Sunday, June 28, 2009


The Rare Book department at the University of Utah’s library has been completely renovated as part of the library’s recent remodel and it’s a big improvement. It’s a nice place to take a class. I recently attended a two-day workshop called The Language of Pop-Ups taught by Shawn Sheehy.

Pop-up books have always amazed me. When I look at pop-ups I just want to figure out how they work. Usually I fail so I just write it off to the magic of the pop-up artist.

Because pop-ups feel more like art than science—it’s easy to assume that they are created through shear inspiration rather than through learnable techniques. But Shawn took a great approach for the class. We created a series of folios, each teaching a different principle of pop-up technique. And like most things, you soon discover that pop-up books rely on a series of foundational, learnable skills that can be used to build bigger, more complex structures. Before long we were throwing around terms like natural sticking point and v-fold muscle like we’d been engineering paper for years.

In the end we completed an astonishing 21 folios including a dramatic sculptural lion and a deer based on a design by Robert Sabuda. (It’s unbelievable what that guy can do with two pieces of paper.) We ended the class by binding all of our folios into a clever book that serves as a reminder of all we learned. The class was a lot of fun, but what would you expect when you spend two days contemplating pop-ups. It was extra fun because Brian, Amy, and Felix took the class too so we could compare notes and make jokes from the back of the class.

As a bonus, I used this opportunity to post my first video to the Web. It’s not all that exciting but I figured a video would show off my pop-up technique better than still photography. (I love my new Flip HD video camera.) So here are a just few of the cool new tricks we learned from Shawn.

Mozart and Michael.

With the death of Michael Jackson, I’m reminded of an argument I’ve been making since I worked at the Utah Symphony. And believe me, it’s not a popular argument with the classical musicians.

The idea? That Michael Jackson is the Mozart of my generation. I know, everyone thinks I’m crazy when I make this statement, but just let me make my case. Then you can call me wacko.

Both Michael and Mozart were child prodigies. From their youths into the early parts of their careers they dazzled the music world, changing music forever. And those early songs were similar; happy, friendly, and infused with a popular sensibility. Both were asked to perform for kings and queens. Both were courted by the world’s wealthiest patrons. Both redefined the idea of a superstar.

But then they both went just a little crazy, if not a little creepy. As their careers progressed, they had financial problems, even though they gained fantastic wealth in their early lives. Their music grew more serious, more complex, more interesting, even darker—and yet it proved less tantalizing to the masses. And both men lost touch with the reality to become a little bizarre.

Now with the early death of Michael Jackson, it seems like the comparison is complete. Some would say that Mozart died much younger that MJ. But if you take into consideration life expectancy rates, both musicians died quite young for their times—in fact, Jackson may have died even younger considering the difference in life expectancy. (I couldn’t find the life expectancy for 1791 but in 1990 it was only about 48 years compared with about 75 today.)

I’m a fan of both Mozart and Michael Jackson. And I’m saddened that Michael died before he had a chance to at least attempt a come back. And I’ll bet we’ll be talking about both Mozart and MJ long into the future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Raindrops keep falling on my chalk art.

Recently I was asked to judge the Utah Foster Care Foundation’s Chalk Art Festival. I arrived at the specified time only to be greeted by a healthy rainstorm that showed no signs of stopping. In the category of things that don’t go together? Rain and chalk art.

At first, the people in charge suggested that we bag going out to view the art and instead try and find photos of the entries to judge. But along with the other judges, I felt we needed to give the artists their due and go see the chalk art. So we grabbed our umbrellas and ventured out into the rain to view sidewalk drawings. And I’m glad we did. The art was great. And the artists were happy to see us. In additon, much of the incredible art survived the deluge surprisingly well. (Many artists use hairspray as a fixative and it proved to be darn good protection against the water.)

I have to apologize to the artists. I hate it when people don’t give all the details for works of art. But it was so crazy with the rain that I didn’t capture the artists names associated with each work. So if you’re out there and you see your art posted here, please leave a comment and let me know.

Here then are some of my favorite works, many of them were even winners.

This work was by a featured artist so it didn't qualify for judging but the bubbly bath water
seemed strangely appropriate for a wet, rainy day.

This was one of my favorite images. I loved the illustrative quality
and the content was perfectly appropriate for a chalk art festival.

A little bit hippie, but isn't the chalk art festival all about love?

Yes it's a rip off of a familiar image. But it was sure rendered well.
This was amazing. It felt like something you'd see in a Chelsea gallery. Only it washes away with the rain.
There were plenty of other works of chalk art that I didn’t photograph (like the adorable kid snorkeling). If you didn’t go this year, be sure to go next year. And definitely go to the gala. At $25 a ticket, it’s one of the most affordable gala events in Salt Lake City. And it’s fun, with a great silent auction. Plus, it benefits the Utah Foster Care Foundation. Let’s hope next year is warm and sunny. And I hope they invite me back to judge.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

He’s back. And he’s just crazy enough to take on The Nutcracker.

That’s right. It’s the return of Stephen Brown and SBDance. And this year for his annual dance/theater/performance event, he’s taking on The Nutcracker in Drosselmeyer Inc.: The Untold Story Behind the Nutcracker Ballet. Stephen delivers a show that’s unexpected, inventive, irreverent, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Here’s the idea as explained by Stephen: “So last Fall I was driving to Wendover to teach yoga at a chicken ranch when I ran out of gas and had to hike across the Salt Flats for more fuel. Some would say it was destiny; others would say chance; a few would say a dirty lie. But in any case, I stumbled across a major archaeological find—the Prequel to the Nutcracker Ballet. Long story short, it's now June, a perfect time for a Christmas show, and my translation is complete.”

That translation results in a story that is light on dancing but has plenty of humor and story. As a big dance fan, I miss the dance spectacles of SBDances past. But it turns out that Stephen is almost as a good a writer as he is a choreographer. Almost.

There are only four performers in this year’s show but the clever addition of sock puppets (yes, I said sock puppets) makes the cast feel bigger. And don’t get hung up on the sock puppet idea. If you’d told me about this part of the show before hand, I would have rolled my eyes and suggested that SBDance had jumped the shark. But the sock puppets are charming in a creepy sort of way and they give the show a fun, bed-timey vibe.

The abbreviated plot: A group of Drosselmeyer’s dolls work through personal issues leading up to the annual Clara competition, where the winning doll gets to spend the night with Clara in what one is led to believe is The Nutcracker Ballet. Ham (brilliantly short for Hamlet) is the suspiciously gay, naughty thespian who shares the spotlight with the other “special” doll Frenchie, who regularly breaks into song. Tex is the cowboy who gets no respect. And even Mikhail Baryshnikov makes an appearance.

The cast includes Stephen as sexy Tex, a cowboy doll complete with chaps and hat.
(Stephen is also writer, director, and choreographer.) Paul Mulder handily plays Hamlet and one of the sock puppets. Kim Cote is perfect as Frenchie and the other sock puppet. And Ballet West’s Kate Crews gives the best hip-hop ballet performance I’ve ever seen. More hip-hop ballet please.

As a dance geek, my favorite moment of the show is the inventive, dimly-lit pas de duex danced by Tex and T-Rot. It all happens in the shadows while Frenchie steals the spotlight serenading the audience. This is classic Stephen Brown, where he forces you to see something by obscuring that very thing.

I also loved the first time we see T-Rot. It’s a fleeting moment but completely iconic—something I expect from every SBDance performance.

Two other people deserve a shout out: Chris Larson’s costumes are stunning and Stephanie Slade’s lighting is nearly perfect, helping to make the sock puppets brilliant when they could have been stupid.

Sure Drosselmeyer, Inc. has some rough edges. But I think that’s because Stephen, as usual, is exploring boundaries. This is a perfect evening out. But hurry. Of all the art in Salt Lake City, nothing is more ephemeral than the works of Stephen Brown. While you’ll likely never forget the performances (remember those amazing newspaper piles in Scampdance?), you’ll get very few chances to see this show again.

Drosselmeyer, Inc. is a bargain at $15 a ticket and can be seen for only three more performances on June 19, 20, and 21.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Street art smackdown.

Remember the The 337 Project? Well that event has turned into an ongoing artistic entity and this weekend it continued its dedication to street artists with an event called Face Off. The idea: take nine artists, give them 18 hours to paint a garage door at the Urban Gallery, and award the audience favorite with $1,000. It all took place last Friday and Saturday. I stopped by for a few minutes Saturday afternoon to check out the results.

I like street art, but only if its really good. And very little of it is really good. As street artists continue to seek more respect for their right to decorate our cities, they often do themselves a disservice by celebrating work that is just bad graffiti. And some of the work at Face Off was just bad graffiti. But there was some respectable work that shows just how much you can accomplish with a can of spray paint. My favorite was this image created by Chuck Landvatter.

The Urban Gallery is located at Neighborhood House, a non-profit that provides affordable day care. And for my money, the art surprise at Face Off was the kid-friendly mosaic at the entrance to the Neighborhood House.

You can still see it all at the Neighborhood House located at 1050 West 500 South.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The gARTen.

I recently attended the 15th annual Art in Pilar’s Garden. I’ve heard tell of this event for years but never knew enough of the details to attend. It used to be free. But this year it cost $10, which went to Art Access/VSA of Utah. They sent postcards informing people of the event. So this year I had all the details.
It’s hard to decide how to write about Pilar's garden because it inspired so many thoughts. So rather than choose one, I’ll give a brief mention of them all.
1. Wow, I’m seriously an old lady.
You may recall my recent musings on the fact that I tend to like things that old ladies like. Well, since we know that old ladies like botanical gardens and art/floral exhibitions, it only makes sense that they would also really like art in gardens. I will say, this event brought out a particular variety of old lady; the lesbian, flowing-dress-wearing, hippie old ladies. I’m not sure I want to be in that group. Oh well.
2. I still like crazy artists.
I’m fascinated by people who can’t seem to control their artistic tendencies—artists who just have to paint or sculpt or something. I don’t think you can develop that attitude. I kind of wish I had that crazy drive. Pilar Pobil is definitely a crazy artist. And I mean that in the best way possible, even thought her art may not appeal to my tastes.
Her entire house is bursting with her art. And she doesn’t just paint canvases—she paints everything. There are painted chairs, painted tables, painted walls, and so on. Plus, she wasn’t the only crazy artist on display. She invited several other female artists to invade her garden and display their art. (There were a surprising number of paintings of cats.)
She even has a really cool studio at the back of the garden in which she obviously spends a lot of time. It was a fitting tribute to the crazy artist.
3. Tales of the Salt Lake City.
Lately, I sometimes feel like I'm living an episode of Tales of the City. Last week it was the best pool party I’ve ever been to. It would have made Michael Tolliver envious. And last night it was 403 8th Avenue, which may be the closest Salt Lake City will ever get to 28 Barbary Lane. Seriously, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Anna Madrigal had stepped out from behind a rose bush and offered me a homegrown joint.
Here then, are a few photos from Pilar’s home and garden.

Pilar's studio and garden.

A garden path lined with art.

Pilar's entire house is covered with her art work.

Paintings of cats were all the rage.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Triple threat TV.

There’s some awfully good Broadway-inspired TV these days. Here’re are a few shows of note:

If you missed the pilot of Glee then you missed a brilliant, subversive performance of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab cast as a show tune spectacular. Seriously, this is High School Musical but without the saccharine.

I was ready to give up on So You Think You Can Dance until I saw the Broadway Brothers. I can’t remember their names but I’ll be a season-long fan as long as these two stay in the competition with their nifty Broadway routines.

There’s also Any Dream Will Do, BBC America’s reality show that pick’s the lead for the new West End production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. (And after that, BBC America airs How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, another reality show that will choose the lead for the new West End production of Sound of Music—I can hardly wait.)

But possibly the most interesting of the triple-threat TV is from Beautiful People, a British import now showing on Logo. The episode entitled How I Got My Nose is a strange mash-up of show tunes and Carrie with a Broadway medley performed by school musical wannabes that is just plain brilliant. (By the way, I know he's not the lead but the walk-away-with-the-show, steal-the-spotlight performance is given by Layton Williams [Kylie]. I don't where they found that kid but he's spectacular.)

Now that’s entertainment.