Thursday, May 31, 2012

Burst Forth and Blossom

In honor of my son's imminent College graduation, a look back at some of the high points

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pete's Pantheon: James Turrell, The Sky is the Limit

Somewhere in a secret location outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, artist James Turrell is collecting the ancient light of distant stars in a dusty crater. Turrell has always been intrigued with light, and now it is his artistic medium. His crater is a project he has been working on since 1974. This would drive most of us mad, but not Turrell. He takes the long view. After all, he is working with starlight, a medium that has crossed the Universe.

Turrell didn't start out to be an artist. His past is jumbled with stories of flying missions for the CIA, and how later he was arrested by the FBI and imprisoned for advising young men how to avoid the Viet Nam War. It's safe to say he is the only cowboy-rancher-pilot-international-art- star who financed many of his projects with money that he made meticulously restoring vintage aircraft. (Some of which, Alaskans will be thrilled to know, he flew North to customers here in our state. A bit of personal history related at a lecture that he gave years ago at the Anchorage Museum.)

He found the crater from an airplane after a long search for what he had in mind. Now, with the help of several foundations and a MacArthur grant, the grand plan, perpetually in a state of readiness "to open in a few years" is coming along.

And what is the grand plan? Sculpting the crater with bulldozers, Turrell is forming a sort of naked eye observatory, where light, or more accurately, our perception of it, will be shaped and manipulated in ways that are subtle or spectacular. It's a vision along the lines of monumental works that ancient people have left around the world that are keyed into the movement of the Sun and Moon. It is powerfully attractive in its linking of the cosmic and terrestrial, art and science, past and present.

As such, it has vast potential to attract every hippie-dippy, day-glo, tie-dyed, patchouli-stinkin', Burning Man moonchild in the known Universe. Surely Turrell has thought of this. Which makes me suspect that perhaps the grand plan is never to open it until after such a circus is safely out of the question. Just to quietly let it fade into obscurity to be found by some curious observant soul from a future civilization who will notice the crater's too-perfect form and slowly unlock some, but not all, of the mysteries hidden in its many chambers. At which, there will be great frustration. And greater wonder.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pete's Pantheon: John Hammond, An Uncanny Ear for America

Has anyone ever listened to the chorus of American voices more sensitively, carefully and passionately than John Hammond? Let's look at the record (sorry). Mr. Hammond is generally credited with discovering or at least being crucial to the careers of...

• Billie Holiday
• Charlie Christian
• Benny Goodman
• Count Basie
• Pete Seeger
• Aretha Franklin
• Bob Dylan
• Leonard Cohen
• George Benson
• Bruce Springsteen
• Stevie Ray Vaughn

Not only that, Hammond brought the iconic Delta Blues recordings of Mr. Robert Johnson to their first national recognition.  To his further glory, he is accorded no involvement whatsoever in the careers of Kenny G, Justin Beiber or Wayne Newton.

His love of music was coupled with bold commitment to Civil Rights. This Yale blueblood invested in the first integrated nightclub, Cafe Society, and arranged legendary concerts at Carnegie Hall that featured African-American music played for an integrated audience. These were watershed events in the late 1930s called "From Spirituals to Swing". Hammond wanted Robert Johnson to feature as the representative performer of the Country Blues. By then Johnson had passed out of this world but not yet into history. One of his 45rpm recordings was played instead, through a gramophone on stage. The slumbering giant of Rock and Roll stirred in its sleep as the thin, haunted sound of the dead man's guitar drifted over the audience.  

Hammond found at least one other way to contribute to the music world. He and his wife were the parents of Bluesman John Hammond, a talented guitarist and blues interpreter.

Hammond, played by Herbert Anderson, appears as a character in The Benny Goodman Story. It's a biopic about the great clarinettist who was married to Hammond's sister. But Hollywood missed a bet in not making a companion flick based on the life of this unlikely genius. The soundtrack alone would have been a blockbuster.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Possession is nine tenths of the law

This was a piece I did for a benefit my friend Dianne Holmes helped to organize. The item for bid  was a new piece of artwork by me on the theme of the bidder's choice. Friends from Kenai won the bid and gave me the liberty to create whatever image I liked. Starting without a subject is an intense exercise in head scratching. Once I decided that I would feature a raven, things began to fall in place.