Voice (28)

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“In the meantime the Bottom had collapsed. Everybody who had made money during the war moved as quickly as they could to the valley, and the white people were buying down river, cross river, stretching Medallion like two strings on the banks. Nobody colored lived much up in the Bottom any more. White people were building towers for televisions stations up there and there was a rumor about a golf course or something. Anyway, hill land was more valuable now, and those black people who had moved down right after the war in the fifties couldn’t afford to come back even if they wanted to. Except for the few blacks still huddled by the river bend, and some undemolished houses on Carpenter’s Road, only rich white folks were building homes in the hills. Just like that, they had changed their minds and instead of keeping the valley floor to themselves, now they wanted a hilltop house with a river view and a ring of elms. The black people,  for all their new look, seemed awfully anxious to get to the valley, or leave town, and and abandon the hills to whoever was interested. It was sad, because the Bottom had been a real place. These young ones kept talking about the community, but they left the hills to the poor, the old, the stubborn–and the rich white folks. Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones and less and less dropping by.” 

from Sula, by Toni Morrison

 

landscapes, soundscapes, dreamscapes

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“Arden” — Image Courtesy John S. Reynolds

I HAVE been so buried in duty that I’m late in posting this piece that was up over at Artbound last month, but it’s an evergreen.

There is a particular L.A. that resides in native Angelenos’ minds. They are personal Los Angeles-es — of different moods, eras, compositions.  John Reynold’s work taps into that thread of memory.  He retains it so we don’t have to work as hard.

I profiled Reynolds, a musician  and painter,  whose era of speciality, as he’d say himself,
is “the period of time between the two big wars — First and Second.”

This piece was reported over a long period of time, mostly  because I wanted to be in both of Reynolds’ worlds — the music and the art — and really understand how they both occupied his imagaination. That meant I drove to Disneyland and California Adventure where he has a regular gig as part of several of the “atmosphere” bands. As well he plays clubs and bars, theaters and back rooms across the city and country for huge swing dance followings.

But the art is something that he’s been working on quietly over the years and it evokes, visually, the music that he finds himself most happy sailing around in. It’s also a powerful trigger of memory for those of us who have watched Los Angeles move away from us.

From the piece:

Reynolds knows it can be treacherous business dealing in nostalgia. There are all manner of trick wires, trap doors and uncomfortable — “Whose nostalgia?” — truths to confront. But as a musician and painter who firmly situates himself in the landscape of history and memory, conveying a sense of home, especially in a constantly remade Los Angeles, is its own tight-wire act. The things that both located and grounded you are sometimes gone before you can make full sense of them: “You look up one day and there’s just an empty lot and a tractor.”

For Reynolds, a fifth-generation Southern Californian, history has a heavy presence. It’s palpable at every turn. It’s often a past that most people can no longer discern: It’s been bulldozed, retrofitted, rethought or stuccoed-over. That’s why his creative output, for as long as he can remember, has been dedicated to bringing those stories to the surface and rekindling unfinished conversations about place: “I guess you can say I’m haunted —  in a positive and negative way,” he reflects. “I’m sorry that so much of it — that feeling is gone — but I am glad that I can remember it.” And there’s legacy to protect.

Months ago, I visited his home studio in Glendale and got a sense of his history (he’s the grandson old-Hollywood actress ZaSu Pitts) and over the last four decades has worked in music ensembles that specialize in playing early-20th Century popular music. The mosaic of images below are from that afternoon visit (before our walk around the “ghost” houses of Pasadena).

You can read the piece here at Artbound.  And check John’s page here for info about  upcoming shows.

 

 

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John S. Reynolds at The Brand Library Art Center – Photo by Lynell George

Power, Persistence and Bearing Witness

I SPENT a  little time a few weeks ago interviewing photographer Warren Hill for show he was preparing for featuring his work celebrating community organizing and the power of collective voices.

Though it is visual representation of community building, Hill’s work is at its core about listening:  Getting to know a place is about getting to know the people who inhabit it, who have shaped and tended it when others have looked away. 

To really see Los Angeles — its many working parts, its vivid tapestry —  starts with listening.IMG_2816

As I mentioned in my remarks on Saturday afternoon: “His lens asks open-ended,  ‘how-and-why’ questions that allow his subjects  the space to fill in the frame. He’s not imposing a narrative but allowing his subject’s the space to articulate delicate shadings and implications  of their own situation.”

Hill will be at the Central Library Wednesday afternoon talking about his work for Photographer’s Eye: “Power and Persistence: Grassroots Activists and Musicians in L.A.” Click here for more information.

You can see the photographs in person until June 26th Venice Arts.

 

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new year, new journey

IMG_9224IN THE last few hours of 2015, I made my way up a familiar winding hill into Altadena. The main road up to Zorthian Ranch is lined with single-family homes with sumptuous and busy gardens set back from the road. Suddenly though, as the rise gets steeper, your ears pop and you realize that you’ve attained some very real altitude. You are now  out of gentle, rustic suburbia and are now snaking up into the wilds.

I turned onto the cut-out and drug across the dirt path and parked my car. In the distance, I could see the profile of the NOMAD and I realized that this would most likely be the last time I’d get this beautiful view of Dominique Moody‘s  mobile workshop in the form of a residence.

I’ve been following her process for a few years now. I’ve watched the NOMAD go from a blueprints, to conceptual model, to a beautifully appointed residence which will now allow her to move through the world and interact with her surroundings.

We had a light brunch and talked about what awaited her on the open road.

Her first stop is Joshua Tree, where she will continue to tie up lose ends,  but most important, will make a visit she’d been intending to for years. The artist Noah Purifoy has been one of her important influences. An assemblage artist as well, he worked with found objects that also (like Moody’s work), force the viewer think twice about what we define as “throw-away.”

What’s in store for her, she doesn’t know just yet. And that’s the goal. This first step  however was a necessary “conversation” she had to have. This first pilgrimage is a way to connect with the impulse and memory of an important “spirit guide.”

I’ll be checking in on Moody in the coming weeks to see how this trial run is going and where serendipity leads her creatively.

 


-all images by Lynell George

Notes from the Nomad

  FALL IS here just about, though the temps are  still spiking into the high 90s.  It’s typical L.A. Indian Summer. That’s why I had an early-morning visit this week with the artist Dominique Moody. She’s been taking her artist’s residence on wheels on short trips around Southern California.  It’s a tiny house, but one built by a trained assemblage artist. Both portrait and theater, Moody’s Nomad is the product of a series of serendipitous encounters that very early on took root in her imagination. 

I wrote about her for KCET’s Artbound not too long ago. She’s almost ready to take the first of her longer journeys. 

Here are some quick moments from my visit in Altadena. 

More to come.    

Dreamscapes and Domains – New Orleans Notes, Ten Years Gone

ABOUT A week and a half ago, I was pushing memories around in my head. They’d come unbidden, stray phrases and images. I didn’t think I had a home for them just yet.katrina

I hadn’t planned to write anything formal about Katrina and the flood, but it was on my mind — taking up more than backspace. Last week all that circular thinking started surfacing as full sentences. And finally, in a block of focused days I had a piece. It ran yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, you can find it here.

One of the things about my post-Katrina New Orleans and the absence of my blood-ties is that it’s left me thinking about the people who used to live around the folks I once visited as part of that summer ritual. I think about this as I wander New Orleans trying to locate sites that no longer exist on any map. I remember generations of families who had remained on one block passing on not just an address but a hibiscus and iris garden, a porch with a ceiling painted blue like a spring sky. Even an attic ghost. On this side of the family line, I am the last person to hold those memories, to know what it was before: The stories and the voices — the intricately built sentences — I will carry in my head I know, but these are the features will always define New Orleans for me.

Just last week, I was speaking to my friend Mark Broyard, an artist who lives here in L.A. and has deep New Orleans roots.katrina series no. three As I note in the piece, after Katrina, he went back to help but also to bear witness. Photograph and collect debris that he would ultimately make into art. I remember the first time I saw the piece above, I didn’t have words. It hit someplace so deep, I cried.

(Broyard has other work in a group show, “Hard Edged” now up at the California African American Museum.)

With all of the trumpeting of “recovery” and “resilience,” my hope is that we will all remember — remember that there is so much more to do, to finish, to fix. To make whole. I’m realizing more and more that I’d like to find a place in that.

And as a guide, to keep in mind, that that new spot you’ve landed in — your new domain — that was once someone else’s garden, porch, ghost; it was once someone else’s dream.

Katrina Series Image courtesy Mark Broyard

Noah Purifoy–Junk Dada

  
POWERFUL RETROSPECTIVE up at LACMA of Noah Purifoy‘s assemblage work — “Junk Dada.”

My day coincidentally began in Watts where Purifoy was the co-founder of the Watts Towers  Art Center. Serendipitously I photographed a garden this morning that is most likely the front yard of the house in the center photo of this grid.

For more information about the LACMA show click here.

I’m still processing it all….more later.

 

photo collage: l.g.