Friday, December 21, 2007

How To Build A Graffiti Bed

I haven't done Graffiti in over 20 years. Not since 1986 when I tagged this garage wall in Providence.

An odd, blocky style, I guess I had a concept somewhere in my young mind. I was doing it all over town for a coupla years. Ran into the cops once or twice. Then ran out of ideas. I tagged the Berlin wall but I didn't take any photos. Just wanted to be able to say I tagged the Berlin wall.


Now I'm old and hobbled. Can't climb walls anymore or run from cops, teetering on a cane to get around. Actually, I slipped on a patch of ice. Sprained the hell out of my ankle. I went down hard. Leg was twisted up so bad i thought it broke. But I remembered a thing or two from my otherwise miserable Boy Scouting days. I know how to distinguish sprain from fracture - check tenderness and movement. Basically, if it hurts to the touch and you can't move it, it's probably broken. If a sharp bone is sticking out through skin, dripping flesh, blood, and marrow all over the sidewalk and you pass out from shock then it's likely broken. I didn't have any of that but it felt pretty awful. Kept it wrapped and iced for days. Stayed off of it best I could. Felt plenty sorry for myself. Now it's much better and I'm finally off the cane but I wear a brace to keep it supported.


Despite my wretched condition, I still had to build the Graffiti Bed for Full Circle's show, INNAVIEWS, at Dance Theater Workshop. This isn't the Graffiti Bed. This is the Brooklyn Bridge.


Roc is the better half of a dynamic duo with her hubby, Kwik . You gotta love Rocafella and Kwistep. They're seriously beautiful people. I'm humbled by their knowledge, commitment, and sincerity. The soul of HipHop lives in them. Roc says break dancing is sacred to her. It's clear when you watch her move that she's taking it some place else. She's really something to see. A major turbo girl. Compact and powerful.


As for Kwik; he is the Whirling Dervish Inverted. Spinning on his head, he seems to defy certain physical laws. He spins and spins faster. Then he keeps spinning. He somehow utilizes gravity as propellant and accelerator, like a ship around the moon, achieving what looks like perpetual motion. The speed optically distorts and stretches him. He could be hot taffy or a secret weapon. Either way, he becomes more motor and gears than human. Marinetti, the first Futurist, sitting in Italy in 1908, described the dance of the future as something derived from the "Negro" that will mirror the machine. With Pop Locking and Break Dancing, it's clear the future is here.


The bed was a real collaborative thing. Mario Lobo, a member of the Full Circle crew, did this design in photoshop. It was my job to convert it to 3-dimensional form - to build it. I like being the builder guy, cutting things up and whacking them back together again. The hardware store is my toy store and candy shop. My hardware vocabulary is improving. Less thingy this and thingy that. More carraige bolt, flange, grommet, and casters.



Starting with the bed frame, I used the circular saw to cut all the 2x4s to size. I did a quick sketch but the plan was solid in my brain. Had to design it lightweight and portable, easily assembled and disassembled.


Constructed the sides first, adding docks for the crossbeams. Had to use this old drill cuz I left my newer one in Alabama. Damn thing doesn't have reverse but its very powerful.


Attached crossbeams, setting them in the docks. They fit snuggly and they're removable. The 2x4s will hold a lot of weight in this sideways position.


Printed out drawing of the headboard and added grid with pencil and ruler although I could have put a grid on it in Photoshop. I wasn't thinking about newfangled technology at the moment. Anyway, the scale will be 1 1/4" to 1 foot.


Drew grid on 4'x8'x1/2' plywood sheets. Two will be required to fit this design. The grid helps you reproduce a more accurate image. I usually use an image projector but I left that in Alabama too. Gosh. I can't wait to get back to all my tools and equipment in Alabama.


Then you take a jigsaw and go to town on the large drawing, cutting out all details until the design is liberated from the square. Took a long time to do all that cutting and it's loud.


I set up the first piece to see how it'll fare with the bed. Looks okay. Kept cutting through the day - headboard, footboard, and bedposts.


Neither I nor Mario have spray painting skills anymore. Mine were never that good to begin with. Some kid with a funky hiphop nickname was set to do the painting. He kept bugging out and not showing up. Then, with only a day to go, he decided that he wasn't gonna do it at all. Angry as Kwikstep was, he kept his cool and called the HipHop Hotline, working his network until, within a few hours, he managed to corral this Russian kid, Ivan. Kwikstep didn't know Ivan but a friend of a friend of a friend did. Ivan was literally on the subway heading home to Jersey City when he got the call. Ivan didn't have his special spray paints or anything with him but he came right over. The hardware store didn't carry good spray paint either so I kinda freaked out.


Ivan said,"No Problem". He could use my acrylic paints to create a spray paint effect. He did a great job and I learned how to do Faux Spray Painting!


We transported the bed parts to the theater in Manhattan and had the crew assemble it.


Kwik pitched in on the drill he was so excited to see it come together.

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He tried a few moves to test it's durability.


They rehearsed on it (without the mattress and blankets).


I saw the show last night and it was phenomenal. They're pushing themselves in new directions, using language and autobiography, adding a highly personal quality to this iconic dance form. They'd be on the board of the HipHop Preservation Committee if there ever was one. Mainstream HipHop today is so loathsome and ugly. What Full Circle is doing is just a whole other thing. Old Skool? New Skool? I don't know. Grad Skool?
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After setting up the bed and checking out the rehearsal, I headed over to Abistro in Brooklyn to have dinner with Queen Esther and her "Friend" whom I've never met.


He is a large Scottish-looking fellow. He apparently proposed to her the next day. Queeny is over the moon. They will have a big wedding down south and big alien-like Celto-Yorubic offspring.


Chef Abdul is a genious. His food is a celebration of life itself. He married my high school buddy, Cassandra. Their daughter, Sonia, is in second grade and already 6'1", a big healthy beautiful girl. I love them all to death but Cassandra and I sometimes get on each other's nerves.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Strangers and Other Angels

Compagnia De' Colombari's STRANGERS AND OTHER ANGELS is a far out multicultural Passion Play based on the Nativity. It is performed annually in New York and Italy. The Italian version is well-funded and much grander. In New York it's a little more low-key but I thought it was great. It took place in the auditorium of The Museum of the City of New York. Karin and the company are actually trying to raise the money to do the full scale outdoor version here next year.

They brought me on board to help add some visual umph, demonstrating what this thing can be if provided with more resources. I did what I could in the week I've been back from Alabama, creating 20 sets of these Fra Angelico-inspired angel wings with a graffitti-esque or "Street Art" twist.



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I stretched cotton fabric and muslin over large cardboard cutout wings. Added Gesso as a primer and sealant. Painted wings individually in full color expressionistic style including splashes and drips. Cut stencil motifs from common paper plates (paper plates are great for stenciling because they're cheap and resistant to moisture, allowing you to use them over and over). Created random and organized patterns with stencil motifs. Built wing harnesses in wood, strap, and wire. Bolted wings to harnesses.

It was extremely satisfying to see the performers getting into these things. Tap dancers, Steppers, Actors, Jazz Singers and Opera Singers all came together to give the wings full expression. I worked pretty much alone, hours and days in isolation. It just blows the mind when the work suddenly finds a place among so many.


I wanted the back of the angel wings to really contrast with the colorful fronts, going for a more spare, gritty effect. I think it makes them altogether a little more contemplative.


This theater piece very much reminded me of GOSPEL at COLONUS, Director Lee Brewer's retelling of the Oedipus myth using African American Gospel music and vernacular as the conduit. Karin's just kinda blending modern urban culture with medieval Italian.

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IRONBOUND

Ironbound is what they call my neighborhood in the eastern ward of Newark. It got its name from the many foundries and forges starting in the late 19th century as well as the train tracks, bridges, and highways that surround it.

I live on a street of industrial and artist lofts along the western edge of Ironbound. Whether I'm sitting in York, Alabama or Ironbound, New Jersey, I can always hear the low steady whistle of The Crescent Line train from New Orleans. It rolls by my house in York and it rolls by my loft in Jersey. Whereas I use to be indifferent to it and maybe somewhat annoyed, I now get a warm feeling inside whenever I hear that train coming through as it links the places I adore most.

One thing I'm unlikely to get in Alabama is snow. That big midwestern storm dropped some remnants yesterday morning. Say what you will about the weather "back east", there's nothing sweeter than the first snow - even in a beat down, bent over little town like Newark.

Ironbound has been a Portuguese enclave for many years and immigrants still arrive from Portugal but the Brazilians have a strong and growing presence as well. Add Spaniards and South Americans and you get a real latin cocktail.

They all bring a sophisticated world-class flavor to Newark. There's cafes, bars and bistros everywhere - not stupid trendy attitudinal dumps like in New York - just simple quiet places to down your espresso and have some conversation or a wholesome old country meal. There's also some pretty high end restaurants serving the finest of Brazilian and Iberian cuisine

They've also brought their native products and goods. I love browsing the grocery stores for weird foreign stuff - cheeses and medicines and such.

Portuguese Barbeque is super popular. There's literally a BBQ joint on every block and it's gooood. The aroma gets all up in your nose and brain and you start craving it even if you ain't hungry. The Black people come all the way over here from across the tracks for their Barbeque so you KNOW it's good.

I just think their storefront advertising is a tad gruesome. These poor (but probably tasty) little piglets almost look like people skewered like that, or some kid's beloved missing pet.

Many say that IRONBOUND sounds like a superhero hideout and in many ways it is because...well...because I live here.
But the IRON theme is ubiquitous in Ironbound...

Here's the IRON Lady...

IRON gears and junked IRON parts...

And a special contraption, fueled by snake oil, to IRON cellulite and flab from your behind.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

WORK

Well I'm back in Newark. Beautiful Newark, New Jersey.
I'm here but my heart's in Alabama so the blog shall remain Garland Farwell In Alabama. The rest of my body will join the heart come the New Year.

My camera disappeared just before I left and it's too bad. I wish I could share what I saw in those waning days. The whole landscape took a stunning turn. The leaves exploded with colors I didn't know could exist in the South and the sky shifted into vivid and weird configurations. I wanted to film a train hollering through York and sweet smoke rising snake-like from a crooked chimney. That and more. But it wasn't meant to be. i think I got absent-minded in my busyness and forgot where I laid the camera. Oh well.

Going back and forward I've got other stuff to show.


I hit the ground running because there's only a few days left to present Compagnia De' Colombari's STRANGERS AND OTHER ANGELS. Headed by Director Karin Coonrod, Colombari is an international theater company that creates epic passion plays in the streets of Orvieto, Italy and Harlem, USA using professional actors, singers, and dancers along with local people. My task is to create a flock of 20 angel wings for performers large and small. But the idea is to flip the wings out; make them edgy and new somehow. We looked to early renaissance painter Fra Angelo for inspiration. Everything old is new anyway. And his angel wings were always far out and surprisingly original; pretty much unmatched in their trippyness.



I met Karin last spring when we began developing an Operetta, THE BLACKAMOOR ANGEL. Carl Hancock Rux wrote the libretto, Dierdre Murrey composed the music, Karin directed, and I did the visuals. We all spent the summer together at The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts upstate at BARD college. We created the first act and the whole thing remains a work-in-progress but it was great being up there surrounded by all this major talent, under a major director, major musicians, and real live opera singers.



THE BLACKAMOOR ANGEL tells the story of Angelo Soliman, an African in 18th-century Vienna and a friend of Mozart, via the performance of a Weimar-era traveling circus. The opera probes the secrets of the Moor’s relationship to Mozart, his involvement in Mozart’s final operas (Monostatos, in The Magic Flute, was based on Soliman), his mysterious death, and the reason for the heinous postmortem display of his body in the imperial Naturalienkabinett.



Because the opera takes place in the 30's, I wanted to create the objects and props as if designed by someone like Jean Arp, a DADA pioneer and influential Modernist. Many of the avant-garde plays in the early 20th Century were co-created by painters and sculptors rather than "set designers" so this approach felt pretty good.



Karin and I vibed splendidly. I share a lot of her ideas about art - where to do it, who to do it with, how to present it. This Community Art aspect of her work is right up my alley as well. I think we'll be working together for awhile. There's already much planned for the coming year and I'm hoping she'll really bring me over to Italy.

Soon as i get these angels flying I have just a week or so to help out my favorite HIP HOP geniuses, FULL CIRCLE, a dance theater group that keeps it very real.



I've known Kwikstep (far left) and Rokafella (center) since our summers up in Amherst years ago working with Project 2050. Man, we had some TIMES, I tell you. Anyway they have a big show in December at Dance Theater Workshop. Kwik and Roc are legends in the HipHop community and people have a lot of preconceptions about them. So this coming performance will be somewhat autobiographical but they're casting themselves as a kind of HipHop Ricky Ricardo and Lucy. This is interesting and great because, though the dance defies the laws of gravity and always lifts you higher, their work is usually quite serious.


Mario, a member of their crew, designed this graffitti bed. It's my job to make it 3-dimensional and functional - a real bed.
Whoa. Look at this thing. i have a lot to figure out here. But it's a fun thing.


I've been collaborating with Julio Leitau and his dance troupe, Batoto Yetu, on and off for almost 15 years and in that time I've built about a zillion masks, puppets, and set pieces for him and his fabulous kids.


Julio has established satellite companies in New York, Portugal, and Brazil but this summer he finally got back to his native Angola and did the same. He said it was the best, most inspiring experience of his career. He also brought with him to Angola almost everything I ever created for him. Now they want him to return in the spring but he has to have a new show so he asked me to produce all this new stuff by April and several things in the coming month. I'll definitely be building for Batoto Yetu down in Alabama but I gotta brush up on my Portuguese cuz I'm going to Angola.