Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bajo Las Estrellas All Across Los

The weeks were a dizzy spectacle. One of those dizzy in-a-good-way friezes that stand out in bold relief and linger like a warm day spent soaking in cool water. Eloy Torrez, painter, musician and muralist was asked to perform songs from his repertoire of original music on October 13th at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) where he currently has work in a show of paintings from the much-heralded Cheech Marin collection of Chicano Art. While many might know of his brilliant mural on Broadway or the Hollywood High School tribute to the film industry, not many are aware of his work as a singer-songwriter or the fact that he painted a mural in France in a Algerian neighborhood that was not immediately receptive. His work, like his music is—as a result—about inclusion, erasing differences and redefining what it means to be a person of color. With an almost Psychedelic Furs-inflected selection of about ten songs, Eloy and two of the boys from Maria Fatal along with Charles Jefferson on bass delivered soul searing music on the LACMA West patio to a small but enthusiastic crowd. Ofelia Esparza was there to hand out marigolds on honor of los muertitos as Eloy opened the set with a song to his late mother. Self Help Graphics was there in spirit and with giant paper mache calaveras as stage decoration. It was pretty near perfect.

And this while I was still glowing with euphoria at having attended and participated in a more personal fundraiser for Daisy Tonantzin “Bajo las Estrellas” on our end of town just a week-and-change before. To go from the booming and melodic vocals of Rocio Vasquez AKA Lobamora, the ultra-lounge Latin retro experiments (all successful) of Chicano Batman and sage spoken word from Los Poets del Norte on the East Side at First Street Studios to equally soulful sounds at LACMA would have been itself a marvelous, but then you follow that with a birthday party for Ruben “Funkahuatl” Guevara, a tried and true rocker, music historian, producer as well as poet and you have something on the order of miraculous. Guevara founded Ruben and the Jets once upon a time and even has the onerous distinction of having jammed with Frank Zappa before pioneering LA’s Rock en Español movement. With a crushed-velvet robe and a pork pie hat, he was channeling the Dalai Llama and shared a set that was barely contained by the teaming East Side Luv Wine Bar. The guests included so many artists, poets and musicians that you couldn’t turn 10-degrees to either the right or left with out literally bumping right up against one.

And Rubén’s show only brought us through to Thursday, if you can believe that. Hence my description of the recent weeks as dizzy. I’d have lost my blogging rights if I’d even thought about missing the Epicentro Poets and their Poetic Epidemic the following night at Casa 0101. Born in the Salvadoran and Central American Diaspora the followed the civil wars and those fleeing to LA and San Francisco to avoid the right-wing paramilitary death squad inspired chaos, Epicentro refers to the center of the earthquake that hit San Salvador and these poets put it down with all the might of a major magnitude terremoto. Leticia Hernandez-Linares and Gustavo Vásquez are the most familiar of the group, but the new faces were not far behind in terms of depth and delivery. It was one of those nights when, instead of the music, it was the poetry, pure and right-out-the-barrel, that drew tears to my eyes. The photographs from Cuba in downtown gallery on Saturday (the next night) were the proverbial frosting since they took me back to a recent time when poets from throughout the hemisphere gathered for a tribute to indigenous people. And finally, there was Willie Herron’s Boyle Heights open mic on Sunday night, which took me back to the birth of Chicano Punk and Los Illegals. Willie might have been joking but he said he’ll christen the weekly forum for music and poetry “I Am” as in “yo soy” but it can also be read as an acronym… IAM or Illegal Acoustic Movement, a fitting name and a fitting end to 14 days in LA. You’ll forgive me if I just want to nest for awhile… maybe try to finally get that first issue of Brooklyn & Boyle out. Even if I have to crank it out on a borrowed machine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ménage à trois as never imagined...

The islands of myth and the participles of pain, the tree of knowledge and the aching emptiness of lost love or childhood… They are all here, here in this room where the trio comes together to confide in whispered essences. Ménage à trois, the fabled threesome assembled here under “A Very Old Tree” (Marichal) where the watchers are also seekers, brings together the work of three very distinct printmakers. Poli Marichal, Victor Rosas and Marianne Sadowski, a group that represents, in many ways, the antithesis of the triumvirate, have launched much of their radically different work from Self-Help Graphics and its Los de Abajo Collective, perhaps the most sincere and community-based arts institution in East LA if not the entire metropolis.

As creators, they live and breathe and dream a world and a space where love and longing are tempered by life and still informed by myth and fantasy. They are all here. In this room, this room that has been transformed, that has become for brief moments a Los Angeles or Washington D.C. skyline, the bleak underbelly of urban landscapes, political surfaces where hypocrisy and corruption are rooted out and underscored.

Here in this room, a room that has also become a shifting, a transcendence and an escape from those things marked by the fear and the violence and the excess that have become emblematic of sex and the simultaneous violation or debauchery of our planet… here in the sweetness of three disparate voices, three gentle artists who work quietly into the wee hours with images carved from wood or etched into linoleum or scratched into plexiglass, here we are also transported to the “Island of Mysterious Flowers” (Sadowski) and a realm where memories and myth float across the maps of our innocence and a time when fantastical beasts and creatures roamed both land and sea.

All soft spoken and serious, Sadowski, Marichal and Rosas come together here in this room as necessary elements, as a tri-colored banner or tri-part whole. Incredibly, their conversation here is not hermetic. It is not sealed and inaccessible. Instead, it resounds with the pain and pleasure of creation, of birth and death surrounded by the flora and fauna of timelessness and written in the hues of a public entreaty, a call to the common good.

These images are thus missives to our subconscious desire for the exotic that does not turn other beings or objects into fetish but imbues them with their primordial significance, unlocks their grace and allows us to peer into entirely new dimensions. This is the secret. This is what makes us voyeurs. We are the seekers and the watchers. We are the eyes that float eerily inside the tree of knowledge. We are drawn, fascinated by the idea, the sense that these images and these artists have learned a hidden dance, uncovered a buried ritual and that—in their voyage from beyond—they have broken the code and created a universe where the work and images speak among themselves to each other. We can imagine a conversation that occurs on the walls at Self Help’s Boccalero Gallery after night falls in the dim light when no one is there, when no one is looking.

It is a ménage of epic proportions and a simple a menagerie, a skeletal reduction where we see ourselves reflected in the dark foreboding knowledge that not all is well, that the world is not always accommodating and kind, a place where we say, “Fuck Hope” (Rosas) with almost no irony or sarcastic humor, a place where the blueprints of injustice are conceived and executed.
Yet in the context of that conversation, the dialogue that occurs as Rosas, Sadowski and Marichal share their witty and—at times caustically bemused— vision, we are flown directly on the wings of desire and yearning to a geography of hope populated by magical hybrids and the beaming tides of imagination unchecked, unhinged and unleashed without fury, without the glare of a gallery spotlight or a Hollywood cliché.

We travel to “The Day the Nests Were Left Alone” (Sadowski), an antidote to a place where gumball machines are all that remain to dispense the deer, the turtle and the honeybee for profit in a private “Zoo” (Rosas), the terrain where “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys express outrage (Marichal) at the havoc the “Ciego/Blind” (Rosas) continue to wreak upon the earth. Yet we can still awaken, we are made to understand here, in the world where “Trees Can Dream” (Marichal) and where the possibility of change is real in spite of the insomnia, the strong coffee well into the dawn when we are compelled to share a story, a picture, a song, in spite of our anger at what is often done to nature in our names. We can float over and beyond the residual sadness and the idea that our lives are bleak or that we are unequipped to make things better. In the hands of these three, the images have become totems of fire and rebirth. There can, in fact, be a tender unfolding, a renewal of the psyche.

(Excerpted from "Ménage à trois: A Tender Unfolding," a review of the last exhibition at Self Help Graphics. Images: Poli Marichal)