Wordless Wednesday: Mystery Sunburst from New York

Angular and Architectural (901 Market Street, San Francisco)

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the opening for an exhibit entitled Angular and Architectural in downtown San Francisco. The title itself features elements that reappear in my own photography as well as my viewing and appreciation of art. Plus it was conveniently on the way home from work.

901 Market Street is one of those typical older office buildings one sees downtown (this building dates back to 1912). It is an imposing stone building, a bit heavy and a bit ornate. The inside, however, features an open modern atrium, very clean, full of light and space, and a perfect “canvas” for an art exhibition, particularly one whose theme is architecture and geometry.

What made this particular exhibit stand out was the pairings and combinations of different artworks, among the best combination arrangements I have seen in a while. Many of these combinations involved paintings by John Haag paired with sculptures by Rebecca Fox and Yong Han. We have seen Fox’s and Han’s metal sculptures before at Open Studios and elsewhere, but Haag was a new discovery. Here is one of his paintings, Midnight Seranade, coupled with one of Fox’s sculptures:

[Click to enlarge image.]

The black-and-white of the painting matches the dark color of the sculpture against the white background, along with the thick bands of black and gentle curves.

Here we see another painting, this time coupled with one of Han’s sculptures, last train of thought:

[Click to enlarge image.]

In this painting, the strong angles and thin lines in the painting match the sculpture, and both have a somewhat Art-Deco quality.

Here is one more set, with the sculptures framing the painting from either side:

[Click to enlarge image.]

The curved shapes and bright red in the last painting bring up the red elements in the two sculptures to either side.

This exhibit reminds us how the placement of disparate works in exhibition is itself a creative act, finding elements across artists and media that somehow work together.

Work in progress: Flora Davis, newly commissioned artwork

This is the first of several articles showing the work in progress on a piece I recently commissioned from local artist Flora Davis. I had first met Davis at Open Studios in 2008. I purchased a small cat painting at the time but also reflected on how it might be interesting to combine it with her more recent work that explored abstract metallic surfaces, including series of metal boxes. When I met her again this spring, I proposed the idea of doing a series of metal boxes to be placed together with the cat painting Zeus, and we are now going ahead with it!

Part of the process was choosing the sizes for boxes and then the materials/textures for them. Here are the initial sized boxes along with the cat painting:

As one can see, they range in size from only a few inches to almost as large as the original painting.  In the final piece, they can placed in any number of arrangements around or near the painting, the idea being for one element to overwhelm the others, and to maintain a sense of straight lines and the square shapes without conforming to a single grid.

Next, it was time to select the exact squares from the various metallic surfaces:

The metal surfaces are quite complex and rich in color and texture.  This one with the turqoise/green patina was perhaps the most complex, and thus I wanted it for the smallest of the boxes.  Overall, the colors and textures of the various surfaces tended towards browns, greens and reds that picked up elements of the painting.

Here are some of the metal textures seen in place with the boxes and the cat:

With all the materials and dimensions now specified, the next step will be to cut the surfaces and adhere them to the boxes.    We will see the results in an upcoming article soon!

Preparing for Thursday’s performance: Luna’s video

Over the last few days, I have largely been absorbed by preparations for my next performance. This one includes a more ambitious element, a 10-minute video entitled 月神1 featuring clips of Luna as well as abstract elements reminiscent of experimental filmmakers such as Stanley Brakhage or Gerhard Richter. The video will serve as a backdrop for live electronic improvisation – it is mostly silent, though I did include some sound at various points so the audience could hear Luna’s voice.

Here are a few example frames from the video:



Some of the video clips of Luna were featured here on CatSynth in the past, including her chattering video, or playing with her blue fish toy. The abstract elements were done is a software package called Processing, a programming language for images, animation and interactions.

Musically, I will plan to focus on a mixture of the Evolver and the Octave CAT synthesizers, along with software on the iPhone and laptop. Indeed, this is the first time I will be using the CAT live, mostly because I am reluctant to move it too often.

Of course, this will only cover about one third of the full performance, so I will be drawing from my repertoire of electroacoustic improvisation to round out the remainder of the time. Although I reuse elements, there is always something new to discover in them.

For those in the Bay Area who may be interested in checking it out, the full information is below:

Full Moon Concert Series: Quickening Moon
Thursday, February 25, 8PM
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street @ 6th Street, San Francisco.

The Full Moon Concert Series is an experimental music series offered by Outsound Presents, in partnership with the Luggage Store Gallery. Each concert explores the traditional lore of the Full Moon, and in January, the second annual “Quickening Moon” will feature new music springing to life. First up will be Amar Chaudhary in a solo electronica set (collaborating with his wonder-cat, Luna), followed by the world premiere of a new work for twelve improvisers by Polly Moller, entitled Genesis.

Performa 09: In Order of Appearance

This past weekend, I attended several exhibits and performances from the Performa 09 biennial.

On Saturday evening, I saw the New York premier of In Order of Appearance by Youri Dirkx and Aurélien Froment. The piece began with a spare, white on white stage, which was gradually populated by Dirkx with various geometric objects.

I was quite taken with the silence, which in its way became musical (I have long had a musical appreciation of silence in art). It also allowed me to concentrate on the objects themselves, their shapes, colors and perspectives, and the dramatic gestures Dirkx used to manipulate them. The main objects were a cube, rectangular prism, ball (sphere) and cylinder, all in white to match the walls. Sometimes they were stacked, at other moments placed side by side. There were also miniature versions of these same objects, in a dark gray shade. Beyond these were a variety of shapes, clothing and architectural elements, some in bright primary colors, which gave the impression of a modernist/minimalist gallery in a museum.

I really liked seeing this work, with its minimal take on motion and geometry. The spare stage and the silence made it quite arresting to watch. And like a museum, I could switch my attention from one simple object to another on my own terms.

The piece ended with full complement of objects on stage:

I came to this performance without any context, so I pretty much experienced it as described above. It was only afterwards that I reviewed the notes, and found this excerpt quite matched my own perceptions:

“In Order of Appearance” questions ways of presenting an artwork. The presentation takes place amidst architecture made of paper, modelled on the white cube of the museum. This draft version of the gallery space is used here as an operating table, an abstract playground where objects and artworks are transformed in one way and then another, exploring their identity and functions. The piece explores the different viewpoints that one has of objects according to their context of exposition.

First Thursday October 2009

It’s been a while since we have a reviewed a First Thursday Art Walk here at CatSynth. It is partly because I have been away the first Thursday of several months, and on the ones that I have been here I felt largely uninspired. However, fall is usually the best season for these events, and several exhibits at 49 Geary did catch my interest this time.

The highlight of the evening was actually the combination of visual art, musical performance and film at Steven Wolf Fine Arts. As I entered, bass clarinetist Jeff Anderle was performing a solo piece. We last saw Anderle at the 2008 Switchboard Music Festival. I then noticed the main visual exhibition Taking Pictures by Nicholas Knight. In these photos, Knight captures gallery viewers in the act of taking photographs of art, particularly with small digital cameras or iPhones. I of course needed to play along and take a photo of his photos of people taking photos of art:

In front of Knight’s work, we see the part of the percussion setup for the next performance by the Magik*Magik Orchestra. The piece by composer David Lang (of Bang on a Can fame) featured flower pots purchased from a hardware and garden-supply store (visible on the lower right of the photograph). However, the pots were very well chosen for intonation and resonance, and the performance had a very harmonic and ethereal quality. The three percussionists also remained very in sync with one other through the long tones. The next piece, which was also by David Lang, was titled Little Eye and featured cello plus percussion. It was a contrast in complexity from the cello and simplicity from the percussionists. The cello melody was very classical or baroque, while the percussionists provided a very modern background texture that featured rubbing on rusted wheels. There were also individual notes on a xylophone and piano/keyboard that added a different texture.

It turns out this performance of David Lang’s works was in support of the soon-to-be-released film (untitled), for which Lang provided the music. The comedy features a new music composer and Chelsea art galleries, and I am quite eager to see it when it comes out.

At the Haines Gallery, I was particularly drawn to the exhibit by Julia Oschatz entitled Odd One Out. The room was painted in a geometric black-and-white pattern, which matched the quality of Oschatz’s largely geometric and abstract drawings on the wall.

The drawings had a very stark quality to them in terms of the shapes and textures. Rather than just abstract geometry, the drawings depicted other worlds. Some seemed to be directly taken from science fiction, others more surreal. There were also several videos featuring a mouse-like character experience all sorts misadventures. On further inspection, I realized that a small version of this character was present in most of the drawings as well. One just had to know to look for it.

Once again, the Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery featured large abstract paintings, this time by Gustavo Ramos Rivera. Rivera’s large canvases are brightly colored and feature large shapes that seem like signs or icons in an unknown language. One can see repeated shapes with different color palettes in each painting. The sculptures that dotted the gallery for the exhibition featured similar motifs and complemented the paintings well.

Aaron Parazette’s paintings at Gregory Lind Gallery seemed reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s famous neo-plastic works, but with a more varied color palette and some different shapes. The most stark pieces of the evening were Freddy Chandra’s retangular color fields of acrylic, resin and graphite at Brian Gross Fine Art .

We conclude with a very different exhibit that again brings together visual art and music. Fifty Crows Gallery featured the solo exhibition Curse of the Black Gold by photographer Ed Kashi. Perhaps what got my attention more than the photographs themselves was the music of Femi Kuti, son of the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.

Expanded Strangelet at oakuff

Last night I performed with Expanded Strangelet at the Oakland Underground Film Festival. The Expanded Strangelet was described as “Lucio Menagon’s peripatetic ensemble with Suki O’kane, Michael Zellner, Jonathan Segel, John Hanes, Amar Chaudhary, and Allen Whitman.”

This was a combined “music jam” and “projectionist jam”, with several improvised video and film projections on the screen, a free-form piece that followed the more formal screenings earlier in the evening. The screen was filled with several changing images projected from different angles:

It was particularly interesting in the context of the theatre itself. This was one of those classic cavernous movie theaters with stylized art-deco details, but with very contemporary abstract lighting in deep blues, reds and violets, as can be seen on the right side of the image above.

It was in this context that we set up on the floor of the theater and made music. Basically, the performance was a collection of bleeps and bloops, noises, glitches, loops, crashes and snippets of melody and harmony here and there. Nonetheless, it was all musically done with phrasing and dynamics, loosely “conducted” with ongoing whispered directions from Suki O’kane.

In order to keep things light, I bright a very small setup, consisting of red Korg Kaos Pad, an iPhone now loaded with multiple software synthesizers, a circuit-bend instrument with photovoltaic modulation, along with a small mixer and amplifier.

As expected, it was difficult to pay attention to the screen during the performance, while attempting to manage the instruments and listen to the other performers. Fortunately, I did get to see the first half of the projectionist jam with another group providing the music: POD BLOTZ (Suzy Poling) and lazyboy (Bruce Anderson, Dale Sophiea and Gregory Hagan). The combination of images, sounds and environment combining old and new elements, noises and images, was quite captivating.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the beer from Linden Street Brewery. I particularly liked the stout.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Enjoying the outdoors.

Our weather continues to be unusually warm and sunny (considering the reputation of San Francisco summers from Mark Twain’s apocryphal comment). And Luna continues to enjoy time out in our little urban garden.

Here we see her strolling:

And stopping to pose in front a metal screen sculpture:

Right now, we have two sculptures outdoors: the black metal screen, and the rusted metal work Pierced Screen by J. Michael Smiley.

This weekend is looking to be exceptionally warm again (well into the 90s in this neighborhood), so Luna has wisely retreated indoors.


Weekend Cat Blogging #221 is being hosted by Mr. Tigger at the M-Cats Club.

The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at When Cats Attack.

And of course the Friday Ark is the modulator. But it looks like they are moving to a new “Modulator Manor”. Recalling the chaos but subsequent rewards when we moved to the new CatSynth HQ, we wish them well!

Wordless Wednesday

Art Overload! SF Open Studios (and the Anderson Collection)

[For Weekend Cat Blogging, please follow this link].

Since last Sunday (after my performance at the Y2K8 Looping Festival), visual art as taken over. October is Open Studios in San Francisco, where artists open up their studios to for public visits. I took advantage of the opportunity to get acquainted with local artists, mostly in the neighborhoods in walking distance, and the local art scene.

Taking in so much art and so many artists in such a short period of time is quite overwhelming, and I will only be able to describe a small fraction of what I saw. What makes a particular artist memorable and noteworthy is not only the quality of his or her work, but the conversations and personal connections. In some cases, I remember artists whose work may not fit my own aesthetic, but whose meeting was memorable. It was also the setting, and how their work fit in with my vision and sense of the neigbhorhoods.

Potrero Hill, The Mission District, and Bernal Heights

My first day out was last Sunday during which I visited several large studios in the Potrero Hill and Mission districts. The first stop was Art Explosion Studios. Here I met and had a change to talk with Amy Seefeldt; and Victoria Highland, whose large city-scape on a hill in front of a bay (where have I seen that before?) was one of the better large-scale paintings I saw. Heidi McDowell had an interesting large-scale painting featuring a young girl at Lassen National Monument, which I visited last year. The recent work of Melisa Philips is perhaps closer to my own interests. One of her paintings featuring stenciled text is shown to the right. I have discussed here on CatSynth in the past my interest in text within visual art, and whether the words and letters are simply visual elements or retain their meaning. Melisa Philips and I had an interesting conversation about this topic. Additionally, her earlier work includes some of the more interesting female figures I encountered on this particular day.

It is hard to tell specifically where Potrero Hill ends and the Mission begins, and many of the venues on this particular trip sit in that ambiguous area of old industrial buildings dotted with lofts and art spaces. Within these spaces, I encountered not only traditional fine art, but other media as well, some which would have been traditionally classified as “craft.” There were several jewelry makers, for example – there is a fuzzy dividing line at which things like jewelry become art, perhaps when they become more an item to collect and display, rather than to wear. There were the chandeliers by “adventurer” Derek E. Burton, which were quite intricate and intriguing, and although they are completely opposite of my personal style and the style of CatSynth HQ, I enjoyed hearing Derek’s story and his passion for his work. Aliza Cohen presented mix-media art, but it was her wool pillows that caught my attention. I did also encounter more traditional media, such as the photography of Christine Federici that incorporated some architectural and space details, as well as a mixture of natural and artificial textures.

Interestingly, it seemed that “modern” art, which is my main interest, was a distinct minority among the works encountered on this first trip. Certainly, there were many artists working with abstraction, but overall it did not have the stark geometric or textural qualities that I have come to expect.

When searching for “abstract” on the main website, the work of Pauline Crowther Scott showed up on the list. Her works features images of cats. Cats and abstraction seem like a good combination, so I made the trip out to her home studio in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. The trip to the narrow and sometimes vertical streets and older houses in this neighborhood in the southeast of the city, on a somewhat chilly late afternoon, was an interesting experience in itself. Scott’s work was much less abstract than I had expected (she was in fact surprised by the designation), but she did have several works featuring cats that were added to earlier (and indeed somewhat abstract) images. One example was Three Cats on a Bedspread.

South of Market and Mission Bay

This weekend featured open studios the South of Market (SOMA) area, which is my own neighborhood. Overall, the works I encountered were decidedly more modern, and often seemed to take inspiration from the industrial and urban surroundings. Indeed, the mixed media works of Rebecca Kerlin draw upon the highway overpasses, such as I-80 and the approach to the Bay Bridge, that I have featured in many posts here at CatSynth, such as in this Wordless Wednesday post. Her work incorporates photos of familiar landmarks and details into mixed media pieces.

One of my longer pieces about walking in SOMA included this photograph featuring an onramp to the Bay Bridge over Bryant Street, near the landmark Clock Tower:

It turns out that building in the foreground contains several artist studios. Among the artists at this locations was Paule Dubois Dupuis. Her work includes large abstract modernist paintings, the type of art I am currently quite interested in. Some of her pieces also included stenciled text, another common theme among works that draw my attention. In addition to the art itself, her studio is in quite a location, with windows that look out onto the bay, the industrial/office buildings and the highway supports, depending on the direction of one’s gaze. I was inspired to take this photo:

At Clara Street Studios, I encountered the work of Jerry Veverka, whose work involves plays on architecture and geometry, with some surrealist elements. I had seen an example at the SomArts exhibit, and was particularly drawn to his “Impossible Cities Series,” an example of which is displayed to the right. (Click on the image for a full size version at his website.)

Two other photographers I also encountered at included familiar sights from both New York and San Francisco in their work, and I had fun identifying and discussing them. I have unfortunately misplaced both photographers’ contact info (and I cannot find them on the original list. Hopefully, I will be able to get in touch them soon.

Back at Soma Artists Studios (same location as Rebecca Kerlin), I saw an interesting progression the work of Flora Davis. Her early work featured oil paintings of cats, while her more recent work involves sheet metal. They were quite separate, indeed they were displayed in two separate studios. However, I think it would be interesting to place one or two of the smaller cat paintings next to her multi-panel metal works, and considering them as a unit. Indeed, it would summarize my experience as modernism, abstraction, geometry, and cats.

After an exhausting but rewarding walk around the neigbhorhood, I did have to time for a brief excursion south to some studios in the Mission Bay area, which includes much of the old industrial waterfront.

The view behind the studios at 1 Rankin Street onto the Islais Creek Channel were quite inspiring, even without the presence of art. Fitting with the environment, this studio featured metal sculptures. The large sculptures of Béla Harcos greeted visitors. No matter how much I am supposed to be looking for prints and paintings, I am still drawn to abstract metal sculpture. Rebecca Fox also had large works on display, and I able to glimpse her workspace and her collection of metal waiting to be used. The “artist blacksmith” Wolf Thurmeier has some smaller, even “miniature” abstract metal sculptures (what I would consider “apartment-sized”), forged from recycled metal.


The Anderson Collection

Quite by coincidence, I also had the opportunity this weekend to attend a private tour of the Anderson Art Collection. The collection is located in Menlo Park (south of San Francisco, near Stanford University), and features late 20th century and early 21st century American art. It includes over 800 works, spanning about five decades and several notable styles and schools, including color fields, minimalism, the New York school of the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg). There were also recent computer-assisted works by Chuck Close, as well as emerging artists that the Andersons are supporting. One interesting discovery for me was Frank Lobdell. I will have to look for him on the outside. I found it interesting how some of his work resembled the Jasper Johns’ prints featured in the collection (especially the reductions in the very detailed brochures).

This visit to one of the premier private collections was an interesting contrast to many local independent artists over the past week. I would to think that my art experiences will continue to include both.