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.

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.


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.