Thea Saks is an artist based in Los Angeles. Her company, The Mighty Squirm (www.themightysquirm.com), specializes in apparel and art prints with designs inspired by folklore and historical periods of interest, especially the 19th century. Thea's work has appeared in local galleries including Cella Gallery, Cannibal Flower, and La Luz de Jesus, as well as Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco and District VII in Detroit. The Mighty Squirm has participated in markets for highly original merchandise such as Unique LA, Bats Day Black Market, Bazaar Bizarre, Comikaze Los Angeles, and Son of Monsterpalooza.
I’ve never seen myself as an artist who paints one fabulous painting at a time to fill gallery walls, satisfy a waiting list of eager buyers, and someday make it into a modern-art museum. My work isn’t so highbrow, I say to myself; because I do a lot of drawing and less painting, and choose horror mixed with humor as my favorite subject, I fall somewhere in between the gallery painting and the greeting card.
More and more artists are developing their own brands of merchandise (such as prints, T-shirts, and toys). As they approach stores, they have (to put it mildly) mixed experiences. When you take this quiz, pretend you’re the store owner! Consider each situation below and answer as honestly as you can.
Thea Saks, “Franklinstein,” oil on canvas.
It’s been three months since my last posting about how work is going on the art show Daniel and I are doing for October. Now it has a name: “Enlightenment.” It’s about the Age of Enlightenment, which was roughly mid-1600s to late 1700s in Europe and the American colonies.
When I met artist Susan Trachman through mutual friends and she told me she had an exhibit of medical art at the UCLA medical school, I wanted to make sure I saw it. I’ve seen art with many different themes, but never art made from medical supplies. This exhibit, “Patient/Artist,” is a chronicle of Trachman’s 25 years of treatment for multiple sclerosis—treatment that has been central to nearly all of her adulthood.
Susan Trachman, “Living Color 2,” MRI scan of the artist’s brain, digitally colorized by the artist.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition in which the immune system attacks and damages the myelin sheaths surrounding nerves, resulting in many different symptoms; these can include motor impairment, pain, and numbness. In making the best of this life-altering condition, Trachman chose to make art from it, offering us an insider’s view of life with MS. Trachman has illuminated MRI scans of her head with eye-popping color, created elaborate floral arrangements with syringes, arranged 120 red plastic medical-waste containers in configurations that represent how the disposed-of treatments were used in her regimen, and constructed a variety of three-dimensional pieces containing medicine bottles.
Susan Trachman, “Relief at a Price,” 3D collage made of one five-day medical treatment package, mounted in plywood, covered in burlap, and framed in Plexiglas.
The artist has included captions with her pieces that explain what the various materials are and how they contribute to the larger picture of her experience. For example, in the piece “Relief at a Price,” the contents of one five-day medical treatment package (one 5-ml vial of Acthar Gel, five needles, five syringes, and five alcohol pads) are mounted on plywood, covered in burlap, and framed in Plexiglas. She writes, “When the tightness in my legs and the numbness in my extremities get to be too much, there are tools for temporary relief…but at a price.” And the price, as shown in the piece, is a whopping $25,000. “I can use Acthar Gel up to four times a year,” she remarks. “Thank God I have insurance.”
Trachman, a Los Angeles native with a background in both commercial and residential interior design, was diagnosed with MS in her mid-twenties. Once she began treatment, she began saving her medical supplies to see how she could eventually make something interesting with them. She began working on the pieces in this show about 7 years ago. Becoming creative with the supplies was a way for her to tell her story and remain positive about her condition, focusing on what she could do rather than what her condition prevented her from doing.
Susan Trachman, “Java Chip,” wall sculpture of 120 Sharps containers (used for the disposal of needles and syringes) hung on 9 steel rods.
This exhibit is a very timely one for me, since a good friend of mine was very recently diagnosed with transverse myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord that is sometimes an early sign of MS). I took my pictures of Trachman’s exhibit to the hospital and showed them to my friend, because I felt they would be inspiring…although my friend, like Trachman, already has a positive, productive attitude.
This exhibit is one of a series that curator Ted Meyer intends for the Learning Resource Center, a new building at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Hopefully we will continue to see art at this location that has meaning for patients, their caregivers and loved ones, and lovers of art who may or may not be touched by people living with serious medical conditions.
“Patient/Artist” by Susan Trachman is running through June 30 at the David Geffen School of Medicine Learning Resource Center, 700 Westwood Plaza, Westwood. (I wish it was running longer—or, rather, that my schedule had allowed me to visit this show and blog about it sooner.)
Susan Trachman, “Flower on Steroids” (detail), digitally mastered collage printed on canvas. The artist writes, “When on steroids, all my senses are heightened. My extremities…no longer feel numb. I get a boost of energy, making me feel bigger than life.”
The NoHo Senior Arts Colony: An Up-and-Coming Place for Experienced Artists and Performers to Share Their Skills
Urban photography by Dan Meylor and Tyrone Polk at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony’s current exhibit.
When I went to the NoHo Senior Arts Colony last week to cover the current photography show, I wasn’t all that psyched to go. The show was open to photographers of all ages, and I expected a community free-for-all. I ended up not only admiring the dynamic photography and the professional way it was presented, but also getting interested in everything that’s happening at this place.
One series of photographs depicts a graffiti artist at work on a building—cooler than I expected for a show at a senior center (shame on me—but it’s the truth). It turns out that the photographer, Tyrone Polk, is himself a senior in residence at the colony. And the more I talked to Amanda Talbot, the program manager for the colony, and Maureen Kellen-Taylor, chief operating officer of EngAGE (more about EngAGE below), the better I understood that many of the residents are professionals of great reputation in the arts who are still hard at work in their fields of expertise and happen to be 62 or older (that’s a requisite for living at the colony). I didn’t know what to expect when I came to the colony; but if you come to this complex expecting to see retirees who take art classes just to fill up time when they aren’t playing bingo, you’re in for a surprise. What happens in this place is the work of dedicated, experienced artists and performers who share their talents and creative passions with one another and with visitors to the colony.
Samantha Wendell with her portrait of Johnny Winter (one of many rock artists she has painted) at the colony’s first art exhibit, “Reimagining Life.”
The gallery space is in the main hallway of the ground floor. After we looked at the photography, Ms. Talbot showed me some rooms off the main hallway. I saw a spacious art studio, with easels and paints and an instructor’s notes about “the art of seeing” written on one wall. I saw a beautiful new theater that mainly houses productions of the Roads Theater Company but is open to use by theatrical residents of the colony when the house is dark; currently the company is showing “Cooperstown,” a play by Brian Golden. I got a peek at the professionally designed set of a 1950s Cooperstown coffee shop. The shows are open to the public, and a box office on the premises sells tickets. In another room there was a bulletin board with flyers advertising various arts and fitness programs, all of which are free of charge for the colony’s residents. I saw that poetry readings are held weekly for residents by Morgan Gibson, an award-winning poet who has published numerous books and taught his craft in the U.S. and abroad. One flyer advertised the “Diggerly Do’s,” a show open to the public, which looks like great fun; it’s a musical written and performed by Kent Minault, who takes his audience back to the Haight-Ashbury district in 1965 San Francisco to see an actual community-action task force at work. (Mr. Minault was a member of the task force himself.) The Diggerly Do’s provided free food and other amenities to those in the Haight who needed them, but also had some tense encounters with the local law. It’s a very hip theme for a musical, and one that would speak to audience members of any age. It’s also a reminder that today’s seniors have been contributors to many cutting-edge creative movements that today’s young people revere and wish they had been part of. (Annie Liebovitz, Peter Max, and members of the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead are in the right age group to live at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony…although it sounds like the apartments are going fast, so they should apply soon if they want one.)
Alice Asmar, who had a solo show at the colony this past spring, in front of one of her paintings with Samantha Wendell.
During my visit I was introduced to a gracious gentleman by the name of Clarence Johnston, who happened to be passing by. Mr. Johnston, as it happens, is a jazz drummer with a career that’s stretched many decades; he’s played with greats such as Miles Davis, Dinah Washington, and John Coltrane. Currently he conducts drum circles at the colony and at other locations all over LA. These sessions are popular and attract enthusiastic junior and senior community members alike who want to beat drums and dance to the infectious rhythm.
Back to the gallery space, which is what I originally set out to write about (except that all these other things going on at the colony were too cool not to discuss). In February the gallery hosted its first group exhibition of fine art, “Reimagining Life,” which included portrait painter Samantha Wendell, watercolorist Jodet Shuquem, painter and writer Charlene McDonald, and painter and illustrator Walter Hurlburt. The second show (held this past March 29-May 5) was a mini-retrospective of the work of Alice Asmar, winner of a Woolley Fellowship to study at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, who currently has work in hundreds of public and private collections worldwide, including the Smithsonian. Her work focuses on Southwestern and Native American themes. She currently has an 800-square-foot studio in Burbank.
Jodet Shuquem with one of his paintings at “Reimagining Life.”
The plan is for the colony to host an art or photography show every six to eight weeks. A solo show of hand-colored photographs by Cynthia Friedlob, an artist who is also a writer, editor, and public radio host, is coming a few weeks from now. And here’s one great thing about a gallery run by a nonprofit organization: the artists who sell work shown in the gallery do so privately, communicating directly with their buyers, and get to keep all the money from the sales.
The classes and other programs at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony are organized by EngAGE, a nonprofit group that, according to the statement on their Web site, “takes a whole-person approach to creative and healthy aging by providing arts, wellness, lifelong learning, community building and intergenerational programs to thousands of seniors.” The group provides programs for 32 active aging apartment complexes in LA, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Orange Counties, with more to open soon. All of the complexes have arts programs and three of them are senior arts colonies. There is another EngAGE senior arts colony nearby in Burbank, and the residents of that one and the NoHo one often visit back and forth to get involved with the programs at each other’s buildings.
The colony was established in November 2012, so it’s just getting started. To keep an eye on what’s happening there, visit the colony’s Web site at http://www.nohoseniorartscolony.com.
Gallery shows, theater performances, and some other programs are open to the public. To find out more about what EngAGE does, visit http://www.engagedaging.org.
The Gallery999 Show at Bats Day, May 4, Anaheim
A Surreal Saturday Night in NoHo: Cannibal Flower at Cella Gallery, then C.I.A.
Never a Dull Moment
Michael Christy, "Nature Scene 36 (The Ways of Nature)," acrylic on canvas, at the "Never a Dull Moment" Cannibal Flower show at Cella Gallery.
Cannibal Flower Art Gallery and Performance Space, now in its 13th year of assembling large shows with a combination of local artists, musicians, and performers, also curates smaller group shows; and now through May 10, Cella Gallery in North Hollywood is hosting their latest curated presentation, “Never a Dull Moment,” with 21 artists. When I asked Cannibal Flower curator L. Croskey what the featured artists have in common, he said they were “people to keep an eye on.” It would indeed be hard to categorize all the art in this show any other way, except to say that they are mostly paintings, accompanied by a delightful installation of 1,000 tiny paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. The opening night was well attended by an enthusiastic crowd and many of the artists were available to chat with.
John Park, "On the Brink," mixed media on wood panel, at the "Never a Dull Moment"
Go to this show with a completely open mind and prepare to have a lot of fun looking at the variety of visual ideas. At the same time, prepare also to be impressed by how skillfully all these artists execute their work. Even though the ideas are “anything goes,” and even though people have different ideas about quality in art, I don’t think anyone could argue against the beauty of the figure painting, the compositions, and the use of color in the pieces in this show.
t" Cannibal Flower show at Cella Gallery.
Daniel and I asked ourselves, “What’s become of C.I.A.? Is it still there?” We hadn’t been to C.I.A. (California Institute of Abnormalarts) in quite a few years and remembered our former haunt with fondness. So we looked online…sure enough, they have a very comprehensive Web site (http://www.ciabnormalarts.com) with videos, photos, events listings, and other current information, making it obvious that the venue is still very much alive and well. We decided to drop in after the Cannibal Flower-Cella show, and when we did, we were lucky enough to meet and talk with Carl Crew, “The Barnum of Burbank Blvd.—a filmmaker, a former mortician, and one of the founders of C.I.A. 18 years ago.
A man in a straightjacket and chains is put into a sack and has to escape from all his restraints, on the stage at C.I.A.
“Don’t be scared…” said Carl in a creepy voice when we bought our tickets. He set off a startling alarm noise when he stamped our hands for entry. “We have a dead clown,” he continued. And he came out of the ticket booth and showed it to us. He said the corpse dated back to 1912, and its acquisition took eight months even with the help of a determined lawyer. Next to the dead clown were the remains of a dead fairy. Among the other attractions he described to us were an octopus girl, a “pig-wa” (a pig-chihuahua hybrid), and the enshrined arm of French nobleman Claude de Lorraine (severed when he punched a stained-glass window over 100 years ago). The nobleman’s arm is supposed to be cursed if you photograph it, so don’t make the mistake I did while I was there. However, aside from the warnings about accursed objects, Carl welcomes photography.
The dead clown enshrined at C.I.A.
Whether the freakish dead and their body parts enshrined at C.I.A. are real or not, they look real enough to make me stop and study hard, and the displays are artfully dusty and aged. I personally think it’s more fun to believe they’re real. In violent contrast, some of the hallways and other areas are decorated in psychedelic fluorescent patterns, another kind of visual shock after the shadowy displays of death.
In addition to its eerie sideshow attractions, C.I.A. has a stage for musical and other live performances. While we were there on Saturday night we saw two ladies enthusiastically performing songs from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (as one partially undressed the other), followed by a magic act in which a straightjacketed and chained man escaped from his restraints while a little man dressed as a circus ringleader emceed. The C.I.A. Web site’s Hall of Fame offers a slideshow of some of their regular performers. (Sometime I’m going to have to go back and see Count Smokula live.) There’s even a “CIAbnormalarts Radio” button on the home page so that you can preview some of the bands coming to play at the venue.
I can’t post unlimited photos here, so I really hope you’ll visit the Web sites below and look at more pictures! Or better yet, go and see everything live. You won’t be disappointed.
“Never a Dull Moment” is running through May 10 at Cella Gallery, 11135 Weddington Street, #112, North Hollywood. For more info, visit http://cellagallery.com/Cella_Gallery/Current.html. C.I.A. is ongoing at 11334 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. For hours and info, visit http://ciabnormalarts.com.
It would be a big job indeed to pay any kind of comprehensive tribute to the enormous number of cartoon television series produced by Hanna-Barbera (the count I got was well over 100 after reading lists from various sources).
My husband, Daniel, and I are doing a show together in October. It will be our first gallery show that’s “just us.” We have a theme, which I will reveal eventually but not yet, and the pieces will all have to be new ones that work together to tell the story we want to tell. We also have to help the gallery generate “buzz” about the show and ensure a good turnout at the opening.