BLACK ARTISTS ON ART

BLACK ARTISTS ON ART

Oakstop brings a legacy of black art to Oakland for First Friday

Black Artists on Art

This Friday, February 6th, the creative coworking space Oakstop will be celebrating its first anniversary and opening its gallery doors to welcome Black Artists on Art: The Legacy Exhibit. Oakstop is the dream of founder Trevor Parham, a longtime friend of the ‘ties and art curator. You might remember him from last year’s Town Business group show, which aimed to celebrate Oakland’s timely artistic current. Since, he has transformed that very emphasis into a more permanent spatial presence. Sitting just above 19th St. BART, Oakstop functions as a shared work environment, event space, and art gallery, that, as their mission statement reads, “fosters collaboration, professional development, and economic sustainability for creative entrepreneurs and local businesses.”

The Black Artists on Art exhibition is based on a book series of the same title, created by Dr. Samella Lewis in 1969, that showcased actively producing black fine artists in light of the disregard they often experienced from mainstream art institutions. Lewis’ grandson, Unity Lewis, is working to continue the legacy of the series through a revival, and publishing new books for the series that include contemporary black artists. Friday’s exhibit will serve as a launch for the broader campaign to recruit over 500 new black artists for the series, by showcasing work from 36 original and contemporary contributors for a three-generations-deep display of black fine artists. For a sneak peak of some of the iconic art included in the show, peep the images below. The event will be held upstairs at Oakstop’s 1721 Broadway gallery space, and runs from 6pm till midnight. It’s about to be legendary. See you there.

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THE POLITICAL LINE

THE POLITICAL LINE

A closer look at the de Young's massive Keith Haring retrospective, before it goes away

If you haven’t had the chance yet to check out The Political Line, now would be a good time. Like now. Go. As of today, you have less than two weeks. The exhibition, which opened up at the de Young in November, is something to behold, showcasing dozens of works from Keith’s ridiculously productive, tragically short ’80s run. Haring, for folks in our generation, is one of the two or three most iconic visual artists of the last century, a figure whose influence is completely inescapable if you have even a passing interest in art or own a Tumblr account. Seeing the work in person though, reminds you why he’s so ubiquitous, and why the work is so essential.
Visually and physically, the show is spectacular, with Haring’s symbol-language spilling out across an insane variety of media, from giant tarp canvases to subway drawings, ceramic pots to ten-foot totem poles. Naturally, it’s also a feast of ideas, placing a particular emphasis on Haring’s most politically charged pieces, and grouping them loosely by theme. While some pieces refer explicitly back to the circumstances of their ’80s genesis (Apartheid or the AIDS and crack epidemics), others–say the ones where computers supplant human heads–seem to foreshadow where we’re at today. And then there are more personal pieces: everything from journals full of dick drawings, to unearthed art school videos, to the heartbreaking “Pile of Crowns” for his fallen friend Basquiat.

If Haring’s language was something of a constant, it was a language that whose communicative power he was compulsively, constantly pushing into new territory. Taking in that volume of work firsthand, you get a chance to see just how much he was able to communicate in such a short time. To the extent it’s possible, The Political Line makes you feel like you’ve actually gotten to know someone.

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DAYS AT THE FAIR

DAYS AT THE FAIR

We made the push down to Socal for the 2015 L.A. Art Book Fair

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In an era where many claim print to be dead, I came back from The 2015 L.A. Art Book Fair assured that print is as alive as ever. Now if we’re talking about “traditional” print magazines…it might be bad for you. XXL, US Weekly, and everything else you see right before you buy some shit at the supermarket, are in dire straits. Yes, for ya’ll I believe it’s bad.

Yet for a legion of artists, creatives and independent thinkers, print as a medium for expression is as vibrant, resonant and essential as ever.

The 2015 L.A. Art Book Fair was the proof. Amongst a wash of independent publishers and well-executed outfits, the fair featured an ungodly amount of dope, inspiring, inspirational work. Taking up nearly every wall of the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the fair featured artists and creatives from around the world, united around their love for print.

There was energy that came across many of my interactions throughout the fair. A kinship of sorts when you find a book so on point, you have to hold back from fanning out. Adam Vilacin‘s work did just that, as his recent series, Dead Wrestlers and Dream Team are just plain amazing. The book fair is a little overwhelming to be honest. There’s just so much to see and dive into that sometimes you have to come up for air. Below you will find a sampling of visuals from the event, accompanied by a little commentary in reference to the work.

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LOWLIFE TAKES NEW YORK

LOWLIFE TAKES NEW YORK

Lifetime shooter and accidental documentarian Scot Sothern brings his brand of Americana to Chelsea

Scot Sothern

A few months back, I had the privilege of chatting with Scot Sothern for an hour or so. Over the course of our conversation, he managed to dig pretty deep into a career spent behind the lens, which has brought him to all kinds of fucked up and wonderful and surreal places over the years. Of course, it’s hard to squeeze that all into an hour, so fortunately, Vice has given Mr. Sothern an outlet to drop bi-weekly reflections on the many strange scenes he’s found himself in over the last half century.

More recently though, the adopted Angeleno travelled East for his first ever solo show in New York City, which opened on Thursday night. Lowlife, hosted by Chelsea’s Daniel Cooney Fine Art gallery, features some of Scot’s better known work, with 25 prints from his book of the same name. The prints, depicting some of the prostitute friends Scot made during repeated trips to some of L.A.’s seedier locales in the ’80s and early ’90s, are one-of-kind, the only ones ever printed. And despite the potentially tidy “this guy took pictures of hookers! edgy!” storyline, Scot’s been pretty consistent in downplaying the work’s sensational side, rather choosing to highlight the fact that his images offer a window into the world of a few “disenfranchised Americans, usually existing under the radar and out of touch.” For those of us who missed the opening, Lowlife runs until February 28th. I highly recommend dropping in for a visit.

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KEITH HARING AT THE DE YOUNG

KEITH HARING AT THE DE YOUNG

San Francisco welcomes politically charged, vibrant works from the '80s icon this November

A quick look at the de Young’s massive new Keith Haring retrospective, The Political Line. Focusing on Haring’s more deliberately political works, the pieces take on consumer culture, technology, sexuality, and racism head on, and span the length of Keith’s short but prolific career.

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LONG EXPOSURE

LONG EXPOSURE

Scot Sothern reflects on a lifetime behind the lens in America's underbelly

Scot Sothern

Tracing a dude like Scot Sothern‘s personal history can be a little challenging. At first glance, the most prominent points on the timeline seem oddly scattered–thematically, geographically, and temporally, across a good five or six decades. Sifting through his greatest hits, you’ll find cults in middle America and disappearing tribes in the Middle East. His series of vintage photo essays on Vice finds him draft dodging during ‘Nam in Kansas City, tripping in the San Gabriel Valley with blood-drinking Satanists, and drunkenly wandering the streets of 1980s Cairo. There are too many stories to count, and very few don’t involve either sex or substances. When I asked Scot to piece it all together for me, it felt almost like a gonzo Forrest Gump–if Forrest Gump had been really into taking pictures of hookers.

Sothern spent a solid block of time in the ’80s exploring the seedy underbelly of Southern California, meeting and photographing the sex workers who called it home. Scot’s work from that era was collected and published in 2011’s Lowlife, and through the Vice ecosystem, found the audience it always deserved; the book, along with a handful of solo exhibitions, reprsented a high water mark for exposure in Sothern’s career. But to look at his journey through the prism of any one project is more than a little reductive. A half century spent as a freelance shooter and hedonist have left Sothern with a body of work that’s expansive, fearless and occasionally brutal in its honesty. To put it mildly, he’s seen some things.

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psychedelic realities

Psychedelic Realities

Belgian illustrator Ellen Van Engelen gets groovy with color

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If you ever go back and watch any early Sesame Street episodes you’ll notice two things: the wacky characters, and the psychedelic art. The latter seemed impervious to the idea of sharp right angles – be it in commercial ads, album covers, or school textbooks, there seem to be no shortage of lines in motion.  Enter Belgian illustrator Ellen Van Engelen, whose work unabashedly recalls this free-flowing era, only occasionally inserting subtle glimpses of modernity – a laptop or cell phone – to distinguish it from her acid-dropping forbearers.

Though much of her thematic focus lies in the simplicity of the seemingly mundane, it’s the Edelmann-like dreamscape in which her characters bask in that drive her illustrations. Whether it’s melting away on a classroom desk, summer love in an open meadow, or a mere telephone conversation, Van Engelen’s art allows the swirls of color, rather than the subject matter, to depict eternal ambition and youthful absurdity.

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Cover to Cover

Cover To Cover

How unsung Oakland design duo Phunky Phat Graph-X quietly shaped the aesthetic of '90s rap

Phunky Phat Graph-X

Tumblr, and I guess the Internet in general, has a tendency to play out trends to death. One of the most prevalent of these in the last few years (which I want to say, like many Internet trends, started with the BasedGod) has been the resurgence of Pen & Pixel-style album artwork. Known for their gaudy, and often straight up ridiculous imagery and fonts, The Houston-based design firm rose to prominence in the late ’90s and early ’00s for its work with Rap-A-Lot, No Limit, and Cash Money. Now, alongside pictures of Actavis pints and naked women, the Pen & Pixel aesthetic has become a Tumblr staple.

But before Master P returned to his native New Orleans from Richmond, California, and before Wayne and B.G. uttered the phrase “bling-bling” on a track, an East Oakland graphic design company called Phunky Phat Graph-X was producing a high volume of artwork for a thriving Northern California independent rap scene. Founded in 1992 by brothers Thomas and Tracy Underwood, Phunky Phat Graph-X produced the artwork for the initial releases by Master P and his then-fledgling No Limit Records. In addition to their work for No Limit, Phunky Phat was also responsible for some of the most iconic artwork for West Coast rap cult heroes like C-Bo, JT the Bigga Figga, and E-40 among many others. Phunky Phat remained active throughout the ’90s but their work slowed to a halt in 2001, and a decade later, in 2011, Tracy Underwood passed away.

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HOW RICHARD HAMILTON WENT POP

HOW RICHARD HAMILTON WENT POP

Interview looks back at the life and work of one the 20th century's most dynamic creators

Richard Hamilton

Almost two and a half years ago, the contemporary art world lost a pretty towering figure with the death of Richard Hamilton. Half a century before that, Hamilton had created pieces that left a permanent mark on global culture. He had left behind enduring images that became emblematic of pop art’s cultural ubiquity: collages, paintings, screenprints, and album art that would become reference points for art school discussions for decades. As the piece below demonstrates though, Hamilton’s career was not one you could squeeze into a single movement. In the years since his death, his work has been on display plenty, naturally, since there’s a lot of shit to show. With a recent retrospective on display at Tate Modern in London, Interview sat down Alan Cristea–Hamilton’s good friend and the distributor of his artistic estate–to talk about Hamilton’s work and legacy, both of which are still very much alive.

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WINE & BOWTIES PRESENTS: PARIS IS BURNING

WINE & BOWTIES PRESENTS: PARIS IS BURNING

We make our 2014 debut at Oakland Surf Club with another cult classic

Paris is Burning

It’s crazy how some small corner of the world can end up having such an outsized influence on the world. I suppose all it takes is having a scene that’s unlike anywhere else. New York in the ’80s may been a high-water mark for human history in terms of subcultures per square mile–particularly the kinds of subcultures capable of weaving themselves into a society’s cultural DNA. From Madonna to Kool Herc to O’Brien to Byrne to Haring to Basquiat…as time goes on, the legacies of the folks who made Downtown’s dilapidated landscape home only seem to appreciate in impact.

Paris is Burning encapsulates a scene within that scene in a powerful way. Jennie Livingston’s 1990 doc, shot over the course of a few years in the late ’80s, tells the story of the city’s drag ball culture through the word’s of some of its most compelling figures. A few decades later, it’s a touchstone for the fashion and film worlds, and a poignant document, as valuable for the individual portraits as it is for its historical implications. It’s a film about a community doubly marginalized–primarily black and latin, and almost exclusively queer and trans; but it’s also deeply personal and intimate, even as digs into big, burning questions of identity and class and sexuality.

For us, it feels pretty fitting for what we’re trying to do here in Oakland circa 2014. I mean, in a broad sense, what are we doing for if we’re not providing a space for folks to do them? Like really do them. With that in mind, we’ll be screening Paris next Thursday, in the January installment of our screening series with the homies at Oakland Surf Club. Tell a friend, come through, grab some brew, swoop some icy gear. Voguing also heavily encouraged. You know the drill; trailer after the jump.

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SAFE SEX BANG

SAFE SEX BANG

Buzz Bense's safe sex archive documents creative communication that saved lives and fought fear

Safe Sex Bang

“These posters do more than chart the tragedy of an epidemic, of an outsider community reeling from grief, loss, and the decimation of a blooming culture of sexual liberation. The history of these posters is a story of a fight against stigma, hatred and ignorance; of a community stepping up to take care of its own; of finding a way to extinguish fear and build pride and self-esteem; and of devoted efforts of committed activists to communicate a path to health and survival.”

– Buzz Bense

It’s rare these days to find examples of art with a real sense of urgency. Looking back on propaganda posters about WWII scrap metal drives or Rosie the Riveter, it’s easy to lump them in with cutesy kitsch items, rather than thinking about the circumstances that led to their creation. In reality, we’re not too far removed from an era where posters were a vital, necessary form of communication, a pop art form that harnessed the power of good design with the deliberate goal of inspiring action.

In the wake of the devastation brought about by the AIDS epidemic, materials began to circulate that communicated the nature of the threat, and the most effective methods of prevention. Forward thinking creatives applied their craft with purpose, from art-world luminaries like Keith Haring, to advertising professionals, to everyday educators and community organizers. Over time, Buzz Bense made a habit of collecting and preserving those materials for educational purposes, and today his collection stands as a powerful document of an era, in the gay community and elsewhere, when creativity was applied to save lives.

For the last two years, Buzz’s collection has been housed at the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, and starting this Friday, it’ll be on display both in the CSC gallery, and in their inaugural exhibition catalog.

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