Time Traveling With The Scottsboro Boys

All aboard!  This train is travelling to Dixie, but not the “Hooray Dixie Land” sung in lyrics, it is Jim Crow’s Dixie that is the subject matter of this musical.  The Scottsboro Boys, playing at the Vineyard Theatre, is a portal into a time in America’s history that has been forgotten.  It almost seems peculiar that a story as heavy as the Scottsboro Boys trial,  a series of trials in which nine black youths were tried and convicted of raping two white women, would end up on stage as a musical, but it is the musical numbers that makes the subject matter more palatable.  The musical takes on some of elements of minstrel show and is a nonstop rollercoaster of emotions.  At times I was offended, other times I was brought to the brink of tears and at certain times I could not help but to burst with laughter, regardless of what I was feeling I was always entertained.

I enjoy viewing productions in which the actors play multiple roles because the audience gets a true glimpse of the actors’ range.  The cast with exception of Sharon Washington (the omnipresent female figure) play several parts and the character changes are as smooth as the choreography. 

Each character was thoroughly developed and the passion for the material was reflected in the actors’ performances. Another interesting aspect of the production is the cast with exception of the Interlocutor, brilliantly portrayed by two-time Tony award winner John Cullum, are all black.   Watching black actors playing white southerners so convincingly proved the level of depth and talent that illuminated the stage.  Lights make the actors come alive, but it is the actors that make the stage come alive.   

When the curtain opens with a woman waiting to get on a bus then the mood suddenly becomes electric as Mr. Bones, Mr. Tambo and the Scottsboro boys make a raucous entrance down the aisle steps to the stage for the first musical number “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.”    The set is basically comprised of chairs and wooden planks that are seamlessly transitioned by the cast to suit a scene or musical number, and it is the musical numbers that are the real treat of this production.  “Financial Advice” was a scream, “Make Friends with the Truth” was equally as hilarious, “You Can’t Do Me” was compelling, but my favorite was “Electric Chair.” 

The thought of turning capital punishment into a song and dance may appear to be reaching, but reaching is exactly what John Kander, Fred Ebb and Susan Stroman did and the result is a thrilling tap sequence that Bojangles and Gregory Hines would have been proud of.  From the opening number to the closing one, the songs and choreography transformed The Scottsboro Boys from experimental theater into a rootin’ tootin’ time.  I was completely mesmerized.

Bold, contemporary and filled with vigor, The Scottsboro Boys sizzles with electricity, hats off to the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb and Susan Stroman.  I also salute the cast; they worked like a well-oiled machine oozing with experience and raw soul.  In the wake of President Obama’s historic ascension to the highest office in our country, it may be easy for some, the youth in particular, to overlook this nation’s turbulent history with regards to race.  The most important component about The Scottsboro Boys is that it builds a bridge between the past and present and through quality art like this production an interest can be sparked inspiring us to learn more about the countless stories that prelude the day Rosa Parks decided not to go to the back of the bus.

Photos:  Carol Rosegg    

Reflections of a Colorist

The use of or lack of color is the foundation of most artwork.  Color draws upon memories and emotions.  It can make a grand or simple statement, or just be pleasing to the eye.  Washingtonian Robert Kent Wilson has brought his idea of color to the island of Manhattan with Pixel by Pixel, currently showing at Raandesk Gallery until April 16.  Pixel by Pixel marks the culmination of a decade of Robert’s work.  “I don’t know if people are really going to get it,” Robert comments when asked what he would want the audience to take away from the exhibition. 

“This is ten years of mental snapshots that I have articulated in larger form.  I see them as little scenes, little vignettes that one person has captured.  Sometimes it’s like focusing on a little bit of color.  Other times it’s focusing on a scene and taking this one little thing that’s going on there that most people would never look at.  So it’s kind of like I’m a photographer capturing things and putting it out there.”

Robert Kent Wilson is a native of D.C., but one would be hard pressed to find political statements in his work.  “It has caused me to not focus on politics in my art,” Robert remarks about living in our nation’s capital.  “I choose to focus on what I consider to be positive artwork,” he adds.  “Usually my messages are more social than political statements.  I like more positive influences; I think it makes a big difference.”

Although his political views can be seen in his work, Robert Kent Wilson does not beat the viewer over the head with highly wrought displays of political opinions.  Instead, his beliefs deepen the depth of each piece.   “My work always has a statement, but is the statement shocking?  My meanings are how people respond to color and how people respond to composition,” Robert affirms. 

 

 

A perfect example of a colorful hidden statement in Robert Kent Wilson’s artwork is #05 (pictured on the left), an awe inspiring piece that blends multi-hues of blue, green and hints of brown creating harmonious balance on canvas.  #05 is Robert’s homage to the shore, a location that has been a constant muse for artists since the beginning of time.  Looking at piece I got lost in the colors; they seemed endless, similar to the feelings I receive when I stare at the ocean, infinite and hopeful.  I wanted to dive into the canvas and float with the tides as they crashed against the shore.

 Their America (not shown in the exhibition) is another example of how the use of color and subtlety create a powerful image of beauty.  Upon first glance, the piece seems to be a commentary about America’s roots.  The rustic reds blended in the cowboy’s faces illustrate people that are of the land; however as Robert pointed out when we spoke, art is subjective.  The subtle statement waiting to be discovered in this work is about homosexuality, but unless the viewer was actually looking for the statement, they may not find it.  Then again, the statement is whatever the viewer wants it to be.  Robert prefers when the audience is able to enjoy his art by finding the element that makes them personally connect with a piece.

One of the reasons I believe it is easy for anyone, regardless of their knowledge of art, to connect with Robert Kent Wilson’s body of work is his focus on an element he calls “discarded stimuli.”  “Things always aren’t what they appear to be,” he states, “There’s more than what is put right in front of your face, and often times there’s something more interesting going on when people are put off guard.  My original inspiration for disregarded stimuli is the road trips my father, brothers and I would take growing up.  Everyone else would be sleep, except I couldn’t sleep, so as the car drove down the road I’d take pictures of the countryside and the people, analyzing a girl or boy in the backseat of a car passing by.  They were all momentary but there was something about them that stuck.”

Robert Kent Wilson took those moments and other experiences (as he also admitted as child he felt put to the side) and created imagery where disregarded flashes in time would live in vivid splashes of color.  In fact, his use of color is captivating and exquisite and is another reason why his work would appeal to the public.  The microcosms he uses to explain the larger story are well selected and along with his use of mix media tell a story that is even more revealing then the bigger picture.  Although there is always more than meets the eye with his work, one can simply enjoy the beauty of color, even if the colors are black and white. 

To learn more about Robert Kent Wilson visit www.robertkentwilson.com or http://raandeskgallery.com/artist.php?artistId=41.

Photos:  Courtesy of Raandesk Gallery

The Memory of Fashion

The pair of jeans I wore when I went roller skating and met the worst mistake of my life…the black suit that I have worn to every funeral since I was 25…the denim jumper I wore when I got my ears pierced at the age of 12…the navy blue straight leg silk pants with embroidered baby’s breath flowers I wore on my first overnight date with the man that taught me what true love really meant… all articles of clothing cloaked in memories.  It is true that women cling to the clothing they wore as events fill the chapters in the books of our lives, after all what’s a story without the accessories that give it vivid detail.  This notion is brilliantly and hilariously explored in the off-Broadway production of Love, Loss and What I Wore playing at The Westside Theatre.

 

Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron

Based on the best-selling book by Ilene Beckerman (and adapted for the stage by Nora and Delia Ephron) Love, Loss and What I Wore is a collection of stories performed by an all-star rotating cast that has included Rhea Perlman, Rosie O’Donnell, Rita Wilson and Tracee Ellis Ross.  Each cast performs in four week intervals.  The March cast stars Didi Conn, Fran Drescher, Jayne Houdyshell, Carol Kane and Natasha Lyonne. The play starts and ends with Gingy’s Story with other narratives woven in between.  The cast, dressed in black, sit and deliver the monologues. The set is a tapestry of dresses changing in color. 

March Cast

The play covers the full gamut of emotions from a fashionable perspective.  At times I was bursting with laughter and at others I found myself fending off the lump forming in my throat.  It even covers topics like the frenzy women experience when trying on outfits in the dressing room, the obsession with being fat or thin, the hell women put their feet through for a pair of sexy stilettos, all topics that drive women schizophrenic.   Other stories are more personal like Boots, an anecdote about neglect, even fashion icon Madonna was paid homage.

Beautiful, touching and filled with humor Love, Loss and What I Wore intimately tell tales that any woman can relate to and provide a little insight into a woman’s mind for the men sitting in the audience.  In fact, my greatest confirmation that this play is a must see was provided by the man that accompanied me.  This is a man that I thought had the inside track on women, but to my surprise he left the theater enlightened.  Mental note, the plum dress and limited edition patchwork Timberlands I wore when I helped a man from Mars learn more about the planet Venus.  A new memory has been created.

Photos:  Carol Rosegg courtesy of O&M Co.

Spring Dreams with Shakespeare

When the first act of Blessed Unrest’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ended with a spirited interpretative dance to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, it became evident that this was not my mother’s interpretation of William Shakespeare.  But in truth, the signs were already there.  From the first scene of the play, the physicality in which the actors approached the material changed my perception of this play.  Instead of focusing on the dialogue, I was more interested in the emotions of the characters brilliantly displayed by the actors.  The almost clichéd idea of loving someone that doesn’t return your love and the trickery one might devise to change that situation spells for a bad romance indeed.

Jessica Burr

Blessed Unrest is a non-profit experimental theatre company that has been generating original work since 1999.  Director Jessica Burr has been running the company for nine years.  “What really grabs me about this story is the love relationships,” Jessica states about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “So we worked a lot [the relationships] to find the heart of them.  Often times they are glossed over, but we really wanted to get to the meat of it and make it very real and very passionate.”

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream definitely has passion.  In fact, it is all heart, soul and fluid movement.  “As a company we train every month in physical theater.  I like to see bodies moving.  It’s just pleasing,” Jessica explains as she smiles. The actors seamlessly weaved through the production playing multiple characters.  The authenticity in which they approach each character led me to believe the cast took a class in multiple personality syndrome.  Another enjoyable aspect was the transition of Lysander, played by Stephen Drabicki, to a hearing impaired young man and the company’s incorporation of sign language into the script.  It added another layer to an already intricate story.

At the core of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are the themes of love and obsession which makes it perfect for a non-profit troupe like Blessed Unrest.  It could be said that art and the business of entertainment is a bad romance.  So often artists remain in the theater because they are in love or even obsessed by what they do.  Unfortunately as much as the arts are coveted in this country, our government doesn’t provide the financial support to the arts as other countries.  It is sad to think that in a city as creative as Manhattan that an artist simply cannot live as an artist and have their craft be their only occupation.  The love of breathing life into new and classic material is inherent with the members of Blessed Unrest, many of whom were in attendance on the opening night lending their support in the audience and various off-stage roles.  “There’s something to be said for obstacles and challenges, and I really do think it makes us stronger and makes us more creative because we have to find ways to make money,” Jessica says.

Blessed Unrest’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be playing at The Interart Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street, until April 12.  Blessed Unrest claims to be theatre for the adventurous, and their declaration did not disappoint.  Also, with ticket prices set at $15, it is a journey that is affordable for every New Yorker.  FAMERS I suggest an evening frolicking in Shakespeare’s magical woods with this innovative company.  I found it to be a dream that is hard to forget. 

To learn more visit www.blessedunrest.org.

Rock On

New York City and L.A. have an endless rivalry. It can be seen in music, fashion and overall lifestyle.  Growing up in the ‘80s, there was not much I envied about L.A.  After all New York City had it all, with the exception of Aqua Net teased, spandex clad, lipstick wearing studs turning themselves into Rock Gods.  In the ‘80s if you had dreams of Rock stardom, you went to L.A. and in 2010 the old Sunset Strip has returned in like a totally major way in Rock of Ages on Broadway.

Rock of Ages is a hilarious musical comedy that explores following your dreams and the music of the great hair bands.    Walking into the Brooks Atkinson Theater I felt as if I was entering a Mötley Crüe video.  The strip was alive at the Bourbon Room, the setting for the musical, and was completed with a video monitor, huge signs and a band on stage.  The Bourbon Room has all the makings of a sordid‘80’s bar where Rock ruled and debauchery was not far behind. 

Emily Padgett is a wonderful as the young, naive Sherrie, the young small town girl who just arrives in L.A. in pursuit of an acting career.  Her bright, bubbly smile and fantastic singing voice is a great addition to the cast, and her legs in those mini skirts are not so shabby either. 

American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis was born to play the role of Drew, the sensitive rocker with a soul.  His voice simply shines in this musical and it is no wonder why he received a Tony Award nomination.  Maroulis shows why he will be an idol for a long time to come.

James Carpinello is comical as rock-star Stacee Jaxx.  His portrayal of the out-of-control, self-absorbed frontman for the fictitious band Arsenal is extremely convincing.

Mitchell Jarvis

Mitchell Jarvis is the true break out star of this musical as Lonny, the narrator and Dennis’ (the owner of the Bourbon Room) sidekick, played by Adam Dannheisser.  Jarvis is a cola shooting through the nose crack-up as he takes the audience through the plot with humorous banter.  The unrequited relationship between Adam and Lonny is also funny. 

Paul Schoeffler is entertaining as the German corporate raider Hertz looking to rid the Sunset Strip of all its perversion and turn it into a clean, respectable place. 

Tom Lenk and Lauren Molina are a scream as Franz and Regina.  Their discovery of love through protests to keep the strip alive helps to add another layer to the plot.  Michele Mais is simply marvelous as Justice, a role she has played since the start of Rock of Ages, the strip club owner with a heart.

The major component of Rock of Ages is of course the music and is the heart and soul of this production.  It revisits the best of ‘80s hair bands with music from Poison, Journey, Styx, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sista and Asia.  I particularly like the way in which the songs were used to illustrate the cast’s emotions.  When Stacee Jaxx arrives at the Bourbon Room for an interview with a reporter, he sings Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” to describe what it is like to be a rock star.  When Sherrie arrives, we are reminded of her innocence with “Sister Christian”.   As the cast deals with conflict they belt out “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”.  The careful selection of the music in Rock of Ages is the reason why it is a winner and a musical that I predict will have a long life with multiple incarnations.  

After almost a year on Broadway, it is apparent that this production is solidly built on Rock n’ Roll.  But for me it is built on nostalgia.  I thoroughly enjoyed singing along with the cast to songs that I used to listen to while doing my homework.  I equally enjoyed watching the audience enjoy the performance.  The audience was a tapestry of young and old faces and families.  The idea that there was a “Sherri and Drew” in the audience that met and fell in love to these tunes and are now sharing them with their kids was a thought that was endearing to say the least.  It was great to see how many young adults were in the audience enjoying the show, raising their lighters and rocking in their seats. 

Another element of the show that sparked a hint of nostalgia was the parallel between the Sunset Strip and a beloved area of mine.  The quest to clean up the Strip and make it “family friendly” is similar to the transformation of Times Square.  When I was a kid Times Square was seedy with strip clubs galore and was not a place to be at night unless you were looking for sex or trouble.  It was dark, dangerous and forbidden, and I loved it.  Now that Times Square is a string of boulevards dedicated to corporate branding, it makes me miss the Times Square I remember as a child even more.  In some respects, the soul has been taken out and replaced with a strip mall.  One thing I took away from Rock of Ages is that grit is good.  Long live Rock n’ Roll!

Photos:  RockOfAgesMusical.com

Everyday Elegance of Yuken Teruya

Tory Burch (Pink), cuts on paper, glue, 6 x 16 x 12 inches

No artist personifies the quote, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” better than Yuken Teruya.  His ability to take cardboard cereal, shoe and fruit boxes as well as other objects and transform them into useful works of beauty and grace brings a more noble purpose than the objects original purpose.  Currently showing an exhibit at the Josée Bienvenu Gallery until March 27,   Yuken Teruya turns a simple, white-wall space into a conversation piece.

Earn A Lot of Money; No Need Send Any Letter; Send Money Home First,

Upon entering the main room of the gallery I was greeted with various cardboard boxes strategically placed around the floor.  The boxes served as the video players and projectors for Earn A Lot of Money; No Need Send Any Letter; Send Money Home First, the artist’s five channel video installation.  Earn A Lot of Money; No Need Send Any Letter; Send Money Home First is an entertaining and intelligent labyrinth that examines at the multi-ethnic neighborhoods in New York.  The videos display the voyage of tiny paper boats as they float along the gutter of a street.  The boats contain flags from Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States.

Dawn, Knives, Butterfly Chrysalis, Glue

In the smaller rooms of the gallery are works from Dawn, in which an object of his home island of Okinawa serves as a source of inspiration. A chrysalis placed on the edges of different items such as the sole of a shoe, end of a knife or butt of a gun changes the purpose of these random things into a home where a butterfly will be born.  With subtlety, Yuken Teruya shows that anything has the possibility to transcend.

Dawn, Shoe, Butterfly Chrysalis, Glue

Before leaving the gallery I stopped to take one last look at Earn A Lot of Money; No Need Send Any Letter; Send Money Home First.  I began to liken myself and all New Yorkers to those paper boats and hanging chrysalis.  We are all floating along the streets of New York, bobbing and weaving through traffic, sometimes burrowing underneath in an effort to find that perfectly random place to nestle ourselves, create a cocoon and eventually emerge to be someone greater.   It is this understated commentary that makes Yuken Teruya’s exhibit so powerful and a must see for anyone evolving in the Big Apple.

Photos:  Josée Bienvenu Gallery and Yuken Teruya Studio

Love Is In the Air

With all the leftover Valentine’s Day cards, candy and stuffed animals littering the shelves at Duane Reade and Walgreens, the remnants of the world’s biggest day of manufactured adoration is still lingering in the city, but are special shared menus, boxes of chocolate and Hallmark cards true representations of love?  Love is more than corporate displays of affection.  Last Friday, I attended the opening performance of “all about love”, an off-Broadway production at the Paradise Factory Theater. 

Donysha Smith

“all about love” is an engaging and truthful exploration of love and its many facets.  Written by Donysha Smith, who is also making her directorial debut, “all about love” is a wonderful reflection of a lifetime labor.  “I used to put on plays at three-years-old.  I used to put the tablecloth around my neck and become a different character and perform for my family and extended family at cookouts,” she says.  Smith is a Philadelphia born playwright, producer and actress.  She earned a B.F.A in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.  She has held several roles in NYC Theater, Media and Fashion.   “This is all I ever wanted to do my entire life and I’m finally at a place in my life where it’s like this is what I’m going to do,” Donysha adds.

Wesley Voley, Zdenko Slobodnik and Aubyn Peterson

“all about love” is a tapestry that combines three perspectives of love.  The first, Three Point Stance at the Edge of the World, journeys into the psyche of soldiers living for the love they receive through letters from family and lovers at home.  Zdenko Slobodnik, an Iraq War soldier, and Wesley Voley, a Union soldier during the Civil War, provide a harsh glimpse into the alienation, somber, stressful and loveless existence that a soldier during wartime endures.  Sometimes love is a desperate thing.  Through Slobodnik’s and Voley’s narration of the letters they send home the audience can feel  their desperation and frustration to get home, back to the people they love.  The choreography in this scene is sharp and aggressive and compliments the performances given by these two actors.

Bianca Lemaire and Erickson Dautruche

The second, Carmelita 1:13, provides a modern “Thorn Birds” look at love.  The scene involves a young couple in the throws of a break up.  Carmelita’s love for the lord is driving a wedge between her relationship and is pushing her and her man to the brink of insanity.  When falling in and out of love, one can sometimes forget how another person’s upbringing and religious beliefs can affect their views on love.  Carmelita 1:13 is a poignant observation of a relationship from the other side of the spectrum.  As the characters played by Bianca Lemaire and Erickson Dautruche share memories while also expressing anger and confusion, the audience is reminded of how a breakup is just as multi-dimensional as a relationship and sometimes people must break apart in order to find their way back to each other.

Jeff Kozel and Warren Katz

After a brief intermission, the audience is treated to an amusing display of Casual Addictions and Lost & Found, the third and final scene.  Lost and Found is a touching story about acceptance and unconditional love.  While shopping for a family dinner, an elderly gay couple comes to grips with failed past relationships, a disapproving daughter and dementia.  As the scene ends, they learn the only way to move forward is with love, and a dance doesn’t hurt either.  Jeff Kozel, Warren Katz and Aubyn Peterson are extremely convincing and moved me to the brink of tears.

Aiding in the transition of the scenes are video interludes and the music of Stevie Wonder. “I think that Stevie’s music is hopeful, it’s honest [and] it is resonant,” Donysha explains about the use of Stevie Wonder’s music in the show, “He’s one of those artists that everybody loves.  Everyone knows a Stevie Wonder song.  No matter what their age, class [or] race, everybody can hear one of his songs and is like that is my jam.”  The video contains footage of New Yorkers talking about their perception of love and their experience with it, and creates a love letter to New Yorkers in general.

 A percentage of ticket sales from “all about love” will go to the Fistula Foundation, www.fistulafoundation.org.   The Fistula Foundation a nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising awareness of and funding for fistula treatment, prevention and educational programs worldwide. 

“all about love” will be playing at the Paradise Factory Theater until February 21. I suggest all FAMERS get a dose of love before this productions ends. 

To purchase tickets for “all about love”, please visit www.allaboutloveshow.com.

Photos courtesy of D. Austin

The Interactive Art of Broadway

“The Lullaby of Broadway” from the musical 42nd St is one of the most recognizable songs to ever be sung on a theater stage, but in the wake of the digital age, the adaptation of this lullaby is being delivered differently than when the tune was originally written.

 It is fair to say that the internet has become a bit of a conundrum to those in the arts and entertainment field.  Industries like publishing and music have suffered while trying to decipher how to adapt and maximize the new way in which the world receives art and information and ultimately remain profitable.  Broadway has not been exempt in this digital wave, but here to navigate Broadway and off-Broadway productions through vast wilderness of the internet is Art Meets Commerce.

Starting with one client, a small off-Broadway production at the SoHo Playhouse titled Room Service, three years ago Art Meets Commerce has grown into a multi-services company that provides internet marketing, web design, advertising and video packages to an array of Broadway and off-Broadway shows.  Their current client roster includes Fela!, A Little Night Music, Stomp, Rock of Ages and the upcoming revival of Promises Promises.  

The AMC team is comprised of individuals with a wealth of knowledge and experience within the entertainment industry giving them an advantage when crafting exclusive, boutique campaigns designed for needs of each show.   With their deep understanding of internet branding, Art Meets Commerce’s clients are not only exposed to Generation Y, but other generations as well.  Their hands-on approach allows them to cultivate a following for the shows that transfer over when a client takes a show from off-Broadway to Broadway, as was the case for Fela! and Rock of Ages.

“I think it is very important to reach out to new audiences, to get them excited about the shows we work on.  There is a misconception that the internet and social networking is for kids, [but] I completely disagree,” states Jim Glaub, AMC’s interactive creative director, “I think it’s an easy tool to communicate and that’s why people of all ages are grasping on to it. It’s still very new; it’s changed so much from just a year ago.  There are so many things that have changed with how to use social networking [and] the internet.  For me it is about trying to keep on top of the changes and meanwhile test and try new things for each of the clients.”

There is nothing like the experience of live entertainment whether it is a play, a musical or a performance from a dance ensemble or Grammy award-winning artist.  The energy that is shared between the audience and the performers on stage creates a spark of electricity that cannot be duplicated making each performance a unique journey.  It is this exact distinct power that is can be lost when trying to translate live theater to the internet and sites like You Tube, and it is this dynamism that Art Meets Commerce infuses into social networking sites and other client sites.  As a person that has had a lifelong love affair with the arts, it appears to me that Art Meets Commerce is a necessity for any show.  By remaining on the pulse of live theater and the internet, AMC ensures that the lights of off-Broadway and the Great White Way remain luminous for decades to come.

Literary World Loses J.D. Salinger

My question is did we ever really have him?  The facts are well documented; J.D. Salinger was born January 1, 1919 in New York City.  He attended public schools on Manhattan’s West Side.    In 1940, “The Young Folks”, a short story about several aimless youths, debuted in the March-April 1940 issue of Story magazine.   In 1946, we were introduced to the character of Holden Caulfield when “Slight Rebellion Off Madison”, a Manhattan-based story about an embittered teenager with the pre-war willies, was published in The New Yorker.

In 1951, Holden Caulfield’s story was revealed to the world in “The Catcher in the Rye.”  “The Catcher in the Rye” became a tremendous success.  Currently it sells approximately 250,000 copies each year and has been translated into almost all of the world’s major languages.  Along with the success of the novel, Holden Caulfield has become a symbol for teenage defiance.  In 2005, Time Magazine  listed “The Catcher in the Rye” as of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.  Salinger went on to publish “Nine Stories”, “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.”

Even more famous for his body of work, Salinger became known for retreating from the fame he once sought.  He ordered his agent to burn any fan mail and in 1953 he abandoned Manhattan and the literary world and relocated to a 90-acre compound on a wooded hillside in Cornish, NH.  Ironically, his defiant stance against his own success made him more intruiging.  The idea of a tortured genius hiding from the world is story in itself and there were a few takers wanting to share their accounts with J.D. Salinger including his daughter Margaret, British literary critic Ian Hamilton, and former lover Joyce Maynard.

There have been few public figures that guarded their privacy as fiercely as J.D. Salinger.  Perhaps the reason for this was not because of the success of The Catcher of the Rye, but because of the novel itself.  Salinger once stated in an interview, “My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book … [I]t was a great relief telling people about it.”  Writers often draw from personal experiences to create the alternate worlds that readers transport themselves to in novels and short stories.  It is my belief that with the creation of Holden Caulfield, Mr. Salinger revealed too much about himself.  Maybe J.D. Salinger originally wanted to write the great American novel that would truly make him the real catcher in the rye, saving all the disaffected youth of our society – catching them before the jaded tint of adulthood stains their souls forever.  Maybe the idea of being a modern day Atlas carrying the teen world on his back became overwhelming.  Maybe the only person he ever wanted to save was himself and during his journey to find his truth he left the world with a masterpiece that describes the awkward phase of being a teenager better than any book published in the 20th century, or maybe he just got tired of all the phonies with their meaningless conversations and empty adulation and went on a quest to find something real.  Either way, with his passing J. D. Salinger will forever be a figure shrouded in mystery making him a character we will never forget.

Behind the Curtain Unveiled

 

On the 14th, Raandesk Gallery unveiled its first exhibition for 2010 with Behind the Curtain, featuring artists Jason Bryant and Kevin Cyr.  I was introduced to both these artists in 2009 while visiting separate exhibitions at different galleries; from my initial introduction these two men left an indelible impression.  Although both artists showcase contrasting subjects, the realistic quality that exudes from their work makes them a match in art exhibition heaven. And indeed it was fate that brought these two men together having first met as assistants at Kehinde Wiley Studios where they first discussed the possible collaboration of an exhibit.  Thanks to Jessica Porter and Raandesk Gallery, their idea came to fruition. 

Jason Bryant’s portraits are inspired by pictures of models, actors and various ad campaigns, although at first sight, you would never know.  Removed from the closely cropped images are the eyes, thus removing the souls, but like an individual stricken with sudden blindness whose senses compensate for their lack of sight, other features of the face are highlighted to reveal the essence of the portrait.   A laugh line here, a wrinkle there, the positioning of the lips and check bones reveal a deeper story than the eyes ever could.   The richness of color coupled with the superimposed skateboard graphics gives the portraits a 3-D aesthetic and the earnest quality of the portraits combined with the whimsical effect of the graphics provide each work with sublime balance.

What is more New York than delivery trucks parked on every corner?  We curse them as we navigate through traffic and scramble to find parking. It is our traffic nightmares that provide Kevin Cyr’s inspiration.  Kevin takes the dilapidated delivery trucks and other vehicles and places them on large panels of wood using striking palettes of color.  Jason Bryant removes the eyes.  Kevin Cyr removes the background scenery making the trucks and cars the single focus in his portraits.  By placing the vehicles behind a solid colored background, the trucks become omnipresent – they could be anywhere.  The vehicles’ details seem to be enhanced and give them a new found charm.   

By featuring unconventional subjects, both Jason and Kevin challenge the audience to pay attention to the details – the various fragments within our society and even ourselves that tend to be dismissed.  Each time you peer into their portraits a new layer is exposed, a new detail is revealed and your sense of awareness is heightened.  The exhibit is designed to build on the color and themes of the portraits accomplishing a harmonious synergy against the white and bricked walls and provides a new meaning to the words “parallel universe.”  Bravo to Jason Bryant, Kevin Cyr and Raandesk Gallery for pushing the concept of portraiture into a new, intriguing territory.

Behind the Curtain is currently on display at Raandesk Gallery at 16 W. 23rd Street, 4th Floor until March 12, 2010.  You can also view more of Jason Bryant’s and Kevin Cyr’s work on www.raandeskgallery.com.

Photos courtesy of MyNameIsPhoto.com.