“Telling My Stories” 

SCENES FROM last week’s opening festivities for “Octavia E. Butler — Telling My Stories” at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. 


A special thank you to curator Natalie Russell who carefully selected 100 objects out of a vast archive of 8,000 to illustrate Butler’s life, work and struggle. It’s a beautiful survey of a singular life. We are all grateful to Butler for gifting her papers to the Huntington so that so many more people can learn about her way of looking at and being in the world. Most affecting is her depth of curiosity, her blinders-on focus. For all the sacrifice and sense of mission, her dedication at moments feels matchless.  

The exhibit is up through August. Come early. Give yourself enough time to wander through. There is much to linger over, digest and celebrate. 

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.