Sunday, November 29, 2015

Intro to Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole: My Latest Visit with Dan Hansen

This weekend I dropped in to see Dan Hansen to catch up on his upcoming project. Having written about his past two shows at The PROVE and Benchmark Tattoo, I was eager to see what new ideas were spinning through the synapses of his imagination.

The visit began with Dan citing several recent mistakes Obama has made recently like when “Obama called wife Michelle Michael.”

From there we moved to current international events. "Turkey shot down one of Russia’s fighters. What do you think of that?”

He brought up how Russia is bombing Syria… Putin stepping up, taking action while Obama remains passive.

This all triggered a new thought for me. “The Internet is a new form of bread and circuses.”

Dan laughed in agreement.

* * * *

I went over in part to hear more about his next art project. Dan shared some of his ideas which will combine cosmological research, quantum mechanics, and new thoughts about time (among other things.) The current question he's been pondering is this: “Am I going to go with the Einstein space/time model or Julian Barbour’s approach where time doesn’t exist, and that there is an expanse of space in which our brains 'create' time?”

"Imagine that all there is is space and no time, and that space is infinite…. It’s all about where you put your marker on the board, and it produces a different outcome," he said.

A variety of topics passed between us or, more accurately, from he to me. Particle waves. The Copenhagen effect. String theory. And the Holographic principle in which he presented some new theory about black holes. "There isn’t information loss in black holes because the information is stored on the outside in an infinitesimally small skin… all the matter that goes in there is stored on that outside layer."

This led to the next question he posited: "What if everything in the universe was a projection on the two dimensional outside edge, which when expanded is experienced in three dimensions?"

The discussion diverted to an exploration of the notion that the universe is like a quantum computer creating life, and earth is the life created. "And we are creating quantum computers," he said.

“I’m going to learn 3-D modeling so I can have nested geometric shapes within geometric shapes…. And even biological life, from mitochondria to the organ level to cities…. Roads are like veins carrying blood cells, and buildings are like pumps pumping the economy."

* * * *

Many of our discussions result in my researching topics we'd discussed such as the Mandelbrot Set a few months ago. This weekend's takeaway was learning about Morgan Freeman's program Through the Wormhole on the Science channel. Freeman has played a lot of interesting roles in his career, including president and God, and in this show he is the narrator/host who invites us to pay more attention to the mysteries of the universe. Check out Through the Wormhole.

Meantime, don't be afraid to ask questions. It's how we learn more about life, the world and ourselves. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Half-Remarkable Question

"The Sybil In Wonderland"
Philosophers and artists have this in common: they deal with the big questions. Post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin's wrestling with the big questions probably contributed to leaving the Paris arts scene to take up residence in Tahiti where one of his most significant works was painted, "Where Did We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" These really are life's big questions, and it is a good thing when they stir in us. Not so good when we lock them away in the recesses of our souls. (Some philosophical ponderers deny the existence of "soul", but that is another discussion.)

There are many ways of looking at the world. There is the scientific/objective method and there are a variety of mystical methods. For some reason, our schools favor the scientific, but it would be more honest to acknowledge that a majority of history has found humanity captivated by mystical interpretations of the nature of reality and the meaning of life. "Why am I here?" is a seriously profound question that no rock or plant or salamander or wildcat asks, as far as I know. Where does this question come from? And where does the idea of good come from? Or the idea of God? Rene Descartes, who himself did a lot of thinking about the big questions, stated, "The thought of God is the Maker's mark on us."

When The Incredible String Band performed at Woodstock--as foreign and original their sound--the Scottish psychedelic folk band made an impact.

I was introduced to the group by a friend who had been to Woodstock the previous year, and over the next few years acquired several of their albums including I Looked Up and Wee Tam and The Big Huge. "The Half-Remarkable Question" made an impact on me as an addendum to the other philosophical questions swirling through my head at that time. The questions remain good ones, whether posed by artists or philosophers.

The Half-Remarkable Question

Who moved the black castle
Who moved the white queen
When Gimme and Daleth where standing between?

Out of the evening growing a veil
Pining for the pine woods that ached for the sail
There's something forgotten I want you to know
The freckles of rain they are telling me so

Oh, it's the old forgotten question
What is it that we are part of?
And what is it that we are?

And an elephant madness has covered the sun
The judge and the juries they play for the fun
They've torn up the roses and washed all the soap
And the martyr who marries them dares not elope

Oh, it's the never realized question
What is it that we are part of?
And what is it that we are?

Oh long, oh long ever yet my eyes
Braved the gates enormous fire
And the body folded 'round me
And the person in me grew

The flower and its petal
The root and its grasp
The earth and its bigness
The breath and its gasp

The mind and its motion
The foot and its move
The life and its pattern
The heart and its love

Oh, it's the half-remarkable question
What is it that we are part of?
And what is it that we are?

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bob Dylan Marketing Machine

Marketing, like every other endeavor in life, has its share of principles that have been repeated so often they almost become cliche. "Putting the right product in the right place, at the right price, at the right time" is one way it has been described. E.J. McCarthy's famous equation of the Four P's of Marketing -- product, price, place and promotion -- is another variation of the same idea.

How this plays out may vary depending on if you are selling cars or candy or a dining experience. Hollywood dominated the movie making business by establishing the distribution channel called movie theaters which made seeing films convenient, affordable and an experience. The record business got its power from the use of radio and television [look at what Ed Sullivan did for the Beatles], in conjunction with the local record stores. The road tour was another mechanism by which bands created new fans, and cemented the loyalty of old fans.

The internet age seemed to upend a lot of the rules of marketing, so much so that some people began to believe the old rules no longer applied, having gone the way of the buggy whip. And even though "Content is King" has become the coin of the age, once you get under the skin of what's happening out there in cyberspace you will see that when it comes to the Four P's... well, it continues to remain intact that you need a product people want at a price they're willing to pay whether they can afford it or not, from a place where they know they can get and they need to hear about it so they can want it.

Even a cursory examination of the Bob Dylan Marketing Machine shows you that he and the team he has assembled have become masters of the marketing tribe. And yes, to his credit he knows that although his name has become synonymous with the brand, that brand has the value it has because of the caliber of the team he's pulled together.

What is amazing, besides the caliber of the work he has produced, is the volume (as in quantity) of quality material that has been created. The Never Ending Tour not only became a never ending promotion of the songs and albums, it became a means of creating new content that could be turned into marketable products, or material for marketing existing products.

One of the most powerful marketing weapons is word of mouth so that in the era of social media we have a whole cadre of Dylan evangelists sharing their enthusiasm for Dylan, his every move documented, dissected and disseminated. Dylan websites, Dylan blogs and Dylan Facebook communities abound, all of them serving to promote the artist and his music.

Since the beginning of November I've been listening to The Bootleg Series Volume 12, Bob Dylan 1965-1966: The Best of the Cutting Edge, waiting to weigh in on some of what I've found here. What I've found is that there's really no other artist that could have done this. Where are the bootlegs and outtakes from the Beatles? The Stones? Yes, the music (product they created) was great, but the factory shut down.

The Dylan machine is still rolling on... like a rolling stone, with a lot of nerve, and verve and never ending fan delight.

Next May Bob will be 75. Whether the train will continue to roll after that is anyone's guess, but I can tell you this.... Here' in Duluth at our annual Dylan Fest we'll be celebrating for  week with music, poetry, art and everything Dylan that we can think of. Maybe you can join us here in the Northland. Consider yourself invited.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Dylan-Woolson Connection

The Albert Woolson statue in front of the Depot.
For years I've been going to events at the Duluth Depot that houses the Duluth Art Institute, Historical Society, Train Museum and Playhouse. It's strange to think that all this time I've walked past this statue that sits out front without ever wondering who it was or why it was there. This summer I decided to check it out and learned that it's a Duluthian named Albert Woolson, who at the time of his passing was the last living veteran of the Civil War.

He was young when he entered the service, only 15, as a drummer boy in Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. When he died in 1956 Life magazine ran a seven-page story about our last connection to that war between the states. (You can read more at Wikipedia.)

This summer I took photos of the Woolson statue intending to write a blog post about this man when Saturday, at the 100th anniversary of the Duluth Armory, Don Dass of the Dylan Way Committee told me the most fascinating anecdote about how the kids in the Central Hillside would parade past the elderly Woolson's home each year. What makes it intriguing is that young Robert Zimmerman lived just a couple houses down the alley from Woolson and had almost certainly been part of that children's parade. Here's Don's account along with a map showing the Zimmerman home and its relation to the Woolsons:

Hand-drawn map shows relationship of the two homes.
"A few years ago during Dylan Days I heard a story from a woman who owned an art gallery in Canal Park. She had gone to kindergarten with Robert Zimmerman at Nettleton and she said it was the tradition for students to parade past Albert Woolson's house on either Veterans Day or on his birthday. (She couldn't remember which it was.) I thought that was a remarkable coincidence even before I read the November 11, 2015, article about Woolson in the DNT and noticed a picture of him standing outside his home with a lot of small children gathered before him. I thought of that story I'd been told and realized that here was photographic evidence of those occasions. In reading the piece I came across the address where Woolson had spent his later years -- 215 5th Ave. E. Close to Nettleton and even closer to the Zimmerman home at 519 N. 3rd Avenue E. I had to make a little sketch so I could verify what was just coming together in my mind. Dylan and Woolson lived on the same block, shared the same alley, scarcely a stone's throw apart. I find it almost beyond ironic that the last officially documented survivor of the Civil War and Bob Dylan lived not only in the same smallish city, but apparently actually lived almost next door to one another."

Young Robert Zimmerman lived upstairs here till age 6
Now here's something cool. If you use Google Maps here's what you will see when you do the "Street View".  (Mr. Woolson lived on the East, or right, side of the brick duplex.) Now, if you turn to the right and go to the end of the block, then make a left, go up the hill to the alley and look left, there's the house where young Dylan lived the first six years of his life. The alley referred to above is on the left side of this house.

Next May if you're in town for Dylan Fest, and the celebration of Bob Dylan's 75th birthday, you might enjoy taking a side trip up the hill to this house and that alley alongside it.... remembering that the oldest survivor of the Civil War lived his last years "a stone's throw away."

Is it possible these early memories of the old Civil War veteran played a role in Dylan's writing Cross the Green Mountain for the Civil War trilogy Gods and Generals?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Few Anecdotes About Charlie Watts Including the Time He Punched Mick in the Face

I don't like drum solos, to be honest with you, but if anybody ever told me he didn't like Buddy Rich I'd right away say go and see him, at least the once. ~ Charlie Watts

I was a Rolling Stones fan very early on, in part a over-reaction against those moptops so idolized by the girls in my junior high school (i.e John, Paul, George and Ringo). At one time I had all their albums from 12 x 5 through Goats Head Soup. I remember the impact 12 x 5 had on me, especially the opening cuts on each side, "Around and Around" and "2120 South Michigan Street", an instrumental jam set in motion by a Bill Wyman bass riff. The title of the song is drawn from the address of Chess Records where their favorite blues music was recorded.

The frontmen for the group were such that many people may have underestimated drummer Charlie Watts. Unlike the insane antics of drummers like Keith Moon, Watts was simply smooth.

Charlie Watts isn't someone I really knew much about, though 25 years ago I discovered he was more than just a drummer for a major rock band. In the library I found a CD featuring the Charlie Watts Orchestra, Live at Fulham Town Hall. Though the one customer review on Amazon gave it two stars, I personally enjoyed the album quite a bit.

This summer while reading Keith Richards' autobiography Life I relished hearing a few anecdotes about the Stones' drummer that I hadn't known before.

The manner in which Mick and Keith discovered each other is the stuff of legend, each being unaware that anyone else besides themselves was as intensely into the Chicago blues as much as they were. When they teamed up to form the seminal band, they entire lives were devoted to listening to and learning the music. Dating girls was off limits in the beginning. The only thing that mattered was the music.

In the beginning they had no gigs and to get a gig they needed a drummer. They had so little money they shoplifted food so they, along with bass player Dick Taylor, could spend their time practicing and not having to get jobs. The drummer they wanted was Charlie Watts, but Watts had paying gigs with two bands and wasn't about to give up his income to join these newbies. Richards knew Watts was the guy they wanted. He was the real deal and they achieved their aims, acquiring Watts and assembling the core of one of the great rock and roll bands of all time. (Yes, Brian Jones was abducted into the band around this time as well.)

Stories about the Stones are legion, from the massive drug use to their exile from England to the Jagger-Richards separation in the 80s. Charlie Watts as a professional drummer kept himself out of the maelstrom, living apart from the band as they were recording Exile on Main Street in the south of France. Like many musicians it's a night owl life. On one occasion, according to Richards, Mick was in the mood to do some recording -- at five in the morning -- so he called Watts on the phone and said, "Where's my drummer?" Says Richards, these were the days when Mick's ego had gotten onto everyone's nerves, that it seemed all was about him.

Watts got into his car and 20 minutes later arrived at the place. When Keith opened the door Watts walked right past him, went over to Mick, picked him up by the lapel and slugged him in the face. "Never call me your drummer again." Here's an excerpt from Life with Johnny Depp narrating how Keith remembered it.

Whether this happened the way Richards described it in his book may or may not be entirely accurate. In fact, the way I remember reading it this summer may also be suspect. Bill German, who produced a Stones fanzine called Beggar's Banquet, wrote that it happened like this.

Here's The Charlie Watts Quintet on Dennis Miller's show in 1994 and here's an interesting Boogie Woogie in Barcelona:

 And so it goes.

Photo credit:Poiseon Bild & Text (press photo by a photographer of the consulting company Poiseon AG in St. Gallen, Switzerland)) - Flickr: The ABC & D of Boogie Woogie (Herisau, 13. Januar 2010)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Design Duluth #2 Is Rich With Insights from Local Designers

Thursday evening HTK Marketing hosted the second of six Design Duluth events, with Cody Paulson, Matt Olin, Joe Gunderson and Tommy Kronquist as this edition's guest presenters. It was another stellar turnout with muchos kudos to the Duluth Art Institute staff for conceiving this series of events.

As with the first event held at Cirrus Design, Annie Dugan played the role of MC and moderator, introducing speakers and leading us through the evening's activities, which included a creative team exercise at the end. But to start the evening off Annie read from Barton Sutter's Cold Comfort: Life at the Top of the Map.

Bridges are to Duluth what skyscrapers are to New York. They define the place. We've got the Bong. We've got the Blatnik. We've got trestles and docks and piers. We've even got a road called Seven Bridges. But the queen of them all, without doubt, is called the Aerial Lift Bridge. Neither the longest nor the highest bridge in town, the Lift is merely the oldest and the loveliest.

The four speakers were each assigned fifteen minutes to present, the first being Joe Gunderson, Director of Visual Identity at HTK, one of the older and major ad agencies in the Twin Ports.

Gunderson began by stating that there are three kinds of identity: Corporate Identity, Cultural Identity and Sensory Identity. After showing examples of corporate indentity, he addressed cultural identity which includes the beliefs, customs, arts, history, architecture and geography of a city or region. Sensory identity consists of textures, touch, sound, taste, smell and emotions. He shared, as an example, the feeling one experiences when they drive over Thompson Hill and see the city spread out before them.

Gunderson had us play a game called "Name That City" in which we were to identify various places, except with their identifying icons removed. What is Paris without the Eiffel Tower? This put things in perspective for our own town, for the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge is the most photographed icon in the Northland.  But there are other things that define us including landmarks, heritage, history, people, businesses, events, outdoors and our potential. We were encouraged to take a moment to consider Duluth through a new lens.

Tommy Konquest, founder of The Medium Kontrol, made the second presentation. Konquist presented two videos, the being about how he met his wife Kristi and their move to Duluth from St. Paul. Komquist, a designer and screen printer, showed some of the cool logos he has created. The highlight was a logo he created for his son Holden Kevin and the process he went through to get there.

Annie Dugan then introduced Cody Paulson, Senior Design Director at Swim Creative who had a show at the DAI earlier this year. "I love seeing the way Cody engages with this post-industrial landscape that we have here," she said. The result was his Port City Supply Co. brand.

Paulson's discussion revolved around identity and brand design. He also has a small business called Jambox Shred Gear which he briefly shared. After outlining the five elements of a great brand --
Honest, Compelling, Substantial, Engaging and Authentic -- he presented some thoughts about how to create a brand by sharing what went into the development of the logo for the Park Point Art Fair.

UMD Professor of Graphic Design Matthew Olin made the fourth presentation. In a humorous vein he presented logos from the dozens of local companies that incorporate the aerial lift bridge into their logos.  (See examples here on Instagram.)

Whereas Duluth does have a keen affinity for "Old Lifty" Olin noted that at least one local company that abandoned this local symbol was happy to have done so when their market expanded to national reach.

The evening's theme was "Iconoclast: Breaking the Lift Bridge Icon-Hold" and what a beautiful setting for this event with the lift bridge directly across from us on the 8th floor of the Dewitt-Seitz offices of HTK. We ended the evening by breaking up into groups for four or five in order to design a new logo for our region using toothpicks and marshmallows. Many designs were quite inventive.

The next event will be January 9, with the suitable theme of "How Do We Embrace the Cold?" It all begins at 5:30 p.m., a form of business after hours. The location for this January event will be Bent Paddle Brewery on Michigan Street in West End. Hope to see you there.

Matthew Olin 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Armory Celebrates 100 Years of Making History

Will we see you there?
Saturday, November 21, 2 - 4 p.m.
Armory Annex, 1325 London Road, Duluth
Here's a map so you can find us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Looking For Christmas Ideas? Try Art On The Plaza

Pottery by Joan Hendershot
Looking for Christmas gift ideas? Want to buy local but don't know where to begin? Start with art. In Duluth there's Siilvii's, Lizzard's and Art in the Alley among other places. Cross the bridge (get over it) you can find things to buy at The Red Mug and Goin' Postal. And now open this fall, a new spot to check out -- Art On The Plaza.

This past week I popped in and found that more than 30 artists are now represented here. Wall art, shelf art and functional art -- pottery by Joan Hendershot, for example -- are all on display here and available for your enjoyment or as a treasure for someone you love.

The Plaza being referenced in the store's name is Belknap Plaza, over near UWS. Looking for something different, original and new? There's plenty out there worth checking out. "Tis the season.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Psych 101: Pixar' Inside Out

Disgust, Anger, Joy, Sorrow and Fear @ Riley HQ
Just finished watching the latest Pixar gem Inside Out. I intended to watch it on DVD while doing something else, but the beginning is so compelling I just couldn't detach my retinas.

There are really two stories in this animated film, just as there are two stories in most of our lives. There is the external story where we move about from place to place geographically in the space-time continuum. And then there's our inner story where our various emotions reside, with experiences of their own. Inside Out is primarily about the five characters who express themselves within our heads and define our personalities -- Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. The movie does a great job of showing how the memories that accompany us through life impact us, often comforting and sometimes shackling us.

As with many a story there's a problem that the hero must resolve, the hero's quest. And the Pixar story is no different. Just as Woody and Buzz must find their way home (in Toy Story), so it is that two of the characters -- Joy and Sadness -- somehow get whisked away from Riley's Head-quarters so that Anger, Disgust and Fear are all that Riley has left.

Making memories that will reside in Family Island
Ah, yes... Riley. The external world story is about a girl named Riley whose family moves with her family from Minnesota (a world of good memories) to San Francisco, which becomes a challenge for various reasons, not the least of which is being alone and tentative about her new life.

One of the unexpected characters we meet, during the journey of Joy and Sadness in their effort to get back "home" to the place where they belong inside Riley's head, is the hilarious forgotten imaginary friend from Riley's early years, Bing Bong. Bing Bong strives to help them in their journey, but he's a bit of a doofus and his leadership at various points creates more setbacks than solutions. Nevertheless, he's fun to have along.

Although this is the inner story of Riley's life, the main storyline seems to be about Joy's journey. When Joy is absent from headquarters, where she belongs, how empty our lives become.

One of the scenes I enjoyed was in the kitchen where Riley's parents are trying to deal with Riley after her first day in school. The same five emotions live inside her parents as well, and when we go inside Mom's head we see her inner emotions trying to dissect the situation, to determine a course of action. Then we go inside Dad's head and see he is initially oblivious because he's following a game on his smartphone. Finally his own Anger step up, for Riley is interfering with his own Joy.

Ah, how much fun we had being silly when we were kids.
It's probable that some folk might see the film as overly simplistic psychobabble, but it's a children's flick and yes, like The Velveteen Rabbit or Beauty & the Beast, there are story lines for the kids and for the parents who share memories with their kids.

One of our favorite books when we were raising our own kids was Let's Make a Memory. (My fact checker has noted that I never read this book, but liked the idea of its premise.) The importance of good memories cannot be underemphasized. Inside Out underscores this key truth as well, showing us the various "amusement parks" where such memories reside.

Each of Riley's core memories build the island that make Riley Riley: Hockey Island, Goofball Island, Friendship Island, Honesty Island, Family Island etc. Imagination and exploration and environment all contribute to to the whole, and for the sake of this story it is a wholesome whole.

After thinking about the story for a day I wondered if there was something missing from this entertaining film. I'm thinking here of my inner narrative, out self talk. Are we really only a bundle of emotions responding to inputs? Somehow this simplification goes too far, and may even be part of the problem we have as a society. Emotions respond to thoughts, which are interpreting the inputs of our experience. How we talk to ourselves, interpreting the inputs, produces emotional effects. We consider people immature who do not reign in their emotions, who let their emotions continually get the best of them.

Woo hoo when Joy is in ascendency. 
Overall, though, the story is well told, engaging, entertaining, and fun. The writing is good, the Pixar animation up to snuff, and it even begins in Minnesota.

There are a lot of subtle touches as one might expect in a well-conceived and executed Pixar flick. For example, when Riley and her family arrive in San Francisco, she's wearing a sweater comprised of the colors of the five emotion-characters inside her head. What we are on the inside is revealed on the outside. Or so it is with Riley.

One thing missing from the film are memorable songs, though I didn't initially notice till after. The Lego Movie has "Everything Is Awesome" and Elton John's soundtrack for The Lion King was stellar. This did not, however, diminish my enjoyment of the movie.

All in all, another stellar offering from the Pixar Hit Factory.

* * * *
Two decades ago I produced a story that deals with one of the roles memories play, and their special importance in our lives. It's called The M Zone, and it's a bit darker than this tale. I invite you to read it. You'll find it here at

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Local Art Seen: Mischief and Other Tales by Shawna Gilmore at the Kruk

"Blending In"
Thursday evening I slid over to the Kruk Gallery at UWS to see the opening of Shawna Gilmore's "Mischief and Other Tales." As you'll see here, Gilmore's show is fun and full of whimsy. In keeping with the well-worn saying, every picture tells a story.

The titles alone make one smile. "Don't Poke the Bear While He's Bird Watching" and "Carrots Really Improved Her Vision" and "The Boy With Bionic Hearing Was An Excellent Listener" can't help but lighten your heart.

Stylistically I can easily see Gilmore as an illustrator of children's picture books. A few of the paintings made me think of some of local artist Scott Murphy's imagery, including the painting of an infant being carried away by balloons, which also reminded me of Adam Swanson, another local painter. But Gilmore has her own style, with crisp edges, living colors and a good sense of proportion.

Earlier this year I interviewed her husband Eddy Gilmore, author of The Emancipation of a Buried Man. Shawna and Eddy have a set of twins, a theme is reflected in paintings like "Sucker Punch" and "Double Trouble."

"Gladys Did't Act Her Age"
Of this show, the artist has explained in her statement, "The paintings in this series are directly inspired by the creativity and mischief of my own twin ten year olds. The misadventures and humorous scenarios they find themselves in are forever entertaining and challenging me to not take myself too seriously. I am interested in stepping over the bounds of reality to a place where anything is possible. What if I had a personal sasquatch? What if I carrots gave you laser vision? or What if I had the courage to be different? To see the world in this limitless way is the magical part of childhood I hope to never lose. And to laugh. We need to laugh."    --Shawna 11/14/15

"With His Own Personal Sasquatch..."
Here are some of the other pieces I enjoyed including "With His Own Personal Sasquatch, Victor Knew School Would Be Different This Year."

There are many more pictures I'd love to share here with you, but the better way to enjoy the 25 paintings in "Mischief and Other Tales" is to visit the gallery in person. (See the gallery's hours here.)
"The Great Escape"
"Chicken Fight"
"Double Trouble"
"Sucker Punch"
"Gloria Wasn't Like the Other Children"
Meantime, art goes on all around you. Enjoy it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Artist Melissa D Johnston Revisited

I discovered Melissa Johnston through an online art community six or seven years ago. At the time I was struck by her Visual Poetry (VisPo) and the spirit of her work. As a result I interviewed her here in February 2010. A month or two ago some of her recent work that I had been seing on Twitter caught my eye and I decided it would be good time to do a follow-up.

EN: It’s fascinating where your Visual Poetry explorations have taken you. Much of your current work combines photographic imagery with digital collage. What would you call what you are doing now?

Melissa D. Johnston: The umbrella classification for my work would be “digital art,” which technically would cover what I do with digital collage, digital painting, and photo manipulation, whether done with a camera, Photoshop, or an iPhone. In that, the designation isn’t different (in terms of media) from what I did and do with VisPo. The difference now is that all of my images are my own photography (in the beginning with VisPo I used stock photography for collages) and some of my works are more focused on and bring out the photographic aspect of the works.

EN: Your work makes an emotional and evocative connection that draws viewers in. How do you determine your subject matter?

MDJ: Thank you very much. In many ways I feel like my subject matter chooses me and not the other way around. Almost everything starts with photography now in terms of artistic process, and so many of these shots are serendipitous. I’ll be out somewhere (or maybe even in my own backyard) and something strikes me with its intrigue, beauty, or maybe even with a difference that could be registered as ugliness but I find very attractive. I’ll begin taking shots and before I know it I have 100 or 200 (or sometimes many more) of not just that particular thing but all the other things around me that I’m now able to see in a way I couldn’t before. Inevitably these incidents produce at least one photograph that proves integral later to a work. Maybe not that day or even three months later. But sometime in the future I’ll be scrolling through my photographs and one will beckon me and I’m off—making it the foundation for a new piece. In a way the process of taking photos and creating digital collage are the same in terms of intuition and feeling. All of my shots are very intuitive, as is the process of building a larger piece that brings in many more images.

EN: You seem extremely prolific. Can you identify what is driving you?

MDJ: Thank you. I don’t feel very prolific a lot of times and I definitely go in and out of periods of productivity. I’d never really thought of myself as being “driven” in regard to art. It’s one of the few things that in and of itself calms me down and actually gives me energy, not take it away—even when I’m frustrated as hell with a piece. This is true both with photography and with the creation of digital art. But lately, in working on a show I have coming up, I’ve realized there really is something deeper directing some of the pieces, if not the pursuit in general. I believe that art taps into the unconscious and I also believe that creativity is healing in and of itself. This gives a chance for the silenced parts of me (most of whom were silenced through trauma) to speak. The creation of art is an act of attention on my part—a listening that makes space for those formerly silenced voices and makes space for a dialogue with them, one that seems easiest for me to access through art. The latest series I’ve been working on, “Eternal Childhood,” very much seems to be directed by a dialogue with the formerly silenced parts of myself.

EN: Have you been showing your work locally somewhere? Any upcoming shows?

MDJ: Yes! I have been showing locally (and elsewhere) for some time, but I have my first solo show, called “Story” opening soon—Tuesday, November 17—at Old Town Public House in Cornelius, NC. The main works for the show are from the “Eternal Childhood” series. These pieces feature children in fantastical or dreamlike scenarios and/or places. Each work is paired with a very short fairy tale/fable I’ve written. At the opening and the two other receptions we’ve planned, these images and stories are woven together chronologically by my personal account of the journey of healing childhood trauma. So these receptions are part art exhibition, part reading, and part artist talk—but all story, highlighting different stages and aspects of my own personal story at each reception.

* * * *

Visit Melissa D. Johnston's Instagram page.
Visit her Flickr collection here.
Here is a link to her website:
The Door
Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

George Barris Moves To That "Big Garage In The Sky"

Early Thursday morning the amiable King of Kustomizers George Barris passed away. I was attending the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas and thought of George this week. I saw one of his old-time hot rod buddies shoot by on a scooter wearing the emblematic yellow and red shirt that George was wearing last time I saw him. The Specialty Automotive Manufacturers Assn. show has more than ten miles of show floor, so those scooters come in handy when you're in your eighties. I saw quite a few of them this year, because those early car-builders love their reunions here with all this hot rod history. They were there in the beginning and helped shape what the hot rod scene was to become.

Yesterday I got the word by means of an eNewsletter for collector car enthusiasts from Hemmings Motor News. The tribute cited a Facebook post from his son Brett Barris that stated, "Sorry to have to post that my father, legendary kustom car king George Barris, has moved to the bigger garage in the sky."

George lived his dream, and loved sharing his passions with the world. Here's the announcement that appeared in the Hollywood Reporter.

This past week we were watching episodes from the original Beverly Hillbillies. George Barris made that vehicle the show imprinted upon our memories. So, too, the Munsters' Koach. And so many more. In my 2009 interview with Mr. Barris he talked about his unique approach to building all those famous cars we saw on TV when we were growing up.

He will be missed. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

NY Times Review of The Witches: Salem 1692 Is Historically Insightful

It has been four years since I got my Kindle and I still love this easy-to-use digital reading device. I initially appreciated having the ability to carry around a multitude of reading options while travelling. It also seemed important to me to learn what Kindle readers would experience if I started publishing eBooks. (Four in 2011.) All this to say that this past year I have come to enjoy another feature of the Kindle, one that may be available elsewhere but is especially simple here, downloading the Sunday New York Times. And it’s only 99 cents.

Being Halloween weekend it must have seemed appropriate to the editors to include not one, but two book reviews dealing with witches. The first is a review of Alex Mar’s Witches of America by Merritt Tierce. Mar’s book is a who’s who of American practitioners of the occult. But the review that I found especially interesting and hope you'll read was Jane Kamemsky’s review of Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692.

After an opening paragraph that sums up Schiff's approach to the subject of the Salem witch trials, Schiff makes her position on the book known in this manner:

By almost any measure, Salem’s crisis is more gripping than it was important. “The Witches,” Schiff’s glib, compendious and often maddening account of the events of that fateful year, does a great deal to punch up the story, but little to explore and still less to understand its significance.

Kamensky’s review shows why the Times, which appeared in the week leading up to Halloween and was included in the Sunday Times Kindle Edition, exemplifies excellence in the journalism field. The author demonstrates the deftness of an adept when presenting the manner in which Ms. Schiff assaults the Salem community. Kamensky skillfully presents the book’s problematic presentation, then contrasts the caricature with certain facts which many moderns have long forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place. In short, the review is a worthwhile and informative read which you can find here.

My interest in this period of American history stems from having kin who were part of those early years of the pre-republic. Researching the period helped stimulate the elements that assembled themselves into my short story "An Unremembered History of the World", which became cornerstone of my short collection of stories Unremembered Histories: Sis Stories with a Supernatural Twist. Available on both Kindle and in print.

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