Category Archives: Arts

See Sojourner Truth’s ‘calling cards’ at BAMPFA

Carte de visite of Sojourner Truth, 1863; albumen print mounted on cardboard; 4 x 2 1/2 in.; BAMPFA, gift of Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby.
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By Joel Bahr

Patrons of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will get a chance to meet abolitionist, women’s rights activist, speaker, entrepreneur, runaway slave and illiterate memoirist Sojourner Truth in a new exhibit that opened Wednesday. Or at least they’ll get to meet the peripatetic truth-teller the same way most 19th-century Americans did — through small rectangular photographs called cartes de visite.

Cartes de visite are small, 2½- by 4-inch pieces of cardboard adorned with a photograph that functioned in a similar capacity to modern-day business cards. Invented in France in 1854, the carte de visite quickly became popular in the U.S., and were utilized by abolitionists like Truth to disseminate their message.

Before becoming an abolitionist and activist, Truth was born Isabella Baumfree, a slave in upstate New York who actually learned how to speak Dutch before English. A mother of five, Truth stayed in New York until 1826 when, at age 30, she ran away with one of her children. In 1843, she took the name Sojourner Truth, and spent the rest of her life advocating for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights, as well as teaching skills to freed Southern slaves.

Truth was a formidable speaker, and her speech given at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron in 1851 — which would eventually come to be known as “Ain’t I A Woman”— is to this day one of the most iconic pieces of women’s rights rhetoric. … Continue reading »

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Noah Garabedian, Democratoz are Berkeley bound

The four amigos known as Silver City Bound play Freight & Salvage on Sunday. Noah Garabedian, Sam Reider, Will Clark and Justin Poindexter. Photo by Toby Silverman.
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Noah Garabedian had no way of knowing it at the time, but his degree in ethnomusicology turned out to be ideal training for his gig in the jazz-steeped Americana band Silver City Bound.

The Berkeley-raised bassist was establishing himself as a top-shelf New York freelancer about four years ago when he got a call from a Bay Area acquaintance, San Francisco-reared pianist/accordionist Sam Reider. Reider and his musical partner, guitarist Justin Poindexter, were expanding their combo Tres Amigos, which had honed a singular sound drawing on bluegrass and western swing, Gulf Coast grooves and jazz. Now known as Silver City Bound (“We got tired of people thinking it’s a Mexican music band,” Reider says), the quartet makes its Berkeley debut at 7 p.m. Sunday at Freight & Salvage (they also perform Saturday at the Stanford Jazz Festival with special guest Ben Flocks on tenor saxophone).

In many ways the band started to fully realize its potential in 2013, when the U.S. State Department selected the Amigos as cultural ambassadors, which led to a six-week tour of China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Interacting with local musicians as much as possible, the band found its wide open aesthetic made it possible to trade tunes and jam with wildly divergent artists. In Cambodia, they connected “with a classical Khmer group, these great musicians with a tradition that uses some improvisation,” says Garabedian, 31. “It was mostly strings and flutes and zithers and some percussion and vocals. Each song painted a cinematic soundscape of a bizarre western movie. We’d play a slow blues, and out of nowhere these zithers and flutes would pop up. … Continue reading »

Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Phantom Boy’

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Like many adults, I really enjoy a good children’s film. Now that my nest is thoroughly empty, however, I have far fewer opportunities (or imperatives!) to scope them out.

Of course, the emphasis must always be on ‘good’ – not an adjective to be applied lightly in the broad church of cinema, especially when it comes to kiddie flicks (I will never fully recover from my exposure to Baby Geniuses). So I was quite excited to see that Phantom Boy, a new animated feature from the creators of 2014’s Oscar-nominated A Cat in Paris, will open at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, July 29.

Unlike A Cat in Paris, there are no anthropomorphized animals to be found in Phantom Boy. The film’s characters are (almost) uniformly human: Leo, a young boy suffering from a serious illness (presumably, though not explicitly, cancer); Tanguy, a wheelchair-bound police officer; Mary, a spunky young journalist voiced by Audrey Tautou; and a super villain with a yappy dog (non-talking variety). … Continue reading »

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Craigslist ad leads to discovery of world-class art collection in Berkeley

A 1946 painting by Sylvia Ludins. Photo: Peter Jacobson
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When Justin Cronkite arrived at an Elmwood home last year to check out a dresser he had seen on Craigslist, he found more than a piece of furniture. In the garage, coated in decades’ worth of dust, was a stunning collection of paintings.

There were watercolors, oil paintings, sketches, and even 8-foot murals, most in vivid colors. Cronkite estimates that there were almost 300 pieces, some depicting evocative scenes of political turmoil and hardship, and others abstract.

The owner of the home and the dresser, Jon Katz, told Cronkite that most of the paintings were by his aunt, Sylvia Ludins, who died in 1965. Some were by Ludins’ sister, Katz’s mother Florence Ludins-Katz. Katz has been in possession of the collection since his father died in 2008. He showed and sold most of his mother’s work and always had it in the back of his mind to do something with his aunt’s.

Cronkite, a filmmaker and perennial go-getter, asked Katz if he could help him bring Ludins’ art into the world. Katz said he would consider it. The two parted ways, but Cronkite couldn’t stop thinking about the art. A few months later, he got an email from Katz granting him permission to pursue exhibiting it. Cronkite jumped into action, dusting the paintings and setting up a makeshift gallery in his home.

By a stroke of luck, Cronkite was introduced to Peter Selz, the renowned art historian and founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum. Selz, who is in his 90s and lives in Berkeley, took a look at Sylvia Ludins’ paintings and was astounded.

“I was amazed to see work like this reappear after all these years,” Selz said, “and from an artist who was really very skilled.” … Continue reading »

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Inside an artist’s mind: Berkeley’s Steve Ferrera is in residence at the de Young

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The work of sculptor and filmmaker Steve Ferrera, whose studio and home is in West Berkeley, crosses many disciplines, including television, animation, children’s books and collectible toys. He has collaborated with Sony Pictures and HBO, and exhibited at the California Academy of Sciences and the ProArtsGallery, among others. Through July 31, Ferrera is the artist in residence at the de Young. While there, he is offering visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the multimedia production of a children’s book in the museum’s Artist Studio. Berkeleyside caught up with Ferrera to ask him what inspires him to make his often curious and sometimes absurd creatures, and what’s up with his one-eyed cat.

What do you do?

I teach glassblowing, ceramics, and sculpture part time at Palo Alto High School. My art is my other part-time job. My background is in traditional sculpture. But I’ve worked in a variety of art-related fields — everything from running a glassblowing studio to working on films and commercials at a visual effects and animation studio. My art is kind of a synthesis of all the skills I’ve acquired doing those things: sculpture, film, animation, storytelling. … Continue reading »

The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Berkeley Humane's Bark and Meow Adopt-A-Thon takes place Saturday July 23. Photo: Berkeley Humane
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BARK AND MEOW ADOPT-A-THON: On Saturday July 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Berkeley Humane will once again host one of the largest annual adopt-a-thon events in the East Bay. Bark and Meow Around the Block, which will take over two city blocks in West Berkeley, is also the location for NBC Bay Area’s “Clear The Shelters” nationwide campaign which encourages individuals throughout the country to adopt a shelter animal and help clear the shelters. Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Natalie Morales of the “Today Show” are taking part in the event where more than 200 animals will be available for adoption with waived or reduced adoption fees. Said Berkeley Humane Executive Director Jeffrey Zerwekh: “Pet homelessness is a solvable problem, if more people are able to open their homes and adopt. This event will include food, beer, live music, games and a pet psychic to entertain the entire family while looking for a new dog, cat, puppy or kitten.” Saturday, July 23, 10am-4pm; Ninth and Carleton streets, Berkeley (corner of 2700 Ninth St.) Berkeley. Visit Berkeley Humane online for details.Continue reading »

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HBO documentary puts spotlight on Seva, a Berkeley nonprofit that restores sight to the blind

Manisara with the granddaughter she has never seen. Photo: HBO Films
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At a time when so much of the world’s news seems so dark, HBO is airing a documentary featuring a Berkeley nonprofit that is literally bringing more light into the world. Open Your Eyes focuses on the work of the Seva Foundation, which helps restore sight to blind and visually-impaired people by helping fund cataract surgeries, glasses, medicine and professional training in clinics around the world. The 25-minute documentary is being aired this month as part of HBO’s summer documentary series, and is also available on HBO Go.

“In the early days our tagline was ‘compassion in action,” said Seva Executive Director Jack Blanks. “Our current tagline is ‘a solution in sight’.”

The roots of the organization go back to the ideals of the 1960s, and its original co-founders include icons such as Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and Dr. Larry Brilliant, who was part of the World Health Organization’s team working to eradicate smallpox. Steve Jobs, who studied for a time at the same India-based ashram as Brilliant, served on the advisory board for a few months just before Apple took off, and gave Seva its very first grant. Many Berkeleyans may be familiar with Seva through the groups’ benefit concerts featuring musicians such as the Grateful Dead, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Jackson Brown and Bonnie Raitt.

The documentary subtitled “A Journey from Darkness to Sight,” doesn’t focus on Seva or its colorful Berkeley roots. Instead, it focuses on the equally compelling story of two Nepali grandparents who have been blinded by cataracts and regain their sight after a surgery funded by Seva. It was filmed by the Portland-based Irene Taylor Brodsky, who had a long-time interest in both Nepal and Seva. She asked to accompany some Seva outreach workers on their rounds doing eyesight screenings in remote mountainous area, and the story we see unfolded during that three-day journey. … Continue reading »

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Lies, love, sacrifice in Shotgun Players’ ‘Grand Concourse’

Cathleen Riddley as Shelley in Grand Concourse. Photo: Pak Han
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Why do people volunteer at soup kitchens? Is it so that they may selflessly serve others? Is it to make themselves feel worthy? Satisfy religious commitments? Or is it to forget their own problems? These questions and themes of friendship and falseness are presented in the stimulating and entertaining Grand Concourse, well directed by Shotgun’s Joanie McBrien. Playwright Heidi Schreck is a two-time Obie Award-winning actress and author of There Are No More Big Secrets, Creature, and Showtime’s Nurse Jackie.

Fresh from its New York and Chicago runs, Grand Concourse is set in the kitchen area of a soup kitchen (and soup is the only meal on the menu) in a Bronx Catholic church basement, run by the habit-less nun Shelley (great work by Cathleen Riddley). Shelley arrives early each morning so that she can scrub the dining room after the night janitors have finished cleaning it. Shelley is having trouble concentrating on her prayers, however, and has taken to lengthening her prayers by timing them with the microwave timer. Watching her look into the microwave as she prays is charming, as well as spiritual — in a 21st-century kind of way.

Shelley’s calm, caring and conscientious demeanor seems too good to be true, and it turns out that it is. She is suffering from the burnout common to the self-sacrificing. We see her question whether her work is actually helpful and learn that her reasons for joining her religious order more closely resemble an act of teenage rebellion than true religious conviction. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley actor Matt Ross can do more than scowl

Matt Ross has written and directed 'Captain Fantastic' which opens Friday in Berkeley. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Matt Ross had a smile on his face. Maybe it was no surprise, as he was at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco for a long string of press interviews about his movie, Captain Fantastic.

The smile, and accompanying open demeanor, are not how most of the world usually sees Ross, who lives in Berkeley. He is best known for his roles as Gavin Belson, the competitive and ruthless tech tycoon on the hit HBO TV show, “Silicon Valley,” and Albie Grant, the controlling Mormon polygamist who represses his homosexuality in HBO’s “Big Love.” Both of those parts require Ross to purse his lips and scowl — a lot.

But the world is now about to see another side of Ross, one that brings out his smile. Although he is a classically trained actor who went to Juilliard, Ross has been writing movie scripts and making short films since he was 12. His first feature movie, 28 Hotel Rooms, was decently received. Captain Fantastic has been enthusiastically embraced. John Seal, Berkeleyside’s film reviewer, called it “frequently excellent (if periodically absurd).” This reporter loved the film for its intelligent and unpredictable script. Ross won Best Director in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival in July.

Ross will be doing a Q&A in Berkeley this Friday, July 22, after the 7:05 p.m. screening of Captain Fantastic at the California Theatres on Kittredge Street.
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Gillian Margot brings Black Beauty to Berkeley (and Geoffrey Keezer)

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The musical partnership of vocalist Gillian Margot and pianist Geoffrey Keezer is still in its infancy, but the two extraordinary musicians have already forged a creatively charged connection. The San Diego-based duo make their Bay Area debut 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory, though Keezer has performed dozens of times in the East Bay, from his teenage stint in the hard bop cauldron of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to his well-documented three-year run with legendary bassist Ray Brown (Margot and Keezer also give a CJC workshop Saturday afternoon “The Art of Accompanying a Vocalist”).

One of the most celebrated pianists of his generation, the 45-year-old Keezer even lived in San Leandro briefly about a dozen years ago, in the midst of a Grammy Award-winning stint with bass maestro Christian McBride’s electro-acoustic band. These days he spends much of his time writing music for various projects and commissions, and can be found on stage working as an accompanist for masterly jazz vocalists like Dianne Reeves, Denise Donatelli, and Oakland’s Kenny Washington (who joins Keezer’s trio as a special guest Sunday afternoon at Jazz at Filoli).

“One thing musicians like to do is keep working,” he says. “As a pianist, I like working with vocalists, and singers value what I bring to the table. I’m not much of a singer myself, but I like writing songs, and with my own trio gigs I’ll invite Gillian or Kenny to come up.” … Continue reading »

Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Captain Fantastic’; ‘Breaking a Monster’

Captain Fantastic
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Three-quarters of the way into Captain Fantastic (opening at Landmark’s California Theater on Friday, July 22), I thought I might be watching one of 2016’s Best Picture Academy Award nominees. One implausible plot development later, I wasn’t so sure — but I am convinced that Viggo Mortensen is likely to receive Oscar recognition for his lead role in this frequently excellent (if periodically absurd) new feature.

Mortensen plays the film’s title character, an off-the-grid Noam Chomsky admirer known more prosaically as Ben. With wife Leslie (Trin Miller, seen only in flashback) Ben has raised his six children in the middle of a Pacific Northwest forest, training them in survivalist techniques and teaching them about great literature, political theory, and the Bill of Rights.

What he hasn’t taught them is how to live in the ‘real world’, a problem that quickly becomes apparent when the family leaves the wilderness for a funeral in suburban New Mexico. Conflicts rapidly arise between the insular Fantastics and their ‘normal’ relatives, including Leslie’s sister Harper (Kathryn Hale), brother-in-law Dave (Steve Zahn), and father Jack (Frank Langella).

Written and directed by Berkeley resident Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic is careful not to pass judgment on these competing visions of ‘the way things should be’. (Ross will be doing a Q&A in Berkeley this Friday, July 22, after the 7:05 p.m. screening of Captain Fantastic at the California Theatres at 2113 Kittredge St.) Ben is clearly a loving father, but he’s also a martinet whose parenting techniques sometimes border on child abuse; Jack has the best interests of his grandchildren at heart but is willing to use social status and wealth to make life for Ben thoroughly miserable. … Continue reading »

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The Institute of Mosaic Art in Berkeley to close Aug. 30

Ilse Cordoni, the owner of the Institute for Mosaic Arts, teaching an andamento class at IMA.  Andamento is the art of laying tiles with a sense of flow and design, rather than just putting broken pieces of glass next to each other. Since this was a one-day class, she taught the class using paper (easier to cut) rather than glass. Photo: Daphne White
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By Daphne White

The Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA), an East Bay institution that is one of the oldest and largest mosaic centers in the U.S., will close its doors on Aug. 30 unless someone steps up to take it over. The school, which has offered classes to more than 1,000 students in the past three years, is a victim of its own success, according to owner, Ilse Cordoni.

“When mosaic artist Laurel True opened IMA in 2005, there were only two mosaic schools in the U.S.: IMA, and the nonprofit Chicago Mosaic School,” said Cordoni, who purchased IMA in 2013. These two schools helped spearhead a mosaic renaissance across the country. “Now that mosaic has become very popular, there are half a dozen mosaic schools in California alone, and many more nationwide. Students no longer need to travel from all over the U.S. to take introductory mosaics in Berkeley.”

Unless a buyer can be found, the school and its associated mosaics store and gallery on Allston Way will close its doors as of Aug. 30, Cordoni said. This announcement has left the East Bay mosaic community reeling.

“IMA has been an enormous part of the mosaic renaissance in Oakland and beyond,” said professional mosaicist Rachel Rodi, whose mosaic career began at IMA when the school first opened. “IMA and its students and teachers have created community murals and public art throughout the Bay Area in places such as the Martin Luther King Middle School, Jefferson Elementary School and Mission Creek in San Francisco.” … Continue reading »

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‘Gold Mountain’ reading leaves audience hungry for more

Monica Ho and Jonny Hsu Lee, as “Yook Mei” and “Lit" in a stage reading of Gold Mountain at the Aurora Theatre Berkeley.
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By Bonnie Britt

The musical drama Gold Mountain taps into the rich emotional lives of the too-often-forgotten Chinese immigrant labor force who gave their all to connect the eastern United States with western states in the construction of the first transcontinental railroad.

A staged reading of Gold Mountain at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley on July 11 was presented by LaborFest and the SAG‑AFTRA SF‑NorCal local.

Actors flew in from New York and Los Angeles to join Bay Area professionals for the one-act performance that left the audience wanting more from Jason Ma, a natural‑born storyteller, whose credits include writing the script and music for the musical Barcelona.Continue reading »