Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Round Trip Pt.3 - La Califusa

Los Angeles, California, United States of America

Here's the street where I was raised.
The parents moved away when I went to school. Took me awhile to track them down.

<a onblur=That's the Hollywood sign in the distance. Every street south of Wilshire seems to lead to the Hollywood sign. You can't escape it. It floats around.

My mission: Get to LA. Visit kinfolk. Buy a truck. Drive back to Alabama.
My research had revealed that vehicles in LA are less expensive and in better condition than most other places. The above gentleman, John, of San Marino, gave me a great deal on a Dodge pickup. He took excellent care of it and he was a very friendly fellow. But it needed some minor repairs. My car buff cousin, Steve, hooked me up with a car genious named Leo. Leo works out of his own backyard. Leo happens to be from Alabama so the good vibes around this thing continued.

With the vehicle business out of the way, I spent the remaining few days hanging with family and digging the city. Growing up here, I really hated Los Angeles and couldn't wait to leave. But now I think it's a real fine place and I always enjoy stopping through.

My nephew, Toussaint, likes to cut hair. Doesn't leave home without his shears. Traveled all the way from DC with them.
It was a sunny, breezy day so we did what any normal group of men would do and set up a barbershop in my mother's garden.
He cut my Dad's hair then he cut mine.

I complemented his tonsorial skills by stating that he seemed to have taken ten years off (my appearance). He ungraciously responded, "Nah, I took Ugly off" . Without hesitation, I moved to smite this brash young ruffian but he is agile and fleet footed.

My Mom likes to pose with her grandkids. Toussaint convinced her to throw up what looks like some kind of peace/gang sign. It could also be the universal sign of the hair stylist.

My day at the beach was interrupted by this display...

It was unexpectedly moving. The Veterans for Peace are effectively bringing the situation home.


But the coastline still otherwise has it's particular charms,



(Elvis segues to Alice)

I've got a few good friends in LA but Alice Tuan (aka Megaphone Alice, aka LaTuana, aka, aka) is the only one I'm sure to catch. She writes her plays and lectures, mouthing off about every dang thang, constantly traveling here and there. We manage to bump into one another anyway. Within 20 minutes of getting together, we'll have created 20 characters, outlined 3 plays, 7 performance pieces and written lyrics for an album of songs. We're a 2-man improvisation machine.

I love photographing Alice. She's the image of the art ideal. Taking in every last scrap. Knocking the bits around in the brain. Invention. Remix. Failed Invention. Invention again. Simply put, Alice cuts a dashing figure...And I just click away. But she will not sit still.

Thank God for Google.


Next day. Me and the truck hit Highway 10 going east.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Roundtrip pt.2 - La. to L.A.

New Orleans to Los Angeles in 12 shots.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Round Trip Pt.1

I took a train headed west from Mississippi on my way to Los Angeles to visit my kinfolk. I figured I should check out New Orleans.

New Orleans is a world apart. Always has been. Everything blew my mind- the people, the food, the music, the history, the architecture, the destruction.

My old friend, Katie Mcdonnell, from New York, happened to be in New Orleans with a Yoga project she's developing. Their goal is to help improve the overall health of the citizens and workers rebuilding the city.

I stayed a couple of nights in the huge barracks just outside of town. I think Habitat For Humanity runs it.

Had an awesome brunch with the Irish Mafia of New Orleans.
Katie's been coming down here for many years and might soon make a permanent move. Amanda's a local mademoiselle who's into theater, fine food, and action .

I was very pleased to see, all the way from Brooklyn, the Honorable Stacy Mohammed, a hardy old soul and a fine painter.

They gave me the grand tour. Starting at the dark patch of wall where the water came through, fanning out in all directions, there's desolation for miles and ghostlike spaces.

You can't comprehend the magnitude of the catastrophe until you see this place in the flesh. People go on and on about 911. Twice as many people died on that day for sure, But I'm afraid this Katrina thing is way way bigger. You gotta factor in the thousands displaced and the sick and elderly. Seems it's all fading from view.

Not to despair. People have held to their sense of humor. And organizations are springing up everywhere to promote rejuvenation and renaissance. It's a relief not to see the endless sentimentalizing that goes on around 911 culture. Folks here are getting to work. There's enthusiasm and good old-fashioned hope.

The media would have you believe New Orleans has recovered and it's "back". Nothing could be further from reality but when you meet an individual like Mack McClendon here, a real live New Orleans Saint, you can start to believe that Katrina has pushed New Orleans into the vanguard of American renewal.

Mack founded The Lower Ninth Ward Village. It's a massive effort to reboot this almost totally decimated area. Mack's charisma and passion have drawn people from all points of the globe. Hang out with Mack for half an hour and you'll be figuring a way to somehow pitch in.

New Orleans remains a jewel; a rare gem in America. It's like no other city. There's no comparison. Everybody should come to New Orleans.

I found a pile of Mardi Gras beads in some rubble. They were shiny and nice. I grabbed a few and went on my way.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Southern Choctaw High

The great Jody White at Demopolis High has been graciously recommending me to everyone she encounters in the Alabama arts and education community. Now, thanks to her, there'll be no shortage of gigs for me in this most glorious state.

Ms. Betty McBride and Cecilia Bonner, Principal and Activities Coordinator, respectively, at Southern Choctaw High invited me down for a 3 week stay. Without any visual arts programs whatsoever, they were eager for something to happen before the end of the school year wherein at least a small percentage of the students will have had some exposure.
I usually don't choose projects and programs until I visit the school and talk to the teachers but in the case of Southern Choctaw High, the second I walked in the doors I knew what had to be done.
It's a clean school, a quiet school, and the kids are well-behaved. But the cinderblock walls were completely bare and barren. The place could use a little life...visually. Something that says this is a great place to learn.
It was a two-pronged thing:
I wanted to introduce the basics of drawing and visual thinking - "Learning to Draw is Learning to See" - including duplication exercises, negative space, mirroring, and contour drawing.
Then I wanted to coordinate specific themes with the classroom teachers based on their course of study.

Ms. Wigley's class was studying ancient Rome so we chose to reproduce a Roman mosaic.
Using the grid technique, each student was responsible for 3 or 4 random squares, drawing and painting them to scale. Created separately on heavy board, the squares were applied to the cinderblock upon completion. The outcome was somewhat unpredictable considering how each piece was created individually without too much consideration for perfect alignment. But this was intentional. I like the effect. It kinda shimmers.

The students enjoyed locating and pointing out their pieces.

Ms. Miller's class attempted an Egyptian tomb painting. In this case it's the female diety, Isis.

Coach Tew's class reproduced a Chinese tapestry - The Blue Dragon.

I wish we coulda done more. There's still a lot of blank wall.

Ms. Jackie Frost manages the school's maintenance. She and I talked just about everyday and I consider her a friend. But Jackie talks to everybody. She's just a classic Alabama Friendly-Down-To-Earth Person. Folks like Jackie keep me here.

She drove me down to check out her little church.

They're looking for an altarpiece - something visual to greet the congregation when they arrive on Sunday morning - and they asked me to create it.
This may be the best gig of my life.