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Thursday
Mar062014

Carl Chiarenza

“A photograph presents the artist and the viewer with a challenge, because we always want to know what it is—as if the photograph were not there. For over 165 years, an extraordinary number of forces have made us instinctively believe that photographs are windows on reality—even when reason tells us otherwise.”

— Carl Chiarenza, 2013 lecture excerpt

 

A photograph of you is not you. It is, in fact, an illusion.

That simple viewpoint is perhaps the cornerstone of famed photographer Carl Chiarenza's body of work—and his role as a mentor to other artists.

“It's not unreasonable for people who are interested in photography to accept what has been broadcast since the 1830s, which is that the photograph captures reality, actuality,” Carl says.

"Mulligan Print," by Carl Chiarenza. Carl's work has been shown around the world and can be found in the collections of more than 50 museums, including The Getty Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, The Art Institute of Chicago, and Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

“From my point of view, it never did that. Every photograph is an abstraction.”

That perspective has so informed his work, he avoids some of the most common terms found in photography. Carl doesn't say “shoot.” Or “capture.” Or even “take.”

“Those words describe something that photography doesn't really do,” he says.

“You open your wallet and you show your friends a picture, and you say, 'this is my daughter.' Well, it's not your daughter in any shape or form,” he says. “You're connecting with an optical illusion, a representation of reality.”


Now showing

His newest artistic exploration is now on display at Rochester Contemporary Art Center—RoCo—through March 16. It's collection of photographic collages unlike anything Carl has produced in the past. Each is one of a kind.

The exhibit—Makers & Mentors—has become an annual project for RoCo in which the center exhibits an artist's work alongside the work of people he's influenced. Three artists join Carl for the show.

A Rochester native, Carl has made this town the center of his large and mysterious universe, full of abstract work. For fifty years, he's produced abstract photography shown in the world's most respected galleries and collected by major museums.

And along the way, he's taught thousands as a professor whose signature style is to challenge, to encourage, to question, and to learn as much from his students as he does from them. He retired from his most recent teaching gig—University of Rochester—in 2000.

“I've been very fortunate to have had students who appreciated my way of teaching,” Carl says. “They learned from me. I learned From them. Challenge. Argue. Research. Question. That's what I wanted from students.”

 

Maker meets mentor, after 40 years

Fellow Makers & Mentors artist Lisa Bradley, of New York City, met Carl in 1970 when she took a course in History of Photography with him at Boston University. The Makers & Mentors exhibit opening was the first time they were reunited face to face since her college days.

“I was painting and making photographs during this period, and he was known as a great professor,” Lisa says. “While his work didn't influence my art, he incalculably helped to shape my development as an artist by his belief in me and by his encouraging me to follow my own vision.”

Carl thought enough of Lisa's work that he wrote a recommendation for her when she 21. She's saved it ever since. It reads, in part:

"Lisa Bradley is an exceptional human being. Whatever she encounters she encounters poetically, creatively,and perhaps more importantly with compassion, patience, and understanding. She is a gifted, natural artist ... The paintings are about human existence, the marshaling of forces that are strong and self-sustaining, and yet humble before a larger dominant power..."

"Through This," by Lisa Bradley. Lisa is a celebrated abstract painter who's worked and exhibited in New York City for many years. She studied the History of Photography with Chiarenza during her time at Boston University. Bradley grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and has lived and worked in New York City since the mid-1970s.And in the ensuing years, Lisa's art has been described as metaphysical, incorporating a full range of emotions into her work for her audience to connect to. When asked about some of the most fulfilling reactions from audiences that she's encountered, she describes one at an exhibit of her work in Finland.

“A woman was so moved that she wept in front of my painting,” Lisa says.


That artistic "it" factor

Though they work in different artistic mediums and there's little comparison in terms of creative influence, Carl served Lisa well as a mentor in the sense of encouraging her to develop her own work.

“Like my own work, it's an expression of her being,” Carl says. “I do not think there is any direct inspiration from her work to mine any more than there is from mine to hers.”

No doubt the best artists have an “it” factor—those same people usually have a rare talent for connecting with humanity. As a painter. As a photographer. As a mentor.

“When I sent Carl copies of the original of what he had written about my work,” says Lisa, “he wrote back 'I always knew you had it.' What is this mysterious 'it' that artists recognize in each others work, and is clearly in Carl's work? It's what my art dealer Hollis Taggart would call the 'sublime' in art. This is what Chiarenza has, and by the force of his personality is able to express both in his art and his teaching.”

“Everyone who has crossed his path is lucky for it.”

A concrete truth about an abstract artist. 

See more: Carl Chiarenza's website

Say hi: Contact RoCo

 

* * *

 

Rochester Contemporary Art Center's Makers & Mentors exhibition celebrates the artwork and influence of Carl Chiarenza. His new works are on display alongside three other artists who credit him with strongly encouraging them in their work—Lisa Bradley, of New York City; Bruno Chalifour, of Rochester; and David Haas, of Allentown, PA. The show runs through March 16, and will be open during Rochester's monthly First Friday gallery outing March 7 from 6 p.m. To 10 p.m. For details, call 585-461-2222 or visit www.rochestercontemporary.org.

 

Watch a recent conversation with Carl Chiarenza marking the Makers & Mentors exhibit. The interview was conducted by writer Rebecca Rafferty; Rochester Contemporary Art Center's Bleu Cease; and Heidi Katz, Carl's wife. Video by Ben Gonyo.

 

 

 



Friday
Dec272013

Mikaela Davis

Rochester musician and SUNY Potsdam student Mikaela Davis plays a semi-grand harp, one size down from a concert grand. When she first began to play as a child, she started on a smaller-style troubador harp. “I've always known I wanted to go to school for music,” she says. “I wanted to be a professional harpist in an orchestra and teach harp at a college—until my own music became my main focus.” (photo by Aaron Winters)

Let's play word association. “Harpist.” Go.

Did you respond with “pop-music newcomer”? You will.

Rochester-born Mikaela Davis knows how to show a harp who's boss.

Backed by a mix of guitar, keyboards, and her own lilting vocals, Mikaela has deftly plucked a classic instrument out of its past. Spun it into a modern sound. And wrapped it in sparkling lights, ready for download.

Her self-titled debut album came out in 2012, and she describes it as indie-pop. Just the same, she's hesitant to commit to a category.

“I don't like to put myself in a genre. The music we're doing now, it's nothing like my first album. We went something that's more psychedelic rock on the new EP,” Mikaela says.

Brian Moore, audio engineer and owner of Red Booth Recording, where Mikaela's self-titled debut album was recorded, mixed, and mastered, describes her vibe as “a melancholy lo-fi sound” with “an intricate balance of fluttering vocal folds and fingers on strings that blend effortlessly.”Whatever you call The Mikaela Sound, it's getting traction with audiences around the country. (Music video below.)

A senior music major at SUNY Potsdam's Crane School of Music, Mikaela and her band have had a busy year. An album. Cross-country gigs. A freshly minted EP just weeks away. And a winter-break tour that spans the Northeast.

And though she's a young woman, her career has been many years in the making.

“I've been singing since I could talk,” she says.

Harp lessons followed by third grade, when she began to study with Grace Wong, principal harpist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Later, Mikaela herself had a four-year run as harpist in the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

After she entered college, Mikaela started the band that now backs her in the studio and on the road. Today, her bandmates are Alex Coté on drums and percussion, and Cian McCarthy on guitar, sitar, and keys.

“Alex and Cian both go to SUNY Purchase,” says Mikaela, who's been close friends with Alex since high school. “Alex told me, 'We need to have this guy in the band.' We needed a guitarist to step in. Cian lives in Syracuse. He drove up, we had one long band practice, and played a show the next day. He learned like 10 songs in one day.”

Ten songs he'd probably never heard before—because Mikaela writes her own stuff.

Mikaela's high-school friend, artist Melissa Crider, designed her first two CD jackets. “She bases her paintings off of music,” Mikaela says of Melissa. “She likes to paint what she hears.”“I started writing songs because my dad moved to California when I was in sixth grade, and it was my own kind of therapy,” she says. “The first song I ever wrote is called 'Come Home,' and it's about my dad.”

While she's been writing since she was a kid, Mikaela credits Alex with introducing her to a range of music that inspired her to grow into the songwriter she's become.

“When we were in high school, I went over to Alex's house one day and gave him my iPod and he switched out all my music,” Mikaela says. “I started listening to Elliott Smith, among others.”

She connected with Smith's music immediately, but it left her feeling intimidated about writing her own songs. At least for awhile. But Mikaela eventually found ample inspiration and confidence to get back into writing mode. The result: An album under her belt and another one on the way.

Last summer, the band went on tour as an opening act, and hit a broad swath of the southern U.S., including Nashville, New Orleans, Birmingham, and parts of Texas. A new road trip will kick off the New Year—and the new EP, “Fortune Teller.”

“Fortune Teller” is a collection of new material Mikaela has been playing with the band this past year. The songs “go together and have the same feeling to them,” she says.

Kinda like the band itself.

See more: On mikaeladavis.com and YouTube

Say hi: on Facebook or Twitter

* * *

Mikaela (photo by Jake Smisloff)If you live along the Thruway corridor in Upstate New York, you have your pick of Mikaela Davis shows to catch. The band kicks off a road trip to promote the “Fortune Teller” EP right after the New Year.

Friday Jan. 3, 2014 in Buffalo — 8 p.m. at the Tralf Music Hall

Saturday Jan. 4, 2014 in Syracuse — 9 p.m. at Funk'n Waffles

Sunday Jan. 5, 2014 in Rochester — 8 p.m. at The Bug Jar (tickets)

Get details or RSVP here.

Watch:

Mikaela's video for "Dreaming," directed by Philip Night.

Wednesday
Dec112013

Jacob Rakovan

He has so many commas after his name. Jacob, poet. Jacob, bartender. Jacob, dad. Jacob, hillbilly. That last one is as much a badge of honor as any of them.

“I use it because I want to say, 'This is what a Hillbilly looks like. This is what a Hillbilly sounds like,'” says Jacob, a Portsmouth, Ohio, native who now lives in Rochester.

Jacob Rakovan on his early influences: “Weirdly, I was obsessed with Thomas Merton—the Trappist monk and poet, and Baudelaire—the decadent poet who wrote litanies to the devil. Both at the same time. When I was around thirteen,” Jacob says. “I think those influences find their way into my work whether I am aware of it or not. Probably some Dante, as well. Metalhead teenagers dig Dante, at least the Inferno.”He grew up in Appalachia. And, though he's lived and traveled all over the U.S., Jacob never forgets his origins. Hillbillies are his people. And the word has a connotation he wants to dispel.

“It's not something cute on a barbecue sauce label, or a knickknack of an outhouse your parents picked up at a gas station in Virginia,” Jacob says.

“Hillbilly is a huge, disenfranchised population, dying in coal mines, living in pollution and decay, being fed prescription heroin by unscrupulous doctors and then being incarcerated for it. Hillbilly is the third world, here in America, mocked because some assholes with beards get a television show.”

 

The poet begins

He discovered poetry as an Appalachian teenager, hanging with a circle of high-school headbangers. The group discovered a library book they liked well enough to photocopy and decorate Jacob's cellar haunt.

“It was a limited edition of Kenneth Patchen's The Dark Kingdom. My hoodlum friends and I loved it so much we first photocopied it, and hung the poems up in my heavy metal basement, and then eventually 'liberated' it, and read it until the cover split, then duct-taped it back together.”

It was just a matter of time before he started writing poetry as an angsty teenager—where many poets begin.

“And I just kept doing it,” Jacob says.

Good thing he did. This year, Jacob received the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry for a project in which he interviewed members of his family to build an oral history of Appalachian culture.

“Catfish baits are made from congealed blood,” he offers. “The word 'Ohio' means 'woe' in Enochian, the language of the angels as according to the Elizabethan magician Dr John Dee. The Mothman appeared in West Virginia on the night the Silver Bridge fell into the river, the same night my grandmother was shot.”

The project isn't complete yet, but another big one is.

This fall also saw the launch of Jacob's first full-length collection, The Devil's Radio, from Small Doggies Press. One of the chief forms in the book is elegy, many of which are written for people who were once a part of Jacob's life.

“When you are from a place like Southern Ohio, your personal mental cemetery gets pretty crowded,” he says. “When I was putting the book together, the elegies formed a natural skeleton. So a book that had been a much looser collection started to have a structure around loss, and grief, and trying to name names. There are a lot of deceased people in there.”

He wrote it in a season of loss and reflection.

“It was such a time of grief for me, having just lost my niece, and trying to process that,” Jacob says. “I realized I had all these other deaths that I was carrying around, and I just tried to unpack that grief. It gets heavy carrying all those people with you everywhere.”

As for what people take away from reading his book—that's entirely up to them.

Jacob's first full-length collection, The Devil's Radio, is out this fall from Small Doggies Press. He'll mark its release at Poetry & Pie Night Friday, Dec. 13. See details below.“I think people bring themselves to the book. It's a place where we meet each other,” he says. “I hope people find some music in it.”

 

How poetry has changed

Readers find all kinds of different meanings in poetry. These days, they're also finding poetry available like no other moment in human history, thanks to the internet.

“Everything is accessible, all the time,” Jacob says. “We have externalized memory, and at any point, you can read whatever you want to read, so this world of poetry, that used to seem very small and closed and esoteric is immediately open and accessible to anyone that wants to read something. A Sumerian creation myth. CIA improvised munitions manuals. Facts of Life erotic fan-fiction. Everything.”

And the digital revolution affects readers and writers alike.

“Every poet, everywhere, has access to the world's biggest library,” Jacob says. “I believe very passionately in provincials and autodidacts, and the internet is great for that. Anything you want to know, no matter how minute, how bizarre, is out there, somewhere. All of that changes what poetry is, and how it works. All the good stuff comes from the outsiders and the fringes.

After the New Year, Jacob dives into teaching a poetry workshop, titled “Poetry as Invocation,” at Writers & Books in Rochester.

“Poetry is how we address eternity, in both directions in time,” Jacob says. “The class itself is based on the ideas of invocation and evocation, the practice of apostrophe, in which the writer or speaker addresses an opponent, or a third party other than the audience, and the idea of images as a sort of mental construct, of poetry as conjuration.”

Jacob, teacher.

See more: Visit Jacob's blog or order The Devil's Radio

Say hi: Via email  and on Facebook.


* * *

Poetry & Pie Night: A book release party

Friday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m., join Jacob Rakovan and Rachel McKibbens for a special edition of their popular underground reading series, Poetry & Pie Night. Both Jacob and Rachel have books recently published. The pair will read from their new collections, and have books available for sale and signing. Email poetryandpienight@gmail.com for directions to the event.

 



 

A selection from The Devil's Radio

(first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature)

 

The river is for drowning girls


every song says it's true
hair blooms in the cold current


the little fish rise like angels to meet them
they go down into the dark
in the good black mud

they roll, white-eyed
through brown water
arms out in benediction
fish-pale bellies and breasts
like
a basement full of mushrooms
roots and blind things


they say
there are catfish big as Volkswagens
near the dam, the divers come back up
and never go down again

they say
when the drought drops the water
low enough the old carved stones
break the surface

and only say
that you'll be mine
and in no other's arms entwine
down beside
where the waters flow
down by the banks of the Ohio

here, once
they humped the earth like new dug graves
in the shape of serpents, eggs, moons
wheels and bears
buried bones,
copper axes, obsidian hands

but the river is for drowning girls
every song says it's true

Train trestles cut across
flat stones and mud, ring top beer cans
tangles of fishing line
the river swells with rain and swallows fields
making mirrors of the mud
leaving fish to die for the corn
leaving the old stone blades of knives
arrowheads, bone beads and broken pots


the river is for drowning girls
hungry for their white flesh
it beats against the city walls,
glutted with chicken coops, detergent bottles
syringes, empty jugs, tampon applicators
slick black logs and fishing floats

dark as a rotted oak leaf, as a cold night
as the smoke of a fall fire on the bank
dark as a barge filled with west Virginia coal
electric light of a lone house
and a song ringing out

go down go down you Knoxville girl
with the dark and roving eye
go down go down you Knoxville girl
you'll never be my bride

the river is for drowning girls,
girls drunk and dancing
girls fucking
boys fresh from jail
in cars

girls with hair too high,
with painted faces, and slit up shirts
girls in towns with cold smokestacks
who run blue lines up their noses
smoking beside a bonfire
swapping speckled eggs for candy bars

the river is for drowning girls
they go down to the last line of land
and wait to be taken away

 

Wednesday
Nov062013

The Heroic Enthusiasts

The Heroic Enthusiasts are (from left) James Tabbi, lead vocals; Thomas Ferrara, lead guitar; James Searl, bass; and Cruk FUA, drums. (Bass player Jesse Herrera has joined the band since this photo was taken, as James Searl prepares to relocate.)

Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600. But his writings survived, including an allegorical poem that explores the meaning of love. Its title? “The Heroic Enthusiasts.” Fast forward 412 years. A band formed in Rochester and named themselves after the poem.

And why not? These new guys write about love, too.

“I was reading this poem, and it paralleled so well all the topics I was writing about in our lyrics,” says James Tabbi, the band's lead singer. “It's a weird name, but it has the right back story. It's grown on us.”

Alongside James, The Heroic Enthusiasts are Thomas Ferrara on lead guitar, Jesse Herrera on bass, and Cruk FUA on drums. They've been hard at work in the studio this past year. Writing music. Recording a demo. Finding their chemistry.

Tabbi and Ferrara have a mountain of shared DNA. They've both played the legendary CBGB—in separate bands at separate times. But their roots first interlaced in 1990, when the two became friends.

“James and I met when I moved up to Rochester,” says Ferrara. “About nine months later, we started working on a music project. I approached him about putting together a hip-hop, R&B Industrial project and we put a demo together. A record label picked it up and did an EP, but never released it.”

The two have been friends ever since. In fact, James introduced Thomas to his future business partner, Doug Jerum, with whom he later opened Rochester nightclub Carpe Diem—and where James served as DJ.

But it had been a few years since they'd worked together as musicians. That changed in October 2012.

James Tabbi (pictured here) and Thomas Ferrara have collaborated on 11 songs for The Heroic Enthusiasts. “We sit around the living room with acoustic guitars and work out some songs,” James says.“I had just broken up and a lot of the feelings were starting to flow, so it was good timing,” says Tabbi.

“And I just got the bug to do it again,” adds Ferrara.

After a few tryouts with bass players, Thomas called neighbor and bass player James Searl—who also plays for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad—to ask him if he knew any other bass players.

“I'll come over and jam with you,” Searl replied. He stuck around.

But as Searl is now preparing to relocate, the band has added bass player Jesse Herrera to the mix. Tabbi and Herrera have been friends since the 1980s.

As for the drummer?

“Thomas had known Cruk for four or five years,” says Tabbi. “We wanted a drummer who had an artistic sensibility.”

And they found that vibe in Cruk, who is also a graffiti artist.

It hasn't been hard to find their groove, the guys say. Everybody quickly clicked.

“The chemistry of the band has drawn us in more deeply,” says Ferrara. “People have told us they got goosebumps when they listened to our music, because they were hearing something for the first time.”

If you look across the band's web presence, you'll see references to the artists and groups they consider their influences (Modern English, Portishead, The Smiths, among others). But this is no tribute band. The guys emphasize that they have a sound all their own.

“People tell us that this song reminds them of The Cure, or The Smiths, but it's just that song,” says Tabbi. “We're not trying to be anyone.”

The best way to pick up on their artistic influences is to listen for yourself. And the best way to listen? Live, of course (see details below). Especially since their music isn't for sale—and the tracks online need some tweaking.

“We have an 11-song demo,” says Tabbi. “We need to go back in and re-record some stuff. We want to really get the songs out there so people can hear what our sound is like.”

“We've spoken to a very accomplished engineer,” says Ferrara. “He suggested we talk to a producer/arranger, so their engineer can make it sound really good.”

Maybe good enough to have people talking. Even for 400 years.

 

See more: on Reverbnation and Bandpage

Say hi: theheroicenthusiasts@gmail.com and on Facebook

 

* * *

If you're in the Rochester, N.Y., area, you can hear The Heroic Enthusiasts perform Nov. 8 at the Skylark Lounge, 40 South Union St. Doors open at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.


 

Friday
May102013

Cori Winrock

What is poetry, if not chemistry?

When a neuroscience professor at Oberlin College opened his course with the poem, "The brain is wider than the sky," by Emily Dickinson, Cori had a reaction.

“I started to see the links between neuroscience and poetry,” says the Rochester native. “And how the mind works with what's going on around us.”

Here, Cori reads at Poetry & Pie Night in Rochester last summer. Cori's work has been featured in some of the most respected literary journals around, including Denver Quarterly, The American Poetry Journal, and Atlas Review. After Cori graduated from Oberlin in 2004, she went on to Cornell University, where she completed her MFA in Poetry in early 2008. She stayed on at Cornell for two more years to teach undergraduate writing.

While there, Cori proposed a topic inspired by her interest in the intersection between art and science. She call it Literature in the Lab.

“You can pitch your own original section of a writing seminar, and they accepted it,” she says.

“It came about because of the types of students I was getting in my classes. People in other fields—in research and science—also need to be able to communicate successfully to others. I wanted it to be useful to them.”

When Cori later joined SUNY Geneseo's English department as Visiting Assistant Professor, she brought the concept with her. And the subject has blossomed.

“I'm pitching next year for it to become a 200- or 300-level Medical Humanities course,” she says. “I'm working to adapt it into a full-blown, cross-disciplinary course between biology and literature.”

The campus isn't the only place where Cori sees the emergence of new ways to view poetry. Since returning to the Rochester area, she's noticed glimmers of a poetry scene full of fresh voices—and audiences.

“It's growing,” she says. “I'm seeing smaller gatherings of different types of people. Places that are less expected environments for poetry readings, like a loft or a backyard. That makes it more accessible to a different kind of audience in Rochester.”

In fact, she'll be reading at one of those spots this Saturday.

As a poet, Cori tends to work in batches.

“I did a big batch in January, and I just wrote my first piece since then,” she says.

She also likes to take her time.

“I tend to write a trillion drafts,” she says, meaning roughly 20. “There's an initial burst, and then I return to it. It could be something I jot down someplace.”

And she saves everything.

“I'm such a slow writer, that nothing ever really gets scrapped. I never throw anything away.”

Her poems are inspired by imagery that comes up in the midst of research and random finds. “Things that happen in the moment,” she says.

“Image is how I find my way in,” she adds. “I never start a poem unless I have a first image that I want to write about, and that gets me excited.”

And her poetry reciprocates, with richly visual language. It's a written equivalent to tapestries, anatomical renderings, and haunted hay rides.

Expect that vivid adventure when you pick up her first book, whose working title is This Coalition of Bones, coming in Winter 2014 from Kore Press. It's divided into sections, each with a loose theme. Memory. Suburbia. And, of course, science.

“I'm obsessed with the beautiful freak,” Cori says. “Those elements of the universe that aren't often seen as beautiful.”

But when the right poet is watching, they are.

 

See more: From the Fishouse magazine, Blackbird journal

Say hi: cwinrock@gmail.com and on Facebook

 

* * *

 

If you're in the Rochester, N.Y., area, you can hear Cori read in person at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at The Yards, 50 Public Market. She and two other poets will share their work as part of the Deep Fried Poetry Series, presented by The Bakery, an online literary magazine. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.

 

* * *

 

Here's a taste of Cori's work, originally published in Blackbird journal in 2010.

Instructions for Dematerializing
for the disinterment of Harry Houdini

1
Feet Locked in Stocks
but your departed
wife has been cautiously levitating
nested escapeboxes out
from each other, one at a time: sleight of
matryoshka hand

: : :

You became the dreamt
trapeze husband, the properly applied
force of a shoestring. O handcuffed
secret, our unrevealer, how many locks
you’ve left for us to pop
open to find

2
Suspended in Midair from Ankles
the mind refuses to exhume
your illusion, containers of glass-
and-steel: the body lifted
right out of the body; earth
left open as an eye
socket after
the coffin is pulled

: : :

Tell us—will your bones
be laced, lined
with arsenic and the old
deep-believings of séanced
revenge? will we uncover fistfuls
of sleeping-dirt, the incessant
chill of wanting left
wanting—answers
within answers within

3
Lowered into Tank Overflowing
with water your wife wrote
letters, dissolved: Dear
Ehrich, Dear Prince of Air,
Master of Cards, Dear Manacled

: undid each one until dis-
apparition, until she reached
right through the din of tricks,
of history, of death, into dear de-
materialized, dear my lovely
who-do-I-need
but you

 

 

Friday
Apr122013

Reenah Golden

Some artists are inspired by nature. Or politics. Or history. Reenah's muse? Her son, Jahmal. In a way, her art grew up with her son. And in a play she's currently starring in at Rochester's GeVa Theatre, art imitates life with perfect symmetry.

When Jahmal entered public school in Rochester, something was missing from the experience. So Reenah filled the void herself.

“The big push for me was I wanted my child to have a good experience growing up here,” says the Rochester native, U.S. Army veteran, and RIT grad.

“I was a writer first. It was more of a private thing that I did until my adult life,” says Reenah Golden, a teaching artist from Rochester who returned to the arts as a way to enrich her own son's education. Today. she's a two-time New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Award winner.“I started doing poetry and drama with the kids. Shortly after that, I quit my corporate job so I could be more involved with my son and started developing a new career. My work in school with youth has grown up with him,” she says.

As Jahmal grew, Reenah's work as a teaching artist developed, too. She followed her son to School of the Arts—a high school for the visual and performing arts in the city school district.

There, she created Slam High, a team-based poetry program for English class that cultivated spoken-word artists who would be fit to compete and perform on a national level.

In 2008, Slam High team of poets competed for, and won, a national title. That same year, it was featured in an HBO documentary series, Brave New Voices, from the name of a national association of similar programs.

Since then, spoken-word programs have been introduced throughout Rochester city schools.

“There's spoken word and slam poetry in almost every program in Rochester,” Reenah says. “It didn't exist before Slam High.”

Today, Jahmal is 18 and a sophomore at The New School, pursuing a dual degree in fashion photography and literary studies. His passion for the arts has blossomed.

So has Reenah's. Alongside Delores Radney, she went on to co-found Rochester-based Kuumba Consultants, an arts-in-education agency that matches artists of color with youth agencies and schools to enrich their arts and cultural programming. She also teaches and lectures at high schools, colleges, and cultural institutions around the country.

While she still calls Rochester home, Reenah's busy schedule means most of her year is spent on the road.

Reenah takes on 16 roles to perform "No Child," a play running through April21 at GeVa Theatre Center in Rochester.But at the moment, she's back in town to take center stage in a one-woman show—and it's a fitting extension of her passion for arts in education.

In No Child, by Nilaja Sun, now playing at GeVa Theatre, Reenah takes on a staggering 16 roles—from teacher to student to parent to janitor—that each show the power of the arts in education. Particularly the difference one great teacher can make with her students.

A key character in the story is a tenth-grade Bronx public school teacher trying to inspire underachieving students by having them put on a play of their own.

No Child is my story,” Reenah says. “It's my life. Right down to the classroom experiences. That's really what attracted me to this play. Some friends of mine who were teaching artists came to me and said 'we really want to bring you into this play.' Shortly after that, I realized they were looking to me to perform.”

The range of ethnicity and ages she takes on are as varied as the characters themselves. And all of them depend on Reenah's talent for transforming from person to person as the story progresses. No costume changes, either.

No Child first opened off-Broadway in 2006 and won an Obie Award. It was first staged in Rochester in fall 2009, when Reenah first starred in the production. She's since performed the play in several cities, and the production has evolved. The current run at GeVa will have a different aesthetic. But the same great story.

“It's going to be a prettier show,” Reenah says. “I have my stage manager and lighting director I work with that I brought in. They're doing some really special things. We have a set this time, but it's still minimal. The aesthetics of the play have changed. It also changes based on what's happening with current events, there's a different energy based on some of the issues going on today.”

Art grows up with artists. Good reason for applause. 

 

See more: Reenah at GeVa

Say hi: on Twitter and on Facebook

 

* * *

No Child, a play by Nilaja Sun starring Reenah Golden, runs at GeVa Theatre Center's Nextstage through April 21, 2013. The play is 65 minutes without intermission, and is recommended for ages 13 and up. For showtimes and ticket information, visit gevatheatre.org

Thursday
Jan102013

David Schickler

There's something about a deeply flawed protagonist that tickles our brains. A mixed past. Dark secrets. Incredible gifts. Horrible failings. Pursuer and pursued.

The magic formula of the modern TV hit? A morally ambiguous hero. It's no wonder David helped craft such a figure for Cinemax. He's not without his own dilemmas. More on that in a moment.

If you're from Rochester, you may have heard or read by now that one of our own is a rising star with a TV series premiering Friday. The show is Banshee, a story about a man hiding in plain sight in a small Pennsylvania town. Hiding from his past. Redemption and peace just beyond his grasp.

DavidDavid co-wrote the series with writing partner Jonathan Tropper. But it's been years coming. Just like David's own career.

He knew he wanted to be a writer early. A high school English class at Rochester's McQuaid Jesuit High School captured his imagination—grueling as the curriculum may have been.

“This teacher had ten typed pages of 'sacred errors,'” David says. “And as soon as he found one in your paper, he would stop reading and give it back to you and write 'Sacred' at the top. He wouldn't grade it until you went back and found what the 'sacred error' was.”

He took that first lesson with him to Georgetown University, and later Columbia University, where he completed his MFA—and got a taste for writing plays in one of the most important courses of his college years.

“Every week I would write a two-page scene and be paired with a different director,” he says of the play-writing class. “It would be cast with equity actors in the city, and I'd see my work up on its feet. I learned in about six weeks what makes dramatic writing suck.”

This lesson stayed with him, too. After college, David taught at a private school in Vermont. And continued writing. Early novels languished in a desk drawer. He returned to Rochester to teach high school English part time. And continued writing.

But it was the time spent living in New York City during grad school that finally sparked a pivotal collection of short stories, set in a dreamlike Manhattan.

“I saw these beautiful old apartment buildings on the Upper West Side,” David says. “I was blown away by these almost mystically beautiful buildings. So I created one.”

He eventually landed a book deal to stitch together his short fiction into a novel, Kissing in Manhattan, which went on to be a New York Times Bestseller in 2001.

Success was fleeting. After a second novel, Sweet and Vicious, David endured a years-long dry spell. But his sophomore effort had captured the attention of another writer, Jonathan Tropper—who ultimately became David's writing partner on Banshee.

The show's earned some solid reviews, but whatever the outcome, this is far from the final chapter in David's story.

This year, his third book, The Dark Path, will debut. The memoir recounts David's early pursuit of the Roman Catholic priesthood.

“I came pretty close,” he says. “It cost me a relationship in college. It was a pretty awful time.”

His spiritual journey began years before, as a teen.

“There's this one path in the woods behind my parents' house, and that's where I found God when I was young,” David says. “I didn't experience God that much in church, but when I was out in this dark-but-charmed wonderland, that's where I would pray. Despite the fact that people talk about seeing the light, I found God in the darkness.”

Darkness. Light. Peril. Peace. Like the unlikely hero in Banshee, this guy has faced demons and dilemmas all his own. Now settled, successful, with a wife and kids and a place to call home, David may be more at peace than the outlandish people he invents.

Still, there's no doubt his own character will be developing for years to come.

Lucky us. 

See more: davidschickler.com

Say hi: send David a message

* * *

Banshee premieres on Cinemax at 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11. Watch the trailer:



Sunday
Jan062013

Dave Marshall

He's worked with moving images for most of his career. From animation to video to the painstaking process of post-production. By day, this Rochester producer, director, and editor helps commercial clients tell their stories in his position at Post Central, a local production house. By evening, weekend, or vacation, he tells stories of people on the edges of America. The oppressed. The imprisoned. The dying.

A three-time Emmy winner, Dave Marshall moved to Rochester in 1978 to study photography at RIT. He stuck around to complete his masters in computer graphics, first working part time at Rochester's ABC television network affiliate WOKR (now 13WHAM). Social justice is Dave's passion as a documentary filmmaker. It's taken him on a journey with aging gay rights activists, migrant workers, and Great Lakes sailors. And this three-time Emmy winner's latest project: a film about a high-school course in connecting with the terminally ill in hospice.

Death and Other Signs of Life takes place at The Harley School, a private Rochester K-12 grade institution. The film follows a small group of students through the process of serving in hospice care. The program, created and run by Harley educator Bob Kane, is in its eleventh year.

“The film is about beginnings and endings,” Dave says. “What transfers between generations. What's meaningful in life. When you see the relationship they have with people in hospice, there's a wonderful transfer of wisdom that goes both ways.”

The program teaches kids about a profound moment in someone else's life. But there's more.

“It's also a chance for students to look at their own lives,” Dave says. “And think about what they want their lives to be about. These kids get it. They absorb it. And it becomes part of the texture of who they are.”

Students learn that sometimes the best gift of all is just being there.

“Somehow, we believe that we have to have a purpose,” Dave says. “The truth is, at the end of the experience, they understand that 'my presence is enough.' That moment is a wonderful experience for everybody.”

After the first year of filming, Dave and his team decided to capture one more academic year. The film is slated to debut in 2014.

Producing ambitious stories takes money—often in short supply. On a recent project about The 1971 Attica prison uprising (trailer below), Dave and his co-producer turned to crowd-funding site kickstarter.com, raising $15,668, narrowly surpassing their goal.

“There isn't a lot of money for pre-pro, research, production,” he says. “You have to get the film to a point where people can see what you're doing, so you have something to show to apply for grants.”

Owning some of your own equipment helps. So does working at a post-production studio.

“They're very generous with me and let me use stuff if I need it. None of this would happen if I didn't have the resources I have access to.”

Local film-making talent has been generous, too.

“We have a very strong film community here,” Dave says. “I'm lucky that I can tap into that.”

But when you make a real difference, you often get more than you give.

The students Dave is chronicling at Harley understand that, too. He recounts one student who washed a resident's feet and put lotion on them. She passed away later that night.

“It was his willingness to touch. He moved so far in this year to get to the point where he could do that. He made her last moments that much more comfortable,” Dave says.

“That's the gift.”

See more: at Dave's production company, Blue Sky Project

Say hi: on LinkedIn

* * *

Dave teamed up with co-producer Christine Christopher to make Criminal Injustice: Death and Politics at Attica, airing on WXXI this February and being screened at historian conferences through the spring. The film takes a critical look at New York State politics at the time of the 1971 Attica Correctional Facility uprising.

Thursday
Sep132012

Steve Argento

He's served his country. Suffered from cocaine addiction. Survived cancer.

There are a lot of past lives packed into this guy. And some of them haven't been pretty. But today, Steve happily continues his family's long history in the art world, as owner of SC Fine Art Gallery.

Steve's new 1,400-square-foot gallery space at the Hungerford Complex is part of a former industrial facility.The nephew of the late painter Ramon Santiago, Steve has never put brush to canvas. But he knows the business of art—and the art of business. His gallery, recently relocated to the Hungerford complex, is filled with prints of his famous uncle's work.

It's been a long road to the Hungerford.

Steve served in the military from 1987 to 1990, and came away with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once back home, he went into business for himself, later going to work for his uncle's studio. He eventually became Ramon's agent and manager, and ran his gallery.

After Ramon died in 2001, Steve acquired his uncle's estate, created SC Fine Art, and began representing other international artists.

SteveBut in 2005, a series of setbacks brought him to his knees.

“Things started getting chaotic. I spread myself too thin,” he says. “I was going through a divorce. I had all the trappings of success—cars, money, country club membership. I was used to success and I felt like everything I touched had to be a home run.”

He turned to cocaine. By the time he was arrested on drug charges, he was a full-blown addict—and everything he'd worked for was slipping away. Along with his life.

“In the back of my mind, I knew this was gonna kill me,” he says.

He went through the Veterans Court and landed in rehab at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center.

A recent exhibition at the gallery included Rochester artists Christine Knoblauch and Paul Knoblauch, an accomplished husband and wife who are each sculptors in their own right.“They saved my life twice,” he says.

The second came last year—but this time, it wasn't drugs.

Steve was well into his recovery from addiction and thinking about opening a new gallery. He'd moved in with his ex-wife while getting his plans together. But in May 2011, there came another blow.

“I got hit with stage-three prostate cancer,” Steve says.

He fought back. Came through treatment a survivor. And by the fall of last year, his gallery was born.

Artists. Veterans. Movers and shakers. Misfits and addicts. Steve brings their worlds together. Inspires them. Energizes them. Makes them laugh.

Because they know he keeps it real.

“I stopped faking shit a long time ago,” Steve says. “What you see is what you get.”

A fine signature.

 

See more: scfineartgallery.com

Say hi: sargento@me.com, on Facebook and on Twitter

 

* * *

While Ramon Santiago may be best known for his sensual women and whimsical clowns, one of his most important pieces holds a different kind of significance.

Titled “Never Again,” the piece is a tribute veterans, and includes the caption, “Never again should one generation of veterans forget another.”

Ramon—a Viet Nam vet—created the painting in 1985 after being approached by the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester. Prints of the painting were sold to raise money for the center.

Steve, who belongs to the Rochester Regional Veterans Council, is developing a similar program. He aims to help veterans hospitals nationwide through a website where people will be able to purchase prints and cards of “Never Again” and designate which facility will receive a donation on their behalf.

No launch date has been set.

 

 

Thursday
Jul052012

Scott Grove

Awed by a Tutankhamen exhibit in New York City many years ago, Scott now incorporates elements of the Boy King's artifacts into pieces like this one, from the Gem series. The wood is inlaid with sterling silver, malachite, mother-of-pearl, onyx, lapis, goldstone, and other elements that reflect the color pallette of the famous pharaoh's tomb. The "fabric" draped over the piece is actually made of wood, carved from a solid piece of sycamore.A giant metal earth suspended above a corporate lobby. Shiny black and green abstract figures. And a table fit for a pharaoh.

This sculptor and furniture maker's studio is perhaps the only place these things might ever coexist.

King Tutankhamen would approve. Nearly 40 years ago, an exhibit of artifacts from the pharaoh's tomb so captivated Scott that he incorporated those ornate details into his work.

In his Gems collection, for instance, a trompe l'oeil (or “trick of the eye”) detail makes the wood veneer surface look as if it's been pulled back to reveal hidden treasures and intricate patterns underneath.

“I push veneering to new limits,” says the 2010 Grand Prize winner of the International Veneer Tech Craftsman Challenge.

For 36 years, this Rochester artist has been building treasures large and small out of wood, precious metal, glass, and gemstones. Originally from Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., Scott now lives on the banks of the Genesee near Rochester Institute of Technology, his alma mater.

ScottThere he earned a degree in environmental design from the School for American Crafts. But the skills that have sustained him as a craftsman have been largely self-taught. In fact, Scott has introduced a few techniques to the field himself. Wrote a book, too.

Over the years, his furniture and art have attracted the likes of Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, Saatchi & Saatchi Rowland, and other corporate clients for whom he's designed fixtures and furnishings. He also has a loyal following among private collectors.

This 54” bench from Scott's “Greenwave” series is made from dyed domestic red oak.His current 2000-square-foot studio is housed in a former post office on Cumberland Street in downtown Rochester. It's also on a much smaller scale than in years past.

“I used to have 10,000 with up to 10 employees,” Scott says. “Recently I scaled way back and for the first time in my life, I am working alone. I bring in help when I need to.”

The space may be new, but he's filled it with 30 years' worth of supplies.

“When I scaled down, I kept the cream of the crop in equipment and supplies,” Scott says.

“Texas Tea”—Carved from poplar with a polychrome finish, the 84-inch-tall totems are inspired by female forms and relationships between them.Those materials include some of the 100 different veneers he displays on his website, from Avidore to Sassafras Ziricote.

Professionally, he seems to have done everything from A to Z as well. He once owned and ran an an architectural fiberglass company. He work with artist Wendell Castle. And he's served on the product development team of Avon, N.Y.-based Robal Glass.

But its veneer where his artistic roots run deepest. And they do run deep.

“I'm a third generation artist, this is all I've ever known,” Scott says.

He's paid it forward to a new crop of artists, too.

“Over the years I have brought in a number of RIT students,” he says. “Taught them everything I know. Most have gone on to their own successful careers. I am very proud of that.”

Though he no longer hires legions of RIT students to work with him on projects, Scott says he's considering hiring a part-time assistant. If you know somebody, send Scott a note.

Scott's next big project?

“Veneering nudes,” he says.

“This latest piece is a culmination of many disciplines that I've worked on for the last 36 years,” says Scott, who also photographs nude figures.

“Working from a cast, my hope is to do an entire human figure, emerging through a sheet or panel.”

Pharaoh would approve.

“Advanced Veneering and Alternative Techniques” (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.) is Scott's 2011 manual for those interested in his craft. It includes techniques he developed himself.

 

See more: scottgrove.com

Say hi: on Facebook

* * *

If you're in the Rochester, N.Y., area, more than 65 pieces of Scott's work are on exhibit through July 26, 2012 at the Arts & Cultural Council Gallery, 277 N. Goodman St. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but to mark the citywide First Friday gallery night, the exhibit is open 5 to 9 p.m. July 6. An artist's reception takes place 4 to 9 p.m. July 12. For details, call (585) 473-4000 or visit ArtsRochester.org.