A Clandestine History of Art: Robyn Alatorre

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Above, artist Robyn Alatorre.

Powerful, incisive, and stimulating, you can’t keep a good history of art clandestine for long.

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A Clandestine History of Art is a tour de force for Robyn Alatorre, a fascinating exhibition up now through August 28th at the Neutra Gallery in Silver Lake. Curated by Dulce Stein, Alatorre’s show serves up over 30 works that are provocative and fascinating. The accomplished artist flips art history on its head with a dash of surrealism, adult content, and vibrant imagination that results in a feverishly passionate exhibition.

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Alatorre describes her art work as a “mirror which reflects a point of view, an interpretation of the history of art itself…a translation of reality seen through traditional techniques and styles.”

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The artist says that her original intent is to “distort, through the shifting of perceptions, reality. In my work, there is something above and beyond sincerity — it is a truth defying element,  which can be interpreted as authentic, or pleasing, or beautiful, but is really a parody of perception.”

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How to describe Alatorre’s work here? A convention defying alternative history of art without chronology, where ideas are exchanged across time periods, and icons created centuries apart interact as part of the same narrative. Whether pairing Freudian symbolism within a Baroque era painting or a cherub exalting the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals, it may be history, or it may be our ability to see beyond the limited planes of this existence that are changed.

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Alatorre’s  surreal paintings whimsically and provocatively combine the styles and subject matter of past art movements with commercial objects from our contemporary world, creating new scenarios that are both delightful and disturbing.

“This is work that I’ve accumulated for five years,” Alatorre says of her exhibition. “what I’ve been doing is looking at Renaissance and Baroque art and style, connecting the past with contemporary and pop culture. I try to put a little twist in everything. The titles of my paintings express the themes.”

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Her more recent works have shifted beyond the complex and detailed Renaissance style she has embraced and become more minimalistic. “I deconstruct the image, separating it out. I’m trying to work in details beyond the subject matter.”

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Nipples are one such focus of detail. “I decided on nipples because of my grandson. Seeing him as a baby, nursing, it just struck me what a ridiculous idea it is to sexualize a nipple.”

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Her intense nipple closeups are actually of the male anatomy. “You might assume it is female, but that is simply perception.”

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Alatorre has also altered the content of recent paintings by working on different surfaces, such as wood panels, steel, and titanium as well as canvas.

“Oils are my main medium, but I’ve experimented with working in steel and wood, trying to pick subject matter that will go along with the form,” she attests.  Her very newest piece, “#100 Happy Days” allowed the artist to utilize spray paint for the first time.

Alatorre’s richly detailed approach carries from her elaborate Renaissance-style pieces to her deconstructed works.

She is in love with the sensual, the gothic, the mythological in her works, many of which have a dark luster.

“I love Caravaggio and Titian, and my color choice stems from there. And as far as subject matter, most of my art has a political or feminist theme that celebrates the power of maternity and procreation,” she asserts.

Mixing mythology, Alatorre takes on the modern worship of medicine with
“Pharmakeia,” featuring a cherub with obvious religious connotations.

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She takes on commercial work such as the bright yet bland seascapes of Robert Wyland, or brings Freudian orgasm to the forefront of her “Alpha” piece that riffs on “Leda and the Swan,” above.

“Alpha” companion piece, “Beta,” depicts the Christ child in a cosmos that acknowledges the sexual part of procreation.

Her “Strange Tricks my Sea Monkeys Learned,” based on a Caravaggio painting, was one of her first pieces taking a well-known work and updating it, both trivializing aspects of it and and making a piece more powerful than the original.

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“Canto VI from Dante’s Inferno” depicts the sixth circle of hell – gluttony. “It’s based on a Facebook piece my daughter posted, in which she and a friend ate too much ice cream.  The words seen are the text from Dante’s work, discussing gluttony as a sin.

“I want people to be drawn to my art because of color and subject matter -and I want them to be drawn in order to change their minds about what I’m saying the more time they spend looking at my work. My goal is to engage the viewer to stay with the paintings through humor, political statements, and visual appeal,” Alatorre relates.

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Opening night featured performers in purple and green body stockings circling the exhibition to compliment the colors of her paintings and pull viewers immediately and dynamically into the surreal aspects of the show.

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Above, curator Dulce Stein, right, with Kristine Augustyn.

The closing, August 28th from 3 to 6 p.m., includes an artist talk with Alatorre and DiversionsLA.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Jack Burke

On the Distant Horizon: Beauty is Not a Mirage at BLAM

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BLAM, the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Meet exhibition space hits a home run again with an insightful, magical exhibition that transports viewers out of the August doldrums to distant places both real and imagined.

This multi-media show closes this weekend, so pack your metaphorical suitcases and road-trip it to the realm of On the Distant Horizon in DTLA.

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The theme of the exhibition is mirage – something there and not there, “impossible and improbable,” as the press release puts it. But the beauty of the exhibition is more tangible – strongly evocative art in a variety of shapes and forms.

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Curator Joe Wolek says the inspiration behind the exhibition was the fact that it was taking place in the month of August – opening was August 7th – a month when people, including the folks here at DiversionsLA, travel.

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Above, Wolek with his own work.

The exhibition is a vacation in itself. “We started playing with location and place.  My work as a photographer is focused on a specific location or place, but as I visited artists’ studios looking at work, I decided I wanted to make it more lyrical and poetical. The title came from the idea of seeing what’s there, what’s concrete, what’s unknown until it comes into sight,” Wolek explains.

Running in conjunction with the exhibition was a series of evening events, performances, video screenings, and coming up for the closing on August 28th, a party replete with vacation slide show and home movies.

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“The exhibition is an artistic investigation, and a way of looking. Artists don’t simply accept delusions and illusions. They create,” Wolek says.

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Participating artists include: Nadege Monchera Baer, Dani Dodge, Andrew Freeman, Todd Gray, Michael Isenberg, Ben Jackel, Alanna Marcelletti, Hanna Mattes, Jesus Max, Joey Morris, Ruben Ortiz-Torres, Julia Paull, Max Rain, Christopher Rauschenberg, Shelby Roberts, Amy Russell, Mitchell Syrop, Joe Wolek, Augusta Wood, Kim Ye and Kent Young.

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Above, Todd Gray wearing attire belonging to Ray Manzarek.

Todd Gray, is also performing a durational piece in conjunction with Made in LA 2016 at The Hammer Museum by wearing the clothes of Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the classic rock band the Doors. So a part of that performance overlapped with his appearance here.

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Here, as seen above, are images  that are taken from his work in Ghana. “I’ve been working with landscapes there.  The piece called ‘Serotonin’ on display here is my front yard. The idea behind the piece is technology intersecting with landscape in Ghana.”

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Nadege Monchera Baer, above, presents a compelling piece that visualizes a beach clean-up after an oil spill – in a positive light.

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“I’m always painting changes in the environment. I’m trying to show our concern about the environment. This is almost a study. My work is usually focused on larger pieces.”

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Installation artist Dani Dodge, above, a recent recipient of a national public art award from the Americans for the Arts, created a full immersive and interactive experience in a room separate from the main gallery. Her piece is about both literal and figurative travel, inviting the viewer/participant to answer questions about where they really want to go in life.

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Above, Dodge, center, is joined (l to r) by Kristine Schomaker, Baha Danesh, Aline Mare, and the author.

Before entering the room, participants create – with instructions – paper airplanes and fly them into the room, first writing on them expressing where they want to go in life.

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Some of us are prosaic: “Iceland, Italy, and Ireland,” I wrote. Others create more spiritual expressions.

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Once inside the room, there is a comfortable chair to sit in, a series of slides to watch and Poloroids to rifle through. The walls are covered in shiny silver Mylar, a riff on the industrial, unattractive ceiling of the main exhibition space which also “reflects” the image of each participant in the room’s personal travel scenario.

“I played with the idea of the ugly ceiling and the beauty of travel. I stayed with those two ideas,” Dodge says. She finds travel to be “aspirational.”

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Entering the room, viewers can pick from a stack of distractions – from alcohol to Facebook – in a stack of Polaroids, watch the slide show unfold, and slip into a complete and reverential world of memories created and imagined.

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“Many of the slides are mine from childhood, others are random vacation photos I purchased on eBay,” Dodge states.

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Enter the room an attendee at an art exhibit, emerge a little more well-traveled, a little more in-touch with the longing, the change, the mystery of travel, and what it means to others besides ourselves. It’s a dream-state of an interactive space, and must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

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Back in the main exhibition space, viewers will find works that include a piece by Alanna Marcelletti, above, “Wendybird,” whose delicate brush strokes are reminiscent of crow feathers. Crows appeal to the artist because of the families these intelligent birds create.

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Her piece melds images that evoke Alice in Wonderland with Peter Pan, shaping overlapping stories on thin, fragile paper. “I’m dealing with gender stereotypes, womanhood, and childhood fiction,”  Marcelletti says.

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Kim Ye’s “In Pursuit of Leisure,” shown above, utilizes a latex cast of a lawn chair mixed with a latex cast of toilet seat to play off the idea of just what leisure time means.

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“I often work in latex. It’s one of my main materials. Liquid latex, when you paint it on a surface, it becomes both a copy and a negative of that surface’s shape. Many people use it for making molds, I use the mold itself as a piece.”

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Jesus Max’s “Paradise,” above, features butterflies in a surreal landscape. “This painting is based on 19th Century American landscape artists like Edward Church. I introduced a disturbance in a traditional scene. The butterflies in the redwoods and the torn wall paper are a look into a background that is dark. The meat grinder and the bone in the middle reflect the idea of violence hidden behind the bucolic.”

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The opening reception of On the Distant Horizon was Aug. 7th, the anniversary of the 1959 launch of Explorer 6, the satellite that sent back the first digitally transmitted images of Earth.

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This weekend, find your own images of Earth, and realms beyond imagining, from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or attend the exciting exhibition closing from 3-6 p.m. Sunday, August 28th.

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The gallery is located at 1950 S. Santa Fe Ave. #207, Los Angeles, CA 90021.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Jack Burke

The Cube: Manuel Lima

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Above, a look at an evening performance by Manuel Lima, photo by Jon Viscott. Note: Sunset Strip’s resident “Jesus” adds his own element to the performance space.

Watching Brazillian-born artist Manuel Lima perform his piano score “The Sunset Cube” inside a translucent cube in a West Hollywood parking lot is a transcendental experience.

Lima calls his piano composition and performance a “composition of a life for ten days,” but the music and the experience goes beyond that. The performance artist is perched inside a translucent cube, in which he has lived for ten days, performing essentially around the clock in the Sunset Strip parking lot at 8775 Sunset Boulevard, and inviting the listener/viewer to merge his experience with their own.

In a copy of his score, Lima attests “I want to reach a point where work, life and art are all the same. I want to be present. I want to be away from my phone and social media and have my heart on one thing at a time.”

Watching his shadowy form through the cube, and at night, the red lights synchronized to his music, the listener/viewer is transported to somewhere almost unworldly. It is a landscape within a landscape, sound within sound. While traffic rushes by on Sunset Boulevard, the music throbs with intensity one minute and flows with serene intent the next. The hazy vision inside the cube itself is like a glimpse into another dimension, one in which the external landscape sifts like sand through an hourglass.

Lima notes that “art is process and life is process. This piece is just to remind you we are all going crazy. If I can have my life back again I will call it art.” At first considering being locked in his cube 24 hours a day for the ten day performance period, Lima instead realized he could more healthily encompass a morning run when he wakes up in the cube, going out for a coffee, dining on a budget, and sharing tea with his viewers. Stepping outside his contained space also enriches his composition with creative interactions.

The artist describes his time in the cube as beginning with initially driving to the cube and entering it; “I will be like a worker on a 9 to 5 job by day. During the evening I will be a Bohemian.”

Lima’s schedule follows a set routine day and night, Bohemian or not. From 7 to 9 a.m. he wakes, runs, showers, and breakfasts. From 9 to noon, he performs his “Sunset Boulevard” composition moving from left to right on the FM dial for inspiration, improvising five-minute piano segments that riff on the music and sounds he hears.

Lima says that he works essentially as “transducer” of radio waves during this time period, defining a transducer as a “device that converts one form of energy to another.”  He has designed this piece to be naturally progressive, adding new piano loops and performing those done before.

He takes a lunch break from noon to one. Working with a severely limited budget for food, Lima thanks every restaurant that helps him to eat with a sign in front of the cube and a heartfelt thank you for sustenance.

He then returns to perform this composition from 1 p.m. until 5, when he offers a public tea just outside the cube space until 7 p.m. This provides a unique opportunity for the community to speak with the artist. His interactions are so genuine and warm that he becomes no longer a performer of life but a participant in life.

A dinner break lasts from 7 to 8 p.m., after which the artist performs a different composition, his “Red Light Piano.”

We enjoyed hearing and seeing this piece, which combines both light and sound in sixty different music cycles lasting between one and five minutes in length, with variations increasing in length each day. It can last around five hours, but respectful of his neighbors, Lima primarily stops around 10 p.m. so as not to disturb area residents. And then, close to midnight, Lima sleeps, or attempts to do so.

Is the experience private or public? It varies. Lima’s cube floats like a cloud above the tumult of Sunset Boulevard, removed from the world yet uniquely of it, whether Lima is living and performing inside his sparely-furnished 10-foot-square cube or interacting with viewers outside it. It is a meditation of music, performance, sound, light, and spirit, a glimpse into a private and powerful creative world, but also a public event in which watchers gather throughout the day and night to interact whether in conversation or by listening to Lima’s music.

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Above, Lima by day, performing. Photo by Jon Viscott.

Lima plays his musical compositions blindfolded, creating an insular world within a world that allows him to focus entirely on the music and not on who is watching or participating in the experience. He explains the decision to blindfold himself as one to prevent nervousness and distraction, but his blindfold also creates a space between himself and his audience and the aural experience of the boulevard itself, and filters external references.

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Above, a look inside Lima’s live/work space, as sunset finds Sunset Boulevard. Photo by Jon Viscott.

Lima received a full scholarship from the Brazilian government to attend grad school in the U.S., and recently earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from CalArts in Valencia. He performed in his cube initially in the hills outside Valencia; his transition to the current West Hollywood landscape has created a shift in his performance that encompasses the urban environment and his interactions with viewers/listeners.

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Above, “Jesus” watches Lima, his cube ablaze in a light show that highlights his music. Photo by Jon Viscott. 

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Above, following an evening performance, Lima steps from his cube for a late night break. Photo by Jack Burke.

Lima discusses the experience of his evening performance with us. “Every night that I play I have structures that develop little by little. The composition gets more developed. My work was commissioned by the City of West Hollywood and highlights a process more than a product. It’s about finding art in life, both inside and leaving the cube,” he says. “Art and life are not separate. In the score you can get a feel for the experience. It’s meditation, the Red Light Piano.”

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Above, Lima’s red lights begin to glow. Photo by Genie Davis. 

Asked what it is like being so exposed yet so contained in his cube, Lima says “It’s noisy. People are always walking past you, even as you are getting ready for bed.”

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Above, Lima with author Genie Davis. Photo by Jack Burke.

“It’s been a privilege to be here. It’s amazing, like being in a very surreal artistic residency,” Lima relates. “Between public and private interactions I get a lot of time to create, but I am in the middle of regular life, which informs the art.”

Lima’s incredibly unique and stirring performance ends tomorrow, August 21st at 10 p.m. Stop by for a listen, a look, or a conversation.  Lima is performing his closing on the same night the Olympic closing ceremonies take place in Brazil.

Lima’s cube is perched in the city parking lot at 8775 Sunset Boulevard; parking is plentiful and hourly.

  • Genie Davis; Photos and video by Jon Viscott, Genie Davis, Jack Burke

How We Met – Anatomy of an Indie Comedy

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How We Met is an hilarious dark comedy written by Brian Flaccus and Chadwick Hopson and co-written and directed by Oscar Rene Lozoya II. A blind date that takes a turn for the definite worst, involving corrupt cops, drug dealing, and a dead body, the film has been a festival circuit darling, and DiversionsLA had the pleasure of viewing this audience-favorite at Dances with Films in Hollywood earlier this summer.

Brian and Chad had been working together for several years doing short skits, giving them some chemistry; as Brian explains, “We hadn’t taken on anything this big before but we had a pretty good sense of each others’ working styles.” Christina was newer to the group but instantly clicked with the guys, saying, “It wasn’t hard at all to get that chemistry and rhythm going.”

The film had only a thousand-dollar budget and was shot in eight days. Being flexible and working under pressure: no problem for this cast and crew. As Brian describes, “Shooting and writing for those constraints forced us to be more creative in terms of telling a good story within a small box.” It also caused them to look for any inexpensive filming opportunities that presented themselves, often relying on the kindness of others, shooting in and around Flagstaff, Ariz. According to Christina, “I loved how the whole town supported our project. Everyone wanted to be involved in some capacity, whether it was offering locations for free, cooking us meals or becoming extras when we were short of people. It felt like a village was behind us and when you’re working on a very limited budget that means the world.”

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There were also some complications – the major one being sleep deprivation. Christina relates that “while trying to shoot an intimate scene at midnight, we had dudes wakeboarding while blasting loud music and we thought that would never stop.”

“Not a typical film fest movie” is how Oscar describes the film, which is possibly funnier, more subversive, and more accessible than many an art house film type selection. “We didn’t know what would happen with it, but we wanted something that would put a smile on people’s faces at the end of the day,” he says.

Safe to say, the movie accomplished just that.

  • Amelia McBride, Genie Davis