Friday, October 3, 2014

Up for an Undertaking

When you live in Jackson Ward, the world is your oyster and it's all within four blocks.

Behind Nick's Deli, I see a friend conducting a photo shoot of good-looking Richmond guys (read: bearded) for Ledbury Shirts in the exquisite early evening light.

I'm on my way to 1708 Gallery for the opening of "Exquisite Corpse," an exhibition based on the Surrealist parlor game where each person draws a part of the whole without seeing the other contributions first.

Some of the pieces are fluid and seamless, a marvel since no one knew what the other was doing, while some are disjointed and abrupt but come together only because they're part of a greater whole. Every single one is fascinating in some way, often many ways.

It doesn't take long for me to recognize artists' names and styles: Heide Trepanier, Kevin Orlosky, Diego Sanchez, Michael Lease, Noah Scalin, Sally Bowring all catch my eye.

I am most intrigued by seeing several by Travis Robertson because I purchased one of his pieces back in 2008 and I've never met him to tell him how much I still love seeing that piece every day.

The 27 pieces in the show demonstrate such creativity. One has a sound component, another has a collaged section. Some are black and white while others glow with fields of color. Sequins and fake jewels are part of some.

Admiring one, a woman approaches me and I learn she's one of the artists who has done a section on one of the pieces. As we admire it, she asks if I'm an artist. When I explain I merely write, she insists I am an artist, too.

On the back wall, an artist has begun an enormous exquisite corpse piece, to be covered up and continued tomorrow night during the artwalk. The scale is huge and the orientation horizontal rather than vertical, but it's fascinating to watch as animals and details emerge from his brush.

When I go to leave, I run into a gallerist I know and he tells me he recently spotted me on my walk near Second Street. After driving around for an hour, he was on the downtown expressway when he caught sight of me overhead, crossing 195 on an overpass.

"She's still walking!" he recalled thinking. And mighty easy to spot in those bright pink shorts, I might add.

My next stop was Quirk Gallery for Brad Birchett's show, "Return," a collection of mostly monochromatic shades of gray, black and white with occasional lines of color - pink, coral -and images receding in and out of the painterly surface, occasionally etched into the paint, with sound recordings he'd made playing in the back of the gallery.

Making my way around, I ran into my favorite Quirk staffer (and very talented set designer) and asked what he'd been up to.

"I'm doing a lot of work on hotel stuff," he said, referring to the upcoming Quirk boutique hotel that's coming to the neighborhood. "There'll be a rooftop bar there for you."

Don't I know it. You can be sure I plan to be a habitue of that rooftop bar three blocks from my house.

Walking out, I ran into the man about town, telling him it's always nice to see him. "Nice to be seen by you," he acknowledged, doffing his hat and bowing as I swept out the door.

I was pleasantly surprised to find ADA Gallery open (turns out it's the first time they're participating in the Thursday preview night) for a new sculpture show, "Heroic Measures," by VCU alum Shannon Wright.

The larger piece was called "Folly" and was modeled on the Coliseum in Rome, assuming it had been built by the Parks and Rec Department out of bike rack parts. Almost circular, with rows on top of rows of arches, it looked both monumental yet gently mocking of public art. I'd love to see it find a home in Richmond.

When I got to Ghostprint Gallery, I found a lively crowd for Josh George's new show, "Attroupement," including the well organized gardener drinking a beer and giving me a hard time as soon as I arrived.

I've watched Josh's progress as a painter over his past four shows since he came to Richmond and I continue to be impressed by the development of his talent and vision in wonderfully vibrant and colorful works exuding the passion and energy of life.

The room was full of familiar faces and I kept stopping to chat as I ran into a poet, a tattoo artist and a former writer as I worked my way around the room.

Standing back to admire "Kissy Bat," a large scale work of a lovely woman with long hair and full lips in front of strips of floral wallpaper and a flock of bats, a man approached me and said, "I was told that you posed for this painting."

Someone was lying to him and I corrected him, but a writer friend standing nearby leaned over and said, "He obviously has money. You should have said it was you." Right.

The Corbieres series in the back, a group of small landscape pieces done after Josh's trip to France, were stunningly evocative of the French countryside with the look of work painted a century ago.

By contrast, there were several large works of urban streetscapes with skyscrapers reaching heavenward that were firmly grounded in the here and now. "Up for an Undertaking" was my favorite, with rows of buildings on either side of the streets receding into the unknown, luring a visitor to spend time exploring.

Josh's love of wine and sense of humor came to the fore in "Devil says, 'Roast it in the oven!' Angel says, 'Deep fry it!" A couple sits with wine on the table in front of them as the man prepares to cut up a bird for dinner.

My vote for most charming goes to "The Things Needed," a mixed media piece of a girl on a bike with a basket full of flowers, wine and a baguette. I didn't spot it, but presumably there was cheese in there, too.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and the gardener was there to say goodnight, kissing me on the cheek but complaining when I did the same to him. "Don't leave lipstick on my cheek! I'll get in trouble when I get home!" Where's the trust, my friend?

My last stop was at Gallery 5 for "An evening among whores: a spoken word event," whatever that meant. It was being curated by the inimitable Herschel Stratego, so anything was possible.

Already the poet had made it over from Ghostprint before me and not long after, I saw the arts activist who's given up drinking (looking newly slim and fit), heard my name called by the not so classic movie lover I'd met at the weekly B movie series over the summer, chatted with the author who lived in my apartment before I did, and been joined by the sound techie who'd just returned from two weeks touring south of the border.

That got us off on a tangent about traveling alone and we compared adventures; I'd done four days alone in Italy and he'd done time in Mexico City and we agreed that there's a unique dynamic to being alone in a country where you don't know the language and you have no companion to fall back on for navigation and companionship.

Next thing we knew, Herschel was taking the stage to tell us the saga of his friendship with the recently deceased Dave Brockie of GWAR.

He wanted to begin with the story of how he'd made out with Dave, eager to share it "for bragging purposes only." Actually, they'd only kissed once (and even then, it was a fish lips kind of a kiss, not a good French kiss) and only because they'd challenged a woman to kiss one of them if they kissed each other.

They did, she didn't, at least not in front of the one who lost (Herschel).

But that was far from the end of his storytelling, as he went on share that they'd both peed together in the same toilet ("Although Dave Brockie peed a little longer"), that he wasn't going to get sentimental  and that he recalled Dave singing along to "Only the Good Die Young" at a Superbowl party.

While I claim to go on and on, Herschel has me beat by a mile.

When he finally ceded the stage, it was for comedy from Dave Marie-Garland who said things such as, "What's the difference between a guy with a ponytail and a girl with a flat top? Nothing, they're both human beings."

He got the most laughs saying he'd had a dream where he had sex with a girl but when he asked if she'd loved him, she said no. "I woke up crying because sex without love is just sad. Am I right, guys?"

Yea, pretty funny stuff.

Musician and DJ Shannon Cleary did a rumination on aging, pets and parenthood with its roots in him having turned 30 last year.

He recalled being in speech class and being asked to speak on procreation, the problem being at that point he had no idea what the word meant. "My friends tried to show me with hand gestures, pelvic thrusts and "cab hands," he deadpanned as only Shannon can do.

Reading from her phone, Angie Huckstep shared a poem called "Remember That You Like to Read" (with the line "Finish that book like you know you want to") and "Spit Spot" ("Like Mary Poppins says," she explained. "You know, get your shit together!") about being in the shower with someone.

One of the best parts of the evening was the music played between performers, like Liz Phair's "Rock Me" before Melanie Rasnic came up.

Oh, baby, you're young but that's okay
What's give or take nine years anyway?
You think I'm a genius, think I'm cool
I'm starting to think that young guys rule

With a comedienne's timing and a past meant for mocking, she told of making the Shockoe Bottom walk of shame the morning after in heels (no small accomplishment) before explaining how a whore is formed. "By the way, my Mom is not a whore, so apparently it skips a generation."

She lamented being raised a Jehovah's Witness, trying to convert people on their porches by the time she was eight and denying her "all the things that made childhood bearable."

After that, Herschel returned to the stage long enough to tell us, "By the way, I have had sex before," tell some more off-color stories and announce, "This is my blue set."

Author Andrew Blossom took the stage to a song by Groucho Marx in honor of Groucho's birthday today (Andrew also works at Video Fan) and introduced his story, "In the Not Too Distant Future" about a guy named Joel who is middle aged, divorced and loses his job. He finds salvation in endless TV watching and a space show with a character named Joel.

Hey, when you're middle aged, you find your redemption anywhere you can.

Musician and poet Ryan Kent closed out the evening, loudly reading his poetry from an e-tablet, poems with titles such as "Nobody's Bitch" and lines like, "Ashtrays as truthful as your bank account" from "Long in the Tooth."

Top honors go to this line: "She was someone I left my fingerprints on, like cement and murder."

Naturally, Herschel had to come back up to close out the evening with more Dave Brockie stories, stopping just short of sharing sexual peccadilloes and reminiscing about when Dave had suggested he open for GWAR.

To prove his worth, Herschel had sung Dave a song and he wanted to sing it for us tonight.

"I forgot to being my instrument but I don't know the chords anyway, so I'll just sing it." It turned out to be Randy Newman's song about Karl Marx, "The World Isn't Fair."

Truthfully, Herschel's a capella rendition was just about perfect, an absurdist ending to a wild ride of a night.

My walk home was only four blocks...with no shame (or heels) involved.


  1. nice posting....seventeen thousand words later....U could go on & on....glad you're inspired.


  2. Thanks, cw. The beauty of all those words is that no one HAS to read them!