Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California (JAI) Flashpoints: A Collective Response – Jerusalem Biennale 2017

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Flashpoints: A Collective Response is a stunning new exhibition of murals created by the Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California (JAI) for the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale. JAI is an artist-run organization dedicated to visual art by Jewish artists and the promotion of a dialog about Jewish identity in the arts community. This collective spirit is especially evident in the collaborative project currently being undertaken for the Jerusalem Biennale.

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With the theme of the Biennale being“Watershed,” a moment of important change, JAI decided a collaborative work based on the watershed of America’s highly visible political divide was the appropriate undertaking. Designed to raise a collective voice, this highly ambitious undertaking features five large-scale collaborative murals. Each mural focuses on watershed moments, particularly those which had a lasting effect on the world.

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The mural teams were given these subjects: Civil Rights, Water, Nationalism, Human Rights, Political Polarization. The process follows the framework of the Surrealist parlor game, “Exquisite Corpse,” as a way to explore both the divisions in the U.S. today and the desire for unity. The game requires each participant to draw an image on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal what they drew and pass it to the next player. Once unfolded, the drawings present a larger truth, a sum of the individual artistic parts. In the same fashion, each mural was created to tell a unique story of change and challenge.

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According to JAI board member and mural curator Georgia Freeman-Harvey, “The decision to create a series of murals came about because we were trying to think how to position ourselves at the Biennale  and what would make us stand out, what would be a challenge for us, and be something different than a collection of individual work. Looking at the Exquisite Corpse game structure with its surprise element and loose connection between each part was an inspiration,” she adds. “In the game, everyone hides what they have done and the next person takes over – you can get all sorts of wonderful combinations of things.  Traditionally with the game, it’s a human figure, but we allowed each group to just explore their subject.”

The results are something special indeed, with art that is linked and lovely, mysterious and mythic.

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Working with an outside juror, Emily Zaiden, a Los Angeles based curator from the Craft in America Center, teams were compiled, and mural curators selected: Ann Hromadka Greenwald and Georgia Freedman-Harvey, who then, along with the JAI executive committee, selected the mural themes and what each would encompass. Freedman-Harvey is an independent curator and the curator for the Platt/Borstein Galleries at American Jewish University; Hromadka Greenwald is a curator, educator, and founder of AMH Art Advisory, an LA based art consulting firm.

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The Civil Rights mural includes images referencing the Civil Rights Act, Black Lives Matter, and Immigration; artists for this project are Elena Siff, Melinda Smith Altshuler, Judy Dekel, and Ellen Cantor. Artists working on the Water project, which features images of the California drought, and Israeli water rights include Randi Matushevitz, Cathy Weiss, Lorraine Bubar, and Karen Frimkess Wolff. The Nationalism mural, which references the changing understanding of nation-states, as well as Zionism, features the work of artists Avi Roth, Ruth Weisberg, Marisa Mandler, and Bill Aron; while the artists working on the Human Rights Mural, with references to Feminism, the global refugee crisis, and LGBTQ issues include Doni Silver Simons, Renee Amitai, Marleene Rubenstein, and Nancy Goodman Lawrence. The Political Polarization mural emphasizes images of the great recession and the 2016 elections, and includes the work of artists Susan Gesundheit, Jackie Nach, and Debra Sokolow.

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Hromadka Greenwald and Freedman-Harvey will review the results of each team’s collaboration and help select the final images to be created for each. The group meetings allow the artists to create designs, sketches, and renderings for the final murals.

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“When we submitted our proposal to the Biennale, we really talked about how to develop and understand what we thought were very important watershed moments within our own country. We gave the artists this chance to blend and mesh within their particular watershed moments, and let them stand out individually, but collectively present a stronger message about that watershed moment,” Freedman-Harvey relates.

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When submitting samples of their work for consideration, the artists were asked to choose their first and second choice as to which mural group category they wanted to be a part of, as Freedman-Harvey explains. “We then had to really think about what art would work well together, and what topics made the most sense. We left it to the juror to look at the quality of pieces submitted. We felt it was important to use an outside person to do the final selection, and we ended up with five really strong teams.”

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The mediums the artists are working in are varied. Some work in mixed media and collage, as well as traditional painting, solar plate etching, charcoal and spray paint, drawings and installations. The result: a diverse collection of artistic mediums and murals that transcend form.

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“Within our exhibition space in Jerusalem, the murals will be presented as five large-scale pieces of art. Three are already being shipped, attached and ready to hang, two will be assembled by us on site,” Freedman-Harvey notes. “This is the 3rd Biennale, and our second time participating. This year there were 96 applications and 20 were selected from around the world – and we were one of them.”

Along with the funds JAI is providing to cover participation costs in the Biennale, a September fundraiser is planned to make the exhibition possible. JAI is also running a crowd-sourcing campaign on Jewcer.com.

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“I think the pieces are more powerful because multiple people were addressing and interpreting each watershed moment, as opposed to there being five individual works. They each support and strengthen each other,” Freedman-Harvey says. “We are thrilled to be going back again. This biennale keeps growing in size and in its reach around the world.”

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The Biennale runs from October 1st through November 16th. It’s dedicated to exploring the intersection of contemporary art with the world of Jewish content, and serves as a stage for professional artists who refer in their work to Jewish thought, spirit, tradition or experience. And above all else, toward a transcendent beauty such as that seen so powerfully here.

  • Genie Davis; photos provided by JAI

Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern – Famous for Food and Fun

 

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Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern now has an outpost with an ocean view in Santa Monica.

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The atmosphere is warm and friendly; its essentially gastropub elevated to a lively level. It’s a great place to stop in just for a drink, and that’s certainly where we started.

We had a Pomegranate Mimosa, fresh and refreshing.

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And of course we had their signature Famous Mary, which is almost a meal in itself. It’s made with Absolut Peppar, blue cheese, olive, pepperoncini, jack cheese. You can get the  “real meal” version with egg, shrimp, and bacon, too.

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To go with these drinks we had the addictive dueling Southern Dips, two delicious flavors served with homemade corn tortilla chips. The zingy pimento cheese and savory roasted corn with poblano guacamole are both intensely flavorful.

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We also had the Spicy Ahi Poke with avocado, papaya and deliciously spicy Serrano chilies, all on crispy wontons. The appetizers are terrific and could serve as a meal in themselves.

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But who could resist the Maine Lobster and Shrimp Club Sandwich served on a buttery brioche. A large quantity of extremely fresh lobster and shrimp were perfectly blended with house mayo, avocado, and topped with bacon and lettuce.

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Jimmy’s signature dishes however are arguably their burgers. And there are plenty to choose from, too. Their Famous Cheeseburger offers American cheese and 1,000 Island dressing with their hearty New York chopped sirloin. The beef is naturally raised, and their buns are sesame-seeded Parker House. Other burger options include spicy burgers – one with jalapeno jam, double veggie burgers, and even a cowboy burger replete with onion fritters.

Just in case you’re not full yet — here comes dessert. We went on the comparatively light side with the none-the-less seductively rich dark chocolate Pot de Creme which comes with a wickedly indulgent Grand Marnier cream.

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On the supremely decadent side you could go with the Bananageddon made with fresh bananas, pastry cream, pecan blondie crumbles, butter pecan ice cream, salty caramel sauce, candied pecans, white chocolate, and whipped cream. Don’t count the calories, and it is pure enjoyment. Or you could have a drink for dessert, such as their generously proportioned Irish Coffee.  Their full bar offers plenty of tasty options.

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All in all,  Jimmy’s is a super comfortable place to hang out, portions are large and drinks are delightfully strong.

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It’s reputation lives up to it’s name, quintessentially American and famously delicious.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Genie Davis

Bryan Ida: The Language of Color

Bryan Ida works in layers. Layers of color, line, and meaning are all equally discernable in his new exhibition at George Billis Gallery, Echo and Line, running May 20th to July 2nd.

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Ida’s images create external shapes and a haunting, richly symbolic language. The Los Angeles-based artist’s background in electronic musical composition is reflected here, with paintings that evoke the visual frequencies on recording-studio monitors. There is a musical flow to the works, which the artist has said are meant to reveal the passage of time and the importance of memory.

In each of Ida’s works, the careful, adroit use of color and his perfect abstract shapes form a harmonious visual music. There is a sense of containment and a vibrant sense of aliveness in each of his images, as if beneath the surface the colors and lines could break free or transform. Ida is working with ideas of connectivity, of perfection and imperfection, of the complexity of life itself. One of the most interesting things about these paintings is how geometrically perfect they are, and yet there is the sense that each image was caught in a single moment of perfection, one which could shift into another form in a heart-beat or a breath.

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Working in acrylic and mixed media, Ida has created work that is subtle yet intense, images of renewal and change so precisely defined that there is a sense of both isolation and splendor. If these are evocations of memory and language as the artist suggests, then who is to say what secrets and inchoate longing are kept here; what we contemplate and what we can express.

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Examining the rich blues and greens of “Unseen and Unimaginable,” viewers are studying the thin, perfect lines of a strange bird, its skeletal wings and body spinning outward through a wheeling universe dotted with stars, planets, or perhaps the glow of tiny microbial creatures. This is all about motion, symmetrical lines in flight against a soft, somewhat unfocused, peacefully pulsating unknown world.

Similarly, in “Transient Layers and a Quickening Pulse,” we have what could be a layered city skyline above a pattern of dimensional, floating platforms and upright, thick lines which could themselves be towering skyscrapers. These images are themselves filled with tiny, pulsating shapes that remind the viewer of creatures in video games or Chinese calligraphy. These are the patterns of life, the raw essence a landscape contains, the formal shapes we have superimposed over them. Ida has painted an intricate, complex work from the hues of his palette to the shapes within shapes.
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The fluidity of Ida’s work seems to speak of transition, change, and a barely contained spirituality. In “Immersion,” there is what appears to be a beautifully textured puzzle of interlocking rounded wooden pieces in a gentle rainbow of colors. This could be a gate or a door, a maze of pipes, or merely an abstract pattern. Whatever it may be, it is marked by a bright central circle of light, a large clear spotlight that lightens the center of the painting like a portal illuminated within the circle of a flashlight’s beam. The title can be viewed as every meaning of the word: involvement – whether physically within a substance, or through the mind or culture; the teaching of a foreign language. Ida’s language here is not exactly foreign: it is familiar yet mysterious, somehow known and unknown.

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Two other artists share the George Billis gallery space with Ida. Taylor Montague’s “Oblique Views of Suburbia” offers wavering, beautifully glowing images of architecture in a beach-town environment. The coastal color palette from the gold light of the sun to the intense blue of the sky near the sea contrasts with sand-colored buildings and dark electric wires. This is the world of the California coast, and of dreams.

Gina Minichino takes intensely modern subjects such as Easter peeps and ketchup packets and renders them with the perfection of a Dutch still-life. Like Montague and Ida, Minichino also creates her own symbolic language, here through lush renderings of common images, infusing them with meaning.

I Spy: Espionage Tonight DWF20 Filmmaker Profile

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I spy…a lot of laughs and action in Rob Bralver’s Espionage Tonight, a wild, zany, dark, funny film that casts a spy thriller as a reality series. Bralver started out as an editor, transitioned to a writer/director and he’s now directed more films than he’s edited, but his sense of story is honed in the editing room, taut and well-paced.
“I always wanted to make a spy movie. My career prior to this film was in documentaries, and I became very familiar with the crafting of narratives and the business of entertainment. I noticed a lot of similarities between that world and the D.C. world of politics and espionage, which I’m equally fascinated by. There’s a lot of overlap between the two in terms of tradecraft. Sleight of hand, disguise, misdirection, PR, all kinds of tools where the only difference is the final product – entertainment or news. This movie was my way of exploring those parallels in hopefully a new and fun way, as we now live in a time where all the barriers and distinctions are gone. Facts, stories, recreations, policies – it’s a free for all, no matter your political orientation. While maybe that’s concerning in terms of possible real world repercussions, it’s also ripe for comedy,” Bralver says.
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Bralver’s previous work includes Cure For Pain: The Mark Sandman Story. “It’s a story about ambition, family, and loss. I learned a lot on that one, lessons that I expect served me well on everything going forward in work or life. There were very similar themes in Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia,” he relates. “It was not by design, but these very different stories and different people were all in their own way about outsider figures dealing with extreme loss and finding ways to overcome, and building new families and works to value to sort of reformat and re-strengthen their lives. Espionage Tonight was a departure from that kind of story on the surface, but I think at it’s core it’s the same thing on a different scale. The whole national landscape kind of needs to dust off the past and get a clean slate.”
That may sound heavy, but the film itself is pure fun. “Don’t worry too much about the details. Sit back and enjoy being lost for the ride. It’s meant as an impression of our new reality, where distinctions and exposition really don’t matter, lots of things never get resolved or never mattered to begin with, and the only resolution is probably getting on a boat and sailing away. I also hadn’t seen a movie like Airplane or Hot Shots in a while, and wanted us to have a new one. Don’t take it too seriously…but then think about it a week later.”
Put it this way – the lively, scathing, funny film is a lot more Survivor than Survivor could ever dream of being.
– Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke