Platinum Cheese: Olek & Parra @ Jonathan LeVine Gallery

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As I walked west on 20th street approaching Jonathan Levine Gallery, I had a feeling this was not going to be a typical opening. True, the usual sights and sounds of a Saturday evening in Chelsea could still be spotted – throngs of bespectacled hipsters, name-dropping fashionistas; thirsty, unemployed art students. Forming a long queue by a freight elevator, they stood impatiently amongst a stoic masked performer in a crocheted camouflage bodysuit; clutching a banner (also crocheted) that read “Nobody Can Hurt Me Without My Permission”. In customary too-cool- for-school downtown fashion, the mysterious figure seemed to only attract stolen glances and the odd iPhone snapshot. As we reached the 9th floor, the doors opened to expel the mob at two solo shows: The End is Far by Polish-born, New York-based artist Olek and Tracy Had a Bad Sunday from Pop Art-inspired provocateur Parra.

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This marks Olek’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. It also marks the end of a turbulent past couple years for the artist. In 2011, she was placed under house arrest after a disturbance with a male patron at a London bar. Subsequently, despite creatively and financially stifling circumstances, Olek found herself inspired by the ordeal, determined to fight for her creative and financial freedom. Granted permission to leave the UK between court appearances, 2012 became the most prolific year of the artist’s career to date, as she took on numerous international projects, public installations and commissions. She was part of the 40 Under 40: Craft Futures exhibition at the Smithsonian, for which her entire crocheted studio apartment was exhibited. During the rest of her travels, Olek collaborated with women across the globe, learning new techniques and experimenting with different materials.

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The End is Far is a colorful testament to Olek’s reinvigorated spirit with a site-specific installation and live performance. She pushed herself into new territory by creating multi-layered crocheted sculptures like her humorous and girlish interpretation of a pair of boxing gloves entitled “Fight No. 01” (a jab at her barroom brawl, perhaps?). “Buddhism is Universal No. 01” is a peculiar juxtaposition featuring a plastic skeleton sitting in a Zen-like lotus pose, made with acrylic yarn and metallic ribbon. The still life “New Years Eve No. 01”, crocheted acrylic yarn and metallic ribbon on a bottle and plastic skull, is adorned with floral and skeletal motifs bringing to mind the festive Day of the Dead. During the opening reception, topless female performers donning masks, pasties and mermaid skirts, lounged in a fully furnished dining room installation accentuated with candelabras, overflowing fruit bowls and decadent wine goblets. Outside the installation in the center of the gallery floor, another masked mermaid playfully rocked to-and-fro on her swing. Viewers inched past to take in the bizarre scene and also survey the series of intricately crocheted panels displayed around her, emblazoned with wry slogans like “All We Need is Love & Money” and “Being Beautiful (On The Inside is What’s Important)”.

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Making my way through the crowd I then came upon Tracy Had a Hard Sunday, the first solo exhibition at the gallery by Amsterdam-based, Dutch artist Parra. The series of new works – enigmatic paintings in a vibrant palette of highly saturated colors – are a logical foil to Olek’s feminine, camo-crocheted universe. The majority of the works exhibited are executed in shades of reds and blues featuring a recurring theme of stars and stripes and Parra’s distinctive hybrid, bird-like figures with features such as elongated, beak-shaped noses. His curvaceous nudes are portrayed in a variety of amusing and tawdry circumstances. Occasionally the artist will add his own stylized, hand-drawn typography to a piece. It’s evident that Parra’s sensibility is largely rooted in the Pop art movement and the experimental graphics of the 1960s. His dynamic, playful imagery references the street art of Keith Haring along with West Coast psychedelia. In addition to his paintings, a smattering of small-scale polyester sculptures was shown. Entitled “Lay Down… Lay It All Down”, they can be best described as bird/poodle creatures in high-heeled booties rendered in editions of red, black and white. And while there was a risk of drowning in a sea of primary colors, a wall of Parra’s small ink drawings served as a cool palette cleanser. Both thoughtful and witty, the black and white drawings called to mind Warhol’s “Before and After” series of reimagined newspaper advertisements.

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I pass the artist himself as I exit the now sweltering room. Surrounded by fans young and old he happily pauses to autograph whatever paraphernalia they could gather. Lines to merely enter the galleries now fill the brightly lit hallway. Thankfully the slow elevator ride down to the street is quieter, especially when I look up to notice a familiar masked passenger, proudly toting her crocheted call to arms.

Words by Daniel Alonso. Photos via the gallery.

http://platinumcheese.com/2013/03/05/olek-parra-jonathan-levine-gallery/

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Platinum Cheese: How & Nosm ‘Late Confessions’ @ Jonathan LeVine Gallery

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“Late Confessions” is a series of works and installation by New York-based identical twin brothers Raoul and Davide Perre, better known as the street art duo How & Nosm. The pop up show, presented by Jonathan LeVine Gallery, marks the brothers’ debut solo exhibition in New York.

The exhibit consists of murals, sculpture and mixed media rendered solely in black, white and red (the limited palette was originally conceived out of necessity but soon evolved into a How & Nosm signature). Their work fuses highly stylized characters with vibrant, graphic patterns. The result is inter-connected, highly charged narratives that lure the viewer into bizarre micro- universes. “Our pieces make you think. You look and look and you find more images and you try to understand the whole concept,” says Davide.

What is most striking upon closer view is the level of intricate detail the twins pour into each of their creations. “Live and Tell” (spray paint, india ink, cel vinyl, collage on canvas) reveals various vignettes depicting sci-fi figures and scenarios from a bio-mechanical matryoshka doll to alchemical bottles spewing red liquid to a character donning a rising sun sombrero – Bosch meets H.R. Giger by way of Japanese anime and graffiti, if you will. But don’t be deceived by the seemingly cheerful quality of the work as a darker undercurrent pulses beneath.

The brothers Perre were raised in Spain in the years following Franco’s dictatorship – a time of political turmoil in which military tanks and gunfire were common sights and sounds. Consequently their early years were marked by chaos and emotional instability. Adding to the heaviness was growing up in a home plagued by alcoholism and poverty. “We kind of had a very disturbed childhood,” Raoul explains in a recent interview. “Welfare too, so… I smile a lot and shit but in my paintings I think it is more important to express myself with what most people want to suppress and not show, you know? There’s a lot of love stuff, too. Like heartbroken stuff, financial situations – about myself or other people.” It’s clear that the brothers’ art serves not only as a visual diary of sorts but also as an ongoing catharsis.

Although the large-scale murals have a powerful impact, the most thought provoking feature of “Late Confessions” is a crimson alcove tucked away in the back of the gallery. Featured on three small walls are a collection of framed stencils and preliminary sketches used during the creative process. Works of art in and of itself, the display serves as another reminder of How & Nosm’s affinity and flair for meticulous detail. And by isolating certain design elements one can quietly appreciate motifs and design elements that appear (or hide) in the rest of the work throughout the exhibit.

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http://platinumcheese.com/2013/02/06/how-nosm-late-confessions-jonathan-levine-gallery/

Life Along the Borderline: A Tribute to Nico

In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge on a rainy Thursday evening, avant-garde musician John Cale, along with an eclectic mix of musicians  (including The Magnetic Fields, Kim Gordon, and Sharon Van Etten) came together in the elegant Howard Gilman Opera House to celebrate legendary singer-songwriter and Warhol protégé Nico.

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“Life Along the Borderline” was a fitting tribute to Cale’s friend and one-time bandmate, however the evening was unpredictable for the casual Velvet Underground fan and BAM patron. None of  Lou Reed’s compositions from the iconic banana album (“I’ll Be Your Mirror”, “Femme Fatale” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties”) were performed nor much from Nico’s 1967 solo debut, Chelsea Girl. Interestingly enough, Mr. Cale told The Wall Street Journal recently he and Nico both hated that record.  Focus was instead shifted to the Nico-Cale collaborations The Marble Index and Desertshore. The exclusion of familiar work allowed Cale and crew to explore an obscure and often challenging back catalog. However the artists had varying degrees of success interpreting the songs.

Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, known for her unorthodox use of guitar tuning and distortion, seemed to be plagued by technical difficulties while on stage, distracting both performer and audience. However, the jarring contrast of her blistering feedback ricocheting off the walls of a pristine Beaux Arts opera house was a fitting irony hopefully not lost on Cale. Flamboyant performance artist Peaches toned down her theatrics to focus on the evening’s two German songs, “Mutterleinand “Abschied”. There was a glimmer of her signature style to the former as she alternated between singing and programing her own beats. Joan Wasser, who performs under the moniker Joan as Police Woman, tapped into Nico’s melancholy and heartbreak with her beautifully somber piano renditions of  “My Heart Is Empty” and “Ari’s Song”. In sharp contrast, Alison Mosshart – one half of The Kills – filled the sex and rock & roll quota, slinking around stage taking the song “Tananore” to a viscerally charged level while she and Cale exchanged muffled moans. Psychedelic pop band Yeasayer subverted the dark “Janitor of Lunacy” into an upbeat jam session fitting of a Brooklyn warehouse dance party.

Cale closed the show with “Sixty/Forty,” joined by the guest performers. While the Kumbayah-style sing-a-long might have been the most mainstream point of the evening, one walked away with a better understanding of the woman known as Nico. After the tin-foil glamor of the Sixties and sordid tales of drug use have been stripped away, what is left is a strong body of work from a lonely performer whose life and art– for better or worse – became one.

aWANTEDmag Issue 6 – Q&A WITH ARTIST RON FERRI

Mr. Ferri at work.

 

Celebrated American artist Ron Ferri has been a presence in the art world for over four decades and continues to lead an exceptional life. Raised in rural Rhode Island, he served in the U.S. Air Force and studied abroad in Europe during his youth. Upon returning to the states he focused on his work and soon evolved into an innovative modern artist. His works are in the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Museum, the Whitney Museum and the Musée D’Art Moderne in St. Etienne, France, to name a few.

Ferri has mastered a variety of mediums and styles from painting and sculpting to working with mixed media and day-glo lights. However, in the last fifteen years he has left his creations of modern materials and returned to painting and drawing. Recently, he showed a series of paintings in Roatan, Honduras. When not in the gallery promoting his work, he was teaching local children how to express themselves using paint and crayons. “I put all their paintings up on the wall and their faces lit up. They showered me with more love than you can imagine that it was one of the most fabulous emotions I have ever felt. I hope to do it again with other underprivileged children in other countries. It is an extraordinary feeling bringing hope and a smile to a child’s face simply with a crayon, a piece of paper and their imaginations” says the artist.

Let’s start with your childhood, where did you grow up?                                                              

I grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island in a very rural area. Farms, cows, pigs, goats, etc. etc.

And when did your interest in art and design first begin?                             

I was always a good art student but my passion when I was young was figure skating. I skated for about ten years every day before and after school; won five gold medals. In 1948 I attended the Rhode Island School of Design for a year and studied drawing, painting and sculpture.

Shortly thereafter you enlisted in the United States Air Force where you received training in electronics and went on to tour Europe and Africa. Can you tell me what that time in your life was like?                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

After high school I wanted to go to college to become an electrical engineer. I applied to two or three colleges but was refused so I joined the Air Force. After boot camp, they sent me to electrical school to work on B-47 Jet Bombers which were intended to drop the atomic bomb. I spent four years stationed in Florida but was able to travel to places like North Africa, Spain and England three months out of the year. After my military service, I decided to apply to art school and was accepted to the Rochester Institute of Technology where I studied for three years. Shortly thereafter I relocated to New York City to study art education and earned a Bachelors Degree. I continued my education at New York University and earned my MFA in Fine Art. It’s then when I started painting and design.

You had the opportunity to study under luminary abstract expressionist painters such as Hans Hofmann and Esteben Vincente and spent the early part of the 60s at the Academie des Beaux Arts in Paris. What did you learn from these painters and how did it permeate into your style and work?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

I studied with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown for a summer; in New York City I studied painting with Vincente. In school you were taught drawing, painting and life classes in order to develop techniques in the classical manner. I also took life classes in Paris at the Academie des Beaux Arts for one semester.

Upon returning to the states, your style began to shift as you worked more three dimensionally with sculpture and mixed media paintings. What inspired the change in medium?                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

After painting for a few years I started to become more interested in light, neon light specifically, which brought me to Chicago for my first neon show in 1967. I continued working in neon for twenty years in France, Italy and Spain. I did shows in Paris and Rome developing new techniques using light and luminous gases. From there I went on to develop the first neon table with plexiglass and luminous gases.

How did critics and your peers perceive it at the time?

Neon was a new medium in 1964 – the show got lots of press because it was a new artistic expression. The critics were cool about the new creative movement because they knew nothing about gases and that those different gases burn different colors.

Did the training from your Air Force days have any influence when you began incorporating electronics into your work?                                                                                                                                                                           

I guess the Air Force must have played some part in neon; it gave me a basic knowledge about electricity. From there, I experimented with new mediums. After twenty years I felt I exhausted the medium creatively so I went back to my training in traditional techniques of art. You lose your involvement with your art because your pieces are built in factories by some other person.

As we begin the year 2011, technology has never been so accessible with almost everyone owning and using an iPhone, iPad, etc. and in some cases there are those who are overly connected. What are your thoughts on modern technology? Do you see its future as positive or negative?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Modern technology is O.K. but for art it’s still to be used creatively. Computers are great for communicating but you lose your contact with a human being on a social level. There you are in front of a computer for hours but no tactile connection.

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One example in which you used technology to your artistic advantage was an event for Tudor/Rolex where buildings in several European capitals became your blank canvases. You “painted” on them by using a brush on a large computer screen with your process becoming a type of performance art itself. Did you come up with this idea? Was that the first time you worked that way?                                                 

Rolex offered me the opportunity to use technology as performance art and to work on a
larger canvas — the size of a museum wall. You are able to see the painting develop right in front of you. The viewer is also allowed entry into the creative mind and how it works as the artist works.

This was the first time this has ever been done so it was groundbreaking for an artist to work like this. I did shows at the Triennale di Milano in Italy, Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport and the New Museum in Paris. It was the first show they did at the New Museum with 5,000 people in the audience watching. I was hooked on this medium. Hopefully I will be able to perform in other countries in the future because it’s a fabulous experience, like a “happening”.

I believe you used the same approach when working on the Eric Nally photographs for WANTED. Whether it is a public space or fashion images shot by someone else, when you work off of something that already exists it becomes a type of collaboration or dance. How do you know what to put down on said “canvas” and when to stop?                                                                                                                                                               

You don’t know what is going to happen on the canvas until you put your brush on the computer in front of you. Then the creative process begins until you as the artist decides to say it’s finished. Working on the photo is the same experience as working on the computer.

What serves as your inspiration today?                                                                                                                                               

My inspiration today is as it always was. I am curious and want to see things with a new point of view to excite the viewer, to feel color, space and emotion.

Lastly, this interview is scheduled to run in WANTED‟s “Men‟s Issue”. As someone who has experienced and seen so much, I am curious as to your thoughts on what it means to be a man and masculinity?                                                                                                                                                                                                              

To be a man and masculinity is to be true to yourself and being born with a penis.

-Daniel Alonso

Originally appeared in Issue No. 6 The Men’s Issue of aWANTEDmag

80WSE Galleries presents “Papertails”

ImageThe PAPERTAILS exhibition is the love child of Valerie Hammond and Kiki Smith. Both co-taught Advanced Printmaking at NYU for the past few years and for this showing, chose a group of artists from their community whose work with paper they admire and find inspiring. As the world continues to ride the crest of the digital wave, the simple act of putting pen (or paint, charcoal, gouache. . .you get the idea) to paper is increasingly becoming an antiquated notion which makes this group show all the more refreshing. And for any trepidatious readers out there, don’t expect to just see a collection of simple pen and ink drawings; the show includes a wide range of work and mediums. For example, Hilary Harnischfeger constructs sculpture from paper and other media; Kathleen Graves makes digital prints from photo-based images. Each artist’s use of paper is a crucial part of his or her practice.

However, such dedication and skill did not apply across the board. While co-curator Hammond embraced negative space and simplicity in her “Who Killed Cock Robin” series (watercolor and graphite on paper) and used it to her advantage, other minimal work did the opposite and demonstrated what appeared to be poor execution and lack of skill, most notably in Beka Goedde’s chair drawings (pencil and watercolor on an-jing paper). I found that dynamic pieces such as Smith’s mixed media piece “Underworld” (ink, crayon, watercolor and pencil on paper), which looked more like a large, macabre quilt and Carl Fudge’s graphic, large-scale screenprint collages were more deserving of the viewer’s time and unfortunately made the weaker work all the more apparent. – Daniel Alonso

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This exhibition was presented at 80 WSE Gallery. (80 Washington Square East, NYC 10003)
http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/80wse/

Q&A with Creative Director Phil Bicker

Photo by Antony Crook

Photo by Antony Crook

Phil Bicker is an internationally renowned creative director, designer and photo editor who has worked for editorial, advertising, fashion and art clients. Phil initially established himself as an art director at The Face in London where he gave many now established photographers their first commissions. He art directed Creative Camera Magazine for a number of years; as creative director of Vogue Hommes International he encouraged fine art photographers to create fashion stories. Since moving to New York, he has worked for a diverse client base including Calvin Klein, BBH on the Levis account and until recently, was creative director at The Fader. He continues to place photography at the center of his creative endeavors splitting his time at Magnum Photos and Time magazine.

Can you describe your professional and personal background – when were you first attracted to fashion and art?
I grew up in the suburbs of London and went to school and college there before going on to study at the London College of Printing. I developed an interest in collage, was introduced to the work of Kurt Schwitters and more contemporary artist/illustrators like Russell Mills. I thought that I would pursue this as my medium of choice.

When did you realize you would be able to pursue a career in the industry?
After graduation, I was probably the last of my class to get any kind of work; as a collage artist/illustrator opportunities were scarce. I did one-off commissions for socially conscious magazines like New Internationalist and for Literary Review. I also did some unpaid work for an independent left wing magazine, Undercurrents. But this wasn’t enough work to survive and I certainly didn’t have a back up plan. A college friend recommended me for a junior layout position on a free magazine and (through a connection made there) she and I worked on a series of catalogues for the fashion journalism course at St Martins College. I then applied for and got a part time layout job at City Limits (a weekly, London listings magazine) where I was introduced to Neville Brody. At the time, the influential typographer and designer was designing the magazine’s covers. Neville, whose work was constantly plagiarized, liked the fact that my work came from a place outside his influence and hired me to work with him on a magazine prototype, Vive, for IPC and then to art direct New Socialist (the Labour Party’s magazine which he had redesigned). He then recommended me for the Art Director position at The Face, the magazine where he had made his name.

What inspires you when developing a concept – music, film, and fine art? Or do you find it is more a collaboration between you and your team?                                     My design and art direction work has evolved with the image, most often photography, front and center. My process starts with a combination of involved research and intuitive exploration –- a mix of the practical and the poetic. From this basis I can outline the project, define potential directions and explain my thoughts to others. Once a photographer is involved it becomes very much a collaborative process. At the commissioning stage there is a delicate balance between communication, organization, expectation, and leaving/creating space for. While at the design and layout stage the hope is to execute using the strongest imagery in the most compelling way whilst still delivering the idea and content of the story.

What do you look for when choosing a photographer to work with on a story?
It depends on the project but most often I am drawn to photographers who have a strong personal vision and personal project work. I also look for photographers with an understanding of light, composition, a developed aesthetic and a relevant skill-set to execute within the parameters of the project. I also look for photographers who are willing to push themselves. Equally important, I look for those equipped with the best disposition and temperament for a particular project. How has the downturn in the economy affected your creative process, if at all? I feel that when the economy is suffering there is a need to be creative and resourceful. Personally I have been fortunate that despite the economic downturn I have continued to find creative and exciting challenges. Since leaving The Fader earlier this year I have split my time between Magnum Photos where I am creative director and Time Magazine where I am photo editor. During your time at The Face, you have been described as opening up the magazine to a new generation of innovative talent in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

How do you describe your knack for discovering new talent?
I don’t think editors and creative directors discover talent, I believe that photographers (and other talents) discover themselves. Editors and creative directors can offer opportunities, platforms, encouragement and direction. But often in maintaining the status quo these editors and creative directors deny opportunity for those with strong and individual voices. It is not difficult to see the talent. It’s a case of being brave enough to support it before it has received the acceptance of others.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with working with photographer Corrine Day on the now-famous Kate Moss shots?
Corinne grew up in the suburbs of London, not far from where I was raised. A self taught photographer and ex-model, Corinne heard about me through a couple of her photographer friends and came to The Face to show me her work. There was one picture of a couple on the streets of Ickenham (the London suburb where Corinne lived) a scene and an area to which I could relate. We talked about the girl in the picture a young model, Kate Moss, and we both felt it could be interesting to build a story around her. I feel that Corinne saw herself in Kate while I saw in Kate someone that the readership of the magazine could identify with. A few months passed and I was putting together a story featuring images from a number of young emerging photographers and I included the couple shot of Corinne’s. (David Sims and Glen Luchford also had their work in the story.) Shortly after the publication Corinne met the stylist Melanie Ward and they began to work together on a story with Kate. Shot at Camber Sands the images felt as much a portrait study as a conventional fashion story. The understated styling, Kate’s body type and attitude projected a believable image and were the antithesis of the artifice exhibited by the super models of the day. The Daisy Age story (as many of those done for The Face) took a number of shoot days which were spread over a couple of weeks– the editing and layout being done as the results of each shoot day came in. The published story had immediate impact and was to be the first of a series of stories between Kate, Corinne and Melanie as well as a launch pad for Model, Photographer and Stylist.

All these years later, why has the photographic medium remained so significant to you?
I have worked across many areas of photography, built relationships and collaborated in different ways to different ends. As a designer, creative director and as a photo editor, in editorial, publishing, advertising and beyond I have assumed different roles within the process, faced different challenges and conceived different solutions. My experience has been invaluable and informs my process. I continue to try to create work that has relevance and is compelling, to offer opportunity for photographers to make work that has the potential to make a difference. New technology and new digital forms offer further creative potential and I am inspired by these possibilities –exploring them to extend form content and approaches for photography in different ways.

Lastly, is there anything you have not yet done that you would like to accomplish?
The big picture fascinates me. Building platforms, partnering across different areas and collaborating with creative talents with expertise in different disciplines to create environments/projects that are strong in all aspects –from concept to structure, which communicate through image (photography and illustration) writing design and typography and which deliver a stimulating user/reader experience. As a creative director, designer and photo editor my desire is to extend my creative process to an umbrella structure and to add writing and editing to my own work flow so as to give myself the opportunity to start the creative process from any angle and to have a holistic vision for its outcome. Initiatives at Magnum Photos and developments at Time hold the potential for this to become a reality. Exciting times lay ahead.

Originally appeared in aWANTEDmag

Review: Atlas Sound and White Rainbow at St. Cecilia’s Church

A night with men and their blissed out loops.

Pairing a functioning Catholic Church in Brooklyn with some of today’s most innovative musicians might seem a bit unorthodox. However, upon seeing the Kranky Records showcase that kicked off 2011’s Northside Festival, it seemed a diabolically clever match. Pews normally filled with pious elderly women and their purplish helmet hair-dos were now filled to capacity with younger Brooklynites coming to worship at the feet of Adam Forkner’s one-man act, White Rainbow and Bradford Cox’s solo project, Atlas Sound.

Partially for theatrics but most likely out of necessity (with no a/c the air was thick with humidity), the lights were turned down low throughout St. Cecilia’s Church. The space transformed into a surreal house of worship with abstract shadows cast along the grandiose altar; the setting sun streamed through stained-glass windows creating a warm ethereal glow, all under the watchful gaze of a enormous statue of Jesus.

We arrived in time for the second act, White Rainbow, the ambient/new age/electronic/experimental/drone music project of Adam Forkner. His set was the most entertaining of the evening with heads bobbing in unison to his throbbing bass. As his set progressed concertgoers were drawn to their feet and dancing in the aisles. The Portland, OR musician was hunched over his laptop like a mad scientist, fiddling with a variety of knobs, pedals and buttons. A man of very few words, his songs became long psychedelic passages that blended seamlessly with one another, only enhancing the dream-like quality of the sticky June evening. Continue reading