Monday, May 20, 2019

The 40th Anniversary Venice Art Walk!

The forecast said rain for Sunday, and that would be a major drag for the 40th anniversary edition of the Venice Art Walk to benefit our Venice Family Clinic ... but the sun came out just in time, and the day was glorious in every way.

We were shooting artists and families for our documentary 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED, so it was extra great that the rain stopped, like PHEW. I didn't get around to as many artist studios as I usually do, because we were shooting, but I did get to race through the Google campus to see the silent auction part of the day. There didn't seem to be as much art in there as most years, but I didn't have as much time either, so all was well - and there was plenty of art to be seen.

The Gold's Gym parking lot was decked out as a family fun zone, complete with a rainbow balloon arch to welcome you, as we were looking for real rainbows in the sky.

So many local (and global) artists support the Venice Art Walk, and the Venice Family Clinic supports so many artists - and regular people too. Health care is such an issue in this country, and that we have a resource that looks out for everyone - regardless of income - is a special gift, and really the point of the entire event and day.

I had just been to the wonderful We Rise L.A. opening night a couple nights before, so my head was full of art that actually matters, and was happy to see that the artists representing Venice were also using their heads and talents to make their points.

There was a lot of great work, and I just quick snapped shots of the ones that I'd want to have in my own home, like the California Bear.

I met a woman named Kim Schoenstadt at a party the night before, and she told me her work would be in the Art Walk, so I looked for it and found it there. It's pretty cool, as it's kind of paint by number, and you buy the outline, then fill it in yourself for an interactive piece. Cool, right?

There was work by people you see on the streets of Venice every day, and there was work from people that aren't living anymore. There were things with low opening bids from up and comers, and there were real expensive pieces by dudes like Ed Ruscha.

The signature artist this year was Laura Owens, whose work was not only up for auction, but adorned all the official tote bags this year.

This year they had a bunch of Art Walk artists do their own version of a dog sculpture, and the individually decorated hounds were also up for auction.

There are always a lot of cool people roaming around the Venice Art Walk, but probably the coolest this year was Flea, who was not trying to blend in with his entirely purple outfit, yellow shoes, and pink hair.  Californication personified!

Andy Moses had a piece that reminded me of really good Spin Art, and it made me think of his dad, Ed, who we lost last year.

One of my favorite pieces inside was one that said "Good Night, Sleep Tight" with words made of a collage of hotel/motel ephemera from a Crosby, Stills, and Nash tour. How cool, and it also touched my heart because that is what our Mom has always said before we went to sleep.

The Beer Garden area was crowded and jumping, with people happy to be outside enjoying the sunshine and art.

I had to race off to meet back up with my film crew, but quickly stopped off to see the great work by M.B. Boissonnault in her studio. We had interviewed her for our documentary earlier in the day, as one of our favorite Venice artists and a woman with great things to say. There was a constant flow through her studio, so our visit was brief, but gratifying. Thanks, M.B.!

From there it was a short walk over to the studio of Tanja Skala and Greg Falk, who were our next subjects to film for an interview. I always love my visits to this husband/wife team and the incredible studio of theirs that they built themselves from scratch. Skala always does a riveting, profound performance piece for the Art Walk, which are always a highlight of the day for me each year. This year found Skala and her friend acting as doctors, giving prescriptions of "Empathy Pills" to the patients that came through.

They sat in front of a periodic table of human emotions, and as you stood in front of it, you really got that of all of the emotions that we feel, empathy is the one most needed in this world right now.

That is true for our film also, and in interviewing Skala and Falk (with his amazing work upstairs that includes a speed wheelchair made from skateboard parts! Giving back!) we realized what a good summation it also is for our project. In examining income inequality, homelessness, gentrification, and art in our community, the number one thing most needed right now IS empathy.

That is also true of the Venice Art Walk itself. Artists of all levels contribute to the event to give back to the clinic that helps other members of their community in a beautiful example of yes, Empathy.

I didn't get to see as much art as I would have liked this year, but what I did see was beautiful and moving ... and all for a wonderful cause! It was also great to see so many locals out and about enjoying art in and about the heart of Venice.

Thank you to the Venice Art Walk crew for another excellent year of art and empathy! Love.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

We Rise L.A.! The 2019 Mental Health Art Experience

This is the rare weekend post, as I can't say enough good about the We Rise L.A. art show for mental health taking place now through May 27th in downtown L.A., and I want as many people as possible to experience it for themselves!

It's an entirely inclusive and immersive show, with different areas like "Create", where you can make your own screen printed posters, with messages like "You deserve infinite support and love" - which you do.

In the room called "Engage" you could mix and mingle with others, or take a break for yourself with some kombucha on tap and snacks like churros, as you watched a big Iphone bringing up messages from people arguing via text, that feel like how that usually goes. There was also a mirror being adorned with positive messages. It's a family affair, as this little girl was really into it, and though some subject matter may warrant explanation - or protection - communication is always a good thing, and kids can handle a lot more than we know ... especially these days.

So much damage in adults is leftover from traumas experienced as kids, and this show addresses a lot of that. Kids whose parents are incarcerated. Kids who have been separated from their families at the border. Kids who have been abused. Kids who have seen too much, as you can imagine from the piece called The Child. (Please forgive the lack of credits - the first draft of this piece disappeared when the internet went down and I'm trying not to have my own mental breakdown as I re-type this whole article after I already deleted the photos of the credits. Ugh and apologies, but go yourself to get all of the info!).

SueƱos was especially heart-wrenching, as it depicts immigrant kids embracing their mothers through bars. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that we as a country allow this to go on. We need help.

Each piece in the art galleries has to do with some aspect of mental health, and while some are heavier than others, all pack a punch and instantly provoke thought and self-examination. It can't be helped.

Monarch Cluster might seem like a gorgeous bunch of butterflies, but to me it said you're not alone.

I looked at this photo and wasn't quite prepared for the gut punch that the title delivered ... Thank You For Your Service was the title of a photograph showing homeless U.S. veterans. Like, THIS is how we thank our men and women in service?! It's shameful - again.

The Parish Hall list of events shows how messed up America really is, even as we proclaim to be a Shining Beacon Of Light To The World. Yeah. Right.

Nipsey Hussle WAS a shining beacon of light to his community, until it was recently snuffed out by more of the constant senseless gun violence in this nation.

There were a couple of self-portraits that complimented each other, and also showed how scrambled up we can feel inside of our own minds sometimes. The first was by Adam Enrique Rodriguez ...

...And the next one was called Hanging On By A Thread, which is how I've personally felt a lot these days, and I know I'm not alone - especially after seeing this show.

A bed was hanging on by thicker threads as it levitated above a bedroom installation called In Limbo, that a lot of people were digging and photographing.

The art galleries are loosely arranged by issue, from incarceration to domestic abuse, from immigration to women's issues to social media. The women pieces were very powerful, yes, because I am one, but also because we've been so under attack in recent times. I can really go off on this topic, but for now I'll leave it at the fact that NO man should even be discussing any issue relating to a uterus if they don't have one. I could care less about any male perspective on this, and really don't even want to hear it. Sisterhood IS powerful.

You can tell the power of one sister just by her gaze and the tilt of her chin in Viva Yalitza!

I always love the work of Ashley Lukashevsy and its feminine power, like this year's piece, Space.

As you meander through the galleries, you hear music and talking coming from the cavernous main hall where the seminars and performances happen daily throughout the run of the show. You will be enriched by any that you attend, whether it pertains to you personally or not, you will get something from the beautifully and consciously curated discussions and music. One wall shows exactly what's going on ... All The Feels!

The other wall reminds you in the form of a plush, cozy wall, that You Are Safe Here - and you really get that feeling here. That people truly care, and that they truly want to help you.

A couple of my favorite pieces were hung beside each other, one was City Of Refuge - a little shanty town sculpture, and next to it were beautiful screen windows with floral embroidery, called Screened In. I can't believe I never thought of this, and now want to beautify every screen window I see.

I loved another piece of embroidery, as I love hummingbirds - but I loved it even more when I saw that it was called For My Struggling Students.

As you walk through the galleries, you're being watched by cameras bearing the logos of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram ... just like in real life!

There is an area dedicated to social media works, and a very hipster guy and I were standing there reading the same ones and we looked at each other at the same time, and he said, "Do you have chills?" I did, and it was one example of how you can connect with a total stranger over a common feeling - and that is the power of this magnificent artistic and humanitarian endeavor that was obviously put together with so much care and conscience.

A giant living wall reminded everyone to Breathe In The Present Moment, and that was the advice I probably most needed at this time. That, and that once again, people care. We're not alone. Everyone has their own struggle. Communication and connection are crucial to getting through this thing called life, and this beautiful show personifies that.

Every day of the show's run offers different programming and addresses different issues, all of which will be rewarding to attend. In fact, at one point I turned to my friend at the opening night party, and said, "Everyone here is better off for it." Truth, and the beauty of that is that it spreads, because then we all go out and talk about it, and we're all closer for it. Humanity at its best, delivered through art, without judgement. That is how we can go forward ... and protect our spirits.

Please give yourselves the gift of attending this show. You too will be better for it. THANK YOU to all involved in this special and important art experience. You are helping.

*Special shout out to the excellent people, food, and service of Lupetti Pizzeria, right around the corner where we celebrated being alive after. Thank you!

We Rise L.A.
1262 Palmetto Street
Los Angeles, 90013
Now through May 27th

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Homage To A Starry Night Restored!

Rip Cronk is a legend in Venice, with his famous murals adorning many walls around town. It was with great delight that I saw his newly restored Homage To A Starry Night gleaming and fresh on my morning walk at the Boardwalk. It had been marred by some very low-level tagging, wrecking what has been a popular photo op tribute to Van Gogh in Venice since 1990.

I was also pleased to see Mr. Cronk there on the other side of the building doing touch-ups to his 2004 work Venice Beach Chorus Line, which always reminds me of the old Aardvark store on Pacific for some reason.

See, the thing is, I'm all for paint on every wall in Venice - but GOOD paint. The Graffiti Walls are there for people to learn and hone their craft. Once you get good enough, you might be offered big walls to adorn. People pay for those big pieces to be done, and artists have earned the right to be paid and display their work for all to see. They become landmarks. They become history. No one has the right to paint over any bit of it ... imagine going into a museum and spray painting over a big painting! Same thing. It's respect. Earn yours, and show it to others until you get there yourself.


Thank you to Mr. Cronk for re-beautifying our neighborhood! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Help The Helpers!

So ... yesterday, like a mere hour after I posted my Help Yourself story about the lovely person putting food out for our people living on the streets, I randomly met the lovely woman walking down Lincoln. "Momma Eileen", a Venice elder and longtime resident, stopped me on the street as she recognized me from social media postings. She had no idea I had just posted about her humanitarian efforts, and when we got to talking (after she hugged me close knowing what I've been dealing with in regards to my Mom's hospitalization), I figured out that she was the benevolent party telling people to "Help yourself!" She was upset. Neighbors had complained, and asked her to put away her food. WHAT?!

In the food's place, there is now a new chalk message, apologizing to our homeless, and urging them to seek help at St. Joseph's. Her jerk neighbors (Developers, of course) complained that the food would attract rats - which to them I assume means human beings that need food. All of the food was in sealed packages, aside from fruit that grows in nearly every Venice yard - that rodents already know about. If it's in a tree or on a fence makes no difference. The only difference here is in the size of the hearts in the parties we're talking about.

I'm seething mad about this, and in that kind of mood where no one should get in your way because you can't take much more. What is WRONG with people, that they would complain about someone helping others? Momma Eileen was even concerned with backlash, and that these heartless wretches would target her in some way if she didn't comply with their complaints to take the food away. Let them try. Not on my watch. The good news is that she gets to keep being her wonderful self, while those fools have to live with their rotten souls, not to mention their karma.

It's time to vote out any and all parties from the Developer/Nimby camps in the upcoming Venice Neighborhood Council elections. It's time to take a moment to examine your own biases and agendas, and come to the realization that we're all in this together, and cruelty gets no one anywhere. It's time to look out for each other, and reclaim our beautiful - and strong - Community for the creative, humanitarian, artistic vortex bubble we've always been proud to be a part of. It's time to join people like Momma Eileen in sharing what we have, no matter what some dickhead neighbor says. If EVERYONE joins in on efforts like hers, the few remaining selfish parties' complaints will cease to matter, because they will be look like the petty, lost souls that they are.

Help the Helpers ... before it's too late (and by that I mean a brewing class war that no one wants, and that no one can win). Thank you, THANK YOU to people like Momma Eileen for trying to make the world a better place every day. I have your backs, and celebrate your very existence.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Help Yourself!

I was on a walk this morning, all the way in my own head, when I was very touched to see that a lovely home on Couer D'Alene had set out a little buffet of to-go food on their fence for anyone who might need it, and wrote in chalk, "Help Yourself!"

That is how we need to be in our community, with shorter fences and longer tables. I thought about what it means to help yourself ... yes, take some food and that meaning, but also we all have to really help ourselves. You can't rely on anyone else to know what help you need, so you either need to ask for it or figure it out on your own. My Mom never complains, and it took me begging to get her to go to the hospital, where she is now, being helped because she finally asked for it. I worked on a heavy show for Viceland last year, Dopesick Nation, where there were so many addicts that simply weren't ready (or didn't know how) to get help - which I suspect is the case for many of the people we see living on our streets - the ones that this food spread is for. Yet we're all in this together, and the residents of this home get that.

It's hard to ask for help, and I find myself always trying to help myself on my own, but when you are lacking strength, and feeling sad, I can't tell you much help means. Even just near strangers telling you on Facebook that they're thinking of you and your Mom in a comment ... I NEEDED that, and SO appreciate it, and hope everyone knows that. My heart swells every time I see that someone cares.

I remember Mr. Rogers saying that in times of crisis, "Look for the Helpers." Walking by this home today, it lifted my spirits and encouraged me to go on in strength - because there are people like this among us still. They had also written, "Happy Mother's Day, Mother Earth!" on their sidewalk in chalk, so I know I love them. And thank them. And plan to emulate them. As we all could do.

Help yourself!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Bootsy Collins And Jim Vitti In Conversation At The Grammy Museum - Funky!

Oh, Bootsy Baby! My brother, Paul, and I got the chance to go listen to one of the greatest dudes on this (and any) planet the other night at The Grammy Museum when Bootsy Collins was there to talk about the funk with his recording engineer and friend, Jim Vitti, and Grammy Museum director, Scott Goldman. I have to be honest and admit that I really wasn't at all in the mood to go to this on this particular evening, because my dear Mom had just been admitted to the hospital and was awaiting surgery, and I was freaking out about it. But we figured it doesn't do any good to pace around worrying, so off we went to try to not freak out. It was the right choice, and one that has made me feel better about it all ever since.

Goldman introduced the legends by saying, "Our guests tonight have been bringing the funk for decades," and that's a fact. Collins has been on the front lines of funk (inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1997!), leading the way since his time in James Brown's band, on to the Parliament Funkadelic, and on to his own solo career with Bootsy's Rubber Band until right now.

The night opened with a funky video about Collins, narrated by Iggy Pop, that showed just exactly how this inventor of "Space Bass" came into being. Producer Nile Rodgers was there getting the claps started for his friend Collins, who came out in a sparkly top hat and sparkly everything, really, with Jim Vitti, who bears a close resemblance to Mr. Whipple these days, the guy from the Charmin commercials. No one would know that he has engineered and produced some of the funkiest albums of all time. But he did.

Their story starts in Detroit, where Vitti snagged himself a gig at United Sound Systems after coming home from 'Nam. He always loved music and technology, so he began learning and training his ear from the back end, by listening to master tapes. He worked with Bob Seeger, which sent him on his way. Meanwhile, Collins got booted from James Brown's band, saying, "We got sent home for being a little crazy ... he fired us for getting HIM high!" to which everyone gathered there to listen cracked up at.

Collins came to Detroit to be in the band for The Spinners, but knew that wasn't ever going to happen - not a good fit. But THEN he heard about George Clinton and thought, "What is this Funkadelic? I need to meet this mug!" He went to Clinton's house, and knocked on the door of what he said was like The Addams Family house, thinking, "This is the kind of scary I like - 'cause I was tripping too!" There were black lights on and incense burning in the dark, and he saw Clinton in a white sheet in the corner of the room like a ghost, "With chicken feet on like Foghorn, Leghorn!" That meeting let Collins know he was in the right place, saying, "That's who I want to be working with, he's out of his mind!" Soon enough they did begin working together, and that's when he met Vitti.

The Funkadelic would "steal gigs", meaning they'd ask to sit in with some band, and then just totally take over the gig. The energy the band created was unparalleled, and Goldman asked Vitti how they managed to capture that energy on recordings. Vitti answered that he had drawn the shortest straw, as no one else wanted to work with Clinton because he was crazy, but "I just fell in love with the guys!"

He dedicated himself to it, working for hours and hours on just the drum sound. They gave an example of that, playing the P-Funk track, "Funkentelechy" that had the whole room bobbing their heads along, and sharing a soul brother handshake at its end, while Collins' wonderful wife, Patti, danced along in her chair. You couldn't help it.

"This does not sound dated at all," commented Goldman correctly. It's as fresh as the day they recorded it in 1977, and kids today would totally think they just discovered the latest thing upon first listen. Collins' brother, Catfish, was also in the bands, and Vitti's voice caught talking about all the fun they had had, and how much he misses Catfish Collins, who passed away in 2010.

Looking back on their times together, Vitti said, "We were working at the speed of light, it was non-stop. It was like herding cats to get them on the same page, and it was always chaotic." Collins had been giggling while listening, and to this commented, "ALWAYS chaotic." - and you could tell that's just how he liked it.

"Bootzilla" was played next, and the two old friends shook hands, nodded and mouthed along with it. "I love watching you listen to this!", said Goldman, adding, "That bass is SICK!" - and again, he was not wrong. A trust had grown between Vitti and the band, and this song showed that it could be done. "They knew I had their best interests at heart. I love people. I love musicians," explained Vitti to much applause. "We were the craziest," said Collins, and Vitti perhaps felt the need to add, "I was the only straight one in the room!" They shared the story of how on "Knee Deep" Vitti wanted Collins to play the drums, for the 15 minute rock opera that he was sure he'd have to go back and fix, but Collins performed perfectly, shouting, "The Funk will always prevail!"

They spoke about the hand claps on P-Funk albums, and said that they created a monster, because it was on everything after that - to the point that people would call United Sound wanting to rent the "Hand clap machine" because they were always so perfect - but they were real. They told of how Collins was always experimenting with pedals and guitar things, and things like plugging his bass in through a Mu-Tron for "Chocolate City" - giving it that Funkadelic sound. "I was evolving into a monster, and monsters turn on you. Look at that Frankenstein mug!" ... everything that comes out of Collins' mouth makes you smile - almost as much as his music.

"Atomic Dog" was played next and got the whole room rocking. We learned that this classic had the bass and drum tracks backward, as they simply flipped the tape over and played it backwards when they recorded. Whatever they did was awesome, because every single person in there was dancing in their seats. (Note: I played it for my six year old friend the next day and he thought it was THE coolest thing ever! Timeless.) Goldman next opened it up for questions, and one person asked how Collins came to work with Buckethead. Collins answered that Buckethead had sent him a tape of himself sitting on a bed and playing with a bucket on his head, back in the '90's. He freaked Collins out just enough to say, "I want to work with HIM!" - and so they did. There were a couple technical questions from the heads that go deep at these events, and then Goldman asked the two friends what they had learned from their experiences together. Vitti answered, "I always say I've never worked a day in my life. The studio is where I wanted to be. Find something that you really love, get passionate about it, and you'll never work!"

The friendship between these gentlemen is as touching as it is unlikely from the covers of their individual books, especially back in the day, but you can tell it is real and lasting. It was surprising to hear that they had actually NOT seen each other for all of these years since those recording days, until getting back in touch about 4 months ago. They seem so easy and comfortable with each other that you assumed they'd been hanging out all of these years, but nope. They're going to do more music together now, and Collins summarized it all by saying, "It's beautiful when you find that person that helped you long ago, and nobody's tripping. We love each other." It really was beautiful to behold.

There was an after-party held at The Prank a few blocks away, but no one thought Collins and Vitti would make it there, as the line to meet and greet after the event stretched all the way around the current Backstreet Boys exhibit, as everyone wanted to say hi and get a photo with the absolute hero that Collins is. Finally, we looked up to see Bootsy and Patti Collins making their way upstairs, along with Mr. Vitti and his wife. I got to talking with Patti and it came up that we almost didn't come because we were concerned about our Mom in the hospital, and this angel of a woman took me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes, saying, "Your mother is surrounded by angels. She is going to be fine." It moved me so much that she would even care, and then we were joined by Bootsy and my brother, and I felt a calm come over me, powered by the faith and love exuded by these beautiful people.

I'll never forget Collins telling me the last time I saw him at an event that he always wore star shaped sunglasses, because he wanted the young kids he meets to see themselves reflected as stars. That touched my heart so much, and cemented this "Mug" as one of my most highly revered. Patti Collins even texted the next day to check in about Mom, and once again assure me that God is great, and things will be o.k. That is the kind of people that they are, and while they are certainly the funkiest - they are also the kindest.

Whatever I can ever do to assist in their Worldwide Funk efforts, and their Bootsy Collins Foundation, that seeks to get an instrument in every hand that wants one - I am IN. Thank you to the Grammy Museum for having us, to KC Mancebo for the invite and the party, and to Bootsy and Patti Collins for making us feel so much better about this world, knowing that people like them are in it.

Bootzilla! (also the name of the Collins' wine label! Get some!)

* Photos by Paul Gronner Photography