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Expect to be delighted and outraged by our incisive and sprawling coverage of culture and arts.

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    Perhaps Melly Still's remarkable Royal Shakespeare Company production of Cymbeline, William Shakespeare's romance period play -- unfolding in ancient Britain and written between 1608 and 1610 -- will be pertinent to American audiences now for the juicy fact that at its end it's about divisiveness, reconciliation and redemption. This, at a stateside time when those prickly conditions are bloating the headlines. (Check and local listings for screening dates and times.)

    With its convoluted plot (about which more shortly), Cymbeline came from Shakespeare's often fevered quill during the fast developing Jacobean period. It also emerged when the playwright was in his mid-forties and apparently entering a much more contemplative phase, or passage.

    That's to say that although blood, sweat and tears -- to borrow Winston Churchill's words from a much later United Kingdom world situation -- are rubbed-in-the-face present, as Jacobean drama required, there is also at the play's closing the pungent strain of forgiveness rather than retribution. Shakespeare writes, "Pardon's the word to all." And isn't that what so many across this presidential-campaign-mired nation are currently longing for?

    Cymbeline is the troubled King in Shakespeare's play, although among the many liberties Still takes with breathless abandon, King Cymbeline is now Queen Cymbeline (Gillian Bevan). Her daughter Innogen (Bethan Cullinane) has fallen in love with and married upright Posthumous (Hiran Abeysekera) instead of ne'er-do-well Cloten (Marcus Griffiths), whom the Queen prefers for all the wrong reasons.

    The dramatic knot is tied so tightly that untying it leads to, first, Posthumous leaving Britannia for more cosmopolitan Rome and then Innogen following him disguised as a lad and thinking to encounter her beloved at an intermediate rural spot.

    Some of the ensuing complications involve a stolen bracelet Posthumous gave Innogen and a ring she gave him that gets surrendered in a crooked bet. In a later act, there's a severed head and the body from which it was hacked believed to be Posthumous.

    Shakespeare repeated many of his favorite Elizabethan spins in Cymbeline, and there's no point in laying them all out. Still is aware of the challenges and, as her cast races hither and yon, she has done her best to make them at least somewhat plausible. The frenzied characters hustle non-stop through Anna Fleischle's graffiti-covered set (is that a Banksy on one wall?) and in Fleischle's patchwork denim costumes so innovative that smart couturiers may be cribbing them already.

    Still's myriad contributions are endlessly exciting and include a symbolic tree trunk sometime removed for the placement of a cave-like pit. (Camera angles for the screenings enhance the effect). The director's few flaws are a penchant for actors going into slow motion at times and -- for the screenings -- having the Italian, French and Latin spoken translated into those tongues and then projected as English subtitles on a wall too far away for reading.

    Sometimes it seems as if actors working at the RSC's Stratford-upon-Avon home merely breathe the air of Shakespeare's home and intuitively speak his speeches more trippingly on the tongue than it's heard anywhere else. Although Bevan, Cullinane, Abeysekera, Griffiths, James Clyde, Graham Turner and Kelly Williams have the most to say, there's no one in the ensemble less than top-drawer. And that's in a troupe where several women play male roles, though not vice versa.

    For reasons at least implied above, Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's less beloved plays. Nonetheless, Still strives to make a strong argument for it -- and succeeds. It could be that this is the best take on the play we could ever hope to see.

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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    For several decades split between the Hermitage and the Pushkin museums in Russia, the incredible Shchukin collection is arriving in the French capital.

    Considered one of the world's finest collections of modern art, it will go on view outside of Russia for the first time in nearly 100 years at the Fondation Louis Vuitton art center in Paris.

    Sergei Shchukin was a successful late 19th-century Russian businessman in the textile industry. Born in 1854 in Moscow, he died in 1936 in Paris. Starting in 1897 during a visit to Paris, he began collecting paintings from the masters of Impressionism.

    His first purchase was a Monet. Then he went on to the Russian avant-garde artists, filling the walls of his Moscow house with more than 250 pieces. An entire room of his Moscow mansion was dedicated to his 16 Gauguin Tahiti paintings.

    Famed Monet's Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe , Picasso's La Buveuse d'Absinthe , Matisse's L'Atelier Rose, are just a few of the masterpieces that made it to the museum in Paris. Braque, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissarro, are among the other 50 masters represented by the collection.

    After many great losses in his personal life - the death of his wife, his teenage son, Sergei, his brother and his youngest son -Shchukin pursued his art collecting with even greater fervor; he opened his residence, the Trubetskoy Palace, to art students and gave tours of his collection.


    After the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, his priceless collection was dismantled and handed to the powerful state, then distributed to several museums in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

    The art was labeled "bourgeois and cosmopolitan" by purgist dictator Joseph Stalin, who was in office from April 1922 to October 1952 and considered the art collection to be too decadent to be shown to the public.

    After the revolution, Shchukin fled to France and became a close friend and a patron of Henri Matisse. He went on to commission La Danse (seen above, 1909-10), and La Musique (1910), two of the artist's most celebrated works.

    A real art coup for the Fondation, the exhibit is likely to attract visitors from all over the world. Opened since exactly two years the Frank Gehry-designed building sits in the middle of the suburban woods at the door of Paris, encroached to the delightful Jardin d'Acclimatation inside the Bois de Boulogne, in the fancy 16th arrondissement of Paris.


    Sponsored by the group LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), the center is run as a nonprofit initiative, as part of LVMH's promotion of art and culture. Bernard Arnault, the Chairman of LVMH, was the definite mastermind behind the Shchukin travel to France.

    For many years, French André-Marc Delocque-Fourcaud, Shchukin's 74-year-old grandson, has been wanting to re-unite the collection for a complete show, but he found no museum in Russia or France with the hefty funds to see it through.

    After many secret shenanigans, the deal was made official when the French magnate signed the agreement with the Russian foreign ministry, as well as the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow to bring the entire collection together again in its entirety for a magnificent show.

    "For me, it's a big event," Arnault said recently, "the collection is one of the most beautiful that has ever been put together. It is a complete vision of the beginning of contemporary art."


    (Note: in French, the collection is spelled Chtchoukine.)

    INFO: "The Shchukin Collection: Icons of Modern Art".
    Oct. 22- Feb. 20, 2017.
    Fondation Louis Vuitton - 8 avenue du Mahatma Ghandi, Paris 75016.
    Tel: 33-1-40 69 96 00.
    Métro stop Les Sablons.
    A shuttle also runs from the Place Charles de Gaulle/Etoile for 1 Euro.
    Timed tickets for the show are 5, 10, or 16 Euros.

    Questions / Comments =
    Visit my website for more stories

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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    Adaptions are tricky.

    In the case of The Cherry Orchard, the Broadway revival now at the American Airlines Theater, the key is to retain sympathy for Chekhov's characters -- decadent aristocrats, materialistic bourgeoisie, student revolutionaries and serfs -- while retaining empathy for their specific circumstances.

    Actress Ranevskaya (a centered Diane Lane), the self-absorbed lady of the bankrupt manor, and her brother Gaev (John Glover), are forced to sell their estate and beloved orchard. Aristocratic wealth and power are changing; a middle-class is slowly emerging.

    Chekhov portrays the socio-economic class wars at a crucial crossroads in Russian history. Ranevskaya, who has returned from Paris, misses her childhood home, but is ill-equipped financially to save it. Neither can Gaev, an eccentric more obsessed with billiards than the bottom line.

    It is Ranevskaya's children, Anya (Tavi Gevinson) and Varya (Celia Kennan-Bolger), who will pay the higher price for parental ineptness. So, ultimately will Firs (Joel Grey), an elderly servant nostalgic for grander times.

    Yet in this updated version, the empathy is absent; and the 21st-century script underwhelms. Stephen Karam's revamp robs it of emotional depth, while Lopakhin, a business man eager to buy the estate, is played by Harold Perrineau like an aggressive Manhattan broker pressuring a client to close a deal.

    In short, Karam lacks subtlety, which lessens the overall emotional impact of Chekhov's masterwork, this time rendered by a multiracial cast.

    Revising period pieces can bring added meaning to a new generation of theatergoers. True, Chekhov's language can be tough and names confusing, but this production, despite Lane's best efforts, is stripped of its essence. That leaves both audience and orchard decimated.

    On a more upbeat note, The New Victory Theater is staging a super creative and joyful Mr. Popper's Penguins, based on the 1938 book. Mr. and Mrs. Popper live in the town of Stillwater. Mr. Popper is a friendly house painter, who quietly bemoans his drab life. The one bright spot: He is enthralled by explorers, especially Admiral Drake, stationed in the South Pole.

    One day, Mr. Popper writes him a fan letter. A few weeks later, Mr. Popper receives a surprise package -- a penguin he dubs Captain Cook. Captain Cook is growing, but his health is failing. The solution? Get him a mate -- and the Popper household is never the same!

    Brought to the stage by the UK's Pins and Needles Productions, Mr. Popper's Penguins is a 55-minute musical romp. It's funny, warm and unbelievably touching. It whimsically proves families come in all shapes and sizes, as do dreams.

    That's easy to understand, given the first-rate cast: Lucy Grattan (Greta/Admiral Drake), Toby Manley (Captain Cook/Mr. Greenbaum), Russell Morton (Mr. Popper) and Roxanne Palmer (Mrs. Popper)

    Charmingly directed by Emma Earle, designed by Zoe Squire and featuring Nick Barnes' brilliant puppetry design, Mr. Popper's Penguins is a great way to introduce children to the theater. Its captivating presentation will leave the kids wanting more.

    Also found in the never-enough category: George Gershwin. Specifically, The National Chorale and The National Chorale Orchestra's A Gershwin Celebration at Lincoln Center on Oct. 20. It's unusual to hear Gershwin's glorious Broadway numbers, such as "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" and "Stairway to Paradise," in chorale mode.

    And it takes some adjusting -- but it worked.

    Led by Everett Mccorvey, the orchestra magnificently performed "Rhapsody in Blue," a reminder of how remarkable the music was and is. (Gershwin had an interest in arranging the piece for full symphonic chorus and even wrote a few parts for a wordless choir before his untimely death.)

    The second act, specific selections from Porgy and Bess, Gershwin's famed folk opera, was moving and memorable, thanks to excellent solos by Karen Slack, Robert Mack, Janinah Burnett and Kenneth Overton.

    Don't miss the remaining 2016 concerts for National Chorale: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, The annual Handel's Messiah Sing-In and Mozart's Requiem.

    Photo: Joan Marcus

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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    An interview with the colorful and vibrant artist Courtney Eihnorn. Be sure to check her out at Miami Art Basel Novermber 28th - December 4th 2016. More information can be found on her website.

    1. Who are you and what do you do?
    Hi! I'm Courtney Einhorn and I'm an overambitious artist.

    2. What is your background? Does your background have an influence on your art? How so?
    Yep! Born and raised in Miami, it reflects in my work. This city is so colorful, diverse and energetic. Miami has a unique and majestic vibe which shines through in my vibrant and happy paintings.


    3. What inspires your work, if possible describe a real life situation?
    Visually, I'm inspired by everything I see around me.
    Emotionally, I'm inspired by individuals who have shared their stories with me on how my art has affected them. Some of these stories really stick out... One woman sent me an email that said she has a chronic illness, woke up feeling sick and happened to come across my art and it instantly made her smile.
    I received a message on Instagram from a lady who said "I'm a 61 year old disabled woman and I find myself looking at your art on a daily basis because it makes my day and brings me so much joy."
    I had someone stop me on the street and ask, "aren't you the artist who painted the parking meter in wynwood? I walk by it everyday on my lunch break and I go back to work in a better mood." There is literally no better feeling than hearing that my art moves people.

    4. What themes do you pursue?
    Color, color, and more color


    5. Why art?
    Growing up I was always drawn to art-- It was my favorite subject in school....I would sit in my parents kitchen and in my grandmas living room and set up an "art station" and paint for hours... I loved to visit NY and watch street artists artists. Ive always been fascinated by art.
    I was painting on and off my whole life, up until I got my masters degree in speech language pathology and started working full time. After a few years of working, sudden changes occurred in the workplace and I found myself unhappy. I quit my job with nothing else lined up. Two months later my mom gave me a canvas and some paints that she had at her house, and after a few minutes of painting, I realized how much I had missed it and that there had been a void in my life the previous years. I haven't stopped painting since that day.
    Aside from enjoying the act of painting, there is some science behind it too! In high school, my teacher told my parents she thought I had A.D.D., so I got tested. It turns out I had reading comprehension and auditory processing disorders (left side of brain). However the psychologist told me that as far as the visual testing (right side of brain), I broke all records he'd ever seen (with flying colors.. see what I did there ). Which makes perfect sense.


    6. Name something you love and why?
    MASSAGES! Over the last 3 years, I've been so wrapped up in my art career to the point where I often forget to have "me time" or even a social life. I'm never not working. On a daily basis I am either painting, marketing my work, researching artistic techniques, networking, working on specialty pieces for donations and charities, showing my work at galleries and festivals, applying to contests, and/or brainstorming and carrying out ways to use my artwork to better society. My brain is never not thinking about art. However, I regularly schedule massages so that I CAN turn my brain off for an hour or two and just be in the moment.

    7. What is your dream project?
    A solo show during Art Basel. However, being apart of art Basel is an honor in its self, and I am looking forward to exhibiting this year at Spectrum Miami!
    I also wouldn't mind traveling the world and painting everything in sight.

    8. Name other artists that you admire or have been an inspiration and why?
    Romero Britto was a guest speaker at my elementary school in 3rd grade, and that's when I fell even more in love with color. I'm also a huge Jackson pollock fan and I incorporate his "drip" painting style in most of my works!

    9. What's the best piece of advice you have been given?
    Two come to mind...
    A) "Do what makes you happy"
    B) "There's no right or wrong in art"... I'm a perfectionist. Throughout my painting journey, I've taught myself to tame my artistic perfectionism; if I accidentally spill paint or glitter on my canvas, or my hand slips and I paint an area I didn't intend to, that's okay. It's usually those paintings that end up selling best! I learned to just go with what feels right to me, and take risks. In the end, it's all about the viewer interpreting and connecting with the work that matters . Besides, what is more subjective than art?


    10. How did you find the strength to follow your passion for a living?
    Through social media! When I first started posting my paintings online, I didn't think much of it. But I quickly gained followers, received likes, comments, inquiries, sales, commissioned work, etc. I was no longer creating artwork for just my friends and family to see within my studio. People were admiring my work from all over the world! After about one month of painting, I was accepted into my first gallery exhibition and my dream of becoming an artist was actually coming true! So, social media gave me the confidence to follow my passion


    11. What were the pivotal steps or choices you made that lead you to this point?
    Being open to exploring all channels of art-- whether doing live paintings (I painted live during Pitbull's New Year's Eve concert last year!), guest speaking to children and adults about art, donating art to charities, networking, creating murals, volunteering, etc. Everything I do keeps opening up new doors

    12. What do you think is responsible for your success?
    My drive and determination. I'm a go getter... I have been going nonstop ever since I pursued an art career, without any help along the way. I've never cared about anything as much in my life as I do about my art, so I'm constantly trying to push the envelope. I strive to be the best!

    Instagram @courtneyeinhorn

    Courtney Einhorn

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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    William Thompson in his Brooklyn, NY studio (2016)

    We were both working on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt when I first met William Thompson. By our 9:00am break that same day I learned just how dedicated he was to his art. Today, as we both work on the second season of the hit comedy-drama Master of None, I see more than ever his unrelenting devotion to art.

    As a scenic artist and a member of Local 829 you are afforded scheduled breaks at various times of the work day, which most often is ten hours long. During these breaks, and for the large majority of scenic artists, you will hear lively conversation and observe smart phone surfing and snacking. This is not the case with Thompson. He will most often be sitting somewhere, alone and drawing in a small, softbound sketchbook he keeps in his pocket. This is not to say he is anti-social. The reality is quite the contrary - Thompson is funny, intelligent, an excellent scenic and a joy to work with. However, what is most important to know about Thompson is that he is a talented and passionate artist who makes powerful images that are as introspective and haunting as they are visceral and emotive. His art ranges vastly in size and in scope depending on the content of each work. Most of the time he presents himself as the subject, whether he is the protagonist, the victim or just an innocent witness. In many ways, his art parallels contemporary society as he uses quite beautifully, metaphor and symbolism to make his notions, feeling and observations known. Yet there is always mystery, something we cannot know about him that keeps us as viewers quizzically intrigued.

    The following is a conversation I had with Thompson where I've given him a chance to unravel his passions, uncomfortable realities, and struggles he has put forth in his work.


    William Thompson, SP Red (2012) oil on masonite, 5 x 6.5 inches

    DDL: First, I want to mention that you will have a self-portrait in Facie: Self-Portraiture Interpreted by 25 Artists, which is a show I curated for Galerie Protégé in New York City. The painting I selected is quite small, but incredibly powerful as your use of red to enhance the form goes beyond reality and into a psychosocial realm. Can you tell me a bit about your thinking behind this work, as well as your self-portraiture in general?

    WT: Before we begin, I'd like to thank you for that very kind intro, it is very much appreciated. I am looking forward to and honored to be a part of the upcoming Facie show, which promises to be a very exciting collection of work. My piece in the show, Self-Portrait Red (2012), is one where I use color 'temperature' to describe an internal emotional struggle. The juxtaposition of the intense warmth of the red, combined with the almost cold grey describes my attempt to balance a strong sense of peace and calm with that of severe anger and turmoil. This is an emotional state that I seem to permanently find myself in, and it is a common theme in most of my work.

    The self-portrait has always been a sort of daily meditation for me. It is a very grounding way to keep my skills up for some of the larger, more ambitious paintings. Over time, they have become a visual diary of my life, the experiences I've lived through and a very clear indicator of the way that I've aged over time (I try to be honest in my execution). The subtle expression or gaze I capture in these works is a reminder of what was going on in my life at that particular time. As you might can see in the image of my self-portrait installation, the consistent quantity of self-portraits that I produce gives one a glimpse into my attempt to control/calm my obsessive compulsive tendencies, and use them for something that is productive and creative. The self-portrait is something that is eternally infused in my work. I believe that by expressing my own experiences in a very honest and straightforward way will hopefully touch upon something familiar and relatable to the world outside.

    DDL: I have to say, I am deeply impressed by the vast number and quality of the self-portraits, while hearing how they all have a function beyond their visual impressiveness that makes them even more powerful. I'm reminded of the self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo and the portraits of Alice Neel when I hear you talk about your self-portraits as all three used the this genre less as a record of a physical appearance and more of a very revealing recording of a mental state.

    Tell me about The Well (2014). The stormy sky and the futility of yelling into the abyss, the endless uninhabited landscape and the color of the well are all simultaneously primal and perplexing.


    William Thompson, The Well (2014), oil on canvas, 52 x 71 inches

    WT: The Well was conceived out of the idea of trying to guard and safely contain certain feelings/emotions that are very sensitive, intimate and sacred to me. I've always had a very difficult time expressing myself verbally, which is exacerbated by a very strong social phobia (which I've tried to manage since a young age). It's just always been easier to express myself through visual means. I feel as though it is my responsibility to honor a feeling/thought by communicating it in a creative manner. So The Well represents what painting is for me, a reliquary for storing my most intimate feelings/thoughts - it is the facilitator that allows me to honor these emotions by expressing them in the most respectful and clearest way that I know how.

    The desolate and barren landscape serves to further reinforce the privacy and intimacy of The Well. It serves to give greater emphasis to the isolation and solitude that I associate with painting. The intensity of the figure's scream and the notion that at any moment he may leap into the well expresses how all consuming this manner of communication is for me.

    DDL: There is, with The Well and many other paintings, a sense of frustration and release in your work. I find it most interesting how focused and defined you are in the way you indicate your visions and feelings. Every little detail counts, a full, all in approach to your message - nothing is overlooked. In that way, your art immediately becomes classic, even timeless as these feelings you express are primal and as old as mankind. I also believe that your traits are part of the artistic mentality that is both a blessing and a curse. We've both heard many times how someone from the outside might be thinking "ah, the life of the artist, doing what you want, having fun painting and drawing..." but it's really not like that at all. It takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication to create something that is living in your mind and something has to fuel that and it is very often a negative observation or a bad feeling that you are trying to erase or shed light on and it's all very personal. The struggling artist model is not about the money; it's about the emotional side, and more specifically in your case, the social phobia that only makes the whole situation more driven by pain.

    I'm not aware of any of your influences but the Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum comes to mind as he too reveals much more pain and anxiety in his work than one is used to seeing.

    Maelstrom (2014) looks to me to be about total submission. Here, we see you in a small wooden boat, oar-less and heading for a relentless whirlpool that is about to swallow you and your boat whole. The sea, which is icy cold with puffs of fog hovering just above the surface, is patiently waiting to cool your soul to its very core.


    William Thompson, Maelstron (2014), oil on canvas, 34 x 57 inches

    WT: That was very beautifully stated, and perfectly describes what I've always known painting to be about. Yes, I think that using painting for catharsis is extraordinarily fulfilling and satisfying, but it's also very excruciating and emotionally draining most of the time. To spend each day (for months) reliving and working through deeply wounding emotions (in painstaking detail) is a very strange way to work through them - there's certainly nothing "carefree" about it. But at the end of that long process, with the finished piece, you do gain some sort of reconciliation, and you have produced something that others may relate to or gain some sort of comfort from. It's a time consuming but very gratifying way to communicate extremely private emotions and hopefully make a meaningful and sincere connection with the viewer.

    I do like Nerdrum, although I haven't really followed him in quite a while, he was an important early influence. Other influences have included: Jusepe de Ribera, Käthe Kollwitz, Rembrandt, Edward Steichen, Antonio Ciseri, Ivan Kramskoi, Ilya Repin, Jacek Malczewski, Franz Kline were also early influences. At some point though, I stopped looking religiously at these artists, the goal being to internalize and channel them subconsciously rather than directly. I believe it's also necessary to leave early influences behind if you have any chance of finding your own voice. Nowadays I draw a lot of inspiration from the music that I listen to. Bands that most accurately match the mood and energy that I want to convey with the painting.

    Maelstrom is very much about total submission. I've always been fascinated by the idea of a maelstrom. The almost mythic status of a giant vortex in the middle of the sea, being swept up by such a powerful natural force and following it down to see where it ends. Maelstrom is about completely giving yourself over to what you are passionate about, letting it consume and sweep you away to an uncertain end (the figure here seams very willing to allow himself to be pulled down to an almost certain death). This absolutely parallels the connection that I have with my work, how completely immersive and consuming it can be, and how (at one point or another) it has caused problems with nearly all other areas of life (particularly relationships). There is a second panel to this piece, entitled Maelstrom II, which depicts the aftermath (a figure floats lifelessly underwater, seemingly at peace, but uncertain if still alive).

    DDL: We recently talked a little bit about your painting False Hope (2015), how it is not you but something of a metaphor for your older self. This is a man you know of, who always rides a bike like you everywhere he goes throughout the city and beyond. But beyond that, there are a few strong triggers that elicit various narratives. There are two main indicators of futility: the fact the he is cycling in a room with no visible way out; plus the dangling carrot, the light that is just beyond his face but not far enough away to truly enlighten him about his situation. Add to this the subtle circular tire marks on the floor and the hint of the beyond, a translucent, panoramic view of wooded area along a waterway or lake, imagery intended to calm the nerves perhaps? I also find the industrial grade gas heat blower near the ceiling to be a very curious detail. It is like you know this specific place and this exact circumstance even if it is metaphorical in all of its states.


    William Thompson, False Hope (2015), oil on canvas, 75 x 83 inches

    WT: Your reading of this piece is very accurate. False Hope is mainly about experiencing love that is one sided, and the heartbreak involved in pursuing something that will never be reached. A small generator (powering the overhanging light, that is just out of reach) is attached to the bike's wheel, so as long as the bike is pedaled it will keep the light of hope illuminated and the figure will continue to follow it. That blinding desire to obtain the light and embrace something that seems so very close distracts the figure from realizing that he is actually in a cell, riding in circles (going nowhere), futilely chasing something that will never be reached.

    Most all of my paintings are metaphors for actual experiences I've had. With False Hope, I was attempting to document my own experience with this sort of relationship, when I actually cycled from NYC all the way to Baltimore to be with someone who I had long been in love with. Over time, I began to realize that the feeling was not mutual and, much like the figure in the painting, I had fooled myself into believing that I would finally reach the light (love). This piece has a specific meaning for me personally, but it can easily be applied to any situation where you pursue something that will never be obtained, which you alone are in control of either stopping or perpetuating.

    Yes, the model that I used for this piece is a really interesting individual. He lives in a trailer, in an unkempt lot in Greenpoint (Brooklyn), with 3 mangy looking dogs. He doesn't necessarily have all of his mental facilities, but I always found him so inspiring because no matter where he went, he would either cycle or run as a practical means for doing errands but also as a sort of a compulsive fitness routine. He always wore a very haggard, exhausted expression during his runs that I found to be very familiar, which I also deeply identified with. So, using him as a model was intended to be both a portrayal of my older self and an interpretation of the exact feelings attached to the experience in False Hope.


    William Thompson, Burning Too (2016), oil on canvas, 44 x 53 inches

    DDL: I would like to end our conversation discussing what I think is a very significant work for our time, Burning Too (2016). Everything about this painting is alarming and sad. The destruction of the earth's wildlife for personal gain, cronyism, the Last Supper-like staging as a metaphor for one final celebration of 'achievement' before the planet dies as a result of the efforts of big business and the unethical tactics to gain more and more political power. It's all there, greedy men with ice in their veins - who could just sit there and do nothing and believe that they are behaving morally? Unfortunately, it is a sad truth. If we continue to move in our current direction any number of factors could end it all. Burning Too puts forth so much truth that it is hard to take it all in at one time and I admire you greatly for having the strength and the ability to create it.

    WT: Again, another very accurate interpretation. With Burning Too, I tried to imagine what the individuals who are the most responsible for our current climate crises would actually behave like during the apocalypse. I imagine that, being the opportunists that they are (benefiting from the worlds greatest tragedies), they would gather up all of the newly extinct species of the world and have one final, decadent feast (presumably to celebrate their greatest and final victory over our planet?). We can see this mentality put into practice even now, where oil companies are able to navigate through new waterways in the arctic (which are now opening up due to the melting glaciers) and exploiting new, untapped reserves that were never possible to reach before. To me, it's baffling and an endless source frustration. It is astounding how the greed and sociopathic practices of just a few powerful industries can potentially decimate all life on this planet, and they seem to be sprinting toward that end.

    I also think it's an extremely disheartening fact that we have a significantly large portion of the population who are skeptical of, or flat out reject, the science surrounding climate change. It's made even worse when we have a major party candidate who denies it completely, and proudly runs on that platform. That's a very frightening notion. My hope is that there are enough intelligent people who live in reality and care enough about this issue to make choices that will hopefully lead us away from a future that resembles Burning Too.

    DDL: We all need to do what we can to stem the tide. I only hope there is still enough time to do so.

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    Look out below--Boston is preparing itself for abductions, poisoned roses, and stormy seas.

    Opening October 27, Ivan Liška's Le Corsaire will transport Boston Ballet audiences to an olden world of pirates, palaces, and provocation. With glitzy choreography and a cinematic score by Adolphe Adam that could fill a stadium, this pirate saga is a visual spectacle. Giant, ornate sets and bold costumes create otherworldly surroundings. The classical choreography is full of movements that showcase the dancers' inspiring technical prowess.

    "Ivan Liška, the choreographer, has precise understanding of the story and perceptive insights into the musicality of his ballet," said dancer Florimond Lorieux. He plays Ali, a slave who attains freedom from his master, the greedy merchant Lankedem, by joining a band of pirates.

    "I really love this narrative ballet," continued Lorieux. "I love working on the interpretation until I embody the role. In a short while, I won't just be dancing the role of Ali, I will be Ali, a man who is dancing for his freedom and fighting for love!"

    The story is taken from Lord Byron's 1814 epic poem "The Corsair." First staged as a ballet in Paris in 1856, the modern productions follow from Marius Petipa's late 19th century revivals in Russia. Petipa's is a world where evil and greed meet heroism and love. It's a tour de force of abduction and rescue, poisoned roses and pirate grottoes and shipwrecks. The women are daring and spirited, the men dashing.

    "Medora has a gracious mind just like her appearance," said Seo Hye Han, the dancer playing the Greek beauty Medora, who is sold by Lankedem into the sultan Pasha's harem.

    Dancer Lia Cirio plays Gulnara, a harem girl who revels in the luxuries provided by Pasha. Cirio discussed dancing the role of a "fun and flirty" character within a classical ballet.

    "Although Gulnara is dressed exotically and is somewhat of a strong character--she is fairly determined to get what she wants--the style of movement in the ballet is extremely classical. This version of the ballet was a partial reconstruction of Petipa's 1899 revival with dances added by Ivan. So, it is a marrying of original and very classical choreography with an exotic character like Gulnara. This can be a challenge, but a challenge I am excited to tackle."

    Eris Nezha, the dancer playing the pirate Birbanto, spoke of his character's courageous attributes.

    "Birbanto is an intrepid man," Nezha said. "Adventurous, fearless, feared, and well-respected among fellow pirates. He maintains the very spirit of a pirate until the end. He will not betray what he is; what the audience will perceive as a character transformation--from good to bad--I perceive as honoring my pirate essence till my last breath, and this is what makes my role exciting and challenging!"

    Le Corsaire is a narrative ballet, so the dancers must tell a story through their movements, making technical precision essential.

    "While technique is always important in ballet, in a story ballet, it is important to make sure the audience is aware of what is happening," said Cirio.

    Added Han, "It is very important to have high technique for this full length ballet. But what is even more important in narrative ballets is the ability to play the character and make it believable for the audience."

    Lorieux reflected on the challenge of dancing Ali, whom he characterized as "a really strong guy, with mind-blowing energy and a heroic attitude."
    "I'm more of a romantic dancer," Lorieux acknowledged, "so I am working hard on the dance movement but also on the way Ali should walk, or fight, because all the scenes between the dance parts are even more important to build a character."

    "I love to act and to become a character," said Cirio. "Becoming Gulnara, flirty and a bit manipulative, is a blast."

    "She knows exactly how to play the game," Cirio continued. "She wants to have a better life and believes that being sold to Pasha's harem will fill her life with many riches and comfort."

    Roddy Doble, who plays the wealthy merchant Lankedem, said he's grateful to be unlike the character he's portraying.

    "Lankedem is a savvy businessman, whose lack of scruples, paired with his greed, means he'd sell you his soul for the right price. I'm proud to say I don't find him to be a particularly relatable individual for me, but it's terribly fun to play such a wicked character!"

    Set in three sweeping acts, Le Corsaire is both regal and explosive. The dancers all expressed appreciation for Liška's choreography and guidance.

    "Ivan encouraged me to respond very naturally to what happens to Medora throughout the ballet," said Han. "He gave me the tools during his coaching not only technically, but also to make my character realistic and help the audience to feel what I am dancing."
    Bring on the abductions, poisoned roses, and stormy seas!

    Maria Baranova and Michal Krcmar in Ivan Liška/Marius Petipa's Le Corsaire; photo by Sakari Viika, courtesy of The Finnish National Opera and Ballet


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    You force fed me your forbidden fruit.
    I choked on that red offering.
    I could not swallow anymore.
    You smiled with sadistic scorn.
    You didn't wait for my coughs to stop.
    You thrust more apple down my throat
    Without reason, punishing me
    Stuffing shards shouting, eat, eat, eat!

    Tyranny compelled me to run
    From paradise to the unknown.
    I said goodbye to the garden.
    I left you to find my freedom
    Where I, not you, do the choosing,
    Understanding what I'm losing:
    The comfort of the familiar,
    Eden, benign spirit killer!

    I look at my reflection.
    My fingers trace worn wrinkled skin,
    Unseen tattoos my body bears,
    Magic inked invisible scars;
    Icons of your displaced self love.
    Serving you was never enough.
    You were hunger and lust and greed,
    An insatiable trinity!

    Am I the only one who sees this?

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    Refugees from all around Europe including a group of misfit artists found a safe haven in neutral Switzerland one hundred years ago while World War One raged. A mix of painters, poets, sculptors and performers banded together and founded the avant-garde art movement known as Dada. Their work would influence the surrealists and modernists in Paris like Miró and some critics say the composers Erik Satie (who worked with Picasso and Cocteau) and also John Cage owed some of their work to the Dada influence which could even later be noted in punk music and the band Devo.

    The German poet Hugo Ball introduced the Dada manifesto in July 1916 that was part anti-war and anti-art with a tone of rebelling against bourgeois society and the cultural and political conformity that they believed created the conditions for war. He said: "For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in." Their publicist, poet Tristan Tzara (whose pseudonym means 'sad in country', a name chosen to protest the treatment of Jews in his native Romania) also promoted 'Dada means nothing' to show their anti everything stance was an attitude for minimalism and shedding of the old conventions to create a new ethic.
    Their home base was a small performance room above a restaurant in the old town of Zurich called Cabaret Voltaire where they gave performances and encouraged a variety of arts including music, sculpture, theater and poetry in a form of protest. Their wild performances are what we would call open-mic today where anyone could present their latest work or create outrageous combinations of expressions. The prime instigator was usually Hugo Ball playing piano accompanied by his girlfriend singing cabaret style.

    I had a chance to share a bit of the Dada history when the city of Zürich decided seven years ago that it didn't want to fund what they saw as a left leaning arts establishment. The Cabaret organized a campaign to bring the matter to a public vote and I supported their campaign efforts being an artist who likes to help fellow creative types. And when they won the vote to receive funding I was invited to participate in their celebration.

    2016-10-22-1477137693-6545174-DSCN0187.jpg Being a bit of a cultural refugee myself having moved to quiet little Switzerland from big bad Los Angeles I was honored to be able to take the stage at the venerable location. (The cabaret is in a 200-year-old building that includes a museum, café and small theater with a bar.) I had a thirty-minute time slot and organized a multi-media show around reading from a work in progress that is now my recently published book Nirvana Blues. A local hip-hop spoken word poet named Sean Byron joined me and we alternated dialogue from the characters with reading sections from the tale. I had a road movie playing in the background me driving along the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Malibu with colorful images of canyons and beautiful coastline.

    One of the subplots in the book is about a rock 'n' roll band who in real life were my neighbors and I'd been graciously allowed to use the words from a song of theirs. I organized a local music producer to make an instrumental version of the song that I would use as a soundtrack for some promotional videos but tonight I had a different purpose in mind. While the music played Sean read the words to the song and then carried on improvising in time with the music with lines that made sense and perfectly rhymed. It was so flawlessly executed the audience at first thought he was still reading from the book.

    While I was grateful to be able to perform in such a historical venue the best moment of the evening came at the end. Somebody I knew had been taking photos and heard one of the guests at a table in the back say after I had finished: 'Hey, that was really Dada!'. My eclectic performance had received the ultimate compliment in the Cabaret Voltaire as I joined the ranks of the cabarets performers inventing new ways of expression.

    Authors note: many local events have been organized celebrating this years one hundred years of Dada - click here for details.

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    There's a bit of Stevie Nicks and a bit of Alanis Morissette perhaps, a bit of country ballad and a bit of rock n'roll in Sara Melson's third album "Safe and Sound." But similarities or possible influences aside they form a whole that is unique to this talented singer/songwriter/actress. This ethereal and quirky series of ballads and rock-outs was recorded in a vintage airstream trailer in the middle of an orange grove in Ojai and in Beachwood Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Melson's voice and technique continue to mature and this third and latest effort is a sometimes melancholic, sometimes tough voyage through a dreamland of beautiful sounds and lyrics. The songs' great strengths--and her music's in general-- lies in their honest emotion and clear intelligence. In "El Matador Beach, Melson sings: I held your heart on El Matador Beach/ Breathing with the waves/Birds flew ahead just out of reach /In the shade beneath the cave/A girl in pink and yellow danced by /In the land of golden youth/I love you so much that it made me cry/For the sad, sad joy of the truth/...Oh, hear the waves, breathing on and on/They're not gonna pause for a moment/After we are gone." Indeed. Listeners looking for a new and explosive voice, as well as some well-crafted and inventive lyrics couldn't do much better than Safe and Sound--a gift to everyone from the irrepressibly sexy and talented Sara Melson.

    You can purchase "Safe and Sound" on iTunes: or at :

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  • 10/23/16--19:48: Nuclear Trump
  • Thank you Republican heroes who refuse to vote

    for Mr. Trump for love of country. I love you…for real.


                         Photo courtesy of artist

    This painting is a thank you to Republican heroes, both public* and regular folk. They are the ones not lying to themselves about the meltdown that is a Trump presidency. They refuse to vote for a candidate who is grossly unqualified and a danger to the country. Love of country over politics. It takes courage and character to walk away from your nominee, and to do the right thing. Thank you for not voting for Trump. I love you for it.

    During the first Clinton/Trump debate over 80 million viewers witnessed the sinkhole that is Trump’s mind. For God’s sake, Man, FOCUS, and say something to show us you prepared. Didn’t happen. Trump’s trippy stream-of-consciousness answers to debate questions scared the hell out of me. This isn't a Jack Kerouac novel. It's our lives.

    While some Trump supporters relish getting off on misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic taunts during Trump rallies like haters drunk on moonshine, the fun stops when Trump’s undisciplined, distracted, rambling mind gets the nuclear codes. A hyped-up Trump at 3:20 AM was exacting revenge on a former Miss Universe by tweeting a link to her sex tape. The thought of adding nuclear codes to a President Trump’s repertoire of adolescent comebacks keeps me up at night.

    Politico explains what it means to have the nuclear codes. “With a single phone call, the commander in chief has virtually unlimited power to rain down nuclear weapons on any adversarial regime and country at any time. You might imagine this awesome executive power would be hamstrung with checks and balances, but by law, custom and congressional deference there may be no responsibility where the president has more absolute control.”

    Fifty Republican high-ranking national security advisors and experts have signed a letter denouncing Trump-for-President. These officials have served Republican Presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. They are breaking ranks no matter the consequences. They see a Trump presidency as a national security threat. Their letter concludes, “We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.” They lend their resumes’ gravitas to a #Never Trump movement even if their defection helps Democrats.

    Do we all get how big this is?

    We are witnessing mutiny led by conscience at the highest level in the G.O.P.

    Republicans are helping the enemy, the Democrats, stop Trump from becoming President. Their extraordinary gesture shoves political adversaries onto common ground -- we all love our country equally when it comes to stopping a threat. Some will hold their noses in this clumsy embrace. But all know they must repudiate Trump if they are to put country first.

    Every Republican leader, and rank and file voter thinking critically and acting rationally deserve our respect. They are not voting for Trump. The Dallas Morning News editorial sums it up. “Donald Trump is Not A Real Republican.”

    The #NeverTrump Republicans are putting love of country over politics. Thank you. This painting is for you with love.


    * I agree with President Obama that some Republican leaders and media outlets don’t get credit for disavowing a Trump candidacy when they have been responsible for creating it. “This is in the swamp of crazy that has been fed over and over and over and over again,” the President said. For years, FOX and other outlets have exploited loyal Republican minds with misinformation and half-truths for political gain. In the documentary, The Brainwashing of My Dad, Jen Senko wonders how her dad, who never had a bad thing to say about any race, people or person, came to revile black people, poor people, Hispanics, gays, feminists, and Democrats. The founders of say they are on a mission “to reclaim America’s brain from media outlets that use fear and misinformation to shut down our ability to think critically and act rationally in our democracy. “


    This artist is a Hillary supporter without equivocation. There have been and will be policy disagreements with the Republicans referenced in this piece. But today, they are heroes. Credit where credit is due.




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    Greenway's 1984 Marquee - Photo by Kristen Addix

    "...the past is unchangeable."
    "...the force of gravity works."
    "...two plus two equals four."

    In a clash of art meets today's social-political life, the Greenway Court Theater's new, visually and aurally stunning adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 novel brings a modern day reality to a work written in 1948. Greenway's very versatile theater space has been taken over by director Kate Jopson's dynamic, young production team to create an immersive performance that starts before the first act in the venue's outer courtyard, continues during the play and includes a "Two Minute Hate" audience session that felt eerily like a Trump rally -- let the jeers fly!

    This member of the audience among many others, including English and Theater Arts students from Fairfax High School, left the performance both exhilarated and in somber conversation and thought.


    The Jopson directed play was like interactive performance theater, including: vibrant visuals -- a TV news-like scrawl swoops across the whole backdrop, while shadowy images of the main characters and intimations of Big Brother peer down, along with a stark lighting sequence interrupted by occasional warm moments; two live string musicians, glide about the stage reflecting the characters' emotions with original compositions and other pieces like Csárdás by Vittorio Monti on violin; and, a passionate, tight-knit cast highlighted by three non-Caucasians as the three leads -- Randolph Thompson (Winston), Amielynn Abellera (Julia), Peggy A. Blow (O'Brien) -- who powerfully engage in the age-old battle of the individual versus an over-bearing authority.

    It's a primal battle that goes back thousands of years. In ancient Greece, Socrates imparted ideas to impressionable youth that fell outside the boundaries of what was sanctioned by Athenian society. Now, this inspired production of 1984 takes on even more impetus as we routinely hear "hate" speeches in the political arena, view distasteful cyber bullying in the teenage and school arena, and see routine violence that inspires the cause that black lives do matter!

    Given the heated temperature of these arenas, Greenway Arts Alliance and Fairfax's English teachers selected 1984 as the first assignment in "Greenway Reads" -- an innovative novel-to-stage program which launched in September, and which will see over 300 Fairfax students study the book and/or script before they see the Greenway Court production, which is located right on the Fairfax campus and which will run from October 21 to November 19.


    Peggy A. Blow (O'Brien), Amielynn Abellera (Julia), Randolph Thompson (Winston)

    And what a fascinating production they will see. Angela Barrett, a new theater arts teacher at Fairfax is thrilled about Greenway Reads' goals:

    I have all 140 theater students involved. We're finishing up the reading of the book/script and students will be looking at characters and putting together short scenes from the play as their class assignment -- culminating with the Greenway performance. Any time students can read a play and then see a professional performance - that's the ultimate. Also, as we study the 1984 book and/or script, we're comparing today's political, social, governmental, and technological society with 'Big Brother's' totalitarian control and deciding if this type of power is or is not possible in today's high-tech society. It's a fascinating discussion.


    Winston and O'Brien

    Director Jopson is excited about making the audience, for both adults and students, an active, fun participant within the play:

    We're not making it a scary tale about communism as Orwell did. There are rituals in our play that reflect the real world today, like at political rallies, or when you're allowed to use hate speech, like in cyber bullying. The elements of the play and its themes are all around us in the real world, so we're emphasizing that and as soon as you arrive at the theater's outer courtyard, audience members are under surveillance, and are then given simple instructions to carry out. We create an immersive experience, and there's not anywhere you're not in the set of 1984, even in the courtyard, lobby and bathrooms where there are Party and Prole-only signs.


    Prole rules - Photo by Kristen Addix

    This twenty-first century makeover of 1984 with its thrilling concoction of visual theater, music and projection, makes for a fun experience. And there are interactive elements that will appeal to the students at their "matinee" performances.


    Kristen Addix, a musician, artist and savvy "medical" app developer, who had previously seen The Actors' Gang production of Orwell's 1984, enthusiastically noted about this Greenway production:

    The separation of the audience into groups (Inner, Outer Party, and Prole) was a great way to include and share the experience of the characters. The use of the two musicians onstage and their relationship is brilliant -- it speaks more than words at times. There's also an unsung hero in this production's use of an amazing sound editor. The art direction was similarly brilliant and set the stage for the actors to shine. Overall, the production team created the ambiance for all the emotional and visceral reactions in this awesome production of 1984.

    That production team included among others: Jesse Mandapat (sound design), Hana S. Kim (projection design), Halei Parker (costume design), Bo Tindell (lighting designer), J.R. Bruce (set and prop design), and Susan Coulter (production stage manager).

    In this political season of people shouting out "wrong" to facts, hope and reasoned optimism, here's a solid -- if you want to be part of an entertaining and thought-provoking, immersive theater night out, check out Greenway Court Theater's brilliant production of George Orwell's 1984, playing now till November 19.

    Find out more about this stage adaptation of 1984 (October 21-November 19), check out Greenway Court Theater, and follow Greenway Arts and its associated Melrose Trading Post on Facebook.

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  • 10/24/16--05:27: Promiscuity
  • 2016-10-24-1477311904-9168599-475pxLeandre__Madame_Bovary_p323.jpg

    There's a longing for promiscuity, an emotion that some may experience when they read or hear about the romantic and glamorous liaisons or others. This is a modern day form of Bovarysme which equates the known and familiar with boredom. "Familiarity breeds contempt" goes the old saw. But there are others who experience less a longing for promiscuity than a promiscuity in their longings. The chief characteristic of this emotion is an obsessive glimpsing into lives that seem to be preferable to one's own. You look at another person's existence whether it involves multiple lovers, money, travel or even just working out of the house (when you have to commute to your deadly job) and feel you've been left out. The longing for promiscuity is actually a subset of the promiscuity of longing containing as it does a relatively narrower set of dissatisfactions mostly relating to the bedroom. While the longing for promiscuity is a squall, promiscuity of longing is like one of those large destructive storms that leaves a wide path of destruction in its wake. It's the direct confutation of Buddhist precepts like living in the now or wanting what you have and is predicated on a perverse from of romanticism that values what has yet to be over what is. The promiscuity of longing is like a systemic disease that eventually will infect every part of your being. From being simply a faithless lover, you turn into a person who is ultimately disloyal to everyone.

    illustration from Flaubert's Madame Bovary by Charles Leandre

    {This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}

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    This essay is part of a series, produced by the Berggruen Institute and Zócalo Public Square, on philosopher Charles Taylor, recipient of the 2016 Berggruen Prize.

    When I announced in 2011 that my senior undergraduate seminar would be devoted to wading through Charles Taylor’s mammoth 900-page tome, “A Secular Age,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. Taylor is one of the world’s most celebrated thinkers, but I had my doubts that my students at Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts college of about 4,000 students, would want to wrestle with the work of this notoriously difficult Canadian philosopher. When the seminar table filled, I was intrigued. Either these students were gluttons for punishment, or Taylor’s questions about belief and unbelief in the 21st century had struck a nerve.

    We began working through Taylor’s dense argument and I worried that we’d soon lose each other in the dark forest of his prose. Like with Hansel and Gretel, reading Taylor requires you bring breadcrumbs to trace an argument that has you bouncing from late medieval monasticism to German philosophy to lyrics from torch singer Peggy Lee.

    But to my students’ astonishment (and mine), as they made their way through the book, lights went on for them, illuminating the world they live in in a new way. “It’s like he’s reading our mail,” one student said. If you’ve grown up in post-1960s North America, “A Secular Age,” which was published in 2007, is like an episode of “This is Your Life” or “Finding Your Roots”: It’s the backstory to the fractured world in which we find ourselves. For people who have strong beliefs, as many of my students do, living in a world that is secular is to experience belief haunted by doubt almost daily. And then that doubt is itself haunted by an enduring longing for something more ― what Taylor, a practicing Roman Catholic, calls a “fullness,” a sense of significance that has the punch of transcendence about it, even if we believe this world is all we’ve got.

    If God is dead, the only audience left to confirm our virtue is one another.

    What did this octogenarian philosopher help my millennial students see, and what did they see in him?

    Well, for starters, he helped explain why their generation considers “authenticity” the predominant virtue. In Taylor’s telling, the way humans see and imagine the world ― what he calls our “social imaginary” ― shifted in modernity from being religious and largely Christian to become “the modern moral order.” Rather than being obligated to God or “higher” eternal norms, today our obligations are for the mutual benefit of society. My moral obligations are to my neighbor, and everyone is my neighbor — so my obligations are universal. While we might no longer be haunted by God or eternity, in a sense the stakes are raised even higher: I’m responsible for everyone, all the time. There is no end to my obligation, no parameters for my responsibility. In a sense, we have to fill the vacuum left by God’s death. Those are big shoes to fill.

    But there is a flip side to this: If we’re all we’ve got, Taylor says, it means we’re always “on” not only because we are always responsible, but also because everybody’s watching. So we live in what Taylor calls an age of “mutual display” in which we show our individualism and virtue by making sure others see it. If God is dead, the only audience left to confirm our virtue is one another. David Foster Wallace got at this dynamic in a famous essay on television that is only more true in our internet age. What television did to us, Wallace argued, was turn us into watchers who expected to be watched. He, too, told a philosophical story about this, asking readers to imagine a “universe in which God is Nielsen.” Today, as my students explained, everyone is Nielsen, rating you

    Taylor helped them make sense of the almost paralyzing self-consciousness that has descended upon them with the constant display/watch dynamic that attends social media. They know the exhaustion of what it means to always be “on,” and they are well aware of the judgmentalism they experience when they don’t “display” the right things in the right way. And they start to wonder if the all-seeing God might not have been a little more forgiving than the non-stop monitoring of Snapchat and Instagram.  

    But Taylor also helped them understand a spiritual dynamic they experience. What makes ours a “secular” age, he writes, is not that it is defined by unbelief, but rather that belief is contestable and contested. Belief of every sort is “fragilized,” as Taylor puts it ― destabilized by rival accounts and doubts. For more traditional “believers,” this means their faith is attended by doubt as a constant companion. “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24) is a prayer they understand well.

    But Taylor explains that it’s not only believers who suffer from doubt. In our secular age, the unbeliever can find herself tempted to believe. She may take up yoga, or sacrificially devote herself to causes of justice, or find herself strangely attracted to the Dominican nuns down the street who keep inviting her to spiritual retreats. The doubter’s doubt is faith. (As the novelist Julian Barnes admitted in his memoir, “Nothing to Be Frightened Of”: “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.”)

    I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.
    Julian Barnes

    Unlike the world described to my students by religious fundamentalists, this is a world that they recognize. Taylor did justice to the complexity of their experience and the messiness of their spiritual lives, giving voice to their doubts, to be sure, but also giving them permission to admit they also still wanted to believe something more. There is a kind of sincerity about Taylor’s philosophical analysis that allowed them to step out of the cage of ironic cynicism. 

    Taylor is the first to admit that “A Secular Age” is an heir to Romanticism: He is trying to offer a philosophy that gives due attention to what if feels like to live in the world ― a theoretical account that acknowledges the importance of our affections, our embodiment, all the visceral ways that we grope through the dizzying existence of our late modern world.

    My students found in Taylor’s work a kind of “hitchhiker’s guide” to a secular age. But not everyone has the luxury of spending four months working through it. Which is why I decided, after that semester, to write a book about a book in an attempt to bring Taylor’s insights to a wider audience. The response has been quite overwhelming — people from all walks of life have told me that Taylor’s analysis gave them their bearings in the confusion of a secular age. Some religious believers told me it gave them permission to voice their doubts, to be honest about how hard it is to believe. Skeptics and atheists tell me Taylor puts a finger on the rumbling spirituality they can’t shake. So this big philosophical tome ends up doing what David Foster Wallace used to say a good novel is supposed to do: give us a sense that we aren’t alone. Someone understands us and has given names to the landscape we live in.

    Taylor’s book makes me think of an image by the Romantic German painter Caspar David Friedrich called Monastery Graveyard in the Snow. Stark, skeleton-like trees frame the ruins of a cloistered community. You can feel the chill of north winds blowing across the scene like the gales of enlightened disbelief blowing across Europe. The gravestones point to the dead who used to believe. (Fittingly, all we have is a black-and-white image of the painting, which was destroyed during World War II.) 

    But then, when I look closer at this image, I notice that amidst those grave markers is a tiny band of monks, obstinate but haunted, still looking for something. Is it force of habit that propels them? Or has the enlightenment they were promised proven unfulfilling? Better to pray in the ruins than settle for disenchantment. Charles Taylor suggests that many of us are like this band of seekers: We see the ruins, we know the world has changed, we know there’s no going back. But we also can’t shake a hunger, a longing, a haunting that we welcome. 

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    Danish painter Cathrine Raben Davidsen was only 13 years old when she suddenly lost her father. "I started making art because I lacked words. Art was my way of dealing with loss." Meet an artist whose work is a meditation on loss, both personal and societal.

    The loss of her parent was the catalyst for Raben Davidsen's entry into art. Unconsciously, "it was a way of connecting with my father," says the artist. While she has moved away from her personal loss in her work, it remains a driving factor in a wider, global sense. Raben Davidsen's later work builds on images of victims of conflict, remediating media images of death and loss. "I do have an ability of channeling into the feeling of loss," explains the artist. "But what interests me today isn't what happens when we die ... It's a transformation of form and includes the difference between body and soul and form and non-form."

    Cathrine Raben Davidsen (b. 1972) is a Danish artist working primarily in painting, although her practice also includes drawing, ceramics, textile work and printmaking. She was partly educated in Florence, Italy and this classical training is clearly visible in her work, which combines art historical imagery with personal recollection to create fragile, dreamlike pieces. She has designed set and costumes for The Royal Danish Ballet and her work has been shown internationally, among others at SHOWstudio, London, UK and the Museum of Art and Design, New York.

    Cathrine Raben Davidsen was interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg at her studio in Copenhagen, Denmark in August 2016.

    Camera: Klaus Elmer
    Produced and edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg

    Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

    Supported by Nordea-Fonden

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    How much more enjoyable it is to speak of love and marriage than of splitting up, but divorce happens, and it happens to artists at probably the same rate as for everyone else. Marital property - everything acquired during the marriage - needs to be divided in some way: the cars, the house, the bank account, the furniture. So, too, the artwork created by the artist-spouse, and along with the physical objects are current and future revenues from licensing as well as the copyright.

    Does any of this come as a surprise? "Artists tend not to think of the artwork they create as property, marital or otherwise," said Barbara J. Gislason, a lawyer in Minneapolis who specializes in both family law and intellectual property. Artists often look at their unsold creations, which may be placed in storage, stacked somewhere in the studio, decorating the house or on consignment to a gallery, as theirs by right. The courts, however, view any artwork created during a marriage as community or marital property, to which the non-artist spouse has an equal claim. (That extends to copyright, which a 1987 ruling from the California Court of Appeals belongs not "only to the author" but "must be considered community property.")

    Not everything is up for grabs. Artworks created prior to the marriage and those produced after the couple has separated or filed for divorce (depending upon the jurisdiction) are not counted as marital property. Payments agreed upon before the marriage, such as for an art commission or licensing agreement, that arrive after the wedding also are excluded from the marital assets.

    The first requirement for an artist in the midst of a divorce is "to develop an inventory, a detailed list of all the artworks that have been made, which were made before the marriage, which were made during the marriage, which have been sold and at what price and which haven't been sold," said Raoul Felder, a divorce attorney in New York City. The location of unsold pieces created during the marriage needs to be identified, and hiding artworks or failure to disclose licensing documents could be a source of future lawsuits. "Half or even 100 percent of any undisclosed and unallocated assets may be awarded to the other spouse, depending upon if the failure to disclose is determined to be the result of fraud by the nondisclosing spouse," warned Valerie L. Patten, a family and art law practitioner in Palo Alto, California.

    In addition, some value must be assigned these artworks. That evaluation might be done by a professional appraiser or even a gallery owner - a dealer may be the only source of pricing information in the event that no secondary market exists for the artist's work. Preferably, the spouses will agree on a single appraiser or dealer to determine values, but both sides are entitled to pick their own experts, with final estimates negotiated by lawyers or by a judge in a court of law. "You want to avoid the vagaries of separate appraisals," said Manhattan attorney Malcolm Taub, and separate appraisals also double the legal costs. However, spouses may determine their own valuations, without needing to bring in other people. Past sales, or the lack of sales, are a central part of the discussion as is a sense of realism. If an artist has had an exhibition of 20 works, and only two of them sold, for $3,000 apiece, it could be argued that the other 18 also are worth $3,000 or that those works have little to no value (or something in-between). Most states' divorce laws are based on what is called "equitable distribution," which refers to roughly comparable values for each partner on a marital balance sheet, and the goal of the judiciary is for the spouses to find ways to divvy up assets and property that each side finds acceptable.

    More complicated is determining a value for artworks that have not been exhibited or even completed: What is the value of a clay model or maquette? When the piece is brought to a foundry, how many will be cast in an edition, and what will be the price of each? Taub stated that unfinished artworks might be assessed at some fraction of their value when completed. In these instances, the division of artistic property might be structured in terms of future earnings. The clay model in the studio may not have any value in itself but, if cast in an edition, could generate revenues in the future. "Unsold works of art have a speculative value, but it is still a value," said Amy L. Beauchaine, a lawyer in Orlando, Florida whose practice includes both entertainment and family law. "I've seen agreements where an ex-spouse will be paid less than 50 percent, say 20 percent, if a work produced during a marriage is sold within three years' time after the divorce." Additionally, the non-artist spouse might agree to cede future earnings in exchange for being freed from responsibility for a current foundry bill, since debts accrued during the marriage also belong to both spouses.

    "Judges don't want to take away property from the person who created it," said Gislason. They also don't want to be in the position of assigning market value to artworks in a marital estate, recognizing that the art market may be in turmoil and that individual pieces might be sold only as conditions permit. Putting a large number of artworks on the market at one time is apt to result in lower prices and, perhaps, few or no sales, which complicates the divorce settlement and damages the artist's market. Because of this, judges prefer artists in the midst of a divorce to devise some means of assigning values to art property that is agreeable to their spouses without the intercession of the courts. Most family law cases are settled without going to trial, leaving a judge with no further responsibility than to sign off on an agreement.

    In the end, a divorcing couple is supposed to derive equal value in marital assets on a final balance sheet. Therefore, "artists need to be realistic about the value of their own work, she stated. "If the artist is inflating values, the lawyer for the spouse is likely to recommend that the artist keep it at the crazy price, and the spouse will get more on his or her side of the balance sheet."

    During a marriage, an artist may make gifts to his or her spouse of some work of art, but that gift still is part of marital property. If the spouses wishes to retain the gift, something of equal value is to go to the artist's side of the balance sheet.

    The fact of incorporating themselves as a business would not separate artists' earnings and artwork from marital property. According to Brett Ward, a lawyer in New York City who has handled the divorces of numerous artists, performers and writers, "the court would determine the value of the corporation and require, say, half to be paid to the spouse."

    Until the property division has been settled in a divorce decree, artwork may not be loaned, sold or destroyed without the consent of the other spouse. It is unlikely that the non-artist spouse would object to sales at a gallery exhibition, since that may lead to money that can be shared, although a sell-off of one or more artworks at below established prices might be objected to for depressing the market.

    Divorce negotiations are a time of considerable horse-trading. Ward noted that "more established artists generally have a wealth of other assets, such as real estate and investments, which can be traded for works of art that the artists especially want to retain, while less established artists may only have the works of art." Emerging artists may view their artwork as more valuable than their spouses who hadn't seen it selling and are willing to trade their interest in it for something more immediate, such as the computer or the car.

    "Things I made I kept," said painter and printmaker Janet Fish, who married and divorced painter Rackstraw Downes. "If you're making these things, it seems that they should stay with you." (Downes kept his own paintings after the divorce, too.) That point of view might have been a point of contention but for the fact that neither artist was experiencing sales at the time of their divorce, and dividing up their accumulation of artworks only would have been for sentimental reasons. When painter Lois Dodd divorced sculptor William King, on the other hand, he took some of her paintings and she some of his sculpture. "We didn't argue about it," Dodd said. "It was more like, 'Do you like this piece?' 'Can I have that one of yours?' We wanted things to be as amicable as possible."

    The value of any licensing contracts or the creation of multiples and derivative works, known as copyright, similarly is a matter of negotiation, with money changing hands as part of the divorce settlement or by an agreement to share profits after the divorce. When Charles M. Schulz, creator of the long-running "Peanuts" comic strip, divorced his wife of 24 years, he agreed to share future revenues from his work at the initial rate of 27 percent, decreasing over a 10-year period to 15 percent. Similarly, when comedian Jerry Lewis divorced his wife, Patti, after 35 years, they agreed that he would retain ownership rights to the films he had made during that time, but she would have a half-interest in the royalties from them.

    With copyright, spouses may decide that one will own the physical object while the other owns the copyright (that insures an ongoing business relationship between the two), or one side might buy out the other's copyright interests. For the artist, but just as much for the spouse - particularly if there are ongoing financial interests between the two or children who will need to be supported - the goal must be to maintain the art career with as little interruption as possible.

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    ONLY FOOTPRINTS, by Jeta B, Dec 2015, Grande-Synthe, France
    The International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 1 million migrants arrived across Europe in 2015. The continuing refugee crisis is being met with hostility instead of compassion. The footprint reminds us of the long and dangerous journeys they've undertaken in the hope of a new life.

    Painter Norman Lewis said, "The goal of the artist must be aesthetic development, and in a universal sense, to make in his own way some contribution to culture." Perhaps Nina Simone was paraphrasing him when she said, "It is an artist's duty to reflect the times." Migrants and refugees are dying on European shores and borders trying to escape the horrors of war. Unfortunately, nationalistic fervor has some blaming the economy and other woes on the refugee crisis.

    Enter Jeta B, a former European political public relations strategist turned photographer and storyteller. Jeta came to NYC from Brighton to follow her passion of photography. Her public relations skills complemented her photography to tell a story intimately. From her exhibits featuring Hurricane Sandy to urban youth with One Eye on the future, she captures humanity, weaving fragility and strength. When she returned to her beloved Brighton, she used her talents to highlight the refugee crisis. She started the #BeInTheirShoes campaign to gather shoe donations in Brighton and developed it into a photography campaign supporting efforts to bring unaccompanied minors in Calais who are eligible to safety in the UK. It is also a fundraising campaign for the Hummingbird project, where Jeta is a volunteer.


    Photo Credit: Jeta B

    Jeta has an eye for capturing the soul of her subjects. Maybe that is why her recent photo exhibition, BE IN THEIR SHOES is so moving. Jeta, along with other UK artists, teamed up with the Hummingbird Project to chronicle the condition of refugees living in camps in Northern France. Jeta's humble ask to #BeInTheirShoes is even more poignant because she was internally displaced herself during the Kosovo war, with friends and family in refugee camps.

    Unaccompanied minors, children and teenagers, who either lost their parents or traveled alone from war torn countries are being united with relatives in the UK after spending months in the Calais "Jungle." Life in the "jungle" for unaccompanied minors was precarious. There were allegations of unaccompanied minors being forced and lured into crime and prostitution for basic necessities like food, shelter, or a shower.


    Photo Credit: Jeta B

    Jeta's photograph, Only Footprints, beckons the reader to question one's own humanity looking at a lone shoe left embedded in the mud hoping the wearer survived and is safe. When we walk in the shoes of another, it is harder to be callous or indifferent to their plight. Jeta's photographs are being transformed by muralist Sinna One into graffiti art displayed throughout Brighton to challenge the anti-refugee sentiment as the UK welcomes unaccompanied minors from Calais.

    "With #BeInTheirShoes, I want to gather the support and the voice of the Europeans who are not represented by the anti-refugee sentiment and channel that support into funding to help volunteers working in refugee camps." - Jeta B


    Photo Credit: Jeta B

    This originally appeared on Ronda's blog, Ronda-isms.

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  • 10/24/16--12:06: Didi Menendez's 'Chévere'
  • I have known and admired Didi Menendez for many years, and was a fan years before I knew her. She has been publishing art magazines for a long time. She curates with limitless energy and creativity, and showed a friendly eye to figurative painting at a time when it still had few friends. In the course of her work, she has created a loose-knit global community of thousands of artists, art world professionals, collectors, and art lovers. She is the living heart of something special.

    Every once in a while, Menendez names a theme and asks artists to run with it.

    Chévere is such a project, identified only as work "inspired by the Romance Languages of Latin America" (Menendez herself is a Cuban expatriate - her family fled Castro when she was a child). The project, curated by Menendez and collaborator Sergio Gomez, manifests as an issue of Menendez's Poets/Artists magazine, and as an exhibition at Sirona Fine Art in Florida, and online as an Artsy show. Some of the artists are from Latin America, others not. Therefore some of the artists draw on memory and experience of their own countries and peoples, and others on their encounters with cultures foreign to their own, and others still on imagination and images cobbled together from film and art and literature. The project becomes a great act of communion and empathy, a celebration of being together.

    Like the vast cultural and geographical territory of its subject matter, Chévere does not come down to one idea or moral. Resonances arise between artworks, sometimes by chance and other times by cultural affinity. No point is driven home; this is not a synthesis but a mosaic. Let me appreciate a few of the pieces with you, and recommend that you check out one form of the project or another to enjoy the rest of them. Poems and writing by Joe Amato, Ana Menendez, Nin Andrews, Grace Cavalieri, Ivy Alvarez, and others are included in the magazine and PDF formats of the project as well.

    Reuben Negron, Chris and Mario | watercolor on paper | 36 x 48 inches | 2016

    Reuben Negron, a Latino artist raised in a white community, has struggled over the years to distinguish an authentic sense of his Latino heritage from ideas about it derived from his surrounding culture. As a human being, he continues to work toward a serenity he has long since reached in his artwork. His watercolors evoke scenes of luminous, sunlit domesticity. They have the stillness of home, of being at home. His people are generally caught in scenes of the eroticism of those well along the path of commitment to life together. In Chris and Mario, a couple fools around on an enclosed porch. The uncurtained windows expose them to public view, but their focus and activity are private. They are, of course, gay, transgressing against expectations of masculinity which Negron does not find authentic to his experience of Latino-ness. They are lost in each other, and in the enjoyment of a vivid present. Negron evokes this overwhelming, ripe present with his eye for detail, his patient and loving observation of those tiny elements which make a scene recognizably itself: the reflection of windows in the curved glass of a television screen, the exact shapes of wooden furniture legs, the cool shadows of a plant pot, the different lusters of various cushions, the rippling of an old rug. The scene is anchored in the minute, the specific, and the real, and this anchoring liberates its emotional core to represent any such scene among lifetime partners glimpsed in their home.

    Tanja Gant, Ensueño | graphite on smooth Strathmore Bristol paper 300 series | 20 x 15 inches | 2016

    Tanja Gant's Ensueño addresses the subject of the project at the level of the flesh. There is nothing more European, more "white," than Gant's painstakingly invisible pencil marks, or the pose of the model, evoking a crouching Aphrodite. The application of this image tradition to the girl at hand integrates her into that tradition. The drawing, therefore, is a celebration of using the eyes one has to see new things - that the many peoples of this Earth look different from one another, and to love from one family to the next, it is first required that one learn to see. With her meticulous pencil, Gant teaches herself to see the golden flesh, the curves and athletic power of her young subject, drenched in the sun, ready to take flight. Seeing, Gant comes to know who she looks at, and to adore her.

    Omalix, Hasta la Raíz [To the Root] | oil on canvas | 36 x 64 inches | 2016

    Omalix, born in Venezuela and living in Florida, paints a painting here that impresses on me that I do not know anything at all about chévere, about Latin America or its romance languages. A woman stands in front of a moody sky upon a field of twisted branches. There is something gorgeously dramatic about this, full of portent - it's a cliffhanger of a painting. Nothing about it tells me to think of that tremendous landmass stretching across half the world, so far south of where I sit in New York City. It is a scene for me outside of place and time, an invocation of a facet of the absolute human condition. I think this is part of Menendez's point with her project as well - that to delve far enough into art "inspired by the Romance Languages of Latin America" is to find that every preconception one has is incomplete or irrelevant, that one must start fresh and be open to the impossibility of any ultimate synopsis.

    Yunior Hurtado Torres, Esperando la Luz | oil on canvas | 60 x 60 inches | 2016

    Other paintings do evoke the things I think of when I try to consider this subject. Is this painting, with its vivid oranges and sharp brushwork, its hard light and bright shadows, depicting a fashionable woman with full lips and square jaw, a city street with its antique Studebaker reflected in her jade-framed sunglasses - any less true because it is the exact truth I can imagine? Similarly, is Jules Arthur's Afro-Cuban man, so thrillingly natty in dress, so proud in his direct gaze, in his environment of saturated blues and rusts and yellows, any less true because I have already learned to treasure faces and colors like them from The Buena Vista Social Club?

    Jules Arthur, Havana's Finest | oil on wood panel, constructed wooden box frame, fabric, leather, 23k gold leaf lettering, brass hardware, cigars from Cuba, mixed media | 41 x 60 x 4 inches | 2016

    Of course not. They are all true. This is what makes Menendez the curator she is: she is willing to recognize and embrace a thousand truths, demanding nothing of her artists but that they offer her the best they have to give.


    More pieces from this splendid compilation below, with a couple notes of my observations - many more pieces are not included, but are well worth looking at for yourself by clicking the links at the bottom.

    Irvin Rodriguez, Lost In A Gaze | charcoal and pastel on paper | 27.5 x 19.5 inches | 2015

    Consider this piece first as a purely formal composition of values, light to dark. It is expertly focused, and its drama first arises in the many sharp and conflicting diagonals. Then allow yourself to see what it is a picture of: a woman sitting, lost in thought. The subject, so seemingly peaceful, virtually erupts. Her thoughts cannot be peaceful, this is a furious image.

    Elsa Muñoz, Boy in Green | oil on panel | 24 x 24 inches | 2016

    A prepubescent boy faces away from us. We can tell his ethnicity from his hair and coloring, but his story is the story of all boys growing up: shirtless and cocksure, turning away from what they know, facing toward the uncertain world - and, set against that vast uncertainty, revealed again as terribly young, fearfully vulnerable. There is nothing for them but to take the first step and accept the risks. This is how we grow.

    Matthew Cherry, Love to Love You Baby | oil on canvas | 84 x 64 inches | 2016

    Cherry's couple here seems constructed out of music, each brushstroke a beat, the figures dynamically charging across space like those found in Inca or Aztec art. Cherry's work is virtually consumed with the translation of hectic rhythm into fixed images, while his subjects have a Whitmanesque acceptance of themselves in their hairy and imperfect glory.

    Santiago Galeas, Safe Space | oil on canvas | 30 x 30 inches | 2016

    This is a bewitching composition, its full and empty figures, its aquas and magentas, orchestrated to produce a shifting, uncomfortably flattened space. Consider the menace of the erased mouth, the uncanniness of the upside-down eye hiding in the shirt.

    Dorielle Caimi, Surface Tension | oil and gold leaf on canvas | 52 x 38 inches | 2016

    One of Caimi's recurring themes is the anxiety attendant on being a woman. What makes her special is how funny she is about it. Here, her distracted, soft-bellied mermaid gnaws at her own tail, a shocking - and therefore funny - image for all of the forms of self-attack and self-mutilation women carry out when their ideas of their bodies become unacceptable to them.

    Elizabeth Claire Ospina, Corinne | oil on linen | 36 x 48 inches | 2016

    This may make more sense to the artists among you, but this painting enters into a rare and special zone. Looking at it, I initially found myself wondering if the dropoff in light from chest to forearms was plausible, if the fingers could be that dark. I wondered if that vertical line down her chest was anatomically valid. I bounced back and forth between what I was looking at and what I know. And I could not answer the questions. Her observations could be true observations. What is special is that it doesn't matter. As with Mannerist art, Ospina's depiction becomes weightless. It need not be true, because it is right. It is everything the painting wants and needs; it would be diminished if it were invisibly correct, and also if it were painfully incorrect. It is what it is, a painting that is its own universe.


    Poets/Artists Magazine:
    Sirona Fine Art:
    Opening reception December 3, 6-9 p.m.
    On display until January 7, 2017
    Artsy show:

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  • 10/25/16--04:14: Part Three: New York City
  • The first decade of our marriage, my husband Glenn and I had one niece and one nephew. It made it very easy to begin a tradition that would eventually become unsustainable. Our siblings started to procreate willy nilly starting in the mid 1990's, and we now have a total of 13 wonderful nieces and nephews. But for a while there, in the late 80's and early 90's, Rachel and her brother Dave were the only show in town.

    We began to host them for a week each, in the summer. We began calling it Camp Thomas, and we'd schedule vacation days to devote our full attention to our charges. We would try and tailor the week around them, and what they liked to do. We did lots of field trips to zoos, museums, the State Capitol, and Fort Snelling. We'd go roller-skating around the lakes or take in a Twins game at the old Metrodome. It was kind of like entertaining an out of town client, who happens to be in grade school.

    Since they lived in Fargo-Moorhead, and we live in the Twin Cities, we made sure to take advantage of what this larger metro area can offer. Occasionally we'd choose something that might edify or educate. It's important to balance the learning with lots of fun, and we learned the hard way that we had to back off and pick more kid friendly options when our nephew Dave wouldn't try a hot fudge malt we were offering him, because he thought we were trying to trick him into eating something healthy.

    As the years passed our income grew a bit and expenses were manageable, so we thought we'd plan for a really memorable Camp Thomas. By this time, Rachel was 14 and Dave was 12, so we allowed them to each make a list of a few places they'd like to travel to in the continental United States, and together we'd help them each make their final choice. David planned to go to the Los Angeles area and out into the desert and 29 Palms. Rachel's top pick was New York City, because she wanted to see Late Night With David Letterman.

    I'm glad we were able to steer Rachel to NYC, since her second choice was going to Kentucky to look for professional wrestler Miss Elizabeth. A fan magazine had written a story about her living in Kentucky, with her horse. Rachel assumed if we flew to Kentucky, we'd be able to find her.

    Memories are such fallible things. I remembered few details of our New York City trip, but thanks to my niece Rachel, I am now able to describe a trip that had in many ways faded from my memory. Not because of anything bad, but perhaps because the trip was fun and not threatening. Or maybe I had forgotten so much because it was a long time ago, and I didn't write down the details. Or maybe it was because I put most of the photos we took during that trip, into a scrapbook for Rachel. Then I put what photos I kept into a massive plastic bin in my basement. That bin lurks in my laundry room, waiting for me to sort through and organize the last few decades of my life. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.

    After a talk with my niece, I remembered so many details. We spent our first night in NYC at the Barbizon Hotel, in a room the size of a postage stamp. The next few nights we stayed at the Hotel Edison with a larger room and a view out of our window. Getting up early on our first day, we had Rachel put a 20 dollar bill in her shoe, in case we got separated, so she could take a taxi to the hotel and wait for us there. That day, we all waited in line for several hours, in front of the Ed Sullivan theatre, hoping to get a few last minute tickets to be in the audience for Late Night With David Letterman. A couple of people way up in front were able to get tickets, but they probably woke up before the crack of dawn to stand in that line.

    When we didn't get tickets for Late Night With David Letterman, we decided to wait a few more minutes to see that days guests arrive. We waited with a small crowd until a limo pulled up and Keanu Reeves walked past. Then Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter-Cash arrived, and walked the line. They all seemed nice, but they didn't linger.

    After we watched celebrities walk into the Ed Sullivan Theatre, we decided to go see the new movie Speed, starring Keanu Reeves which had just opened. According to Wikipedia, Speed premiered June 10th, 1994. The movie theatre was right near Times Square. We got to watch Speed on a huge screen, in a big city, with the star of the movie himself walking on a sidewalk nearby, and it was thrilling.

    The following day Rachel and I went to lunch at the Russian Tea Room. It was a somber atmosphere, dimly lit, with male waiters who wore formal attire and held samovars. I ordered some caviar for us, thinking that would be a sophisticated choice, but Rachel didn't want to try it. I tried it and it was not tasty, it was salty. I carefully and discretely spit it into my napkin and then went into the bathroom to wipe my tongue off with a paper towel.

    We went to see STOMP in the East Village, and afterwards we spotted Melanie Hutsell of Saturday Night Live fame, on the street right in front of the theatre! We walked up and said hi, and even chatted with her a little bit. She was so nice to us, and let us take a photo with her. There were no digital cameras for us back in 1994, so each photo taken was considered carefully, and then you'd bring the film to the drug store, wait a few days for it to be processed, and then when you picked up your developed photos you were finally able to see pictures of your trip. Luckily the celebrity shot of Melanie Hutsell turned out! The following day we went to the Statue of Liberty and when it started raining, umbrella salesmen sprouted everywhere.

    Our last day we took the elevator to the top of the Empire State building, and when we looked down we saw lots of moths flying around, near the top. But then we realized they weren't moths, they were cigarette butts that people had flicked off the building and because of the wind gusts, they didn't fall, they just floated and flocked in the air. I wonder if there's fewer cigarette butts floating there these days.

    Before leaving the city, there was one final thing we needed to do. Much like Dubliners kissing a Blarney Stone, we were in New York, so we stepped into the gift shop run by Sirajul and Mujibur. At that time, the duo were a regular feature on Late Night With David Letterman, and quite famous. They also let us take a photo with them, and then we bought green foam Statue of Liberty crowns that we all wore proudly on the bus to the airport.

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    I am from New England, where we take Halloween really seriously. In Massachusetts, the ghosts of the past are part of our everyday. We speak in magic, we still believe in curses. We hold poetry readings in graveyards under the light of the Harvest Moon. We say 'wicked' a lot. Our gothic spires look like a page straight out of the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling even chose Mount Greylock in my hometown as the setting for Ilvermorny, the Hogwarts of North America. So it is that I come from magic and stardust, legend and lore.

    In the land of witch trials and wizarding schools, Halloween is so much more than a holiday. Here it is a whole season: one that begins on the fall equinox, as the balance between daylight and nighttime begins to shift and plunges us headlong into darkness. It is the season of autumn nights, when the cold creeps in and skeleton trees reach eerie fingers to the sky. It is a time of whispers, a silent prayer for all those who walk a land of shadows.

    This one's for the ghouls: for there is an unspeakable power that wells up from the blackest depths of our soul. It rattles in chains, it haunts our nights, until something inside us breaks.

    We try our best. We hope and plead and pray. We struggle, we fight to overcome.

    Halloween is the one night a year when we can stand and revel in our darkness. In the fear that lives inside of us and the pain and frustration just trying to get out. We get just one night, to be fire and menace and mischief. To be something wild and boundless and free. To break out of the trappings of the ordinary and let our demons escape to the sky. To dance with spirits. To drift like clouds up, away from the world on a starved moonless night.

    In Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack the Pumpkin King sings,

    "Oh there's an empty place in my bones
    That calls out for something unknown
    The fame and praise come year after year
    Does nothing for... these empty tears."

    Halloween is the realm of anyone who knows what it is to hurt, to dream of something more in a world gone grey. Like Jack, some of us see light in the shadows, colors in the dark. And so, we stay up all night: trying to find some moment of clarity in our midnight humanity.

    Jack Skellington longs for beauty in the world he knows.

    I believe in the unknown, in the things not yet discovered, in the unseen that we sense in our hearts but have not yet found a way to form into scientific theories or pretty words. That longing is part of the tragic beauty of the human experience. It is part of us and that's okay. Deep in the night, we all long to lose ourselves in a far-off midnight world: to dance with goblins, to make friends with the wild things. For as Guster achingly explains, "a demon cannot be hurt."

    Tim Burton explores this haunting sense of wonder in his latest film. From the ashes of a ghostly ruin, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children brings the creative vision of Ransom Riggs' best-selling novel to the big screen. The story reminds us that there is beauty hidden in the shadows: that the world is a far better place when we are courageous enough to embrace our strangeness. For when we deny the ugly and cast out the dark, we cast out part of ourselves.

    "Blessed are the weird," writes Jacob Nordby in his visionary new book on art and emotion. "The poets and misfits, the artists, the writers and musicmakers, the dreamers and outsiders--for they force us to see the world differently." And so, as we stumble, as we search for answers in the great beyond, the things that move us soul-deep become the bonfire to which we are breathlessly drawn.

    There is a magic in words. They steal our breath, burn into memory, until they become in time not lyrics in a song, but the words to our own stories. The music of this season of flame and frost is a soundtrack for the things left unsaid, the pain pushed down, the despair that is brimming to the surface. There is mystery and meaning to be found in the cracks between darkness and light. As smoke curls up and leaves drift back to earth, lines of poetry can catch us in the fall.

    Long winters take a toll on the northern soul. When the sun sinks low in the sky and daylight dies out, restless spirits begin to roam. There is a song by Third Eye Blind that laments this creeping sense of loss, "After Halloween, everything starts fading / I'm losing everyone, I go down like the sun..." But for one glorious night each year, we embrace the black of night and are set free. We herald the winter to come and accept the darkness in our hearts that we know too well.

    Halloween is the time when we can fully and unapologetically embrace our shadow selves. When we can revel in the things that creak and creep, when we come face to face with the ghosts that haunt us. Somewhere, far away, a clock strikes the witching hour. A blood moon rises over our suffering, our promise. In the dark, we are hellfire and dreams. We rise with the night. We are written in the stars. We are faster than the demons and stronger than we know.

    Ready to rock out your inner monster? Check out my Halloween playlist, feat. The Plain White T's, Taylor Swift, The Killers, Dalton Rapattoni and more.

    GIFs: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas via GIPHY

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    Somewhere in the December 14, 1970 edition of New York Magazine, mention is made of a restaurant called The Running Footman, located at 133 East 61, only a few blocks from Bloomingdale's. In the same issue you can read pieces like "RFK Freshly Remembered" (Interviews by Jean Stein, edited by George Plimpton) and "Confessions of a Youth Marketeer" by Andrew Tobias. There are reviews of restaurants by Gael Greene, of theater by John Simon and an advertisement for Rober Grimsby and Bill Beutel on Eyewitness News and one for a lost Catskills Institution called The Corcord which reads "Do Your Christmas Shopping Early at the Singles Weekend." Farrah, Straus and Giroux advertises Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic & Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers for $5.95. The Running Footman was a creature of its times, a clubby restaurant, with an English hunt scene theme. It occupied a long narrow room presided over by a maitre d' who met you at the top of a small set of stairs which descended into the main dining room. It was the kind of place that was filled with people who looked vaguely familiar and had achieved something short of celebrity status, affluent people who were more prone to being known and respected by those in the industries in which they worked than to the general public. The Running Footman was the vestige of an age in which income inequality of the kind we see today (where middle and upper middle class diners are almost poor compare to hedge fund managers) hadn't yet reared its ugly head. Thomas Piketty the author of Capital in the 21st Century wasn't even born. You might have found readers of Vance Packard's The Status Seekers, at The Running Footman. There was a driver named Tiny who was actually huge and fat and who was popular with patrons of The Running Footman. His stretch limo added to the atmosphere of aristocratic entitlement that made the restaurant popular on the Upper East Side of its time.

    {This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}

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