Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Make a Backdrop.

Had a residency at Demopolis High. Helped the theater department create a massive backdrop for the Fall play, 'Treasure Island'.

Drama teacher and director, Jody Tartt tracked down and hauled in this 20'x30' heavy muslin canvas. We starched it and primed it on the classroom floor.

Called in the big guns, Jeff and Dan, two local pros, to assist in the raising of the canvas. I wanted it wrinkle-free and taut in order to apply the paint as if on a vertical wall.

Took awhile but we figured it out. Had to run pipes along the sides.

Lashed and bungee corded the top.

Ninth graders nailed down the base at intervals of about 14 inches.

Love to see kids working it out and getting it done.

Slowly, carefully raised the canvas to maximum height.

Raising it was scary because you're at the mercy of an electronic lift. With the fabric nailed to the floor we expected rips and tears but it turned out great.

Borrowed a tall scaffold from Mr. Jones. These youngsters helped assemble it but only I will actually use it. 
Too risky having kids scurrying up and down this thing. So if anyone is to suffer great injury or death it will have to be me.
Ain't gonna lie. Often as I'm on scaffolds and ladders, I am not a fan of heights. The wooden platforms here sorta freaked me out. Didn't seem sturdy enough for my delicate constitution.

Mr. Jones and his construction crew were kind enough to add some reinforcement. It was all good from there. I took to that scaffold like a squirrel to a tree.
The students did all the research. they gathered the reference images and set the visual tone. I guided them through some conceptual drawings and how to present ideas through the most basic sketches.
I did a series of design sketches based on student reference materials, collages and drawings. We commiserated, debated and voted on the final backdrop design, agreeing on a few modifications.
The final design is digitally projected onto the canvas.

Everyone shares in the tracing of the projected line drawing.

Even Jody Tartt got in on the action, shimmying up the tall ladder to hit some high spots. I caught her from the vantage point of the scaffold.
We followed the line tracing with some base colors.
I like my base colors somewhat insane, sometimes garish, a little random even. I think this sorta adds to the depth and richness of the finishing coats and overlays.

Needed an extra hand one day. Chef Abdoul is a Picasso in the kitchen so I figured that would translate to the canvas. It's about a respect for detail more than anything else and being real comfortable working with the hands.

Most southern food derives from Africa. Part of Abdoul's mission in Alabama is to form a culinary dialog between African and Southern cuisines. I kinda dig this conversation between Abdoul and Jody cuz it's all about that bridge.

The backdrop reached completion. Everybody seemed pleased with the results. I enjoyed the whole process of creating it. Especially collaborating with Jody and her great students.

I wasn't around to get some full production shots including actors and the set built by the theater class. But it looked quite good all together. Excellent quality.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Toward A Quality Of Life

This is Cassandra and her 14 year-old daughter, Sonya. Cassandra is the shorter of the two. Heh. I have known Cass for over 30 years. They are standing outside their new home in York. They recently arrived in Alabama from Hell, AKA New York. Cass and her husband, Abdoul put in some 20 years there. They created two successful and beloved restaurants in Brooklyn, owned the brownstone, had two and-a-half kids and the whole nine yards; The American Dream, I tell ya! But the dream became a bit of a nightmare. New York does not want anything to do with the humble middle class people that make the world go 'round. It wants everyone either super rich or super poor. And all the wonderful dynamic possibilities we went there to discover are dried up and gone. The old town is just no longer worth the time. You drag yourself from point A to point B with no life in-between. Your only desire is to avoid the legions of cruel, entitled creatures that have taken over the place. If you want to live again you have to get out...And that they did.
I procured this charming, spacious and classy dwelling for them. It's on a nice quiet street right in the center of town. They have easy access to everything. All the sublime splendors of York are at their fingertips. It's the perfect spot if you're new to York. The rent is too ridiculously low for any of you city folk to ever comprehend or believe so I will not mention it for fear of making your sorry little heads explode all over the crappy little hovel you call home that you pay an arm and a leg for every month. Cassandra and her family will stay here til they find their groove in Alabama and most likely buy some stunning tract of land somewheres and build their dream house.
They clearly love their sweet rental though. I roll up on them anytime of day and they'll be relaxing out on the porch like they've been living here forever. They are still in recovery mode so I will not chide them for sitting up on that porch at all hours. Everybody knows Abdoul is the hardest working dude on the planet anyway.
And what a porch. It's a spacious lounge with room to roam. Their young son tosses balls and rolls skateboards from end to end.
Ah but I was just the middle man in this housing deal. This is Pastor Johnny Davis and he owns the place. I told him what was needed and he hooked my people up. He stops by with a couple of his gentleman sons, Tony and John, and we have one of our high-energy chats. The Rev, as I call him, is a great friend and mentor. He is also one of the funniest, most brilliant and genuine people I know. For his character and his deeds and all he does for this town, you gotta love the Rev.

Along with his church, The Rev founded the Progressive Children's College. It is a youth empowerment organization promoting education and self-reliance. Several years ago I donated those painted silhouettes to the PCC to decorate their grounds with. They were part of a community art project but I had no place to install or store them so I gave them to the Rev.
Some of the kids of PCC started a car detailing service on a lot the Rev recently acquired. The sign they painted has its charms. But, I'm sorry. It is way too lowly for the great cause it represents. So I volunteered my time and painted a new sign.
This thing seriously pops.
I think the Rev really digs it.


After a long day of volunteering down on Mahalah Farm all the young farmers come up to my place for a wholesome vegetarian meal cooked by none other than the lady they'd been working for all day. With great skill and finesse, Yawah transformed my sparse bachelor's kitchen into high-end gourmet eatery              


  She is such a cutie patootie.

And here is a bona fide Meeting of the Minds. Chef Abdoul and Chef Yahwa collaborate on The Making Of The Salad Dressing. One brilliant hand pours the oil into the food processor while the other presses the 'On' button. Amazing.
A grand table, candlelight and flowing wine set the tone. Friendly, calm and relaxed conversation follows...




York Style

More York Style


                                   SONG O' THE WEEK                                     

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Bought a block of buildings. Three commercial properties. A large one, a medium one, and a smaller one.
The big space was once a burger joint. Then it was a ceramics studio. Now that it is in my hands I would like to return it to food. Food with a creative edge. The other two spaces are kinda undecided. I'm thinking maybe some type of neo-country store? A hip beauty shop? A cabinet of curiosities? All of the above? There is much work to do anyway and it will take a good while.
In the mean time I shall have some fun with the windows. Started putting random drawings up. Masks the raw interior. Gets people excited. I'll add more as the months go by.

I want a parrot. I want two parrots.
I like this word. It invokes aged but solid things, ornate fossils, epic spans of time and massive plumed beasts. In a perfect world I am a prolific street artist and my name is MESOZOIC.  


There are few things more gratifying than focused children making art with serious intent.
I don't much get into the classrooms these days but I was happy to be invited back to Southern Choctaw Elementary to lead a small after school program. Just a few kids. Very relaxed.
I got to do a few projects I'd had in my head for awhile. Especially cave painting. We examined the nearly 20,000 year old works in the caves of Lascaux, France.
We created our own faux stone surfaces out of large butcher paper and paint. Then we applied the animals in pastel.
Some copied the original works. Some created their own. Either way was okay.
I was gonna recreate a whole cave in this hallway but we just didn't have enough pieces to fill it out. I do think this display is plenty dynamic though.
We also produced these very funky fish mobiles. You stuff and paint them and balance them on a wooden rod in pairs. The movement is great. Almost realistic. Put enough together and you have a virtual aquarium.

RAPID FIRE is one of the coolest events in Birmingham. Occurring almost monthly, it's sort of an image sharing salon for all creative disciplines.
My good friend, the great painter, Amy Pleasant is the founder of Rapid Fire. She manages to fill each session with interesting and inspired presenters offering striking images.
A few months ago I had the honor of presenting a few things from my own cache.
I chose the theme of body art. Or, more accurately, the enhanced body as sculpture. Toting about thirty picts, I had many cultures, traditional and modern, represented. But this particular image has been haunting me for over twenty years. Leaf masks from the Bwa People. When you lose your mojo and art and the creative impulse seem lost, just gaze upon the Dwo masks. They will restore everything.
Speaking of body art. This nice young lady had carved a stamp in the bottom of her cowboy boot. She steps in ink and tags everything she puts her foot to. I asked her to step on my arm. She was proud of her work.