying questionable provenance of any of these items but The New York Times recently wrote about Smith’s ongoing projects of “collected” art works and various objects that he admits he’s stolen from others, often artists.

“The project has this gimmick, that I’m stealing from everybody, but it’s really about community,” Smith told The Times. “ ‘Appropriation and theft are part of that.’ Scoff if you like. “I feel like so many of my ideas start out as jokes,’ he said, ‘for better or worse.’” For sure, he’s experimenting with his life, and others’ though his “ideals” stray somewhat closer to Robin Hood’s than Superman’s, or Natalie Jeremijenko’s  1

Stas Orlovski’s two multi-media collage evocations are just as engaging but celebrate not super-macho fantasy but a gentle, almost Zen-like wit, akin to visual haiku or koans.

BMOCA_SUMMER2013_0007

Stab Orlovsky’ s multi-media collages, such as “Nocturne 2,” beguile the viewer as they change over the course of several Zen-like minutes.

These are also like dreams, that you experience while standing there. Both works slyly cajole you to spend at least five minutes because they literally mutate over that time, thanks to projected animation combined with drawing and collage. “Nocturne 1” presents a lyrical, Rousseau-like landscape with back-lit creatures and personages appearing and disappearing. A central image is a mysterious, archetypal woman who seems to oversee the scene like a motherly goddess. Up above, a bird suddenly flutters across the sky. Finally another bird appears, lands, and perpetrates a natural function that, um, shows that even the most mystical of expression emits from creatures trapped in their physical organisms.

Mario Zoots — who bears the best artist’s name I’ve encountered in a long time – has a knack for reaching playing with images of womanhood as black and white evocations of another era. Each of his extended series focuses on a beautiful or alluring woman, some 1950s erotica but many movie star promo shots, like Jane Russell’s Southward-straining dress from her iconic role in The Outlaw or Theda Bara the silent film vamp.

Bara’s famous image shows her hexing the viewer with a transfixing stare, arms akimbo provocatively and flaunting a bra that is a pair of serpents — spiraling around each breast. It’s slightly disturbing, slightly entrancing and slightly camp.  My adverbial modifier is part of Zoots’ doing, because he reworks the original b&w image and often strategically obscures bodily parts. He calls the works “depersonalized” and “desymbolized.” I’m not sure if they work to that peculiar degree of abstraction. But they are clever plays upon erotic fantasy seemingly frozen in an increasingly distant pop culture era that nevertheless opened the door to modern liberated sexual expression.

In terms of sheer aesthetic accomplishment Judy Pfaff takes top honors. She’s been an innovative, prolific, brilliant and acclaimed print maker for many years. The show’s most beautiful work is Pfaff’s “Year of the Dog #7” which combines woodblock print, collage and hand painting. I gather the title references the Chinese Zodiac system, and I’ll tread lightly with such semiology but the year of the dog, like other such zodiac years, signifies both human strengths and weakness. Yet the dog seems to signify good luck, they say.

So Pfaff presents a complex image with Eastern influences in its refined articulation and layered deftness. What might seem ornamental in a lesser artist’s hands is here a stunning matter of artful accomplishment.  Pfaff conjures an almost living and breathing skein of lyrical abstraction, a flying web of unpredictable entwining and airy arabesques. The piece also intimates visual depth that recalls one of Jackson Pollock’s most ingenious and spatially evocative paintings, “The Deep.”

Jeff Raphael’s 30-plus framed collages crammed on one wall boggles a bit, given the concentrated fragmentation of each image. Yet, you discover he’s an old-fashioned visual storyteller. Like one of his maximalist influences, Hieronymus Bosch, this former punk-rock drummer fearlessly rips away the curtain to expose humanity’s strange, silly and craven behavior.

BMOCA_SUMMER2013_0026

Jeff Raphael’s maximalist, storytelling collage style can engage an initially boggled mind. Unless otherwise indicated, all photos courtesy Julia Vandenoever.

I hope you sense how this relatively small but memorable exhibit takes us near and far in perceptual and conceptual play. Creative collage allows us to follow some artists  in the proverbial leap of imagination that lands on the shifting ice floes of life in an uncertain, ever-changing, terrifying and beautiful world.

The technique might help us piece our own lives together. We have iconic role models for dealing with uncertainty, like thousands of Supermen — in our dreams. More realistically we face life’s fragmented certainties by summoning courage like the slave Eliza’s famous flight, with infant, to freedom across that deadly collage of ice floes, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Other artists in Cut & Paste include Jesse Ash, Tyler Beard and Alicia Ordal.

Special exhibit-related events:

  • “Expert talk” with Cut & Paste-featured artist Mario Zoots with photographer Mark Sink, Tuesday, August 1 at Art Students League of Denver, 200 Grand St., Denver , Co 80203
    • “Cosmos & Collage” – art-inspired cosmopolitans and live collage demonstration with artists featured in Cut & Paste. 7 PM, Thursday, August 22. $15/$12 members/free for Friends with Benefits
    • BMoCA also sponsors “Young Artists at Work” of variety of summer activity workshops and programs for young people, including collage-making and much more. For information visit: http://www.bmoca.org/2013/05/yaw-summer-2012/

________________________________________

* MacLeish’s “The End of the World” begins: “Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
the armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe…”

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/arts/design/adam-parker-smiths-thanks-at-lu-magnus-gallery.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0