Saturday, August 31, 2013

Takao Shinzawa, artist and friend

You know how sometimes you get invited to a show of a friend and you wonder...will I have to say nice things and think bad things? My long-time friend Takao Shinzawa,  has had several shows in JP lately. And I have had no such trouble. For decades I knew Takao as a talented musician but I was blown away by the depth and character of his new visual work.

Shinzawa’s careful renderings reveal a sense of awe in the details of everyday life. His works also resonate as a silent hymn to the unexpected beauty found in urban places. Every stroke and line of Shinzawa's drawing attends to living objects and bricks and mortar with equal sensitivity.

I first met Takao when he came to the US from Japan thirty years ago, and has been living for 24 years in Jamaica Plain. He has always painted and drawn from real life. Takao is a gardener and dead-funny commentator on modern life, who also works part-time at Mass Art. Shinzawa is a classically trained flutist and has studied with Doriot Anthony Dwyer. In addition to western flute he plays Japanese flutes called ryuteki and komabue which are integral to Gagaku dance and ceremonial music; a musical form with an unbroken history stretching more than a millennium.  To find out more: Contact Takao Shinzawa: cell: 617.721.1371 • • email: Or say hello as you see him sketching in the neighborhood!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Being Mary Read

Photos by: Halldor Sigurdsson from Schoharie Crossing - thanks!
If someone took a notion to sing the "Mary Read Blues" ? It could rightly be said/sung that "If it were not for bad luck, she had no luck at all." Her story starts in poverty but then, most pirate stories do... I created a monologue about her back story that I tell as I take off the skirt and shawl to reveal pants and shirt as I  arm my self and transform into Mark Read, pirate.
and transform into Mark.
I enter as Mary...
" After my dear mother died I went to live in London with Granny. She was not fond of me and she sent me out to earn me keep as a stable boy – which I did.  I had hoped for an apprenticeship or schooling but it was not to be. From her own mouth I heard the reason behind my mother’s disguising me as a boy. My grandmam was not even sure that I was her grand daughter but as my brother was 2 years older, she believed him ( that is me) to be her blood...But after Granny died I had no place and no one… so I joined the army – Some of me mates had gone across the channel to Holland and I heard they could learn the language right quick enough and the food was regular and peace ruled the land and the Army was the place, so I went too. It was there I met my first husband. . .We were tent mates see? ...And got to know each other very well.  After, we got to know each other quite well we opened an Inn –  work was easy. For the first time I dressed as a woman. But we were only married 11 months when he took sick with the same fever and I was just frantic. No issue to show for our union just bills – I took on men's clothing again and I went to the sea – thinking to live again in London..."  I was very excited to be invited to bring this character and bit of history to the  "Not Just For Kids Storytelling"at Schoharie Crossing. A bit about their series from the local paper: "The "Not Just For Kids Storytelling" series was the inspiration of the site manager Janice Fontanella, who said she fell in love with the art form more than two decades ago and was looking for a way to share it with others. "I was just so excited myself that I discovered storytelling and it was something I wanted people to hear," said Fontanella. And she thought the events would be a "perfect fit" at the site."I'm sure there's been storytelling going on here for years," Fontanella said, noting the famed storytelling traditions of both the Mohawk Indians and the area's early European settlers."Storytelling is more of a traditional art form," she added. "It's appropriate for a historic site." 
The storytelling series is funded, in part, by the Fulton-Montgomery Arts Grants, part of the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts administered by Saratoga Arts.It's sponsored by the Friends of Schoharie Crossing, Stewart's Shops, the Garden Bug, Tribes Hill Deli, Southside Coffee Shop and Dolci Sweet Shop.
According to Fontanella, the program is run entirely through sponsorships and donations, and all of the money raised goes to the storytellers themselves, some of whom travel many hours in order to participate. Admission is free to all of the performances and they take place rain or shine. Free refreshments are also served following each show."
l. to r. Claire Nolan, Maddy and Greg Reid, descendants of Mary Read
My intention is to humanize the character and the times as I tell what it was really like to be a pirate and a woman in the late 17th and early18th  century. I have always loved doing the research but much of her story is unknown. I  had decided to make up an ending to her life that I like to think about as being true.  On this trip to Schoharie Crossing, NY I had a very unusual meeting that made me think my idea about the end of her life was more truth than fiction.

In conjunction with my gig I was lucky enough to be invited to teach a workshop for the Children At The Well a group of young storytellers in the Albany, NY/ Capitol District.  Check them out and you will see for yourselves that they are wonderful. That was a lovely turn of events in itself and many thanks Paula Weiss for her generosity and connecting us all.  But... check out this crazy serendipity.  Here is a post-script from Paula: "PS- oh, hey- it turns out that one of our dads- he & his daughter are coming to the workshop- is a descendant of Mary Read's!"  After meeting Reid he told me that his grandmother from CuraƧao always said that they were direct descendants of Mary Read. How cool is that?  You cannot make this stuff up.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Brilliant flash mob sparks ideas

Brilliant flash mob sparks ideas  

by Norah Dooley

An acquaintance sent me this yesterday and I was enthralled. A flash mob fully realized and then enacted a back story to a very well known painting, Guards of the Night by Rembrandt in 1642. This past April this "flash mob" or guerilla theater event was a project of the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands to advertise with their slogan; "Our Heroes Are Back" that after an absence of one decade, all major pieces in the Rijksmuseum’s collection are back where they belong.

It helps to have the backing of a major multinational corporation when you want to document this intricate a staging. It looks like they had a dozen cameras and at least 2 dozen actors and free range of the mall to plan, rehearse and set props before the performance. When one desires to bring art to the people, a healthy budget makes smooth the way.  Still the really amazing part of the project, in my mind, was to inject a clear story into the staging. A gorgeous tableau would have been very effective but...the story, acted out in real time? Sheer brilliance. Imagine all the viewers talking to each other about the part of the story they actually were witness too.

And I wonder - did this elaborate staging work to get people to come to the actual art in the museum? Seems likely that it did since the prank itself garnered over 3 million views on youtube.
Guards of the Night Rembrandt 1642, Rijksmuseum, Netherlands

The videos show how they took one painting, a Rembrandt from 1642, Guards of the Night (above), and brought to life the characters in it, placed them throughout a busy mall and you can see for yourself how it all fell (literally) out.

Imagine what a group of storytellers with a lots of imagination or the backing of anybody or entity with deep pockets might be able to do? My mind is swimming with fun ideas.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Like Banksy - only 1/100th as talented

Chalk-Le-chat: Like Banksy or Blek Le rat (only 1/100th as talented)

A different kind of chalking

By Norah Dooley

Last month I compared my work to Jenny Holzer and this week I am thinking about Banksy and his predecessor, Blek le Rat, (born Xavier Prou,1952) who was one of the first graffiti artists in Paris, and has been described as the “Father of Stencil Graffiti”.  Lest you think I am totally out of my mind -  I
Mon petit signature
shall clarify. I do not believe myself to be in anyway comparable to these world-class artists. I only mention them as examples of the inspiration for my work and to give some point of reference for what I am doing. Deciding I needed a "nome de plume" like my heroes ( my heroine, Jenny Holzer, is simply herself) and knowing that imitation is the sincerest form of mimicry I have, for now, settled on Chalk le Chat.

Cool, right? It is like Blek Le rat, only I am 1/100th as talented or prolific. I am also considering the moniker "Pastore Fata" after Shephard Fairey but he gets into a lot of  trouble so it ma be a bit risky.  Running with the Chalk Le-chat idea allowed me to
designed myself a little signature
( see left ). Mostly, I create really simple chalk drawings about the stories I have just told to surprise and I hope delight the children who stumble upon them. If they mystify and inspire those who have not heard my stories - that is great. The fact that the act is noncommercial and intends a democratic inclusiveness. I sometimes draw with my audience, teaching them how to use simple shapes to draw some of the animals that feature as characters in my stories. And other times I  leave chalk beside or nearby the drawings,  inside a chalk circle of words saying "Express Yourself".

Here  is the wiki entry for "street art"
Street art is art, specifically visual art, developed in public spaces — that is, "in the streets" — though the term usually refers to unsanctioned art, as opposed to government sponsored initiatives. The term can include traditional graffiti artwork, sculpture, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheatpasting and street poster art, video projection, art intervention, guerrilla art, and street installations. Typically, the term street art or the more specific post-graffiti is used to distinguish contemporary public-space artwork from territorial graffiti, vandalism, and corporate art.

Artists have challenged art by situating it in non-art contexts. ‘Street’ artists do not aspire to change the definition of an artwork, but rather to question the existing environment with its own language. They attempt to have their work communicate with everyday people about socially relevant themes in ways that are informed by esthetic values without being imprisoned by them.John Fekner defines street art as "all art on the street that’s not graffiti".

Whereas traditional graffiti artists have primarily used free-hand aerosol paints to produce their works,"street art" encompasses many other media and techniques, including: LED art, mosaic tiling, murals, stencil art, sticker art, "Lock On" street sculptures, street installations, wheatpasting, woodblocking, video projection, and yarn bombing. New media forms of graffiti, such as projection onto large city buildings, are an increasingly popular tool for street artists—and the availability of cheap hardware and software allows street artists to become more competitive with corporate advertisements. Much like open source software, artists are able to create art for the public realm from their personal computers, similarly creating things for free which compete with companies making things for profit.

Traditional graffiti also has increasingly been adopted as a method for advertising; its trajectory has even in some cases led its artists to work on contract as graphic artists for corporations.Nevertheless, street art is a label often adopted by artists who wish to keep their work unaffiliated and strongly political. Street artists are those whose work is still largely done without official approval in public areas. For these reasons street art is sometimes considered "post-graffiti" and sometimes even "neo-graffiti.St reet art can be found around the world and street artists often travel to other countries foreign to them so they can spread their designs.
Children join Chalk le Chat at Honan Librar
The motivations and objectives that drive street artists are as varied as the artists themselves. There is a strong current of activism and subversion in urban art. Street art can be a powerful platform for reaching the public, and frequent themes include adbusting, subvertising and other culture jamming, the abolishment of private property and reclaiming the streets. Some street artists use "smart vandalism" as a way to raise awareness of social and political issues.Other street artists simply see urban space as an untapped format for personal artwork, while others may appreciate the challenges and risks that are associated with installing illicit artwork in public places. However the universal theme in most, if not all street art, is that adapting visual artwork into a format which utilizes public space, allows artists who may otherwise feel disenfranchised, to reach a much broader audience than traditional artwork and galleries normally allow. Street art can also be a form of political expression used by the oppressed and people with little resources to create change.

Banksy - © Clipstone Crop
From a blog that follows Banksy:
Banksy’s latest street pieces which appeared in London over the Easter bank holiday reworks an old anarchist slogan coined by Emma Goldman “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” The piece seems to be a reference to a spate of recent arrests in LA of street artists such as Invader and Revok who are involved with the MOCA show. — New Banksy street piece in London references arrests in LA.

Blek le Rat in LA
From the Street Art Blog, post NOV 19, 2011:

Blek recognized the great ability of street art to address the populace in ways other art could not. Through stencils often centered on social observation, Blek involved his viewers in a guerrilla war against complacency and conformity, highlighting the strength of the individual and inspiring a reflection upon the status quo. The guerrilla art we are familiar with now has much to thank Blek le Rat for, a point driven home with impact when looking at the work of notorious British-graffiti artist Banksy, whose style is not only based on that of Blek but whose subject matter (including soldiers, rebels and even rats taking over the streets) is inarguably influenced by Blek as well.