Bay Area Clay at Arts Benicia

Matt clay faces with a folk art and political flavor carved into a tall column, pale colors and dark shadows in the revices
Detail of “Cliffhanger”, 2017 by Mark Messenger

The ceramics show at Arts Benicia closes on November 19 and features many notable pieces worthy of a trip, for those who will travel over bridges. The center is open Wednesday–Sunday 12 noon – 5pm and the show is called “Bay Area Clay: A Legacy of Social Consciousness.”

The exhibition features well-known local artists and some wonderful work by: Robert Arneson, Stephen De Staebler, Viola Frey, Arthur Gonzalez, Michelle Gregor, Marc Lancet, Mark Messenger, Richard Notkin, Lisa Reinertson, Richard Shaw, Ehren Tool, Monica Van den Dool, Stan Welsh, and Wanxin Zhang.

I’ve always loved the work of Ehren Tool and this show features a wall of his cups on the left wall once inside the gallery. Two of my favorites include one with a quote by environmental campaigner and scientist Dr. Vidana Shiva, and there are several great ones featuring Trump imagery.

Matt cup with text impressed in We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the earth or we are not going to have a future at all."
Cup by Ehren Tool

 

A detail of 8 cups on simple wooden shelves. One features an image of Trump holding a severed head of the Statue of Liberty, another a screaming Trump face. The other cups are subdued and have images of war impressed into them
Cups by Ehren Tool

 

I am new to the work of  Mark Messenger and loved the large central column by him that anchors the show. All pieces are worthy of spending some slow art time to absorb the rich imagery, appreciate the technical skill and enjoy the beautiful compositions and satisfying ideas on view.

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Visitors engaging with the column by Mark Messenger

 

Visit the Arts Benicia website for more information. The center is located at 991 Tyler Street, STE. 114, Benicia CA. and is free but as usual, donations are welcome for this artist run space. Telephone: 707-747-0131, email is info@artsbenicia.org.

The Color of Law with Richard Rothstein

Poster for an event with author Richard Rothstein about his new book The Color of Law, at the Richmond Museum of History
Poster for an event with author Richard Rothstein about his new book The Color of Law, at the Richmond Museum of History

I recently worked on a poster for an upcoming event at the Richmond Museum of History for Richard Rothstein’s book “The Color of Law: a forgotten history of how our government segregated America.” I remember hearing Rothstein interviewed on npr in May when his book came out, and discovering that the most awful policies enforcing segregated housing were really cemented in place under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).  As an intern for the California Historical Society a few years ago, I worked on a curriculum guide about the best aspects of FDR’s New Deal, whilst also finding out about Executive Order 9066 which enforced the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II. I could almost hear FDR himself saying again “I’m not a racist but …”

Richard Rothstein’s book shines a bright spotlight on the specific details of the social engineering program that the federal government embarked upon. He explains the details of ‘red-lining’ which were the discriminatory housing policies and their color-coded maps that were used to approve or reject applications for mortgages and insurance by African Americans. The facts are really stark and the policies were not at all hidden. The inequities that these laws formalized still reverberate loudly today. As Rothstein says in his npr interview with Teri Gross “If we can understand this history we might be able to address some of these problems.” The book is a work of dedicated scholarship and full of facts that reveal just how oppressive and tenacious institutionalized racism still is. If you want to hear it from the man himself, save the date of January 20th, 2018 and go along to this free event.

I’m proud to have designed the poster for this FREE event organized by the Richmond Museum of History and Richmond Public Library. The event is on Saturday, January 20th, 2018 from 2–4pm at the City Council Chambers, 440 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA 94804.

For more information contact Catherine Ortiz at Catherine_Ortiz@ci.richmond.ca.us, or Melinda McCrary at melinda@richmondmuseum.org

 

 

Earth, Wind and so much Fire

A series of screens that enclose the viewer in a 'u' shaped space have video projections of a forest fire
Walk Into WildFire, video projection by Ethan Turpin and Jonathan Smith

A few weeks ago Ethan Turpin and Jonathan Smith had a video projection within the Visions of the Wild Festival in Vallejo. Their installation called “Walk Into Wild Fire” features footage of a fairly short controlled burn of a section of forest, shot by a video camera encased in a fireproof housing. The speed of the fire’s progress was immense and overwhelming. I remember talking with my buddies about how terrifying the experience must be, and we talked about whether there would be any serious ones this year.

Words are pretty useless for describing the gravity of the current fires in California and the unfolding events for many people. We know that there is huge devastation and destruction everywhere, and that many people have lost their lives, their homes and in some ways their history.  Some of them are artists.

As the blanket of smoke was beginning to clear over the east bay on Saturday afternoon, a tangible atmosphere of doom and sorrow shaped the small crowd present for the artists’ talk at the Richmond Art Center. The current exhibition “Earth, Wind and Fire” seems so incredibly prescient and somehow so trivial all at the same time. We all knew that one of the participating artists Clifford Rainey, has lost home, studio and work in the ongoing Napa fire. We also learned that another participating artist, Chester Arnold has been evacuated.

The subject of the show is climate change and I’ve visited it twice before. Given the events of last week, the work was resonating with a much more direct power yesterday. I noticed the recurring images of fire in Chester Arnold’s work that I had not really seen before. I felt much more connected to a work by Clifford Rainey called White Bison  which one of my previous exhibit-going companions had particularly enjoyed. We had spent a long time looking at the piece and had gone back to it several times. We had both gazed at the deep blue of the backdrop and the charred wood pedestal in front. My heart was heavy, sensing how prophetic his work has become.

The fires have arrived after five years of drought and a year of climate change deniers in power. As human beings, we seem to be heading for a future environmental catastrophe that we cannot stop. I imagine that we were all sitting in that exhibition space with our own personal knowledge of the stark reality of what is happening to our beautiful environment, and struggling with what to think about the cruel and selfish political denial that is making it worse. It seems at once outrageous, monstrous and impossible. We are all groping for a way through the event and wondering what artists can do in the face of all the lying and corruption in high places. How do we continue? How does it shape our work and how do we practice the kind of self-care and activism that will keep us potent and sane?

The two artists present were salve indeed on the collective wound. Kim Anno and Jenny Odell shared their work and their process with calm generosity and honesty. They also gave us a greater insight into their practice and current projects than can ever be made known in an exhibition. Kim Anno is an artist, activist and educator and also executive director of WildProjects.org which “collaborates with communities worldwide through fearless art, film and performance productions to inspire resiliency in the face of adversity.” She has moved away from painting into more collaborative video projects that explore environmental realities. She spoke with great power about the “unspeakable future” we are leaving our children.  Jenny Odell talked of the two common responses to our environmental crisis that she has noticed: the impulse to archive, and the creation of impossible and visionary futures. For immediate balm for your soul, I can highly recommend diving into her long-form piece on Medium called “How to do Nothing.”  Together they shifted our collective experience to one of community and fellowship.

I’m so glad I went again, and I encourage everyone to visit because there is also beautiful work by Harry ClewansAbel Rodriguez, Alison Saar, and Joshua Solis. I had not seen any of their work before and there is much to appreciate and spend time with. The show is on until November 11 and entry is FREE.

My favorite piece is a counter narrative of fire as destroyer. In a joyful expression of the beauty and mystery of nature, I discovered that “Ice Makes Fire” in a video work by Paul Koss1974–2004.

In a snow environment, a small twig fire is started with a piece of ice focusing the sun's rays onto kindling.
Still from video work, “Ice Makes Fire” by Paul Kos, 1974–2004

“White Noise: Black Masks” curated by Marvin K. White

Words are completely inadequate for describing this event but I wrote a few notes in my diary on the day I attended Marvin K. White’s incredible piece “White Noise: Black Masks: how high must we turn up the volume to be heard over the din of oppression?”

White Noise: Black Masks poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A week or so ago, my artist buddy Pat Hayashi recommended reading “Who We Be” by Jeff Chang. So good, so dense, so page-turning. I ordered more from the library. I went to lots of exhibitions here and there. I picked up Chang’s most recent book “We gon’ be alright” was published in 2016 as Trump’s campaign gathered momentum and highlights the way society at large is the only beneficiary of diversity, which can be traded fro grants and social approval. He goes on to describe what is in effect, the re-segregation of the US. The next day I met with some art friends over coffee. We discussed Trump, our work and Rauschenberg. We went to the Richmond Art Center: saw the wonderful Pogo Park project, life drawings by Joan Brown and an interesting landscape exhibition.  The day was hot and I was so happy to be in Berkeley. I finished Jeff Chang’s book in the afternoon an hour or so before going to the BAMPFA to see White Noise: Black Masks. As the website declares, this is “a sonic stage and environment that includes life-cancelling “white noise” and life-cancelling “white space” while centering marginalized, creative black voices. Local poets (Marvin K. White, Michal MJ Jones, James Cagney, Nancy Johnson, and Arisa White) read their work, surrounded by a circle of loudspeakers emitting white noise. How high must we turn up the volume to be heard over the din of oppression?”

I was blown away by the power of this sonic installation and poetic performance. The event begins with twenty minutes of white noise as the audience assembles and settles. There are five poets fighting against the ever-rising white noise, each becoming more physical and more emphatic in their delivery as the tide of sound envelopes them and us.

The white noise accumulates slowly but surely, and as an audience member you become an active participant, straining and concentrating to hear snatches of words and phrases. While sitting in the hostile space of the white noise we also have snatches of inner space for our own thoughts.

Marvin K. White is someone I love and without question adore. He is a poet and force of nature, and I met him as a fellow member of the ybca Equity cohort for 2017. He embodies the infinite power of a poet.

He stands to begin the performance without ceremony. He delivers what I know are beautifully crafted works, and words that I cannot hear so I can only cling onto snatches here and there. He is serious, the mood is serious. We applaud, the white noise recedes as the next poet stands at the microphone. Michal MJ Jones, a young poet whose work begins with the life-changing experience of being a new parent. In the white noise space I think of my own children and the huge excitement it brought to my life, and how precious each one is. I hear the names Eric Garner and Oscar Grant  and the words “police car” and the white noise is relentlessly drowning out the voice and I want to hold out my hand to all and share my palms full of the words from Jeff Chang’s scholarship. We all know there are countless other names to add to the list. I wonder how many people in the audience are aware that today, September 15, 2017, yet another white policeman has been acquitted of the murder of an African-American man, Anthony Lamar Smith. And straight away another man stands at the microphone. “My name is James Cagney.” he says “And I have a right to be angry.” So true. “And You, You have a right to stand your ground, you have the right … and on he goes with a long index of what I fear to keep hearing but know we must. It’s the hideous list of ‘rights’ that signify white privilege pushing down on any minority. I can’t hear his precise words but I feel that he is so very sickened by it all. And the white noise rises up until he is almost physically drowning and peeping out over the top of the situation, on a day when another white cop faces absolutely no consequence from killing a black man. And he is straining and angry and powerful and we are all rapt. A group of five young blond white women sit off to my right, serious, almost ashen faced. After James Cagney, stands Nancy Johnson whose kind face belies the steel of her words. She moves and animates her words and we hear the odd phrase but the white noise is drowning her out and I want it to stop so that I can hear her soft, kind voice speak her words of white heat. She stands her ground and speaks and performs her poems so tenderly that we want to savor each one but cannot reach.

Finally, Arisa White speaks and again the noise has reduced so that we can hear her begin. Her long poem rises slowly, as the white noise encroaches and she is pushing back, pushing back against it. She speaks and we cannot know the actual words, we focus, we concentrate but the white noise is deafening. She nails the landing, shouting now with rising volume “But you didn’t come, but you didn’t come, but you didn’t come, but you didn’t come, but you didn’t come, but you didn’t come, but you didn’t come, but you didn’t come, but you didn’t come!” A perfect ending, to which applause seems a completely inadequate response, though there is much of it.

The Q & A after the performance was equally profound. Each questioner was handed a microphone but before they could deliver their question in full, the white noise re-appeared and overtook them. The five poets answered, often with replies that may or may not address the unheard question. I like to imagine that the youngsters in the audience were not only surprised by this treatment but also changed by the whole experience as we all sat. Five questions and five questioners were drowned out, and then suddenly it was all over and I thought it was the most wonderful and most profound thing I have experienced in a very long time. I really, really hope this is repeated and repeated and repeated because the cultural work and the heavy lifting it performs are urgently needed here and now, again and again until something shifts.

Studio visit with artist Bill Bruckner

On my way out of The Black Woman Is God exhibit at SOMArts in August, I was delighted to meet artist and access consultant Bill Bruckner. He’d been to a life drawing class nearby and had also visited the show. We got talking and it seemed natural that a studio visit to check out his latest work should follow. I’ve always liked his portraits but he also has some exciting new work that relates to recent eye surgery. We planned to meet soon, share some food and talk life-drawing and approaches to making art.

A full length portrait of slim, white man Bill Bruckner in acrylic paint. He is smiling and balding, looking straight at the viewer and wears jeans and is bare-chested with a single, short arm.
Self-portrait (unfinished), Bill Bruckner, 2012.
Detail of head from full-length portrait of one-armed artist. He is smiling, and is white, balding with some grey hair and wearing round wire-rimmed glasses
Self-portrait (unfinished – detail), Bill Bruckner, 2012.

Sharing works and process

Arriving at Bill’s studio near Balboa Park BART station, I was happily reminded of how important it is for artists to spend time with each other, to touch base, share experiences and swap useful contacts and ideas for future endeavors. Somewhere in there, we talked about the local disability scene and the history of the US, we showed each other our recent work and glimpsed each other’s sketch books. Bill has been drawing and painting versions of the air bubble that was part of his cornea transplant surgery,  images that his ophthalmologist has heard about but never really seen or experienced himself.

Other related paintings we discussed were inspired by the “blood moon” of April 2014. Our conversation came soon after the summer eclipse season of 2017, and his images seemed to resonate and pulse with a lightness of space and time that made them more immediate.

Image: a dark square background has a circle that resembles the moon with a golden hue, suggesting
Air bubble – Full Moon #2, acrylic, Bill Bruckner

I am always drawn to monochrome line work and loved everything black and white that Bill shared with me. He has many beautiful landscapes that remind me of English or European artists and from time to time, he adds to his wonderful series of portraits of people with disabilities and his 2012 self-portrait remains unfinished. Writer and activist Leroy Moore  features Bill’s portrait of him in his new book Black Disability 101.

He has an Open Studio as part of Artspan Week on October 28 and 29. His studio will be open 11am–6pm and is  opposite Balboa Park BART in San Francisco at 2377 San Jose Avenue (corner of Niagara). His studio is # 20 and wheelchair accessible but there is a slightly hair-raising slope for wheelchair riders down to the entrance. You will need to zig-zag down an expanse of parking lot before entering the building, and going down a long corridor to his studio.

 

Community of Practice

Big shout out to local artists Sue Fox from Textile Dream Studio and Corbett OToole for all they do. I’ve just completed a wonderful 12 x 12 challenge with Sue, Corbett and 10 other women artists over the last 12 months. We’ve all traveled together and shared our process, our products and ourselves once a month. Their expertise and wisdom are a dynamic force in the world and we are all so grateful to them.

Much of the Farming Series has been made during this process and as the year drew to a close, the work started to become more sculptural. The gate motif is still making its presence felt and I’m more than ready to do some full on, in your face color. The piece in this photo is also within the 12 x 1 2 inch format, and made of 12, 12 inch square pieces of plastic bubble wrap and re-cycled batting, sewn together to make a cushion. The sculpture makes a crunching sound when pressed, and reminds me of the daily endeavor of reducing the amount of plastic in my life.

Image shows: square white cushion with 8 small red prayer flags sewn to bottom edge. A white gate symbol is stenciled onto a fragment of red silk fabric song with three vertical black lines and hints of blue and yellow paint.
Farming Sculpture No. 1, mixed media (including plastic, paint and silk cloth, 12 x 12 inches

The small red fabric prayer flags are torn rectangles from an old red silk dress. The white gate motif and black vertical lines were applied with a stencil. Image shows: square white cushion with 8 small red prayer flags sewn to bottom edge. A white gate symbol is stenciled onto a fragment of red silk fabric, placed in the middle of the piece with three vertical black lines and hints of blue and yellow paint around the edges.

“Patient No More” at the San Francisco Public Library

Last chance

“Patient No More” has been at the San Francisco Public Library for the last few months and will end its run there on September 3rd. The mural remains in place at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, the project website has all the content from the exhibit, and the traveling version is continuing to make its way around the country.

On Thursday August 24, Cathy Kudlick, director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability hosted a tour for blind and visually impaired visitors, several board members from Cultural Connections and old friends from the Museum Studies Department of SF State University. Cathy spoke of the many access features like Braille, captioned and audio described videos and text specifically written for the disability community that were built-in to the exhibit from the beginning. She also introduced Dennis Billups, a blind 504 protester who was there during the whole “504 occupation” in 1977, and who recounted the close bonds and interdependence that developed between protesters while they occupied the government offices for 26 days. Forty years ago, the many people with disabilities and their allies who took over the federal building in San Francisco to pressure the government to sign the regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act took a stand against indifference and discrimination. Their individual stories still resonate and inform us all today.  As we toured the exhibit, I was reminded of how little I knew about accessibility when I began working on this project, how much I have learned from the Longmore Institute, and how lucky I am to have had an opportunity to work on an exhibit with, for and about people with disabilities, as curator and also as graphic designer.

A view of the Rotunda at the Ed Roberts Campus with mural in the background
A view of “Patient No More” at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California.

Visitor comments

Some new comments in the visitor book were wonderful and I thought it would be great to share them here, as the exhibit comes to a close next weekend.

August 9, 2017

“– On August 9, 2017, a group of about 30 federal employees who work for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission visited the “Patient No More” exhibit. Your hard work truly shines with your presentation. Everything was beautiful. Thank you for educating our staff and the public at large. The struggle continues … (EEOC staff member)”

August 13, 2017

“Awesome work! Keep it going. PS Loved the payphone :)”

“I lived here from 1965–1983, 1987–2000 but had no idea about the issues presented here. Thank you! (JT)”

“Great exhibit! Thanks for displaying this history for all people to see. I believe this is an amazing display on a major part of our history and events. Thanks. (DLP)”

“This exhibit brought me to tears. Thank you for illuminating this amazing event.”

August 24, 2017

“Fantastic exhibit – captures the spirit and essence of the 504 struggle. I was there – my office was across the plaza and I participated when and how I could. Remarkable how much information has been presented in a format so easy to understand. Thank you each and everyone who helped to make this possible. (WC)”

Traveling exhibit moves to new locations outside the Bay Area, 2018

The traveling version of “Patient No More” is currently at the California Museum in Sacramento until November 8, and will then travel to the Southwestern College Library in Chula Vista from January 28–March 25 2018 and will be at the Arkansas State Capital, Little Rock & University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, from August 26 – October 21, 2018.