Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Go See Manuel Mendive!

I visited the California African American Museum (CAAM), and saw Things That Cannot Be Seen Any Other Way: The Art of Manuel Mendive.   What's great about CAAM is that admission is FREE, which is always a good thing during these tough economic times.  However, I would have gladly paid to see the work of Manuel Mendive, a Cuban artist, exploring Afro-Carribean themes. 

The work is deeply rooted in spirituality and magic.  There is a deep sense of transformation occurring in the work, leaving me with a great sense of awe.  Perhaps because I'm a Divinity student that I recognized something familiar in the art.  The paintings seemed to say we are connected to something higher, bigger, brighter than ourselves.

These ghostly masks were part of the exhibition.  I love their crescent moon-like faces. 

From the press release:

The exhibition is centered on the 50-year career of the prominent Afro-Cuban artist Manuel Mendive. This is the first exhibition in the United States to focus exclusively on the contemporary visual and material culture of the Afro-Cuban religion LukumĂ­, and the general way in which the cultures of the countries of the African Diaspora through telluric and mystically-charged subjects. The selected works at CAAM have rarely been exhibited together.

Emerging from a generation of Cuban artists who studied at Cuba's San Alejandro National School of Fine Arts, Mendive is highly regarded as one of the foremost contemporary artists in Cuba and the Caribbean.

"It is an honor for me to exhibit my work at such a well-respected cultural institution as the California African American Museum. I cannot give enough praise to all who have contributed to the success of the exhibition and its opening," said Mendive through an interpreter.

The show runs through October 20, 3013. 

Manuel Mendive with one of his paintings

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Loving LA: the Making of a Portrait

UPDATE: The LA Times did a feature on the exhibition:,0,2967466.story

Original Story:

July 13th was the opening of We Love LA: Please Make it Better at Future Studio Gallery in Highland Park.  The new regime of politicians begin their term on July 1.  According to Curator Amy Inouye, she would like to accomplish this with this show: 

We realize that governing the sprawling metropolis is a daunting task, but as artists, we are used to thinking outside the box, and our hope is that we can engage in ongoing dialog with the new regime that could result in modern solutions to civic challenges. At the very least, we hope to engage our new officials in an appreciation of the LA art world—a crazy, fun, and creative world that is inspired by this amazing but also sometimes infuriating city. Don’t we all just want LA to live up to our dreams for it?

The artists were asked to do portraits of different politicians, from the Mayor to Councilmembers.  The purpose was "to congratulate them and  to remind them of the importance of art in the city’s cultural landscape, personality, and sensibility, not to mention its economy."

I was thrilled to be a part of the show.  I saw it as my official coming out as an artist.  I'd hung in pop-up galleries (one day or weekend shows), but this was the first time that a curator asked me to be in a show with more experienced artists, including Gary Leonard and my teacher Margaret Garcia.  Indeed, I'd guess that I was the youngest (career-wise) in the show. It will be on view until September 13.

It was also part of the NELA Art Walk.  I'd gone to the art walk many times.  I always had fun going to the different galleries or studios and seeing what was on display.  It was gratifying to be one of the artists being seen this time.

The politician I was asked to work with was Councilmember Tom LaBonge, a man I respect.  He  went to the same high school I went to, albeit 15 years apart.  I looked through pictures of Mr. LaBonge online.  There were plenty to choose from.  However, they all looked savvy, a politician enjoying his established career.

I wanted to send a message to Mr. LaBonge, perhaps remind him why he chose public service.  I went to our alumni association and asked to see photos from his 1971 yearbook.  There were photos of him as a varsity football player, of a young man preparing for life.    They were of an idealistic and hopeful person. 

I was moved by these photos, reminded of my own youth.  I believed I could do anything, everything was possible.  I set out to do a portrait of Mr. LaBonge based on these photos. I wanted to remind him of what was possible for our City.  No matter what, idealism and hope are important at any age. 

I blew up the photos and gazed at them for hours.  I tried a few paintings, but abandoned them.  I decided to focus on his face. I developed something that I was happy with. I took the product to painting class to have my teacher Margaret Garcia critique it.  She helped me out with the nose, and encouraged me to find the highlights.

It was surreal watching people look at my painting, photographing it or talking about it.  A slew of people that I loved came to support me, and I truly had a great evening.

The show got some great press.  Here's a news report on it here.

You can see the show at Future Studio Gallery:

5558 N. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles (Highland Park), 90042
Open Saturdays, 12pm - 5pm or by appt. (323-254-4565)