INTERVIEW WITH ALISON SNOWDEN AND DAVID FINE

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

By Anita Malhotra

Vancouver-based animators, directors and writers Alison Snowden and David Fine received some very good news recently – an Oscar nomination for their most recent animated short film, Animal Behaviour.

The film, produced and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada, is a humorous look at what happens when a new animal joins a canine-led therapy session for five animals (a leech, praying mantis, pig, cat and bird), who are struggling with their natural instincts.

Still from "Animal Behaviour" by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Still from “Animal Behaviour” by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Snowden and Fine, a husband-and-wife team, have been working together since they met in the early ‘80s at England’s National Film and Television School.

Their films include the Oscar-winning short animation Bob’s Birthday (1994) and the Oscar-nominated shorts Second Class Mail and George and Rosemary.

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

They also created the animated TV series Bob and Margaret (1998-2001), for which they served as executive producers, writers, and in Snowden’s case, voice actor. Other TV series they created were Ricky Sprocket: Showbiz Boy and Shaun the Sheep.

Anita Malhotra spoke to Snowden and Fine, who were at their Vancouver home, by phone on Feb. 8, 2019, two weeks before Oscar night on Feb. 24, 2019.

AM: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination and the other awards you’ve won so far for Animal Behaviour. I understand you’ve just come back from Los Angeles. What were you doing there?

AS: They have a luncheon for the Oscar nominees. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and they take a big group photo of this year’s nominees, and it was really lovely.

David Fine and Alison Snowden with their daughter, Lily Snowden-Fine, at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 5, 2019 at the Beverly Hilton (photo by Michael Fukushima, courtesy of David Fine)

David Fine and Alison Snowden with their daughter, Lily Snowden-Fine, at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 5, 2019 at the Beverly Hilton (photo by Michael Fukushima, courtesy of David Fine)

DF: It’s kind of a celebration of the nomination, whereas the Oscars, there are going to be winners and losers. So it’s quite nice because the atmosphere is, “We’re all winners here because we’re all nominated.”

AM: You won an Oscar in 1994 for your animated short Bob’s Birthday. How does it feel to be going to the Oscars again with a new film?

David Fine and Alison Snowden at the 1994 Academy Awards, where they won an Oscar for their short animated film "Bob's Birthday" (photo by Clare Kitson, courtesy of David Fine)

David Fine and Alison Snowden at the 1994 Academy Awards, where they won an Oscar for their short animated film “Bob’s Birthday” (photo by Clare Kitson, courtesy of David Fine)

DF: Awesome.

AS: Very exciting. It’s not totally new, of course. Actually, we’ve been a few times because we were nominated prior to Bob’s Birthday.

DF: It really doesn’t get old, being nominated for an Oscar. It’s a great honour.

Still image from Snowden and Fine’s Oscar-winning film “Bob’s Birthday” (© Snowden Fine Animation, Channel 4 and the National Film Board of Canada)

Still image from Snowden and Fine’s Oscar-winning film “Bob’s Birthday” (© Snowden Fine Animation, Channel 4 and the National Film Board of Canada)

AM: What was the impetus to make a short film after so many years of working in animated television series?

AS: When you make a series, the wonderful thing is you’re making lots of stories, lots of episodes, working with a crew that all bring their own talents to it, and it’s much more sociable and exciting.

But in our position, we’re not animating or working that closely with the characters. We’re just directing in a general sense. So we missed that.

Still image from Snowden and Fine's animated TV series "Bob and Margaret," which ran from 1998-2001 (courtesy of Snowden Fine Animation)

Still image from Snowden and Fine’s animated TV series “Bob and Margaret,” which ran from 1998-2001 (courtesy of Snowden Fine Animation)

Also, with a series you have a very rigid schedule – you have to pump out all the stories. But if you’re just concentrating on one short – it’s a bit like making a feature film –it’s one story that will carry it.

You really have the time to try and perfect it and make it work exactly how you want it to.

AM: Who first came up with the concept for Animal Behaviour?

DF: We both bounce ideas off each other. Alison had this idea a long time ago for a story that she called “I Love You,” which was about a woman in therapy trying to learn to love herself.

Dr. Clement tries to help Lorraine the leech with her issues in Snowden and Fine's "Animal Behaviour" (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Dr. Clement tries to help Lorraine the leech with her issues in Snowden and Fine’s “Animal Behaviour” (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

AS: I went to a confidence-building class at my local community centre years ago, and you always find all the different characters there. And one thing they did was make you look into a mirror and tell yourself, “I love you.”

Of course everyone was cringing – it’s really hard. So I just thought that was quite funny. I’ve always struggled with confidence, so I thought I’m going to make a short film about this. But I ended up not doing that.

Michael Fukushima, producer of "Animal Behaviour" and Executive Producer of the National Film Board's Animation Studio (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Michael Fukushima, producer of “Animal Behaviour” and Executive Producer of the National Film Board’s Animation Studio (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

DF: Then we had a series idea for an animated sketch show that involved animals going for cosmetic surgery to try and change attributes that they felt didn’t work for them.

And so it grew out of animals examining themselves and Alison’s therapy thing.

And we just thought, “What if we had a group therapy session where animals had to question what comes naturally to them the way humans do?”

AM: How long did it take you to make the film?

AS: From start to finish it was a long time because there were delays. In terms of actually animating it, getting talent and making it, it was about two and a half years. But before that we worked on the script and got it through the development stage, which took a while.

Cheryl the praying mantis showing signs of ADHD during her group therapy session in Alison Snowden and David Fine's "Animal Behaviour" (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Cheryl the praying mantis showing signs of ADHD during her group therapy session in Alison Snowden and David Fine’s “Animal Behaviour” (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

AM: How did you choose the animal characters that you have in the film? I believe you started with a few more and went through different iterations.

AS: Yes, we did. Because once we had the concept, we were trying to think what animals would fit best in that room. We tried a chameleon at the beginning –someone that’s always trying to fit in but in that way is sort of invisible.

Cheryl's confidential patient file (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Cheryl’s confidential patient file (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

We worked with him for a while on the storyboard, but somehow his story and his physical presence didn’t work as well as we would have liked.

Also, at the beginning there were too many characters with too many stories. So we replaced a couple of animals with other animals with more physical problems like the pig. Because he doesn’t really tell his story – he just acts on his issue. So that gave us more physical jokes.

The bird – initially it was a heron – because I’ve read that herons do this thing where they push their siblings out of the nest just because there’s not enough food or it’s the sibling rivalry.

The heron had that long beak and was big, and didn’t look very good in the storyboards, so I thought it would be funny to replace it with a tiny bird that had done this really horrible thing, because he looked so innocent but was a murderer.

Jeffrey the blue jay undergoes regression therapy in Snowden and Fine's "Animal Behaviour" (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Jeffrey the blue jay undergoes regression therapy in Snowden and Fine’s “Animal Behaviour” (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

AM: I read that you used an animation technique that you had never used before. Can you tell me a bit about that?

DF: It wasn’t groundbreaking – it was more that we hadn’t used it because we hadn’t been doing our own animating for many years. One of the reasons we were keen to make the short film was to get back to actually drawing, which you don’t tend to do when so much when you do a TV series. So we used digital software called TVPaint, where you input the drawings using a tablet. It’s hand-drawn, but it’s input digitally.

Still from Snowden and Fine's Oscar-winning film "Bob's Birthday" (© Snowden Fine Animation, Channel 4 and National Film Board of Canada)

Still from Snowden and Fine’s Oscar-winning film “Bob’s Birthday” (© Snowden Fine Animation, Channel 4 and National Film Board of Canada)

AM: What were you aiming for in terms of the look?

AS: We wanted it to have more of an adult look than our previous films. Bob’s Birthday was particularly bright because of the expectation of a birthday party. We wanted it to look bright and cheerful, and then things go wrong.

With Animal Behaviour, because of the nature of it, we wanted it to look like a bit of a dingy room that all these people came together in. More of a graphic novel look, because I love the way they’re often monotones. So I referenced that style a lot. And obviously the pig looks funnier if he looks kind of pink, so I did a muted type of pink just so it would fit into that look.

Cheryl, Todd and Linda attempt to work out their issues in Snowden and Fine's "Animal Behaviour" (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Cheryl, Todd and Linda attempt to work out their issues in Snowden and Fine’s “Animal Behaviour” (still courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

AM: How did you go about choosing the actors for the voices?

DF: All the voices are Vancouver-based actors and we’re really proud of our cast. We think they did great job. We probably auditioned about 300 people to find this group. The main two – Dr. Clement and Victor the ape – were actors we knew of from seeing them perform live. They’re improv actors in Vancouver.

So we had in mind that they would be good for this. And then we did casting for most of the other characters. Alison plays the cat, in a very minor role, so that was handy.

Actors Taz Van Rassel, Leah Juel, Ryan Beil, Andrea Libman and James Kirk in the sound studio for "Animal Behaviour" (photo © David Fine)

Actors Taz Van Rassel, Leah Juel, Ryan Beil, Andrea Libman and James Kirk in the sound studio for “Animal Behaviour” (photo © David Fine)

AM: Going back to your early days, how did each of you get interested in art or drawing when you were younger, and how did that lead to animation?

AS: The only thing I was good at school was drawing and writing stories. I never stood out at anything else. I used to be able to make people laugh or whatever with the drawings or stories that I’d do.

Animator and Director Alison Snowden (photo © Chad Galloway)

Animator and Director Alison Snowden (photo © Chad Galloway)

So then I went on to art school, and then a graphic design course which I didn’t like at all. But you could do some animation in that – play around with the equipment and just try animating. So I thought that was fascinating – I loved doing that. And from that, for some reason I thought I could be a live-action director.

At college no one would support me in applying to the film school, which was very hard to get into. Maybe that’s why I took that confidence-building course. I actually went to that and I got in. And that’s where I met David.

Animator and Director David Fine (photo © Chad Galloway)

Animator and Director David Fine (photo © Chad Galloway)

DF: I grew up in Toronto and was interested in filmmaking since I was about 13 years old, and had access to Super 8 cameras through my school and started making films with live action. I leaned towards animation because I could control everything and just do it myself in the basement. I was doing mostly plasticine animation at the time. And one thing led to another.

I did a documentary when I was 18 that was broadcast on the CBC, and another animation that was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award – at the time a Genie. And that led to going to film school and going to England, where I met Alison.

Alison Snowden and David Fine in the early '80s when they were both students at England's National Film and Television School (photo by Nick Park, courtesy of David Fine)

Alison Snowden and David Fine in the early ’80s when they were both students at England’s National Film and Television School (photo by Nick Park, courtesy of David Fine)

AM: Animal Behaviour is dedicated to the health professionals at the Vancouver General Hospital. I was wondering if you would mind talking about why.

AS: Towards the end of the production I suddenly got very sick. It got so bad that I actually needed an emergency double lung transplant. They basically saved my life, so I felt like, what can you do to say thank you? You know, nothing’s enough. But I thought, at least they made me able to go back and finish this film. So I just really wanted to dedicate it to them.

DF: And we premiered the film at Vancouver General Hospital, where they got to see the dedication on the screen. That was a very moving experience because they spontaneously applauded when they saw that. This was all the doctors and nurses that had saved Alison’s life. So that meant a lot. And we’re involved with the VGH Foundation helping promote what they do and also organ donations – because Alison wouldn’t be here without an organ donor.

Snowden and Fine at the 2018 Annecy International Animated Film Festival premiering "Animal Behaviour" (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Snowden and Fine at the 2018 Annecy International Animated Film Festival premiering “Animal Behaviour” (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

AM: Judging from Animal Behaviour, and your other work as well, you both seem to have a good sense of humour. Could you tell me a bit about that?

DF: We’ve been inspired by humorous films our whole lives. We both love, from long ago, the films of Woody Allen and Albert Brooks – a lot of introspective characters with self-doubt and making fun of themselves. And that’s been a big influence.

And so, if we can tell a story that has humour, it’s very gratifying to make people laugh, but we also always try always to invest our films with a truth and a humanity so that the humour means something. So our previous film, Bob’s Birthday, and Bob and Margaret, was about interpersonal relationships and anxiety and trying to fit in, and so is Animal Behaviour. So that’s kind of our thing, I guess.

Animal Behaviour will be made available free online to the public by the National Film Board from February 11-24 at nfb.ca. For more information about Alison Snowden and David Fine’s work, visit snowdenfine.com or nfb.ca.

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INTERVIEW WITH CAMILLE SEAMAN

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

By Anita Malhotra

Photographer Camille Seaman is best known for her stunning photos of polar ice and habitats as well as for her dramatic photographs taken while storm-chasing. Her unique style is informed by her Native American heritage and its emphasis on connection with and respect for nature.

A TED Senior Fellow since 2011 and a frequent public speaker, Seaman has received several awards, including a 2006 National Geographic Award and a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.

Three books of her work have been published, and her photos have appeared in National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine, among others. 

Seaman recently moved from California to Ireland, where she is working on her first novel. Anita Malhotra spoke with her by phone on Dec. 3, 2018, a few days before she left for Antarctica on her latest photographic project.

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and your childhood?

CS: I grew up on Long Island. My family on my father’s side are indigenous to Long Island. We’ve been there for thousands of years – part of the Shinnecock tribe. And my mother is black and Italian, so she came from New York City out to the island and met my dad and they got married.

Camille Seaman at the age of 2 (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman at the age of 2 (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

I was raised in a mixed ethnic family, but in many native families we don’t judge people by their religion or their skin. We judge them by how they treat us. If I told you about all the cultural mixes of my cousins it would spin your head.

While my parents were still married, my father’s family had the main say in how we were raised, which was very much in Shinnecock tradition.  We grew up in the woods, we grew up fishing, we grew up planting fish-heads in the garden so that the vegetables would be fertilized. I didn’t realize that that was different from how other kids were being raised on the island until I was much older.

AM: How did you first get interested in photography?

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTINA COSTANTINI AND DARREN FOSTER

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary "Science Fair," at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary “Science Fair,” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning investigative journalists Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster have been getting a lot of positive buzz about their first feature film collaboration, Science Fair.

Full of humor and deftly crafted, the inspiring film follows nine extraordinary teenagers vying against 1,700 others to win coveted prizes at one of the world’s largest international science fairs.

The film has played to almost unanimous acclaim, winning audience awards at several film festivals, including Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW). In April 2018, Science Fair was acquired by National Geographic, who are distributing it in cinemas and schools and plan to broadcast it in 2019.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Costantini and Foster, who are based in Los Angeles, on Nov. 6, 2018, a few days before Science Fair began its Nov. 9-18 run at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema.

AM: Can you each tell me a bit about your career before Science Fair?

DF: Both of us were journalists before we became filmmakers. I did a lot of TV docs. The opioid crisis, immigration and the drug war were probably my primary areas of focus over the last 10 years or so.

So it was a bit of a departure for me to do something like Science Fair, but it was a much needed and very happy departure. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been partnered with Cristina on a previous project.

CC: Darren and I worked on a project about fentanyl together, which is a deadly opiate that has made both the U.S. and Canada’s opiate epidemic much more deadly. That was, like it sounds, a very sad story.

Cristina Costantini's previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Cristina Costantini’s previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

And I had done also a lot of reporting on immigration and sex trafficking and prisons and detention centers. So, like Darren, I was ready for a break. And it was actually during the fentanyl documentary that we started talking about this idea of doing a science fair documentary.

I was a science fair kid when I was in high school, and it totally changed my life, and it validated me during the dark years of high school. I learned just so much from it and I’m really in love with this world.

We started talking about how fun it would be to go to the fair and scout the characters and tell the story. So we went to the 2016 fair, and that’s where we met many of the kids that are in the movie.

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INTERVIEW WITH HANS HEMMERT

By Anita Malhotra

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Berlin-based artist Hans Hemmert is best known for his groundbreaking conceptual artwork, most notably his performative balloon sculptures. His work has been exhibited at the MoMA in New York, the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (CGAC) in Spain and Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

"o.T. - "Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate" (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“o.T. – “Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate” (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

It can also be found in many art collections around the world, including those of the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsinki, Malmö Konsthall, Berlin Landesmuseum, German Bundestag, and the Jumex Collection in Mexico City.

Hemmert is also a member of the collective “inges idee” (Hans Hemmert, Axel Lieber, Thomas A. Schmidt and Georg Zey), whose more than 50 striking public sculptures can be found in Europe, Asia and North America.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018.

AM: Where did you grow up?

HH: I grew up in Bavaria – in the countryside.

AM: What were your first experiences with art?

"Unterwegs" ("On the Road"), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“Unterwegs” (“On the Road”), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

HH: At school I liked to work with my hands building small models made of paper, or working with clay. And this developed in my youth.

I knew that I wanted to do something with my hands – not with texts and words, but with pictures and three-dimensional objects. I started studying philosophy in ’81, but then it became clear that I wanted to enter arts school.

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

AM: What interested you about philosophy?

HH: The interest came from the religious education I had in Bavaria. My family was very religious – Catholic. I was even in a seminary from age 10 to 17.

There I got a lot of religious and philosophical input, because we were reading the old Greek and Latin philosophers.

I started studying philosophy but realized that I’m not a scientist but an artist. Then I got a place in the art school in Berlin and studied sculpture for five years.

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INTERVIEW WITH FRED PENNER

Fred Penner at Cooper's Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Fred Penner at Cooper’s Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning children’s entertainer Fred Penner is still going strong after a 45-year career entertaining and educating not only children, but also their parents and grandparents, many of whom were part of his audience when they were young.

Born in Winnipeg in 1946, Penner worked as a singer/songwriter, youth worker, children’s entertainer and stage actor before releasing his first album, The Cat Came Back, in 1979.

In the mid-‘80s, he was invited by CBC television to create his own children’s TV show, Fred Penner’s Place. The popular show ran from 1985 to 1997 in Canada and from 1989 to 1992 in the U.S. on Nickelodeon.

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner has released 13 albums, four of them garnering Juno Awards. A passionate advocate for children, he has won four Parent’s Choice awards and has been a spokesperson for organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO and World Vision. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1991.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Penner in Ottawa on May 11, 2018, on the first day of his five-day run at the Ottawa Children’s Festival.

AM: How did your shows go today at the Ottawa Children’s Festival?

FP: They went well. The 11 o’clock was sold out and the 1 o’clock was a smaller house but with some lovely connections There was a family from upstate New York, and they had contacted me a while ago saying that their daughter was a huge fan and would love to have an opportunity to meet me, so I gave her one of my Fred Penner T-shirts and we had a lovely connection.

The cover of Penner's 2017 CD, "Hear the Music," which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children's Album of the Year

The cover of Penner’s 2017 CD, “Hear the Music,” which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children’s Album of the Year

That’s always the delight of my performing, no matter where it is. It’s not just singing a couple of songs and then people singing along, but that shared moment after when I’m signing autographs and doing pictures. People want to go a little deeper and then tell me some of their stories.

AM: What kind of material are you playing at the festival?

FP: It’s an hour performance, so about 15 songs. The majority are original tunes – many from the new CD that I produced last September called Hear the Music. And there are the standards that the audience is expecting. A song called “The Cat Came Back” and “Sandwiches” are the number one and two requests. And then I intersperse that with some hand games and sign language things.

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

AM: I imagine it’s not the easiest thing to entertain children because of their attention span.

FP: I don’t think of it in terms of attention span, I think about it in terms of listening to them and engaging with them. I think of my performances as a musical dialogue, so I’m singing universal topic songs about animals or food or families or co-operation.

I’ll put out these songs that the parents can connect to, grandparents connect to, children can connect to. And after the performances, the caregivers and the child will continue the triangle of communication.

AM: Can you give me an example of that?

FP: There’s a song called “You can do it if you try.” I wrote it years ago based on a Japanese children’s company that was playing in Vancouver at the kid’s fest there. Parents have come to me and said that they use that song when their children have felt insecure or feeling they’re not able to do a certain thing. And the parents will say, “Remember what Fred says. You can do it if you try.” Knowing that the parents are taking some of these songs and the concepts and bringing them into their own lives is really quite overwhelming.

AM: When you perform live, is your audience mainly children?

FP: No, it’s 50/50 at least and often more adults than kids. The first album, The Cat Came Back, was out in 1979. That decade – the ‘80s into the ‘90s – was the heyday for what we were doing – with Sharon, Lois & Bram and Raffi and the core of those performers. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CALLEN SCHAUB

Callen Schaub with one of the paintings in his show "The Arena" at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

Callen Schaub with one of the paintings in his show “The Arena” at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

By Anita Malhotra

Twenty-seven-year-old artist Callen Schaub’s abstract paintings are bold, colourful and appealing but there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. Namely the process, which consists of  spreading paint on a canvas using innovative equipment he has designed and built himself.

The act of creating these paintings is an integral part of his work, and Schaub, who is based in Toronto, has performed his work live at galleries in Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa as well as on Instagram, where he has more than 70,000 followers. A graduate of OCAD University who ran his own gallery for four years, Schaub has also had his work exhibited in Toronto, including at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and in Miami at Art Basel.

Throughout April, Schaub has been Artist in Residence at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa, where his exhibit “The Arena” opens on Saturday, April 21. Anita Malhotra spoke with him at The Sussex Contemporary on April 17.

One of the spin paintings Schaub created during his residency at The Sussex Contemporary gallery (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

One of the spin paintings Schaub created during his residency at The Sussex Contemporary gallery (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

AM: Can you describe your show at The Sussex Contemporary?

CS: The show is called The Arena. It’s a residency in which I’m spending a month here, turning the gallery into a studio. That’s a very special kind of opportunity for me because my process is at the crux of my artistic practice, and the content of my work is the process.

My studio’s right near the window so people can come in off the street and ask questions, even post gallery hours. Different demographics that might not usually engage with the gallery feel more inclined to because it makes it a little bit more accessible by saying, “This is my process. There’s not a secret to it.” It takes away the barrier, or the sterile nature of the white space of a gallery, and brings the mess and the colour and rawness of the process in.

Callem Schaub painting live in at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Callem Schaub painting live in at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What kinds of reactions have you been getting?

CS: A lot of people pulling out their phones and wanting to record. It’s very Snapchattable, so that’s fun. The one-on-one interactions with people have been extremely positive, which is a relief because I spend a lot of my time as an artist in this new-age technology, online, with videos and reading comments, and there is a lot of trolling and negativity that people behind the mask of technology feel like they have a right to say. So here – in real life – it’s been extremely positive.

A spin painting by Callen Schaub (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

A spin painting by Callen Schaub (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

AM: Can you describe your work?

CS: My paintings are abstract spin paintings. They’re done with an acrylic paint. I use different innovative tools I’ve created by hand – most notably my spin machine, which is a bicycle that I have cannibalized. I pedal the crank, and the chain goes to what would be the wheel, but instead it’s the canvas, and the canvas spins around.

When I’m explaining it to people for the first time I just say, “I splash paint on there” but I’ve been doing it for nine years, so there’s actually a lot of control in the way that I apply the paint to the canvas. I’ve also developed a swinging trough. It’s like a painting trapeze that deploys over the top of the horizontal surface of the rotating canvas. The image that is created is a relationship between the centrifugal motion of the canvas and the pendulum of the swing, and illustrated through colour.

Callen Schaub with one of his paintings at the Art Basel Fair in Miami (photo by Callen Schaub)

Callen Schaub with one of his paintings at the Art Basel Fair in Miami (photo by Callen Schaub)

AM: How did you first arrive at the idea of having your paintings spin while you created them?

CS: In my second year of arts university under the teaching of Dan Solomon, he gave the class the assignment to do whatever we liked. That was really exciting for me because I wanted to look around and see what my peers were creating.

So I’m observing as my classmates approach their canvas in a traditional manner vis-à-vis using a paintbrush, a palette, having their canvas on the easel. I saw that as an opportunity to do something different. I ran down to the potter’s department, got a potter’s wheel, brought it back to the classroom, strapped the canvas onto the potter’s wheel,­ and started pouring paint kind of haphazardly. And everyone is like, “What’s going on?” It was a performance piece – engaging my classmates and my teachers to say, “Hey, let’s think about this differently.”

The repurposed bicycle crank used by Callen Schaub to spin his paintings (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

The repurposed bicycle crank used by Callen Schaub to spin his paintings (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

And then it quickly developed and I was surprised by the results. I did 10 pieces, I had a little show in a café, and I sold a few pieces. I continued to paint with that simple set-up for a year and a half and then my friend had this bicycle that got smashed by a car. I chopped it up and re-welded it into the orientation which it has now.

That’s not my greatest triumph because there are other spin painters out there, so in terms of process, I’m really quite proud of the swinging trough and the relationship between the swinging trough and the rotating canvas. I think that’s a new idea.

Schaub painting live at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Schaub painting live at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What role does chance play in your work?

CS: I think the pursuit of perfection is still there, and the way that I get there is unconventional. Instead of trying to control everything I create the parameters for chaos to occur and within those parameters I’m hands-off. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HANK WILLIS THOMAS

Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (photo by Andrea Blanch courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (photo by Andrea Blanch courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

By Anita Malhotra

New York based conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas is best known for his groundbreaking and provocative works that encourage viewers to think about race, identity, history, advertising, sports and other subjects from a different, often uncomfortable, perspective.

His photographs, sculptures, installations and videos have been exhibited extensively in the U.S. and internationally. They are also in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C, among others.

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 sculpture “Hand of God” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 sculpture “Hand of God” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Thomas’ works include Priceless, a scathing commentary on commercialization; the Branded series, about the commodification of African Americans; and two Unbranded series, which strip away the logos and slogans from advertisements portraying black men and white women respectively.

Thomas has also been involved in several collaborative projects, including Question Bridge, which aims to represent and redefine black male identity in America and The Truth Booth, a portable installation collecting video testimonials of people’s opinions on the truth.

In December, Thomas won the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, a $50,000 prize awarded by public vote based on works exhibited by four shortlisted artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Thomas, who was at his New York studio, on Dec. 13, 2017.

Thomas’ bronze sculpture “Raise Up,” part of the work exhibited for the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Thomas’ bronze sculpture “Raise Up,” part of the work exhibited for the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: What will the Aimia Photography Prize mean for you and your career?

HWT: Well, for me it’s a big deal, partially because it’s the first prize I’ve won as an artist independently from an arts organization in over 10 years. I’ve had a lot of success with my collaborative projects but this was a chance to highlight my solo work. Seeing how the work – which is pushing the boundaries of what photography means in the 21st century – was received and accepted well by the public is a major sense of accomplishment for me.

Hank Willis Thomas in 2017 (photo by Levi Mandel courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas in 2017 (photo by Levi Mandel courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

AM: Can you describe the work you currently have on display at the AGO?

HWT: I have images from different bodies of work. I have a lenticular print that is a text-based piece. Rather than the photographer using a camera, I think of the viewers as a camera because it changes as you move around it. It says, “History is past, past is present.”

“Scarred Chest” (2004) by Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery

“Scarred Chest” (2004) by Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery

I also have a series of retro-reflective prints, which are using archival photographs screen-printed onto a material that illuminates when there’s direct light on them – so when a flash photograph is taken of them. And there are also some sculptures that were based off of photographs that I found in archives in apartheid-era South Africa.

AM: When did you first get interested in photography?

HWT: I think I’ve always been interested in photography. I was always fascinated with the family albums and photographs. But my mother is also a photographer and photo historian and I think I was following in her footsteps most of the time.

AM: Did you take photographs when you were younger?

HWT: Always. As early as I can remember there have been cameras in my life – and both sides of it.

AM: What did you take photographs of?

HWT: Pretty much anything and everything. With a point-and-shoot camera there are maybe some limitations, but license plates to sunsets, family members, shadows, many of the other things young photographers focus on – light and texture.

Hank Willis Thomas in 1997 while pursuing photography at New York University (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas)

Hank Willis Thomas in 1997 while pursuing photography at New York University (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas)

AM: When did you first become aware of social justice issues – especially those related to African Americans?

HWT: I would say my entire life. My mother being a photographer and photo historian and a person who worked at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as a curator, issues of universal struggles for human rights and equal rights were all over my house. And from the earliest ages I was at least listening to conversations about these different struggles, if not actually looking at work by artists dealing with them.

“The Long March” (2013), a video installation at the Birmingham (Alabama) Shuttlesworth International Airport by Ryan Alexiev, Jessica Ingram and Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

“The Long March” (2013), a video installation at the Birmingham (Alabama) Shuttlesworth International Airport by Ryan Alexiev, Jessica Ingram and Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

AM: When did you decide that you would become an artist?

HWT: I would say I started really thinking of myself as an artist at the age of 28. By that time, I had finished grad school and I had a Masters in Photography and a Masters in Visual and Critical Studies. I really hadn’t thought about myself as being an artist as much as I thought of myself as someone who was trying to avoid being in the real world.

Thomas' work "Zero Hour" at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 2017 (photo by JR P, Flickr Creative Commons)

Thomas’ work “Zero Hour” at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 2017 (photo by JR P, Flickr Creative Commons)

I was using photography as a place to explore the world and I thought of myself more as a searcher and explorer. Because I never learned to paint or draw, I thought that I couldn’t be an artist. But then I realized that I’d been doing that all along and that being an artist is not a profession but just a way of life.

AM: Why did you choose the particular studies that you did?

HWT: Africana studies and photography were my undergrad degrees. I always joke that my mother kind of chose them for me. I didn’t realize that I was following in her footsteps in much of the work. But I think there was just a great example set and I followed unwittingly.

Deborah Willis (Thomas' mother) and Hank Willis Thomas speak at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Stacie McChesney/TED, Flickr Creative Commons)

Deborah Willis (Thomas’ mother) and Hank Willis Thomas speak at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Stacie McChesney/TED, Flickr Creative Commons)

AM: You’ve said that your adult artwork started with the murder of your cousin. Can you tell me about the work that came out of that experience?

HWT: That happened in 2000 when I was in grad school. In going through the process of mourning and loss, I realized that I wasn’t alone. And recognizing if you’re not rich and famous the only real evidence of your life are the people who you impacted. Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you can have a tombstone, but most people who die don’t even have that.

“Priceless” (2004), by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Priceless” (2004), by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

So I asked people who were affected by his life or death to pose for portraits for me. I did a project called Bearing Witness: Murder’s Wake. I also revisited pictures I had taken at his funeral, using the language of advertising like the Mastercard “Priceless” campaign of the time, and talked about how even in mourning we’re still being marketed to.

“Branded Head” (2003) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Branded Head” (2003) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: Much of your work has been related to advertising images. How did your interest in that begin?

HWT: I believe the ‘80s was really a watershed decade for commerce becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Most of what we did and saw was branded, with the explosion of transnational corporations like Nike and MTV. So advertising was definitely my second language. I had been speaking it, like most people, for a long time, but I had realized that I wanted to use it rather than just listen.

AM: In Branded, you used it by applying images of branding onto bodies. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

HWT: I wanted to use the language of advertising to talk about things that advertising couldn’t responsibly talk about such as slavery and the way in which commodity culture shapes our notion of ourselves and value of other people.

AM: What was the reaction to Branded when you first exhibited it?

HWT: Usually there’s never one reaction. Some people found it interesting; some people didn’t care. But overall what I’m most impressed with is the fact that the work has continued to be relevant and gain relevance now 14, 15 years later. Every artist hopes that the work they do will be relevant beyond the moment that they make it in. And I think that’s what’s really exciting to me about that work.

“The Liberation of T.O.” (2003/2005) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“The Liberation of T.O.” (2003/2005) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: For Unbranded, you took away the context from advertising images, just leaving the images. What did you learn from that?

HWT: I did two Unbranded series. One was called Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968 to 2008. The other one was Unbranded: A Century of White Women 1915 to 2015.

Each of these series, where I removed advertising information from ad images, were focusing on specific demographic groups that ads were targeted to. Black people as a demographic weren’t a market that people were interested in back in the ‘60s.

Typically, if you saw a person of African descent, they were a servant. But with the emergence of a black middle class, and as a result of the Civil Rights movement, you started to see more and more brown-skinned people in advertising. And I wanted to track this kind of corporate notion of blackness over 40 years.

“Come out of the Bone Age, Darling” (1955/2015) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Come out of the Bone Age, Darling” (1955/2015) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

And then in Unbranded: A Century of White Women, I took a period where most women in the United States weren’t legally empowered to vote and I tracked from 1915 to 2015, when the first viable female candidate for presidency was announced. So the project really becomes this timeline of American history through the lens of this notion of a white, female identity from a period where it was very uniform and very controlled.

The Truth Booth in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2013 (photo by Jim Ricks courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

The Truth Booth in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2013 (photo by Jim Ricks courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

AM: You started a project in 2011 called The Truth Booth. Why did you start that project?

HWT: It’s important to mention it’s a collaboration with Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks and Will Sylvester. It’s really about perspectives – how different people can have a different perspective on the same object or issue. The truth is something very contentious that people fight and kill each other over and debate. And The Truth Booth became a platform for it – a forum to invite all versions of the truth.

AM: What were some of the things that you heard from The Truth Booth?

HWT: Over 10,000 people went in The Truth Booth and the beauty is seeing the wisdom that different people share and recognizing how our prejudices based on someone’s look or their age or their geographics limit our ability to hear them.

AM: Your work Question Bridge aims to fight stereotypes of African American men. What are the biggest challenges around fighting stereotypes?

HWT: Question Bridge is a collaboration with Chris Johnson, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair. The biggest challenge is that we’re told at a very young age not to judge a book by its cover, and then taught by society always to put on a good cover and to judge everyone else by the cover that they put on.

An audience viewing the video installation “Question Bridge” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

An audience viewing the video installation “Question Bridge” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

The challenge is recognizing the hypocrisy in this and that two people can be from the same family and have very diverse cultural experiences and views on life. Therefore, how likely is it that people from socially fabricated groups of millions of people have more in common than they do with anyone else? Question Bridge is really trying to show that there’s as much diversity in any given demographic as there is outside of it.

Crossroads (2012) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Crossroads (2012) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: And that is why you say that race is a myth.

HWT: Well, yes, it was created to keep certain people in control and certain people under the thumb of that control.

AM: As an African-American artist, what kinds of preconceptions do you face?

HWT: I think there’s a preconception that I think about race a lot. Probably true, because it’s not real, and it shapes my life. So how can I not think about it a lot? But I’ve learned enough to not presume that people are presuming things about me or about my work, meaning there are many times where I’ve been misjudged or prejudged, but there are many times where I’ve misjudged and prejudged viewers – African American and non African American.

Installation view of Hank Willis Thomas’ sculpture “Liberty” (2015) in City Hall Park in New York City (photo by Jason Wyche courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Public Art Fund)

Installation view of Hank Willis Thomas’ sculpture “Liberty” (2015) in City Hall Park in New York City (photo by Jason Wyche courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Public Art Fund)

AM: It takes courage to put out some of the work that you’ve created. Do you ever feel nervous about how your work might be received – that it’s too provocative?

HWT: Well, I think provocative is good as long as it’s not destructive. I think I don’t ever make things with the agenda of being harmful or destructive, but you never know if somebody might perceive something that is made in one spirit in a very different way.

One view of Thomas’ neon sculpture “Love Overrules” in San Francisco, California (photo by Mariah Tiffany courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Sites Unseen)

One view of Thomas’ neon sculpture “Love Overrules” in San Francisco, California (photo by Mariah Tiffany courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Sites Unseen)

AM: You have two recently installed public sculptures, All Power to All People (an Afro pick) and Love Over Rules. Can you tell me a bit about them?

HWT: Public space is more and more contended about what kind of objects, who we celebrate, and what we celebrate. So I decided that I wanted to make statements, and one of the statements my cousin made that had a profound effect on me was, “Love overrules.” I thought of that being read multiple ways, both as “overrules” and “over rules” and the different ways you can interpret a single statement. So the neon flicker is between saying “Love Overrules” and “Love Rules” and “Love Over Rules.” In public space, where most of it is dominated by ads and commerce, putting things out that make different kinds of statements is important.

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 public sculpture “All Power to All People” in Philadelphia (photo by Steve Weinik courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Philadelphia Mural Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 public sculpture “All Power to All People” in Philadelphia (photo by Steve Weinik courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Philadelphia Mural Arts)

With Afro pick, I was inspired by artists like Claes Oldenburg, who would notoriously put different everyday objects – whether they be a spoon or clothespin or a symbol – into the public space as a sculpture. I decided that Afro pick would be an important thing to add to that lexicon.

AM: What are some of your upcoming projects?

Thomas speaking at Design Miami on the topic "Concept, Abstraction and Blackness" with Torkwase Dyson and Dozie Kanu (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Design Miami)

Thomas speaking at Design Miami on the topic “Concept, Abstraction and Blackness” with Torkwase Dyson and Dozie Kanu (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Design Miami)

HWT: There’s an equal justice initiative, which is in Alabama. It’s led by Bryan Stevenson. He’s opening a national lynching memorial. So I’ll be having a sculpture on display in that park and we’ll be working on public sculptures at Brooklyn Bridge in New York as well as exhibitions at museums in Oregon as well as Delaware and Florida and Chicago in 2018.

AM: Do you feel that this is a good time to be an artist?

HWT: Is there ever a bad time or is there ever a good time? All we really have is now, but now is then, and then is now. So that’s what I’m trying to encourage myself to think about – that we sometimes think about our moment as if it’s the first or the last – but it’s part of a much larger continuum.

For more information on Hank Willis Thomas, please visit hankwillisthomas.com.

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INTERVIEW WITH ANNE DUDLEY

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning British composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Award-winning British composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

In a career spanning more than four decades, UK composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley has accumulated an impressive number of awards for her evocative music, including an Academy Award, a Grammy, and the 2017 Ivor Novello Award for outstanding contribution to British music.

Classically trained at the Royal College of Music and Kings College, she also had an early passion for jazz and popular music. This led to session keyboard work and arranging music for dozens of artists including ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Pet Shop Boys, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Seal and Elton John.

In 1983, she co-founded the influential British synth-pop band Art of Noise, which pioneered the use of sampling and released several international hits, including the Grammy-award-winning “Peter Gunn.”

Anne Dudley and J. J. Jeczalik of the Art of Noise with Tom Jones (centre), who recorded the hit single "Kiss" with the band in 1987 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley and J. J. Jeczalik of the Art of Noise with Tom Jones (centre), who recorded the hit single “Kiss” with the band in 1987 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Dudley is also a critically acclaimed soundtrack composer. She won an Oscar for her soundtrack for The Full Monty (1997) and has written scores for more than 40 other movies and TV series, including The Crying Game (1992), Pushing Tin (1999), Tristan & Isolde (2006), Les Misérables (2012), Elle (2016) and the BBC TV series Poldark.

An album of Anne Dudley's music from the BBC TV series Poldark (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

An album of Anne Dudley’s music from the BBC TV series Poldark (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Dudley has recorded several albums of her own work, including the critically acclaimed Ancient & Modern (1995) and most recently Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise.

She was recently commissioned to write a suite for violin and orchestra based on the 2013 award-winning children’s book The Man with the Violin.

Written by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Dusan Petricic, the book was inspired by a 2007 experiment initiated by The Washington Post in which concert violinist Joshua Bell busked incognito in a Washington, D.C. subway station and was virtually ignored.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Dudley, who was at her UK home, on Dec. 11, 2017 in advance of the Canadian premiere of a multi-media production of The Man with the Violin at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on Dec. 20, 2017.

World premiere of the multi-media work The Man with the Violin, featuring music by Anne Dudley, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

World premiere of the multi-media work The Man with the Violin, featuring music by Anne Dudley, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

AM: How did you get involved in creating the music for The Man with the Violin?

AD: I met Joshua Bell a few years ago when I wrote some children’s pieces with the cellist Steven Isserlis. We did some musical fairy tales for a chamber group and Joshua and Steven have often played these pieces. So I met Joshua when he was rehearsing the first of these pieces, which is called the Little Red Violin. I think he probably suggested that I might a suitable person to do this piece.

Virtuoso violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre)

Virtuoso violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre)

AM: Did you know about the actual story behind The Man with the Violin?

AD: I knew vaguely about it. This particular incident seems to be well-known all over the world. So I did know the story but I didn’t know a book had been made about it.

AM: How did the process of working on the piece unfold?

AD: It was interesting because the book is mostly pictures – very little dialogue, very little narration. If you were to just read it from end to end it would probably only take about a minute. I had to devise a way of expanding this to be a piece that lasts about 12, 13 minutes. So it was a process of a collaboration between me and the animators to discuss how to put scenes into the book.

As soon as the animators began to start on the pictures, there was plenty of material to be working with. But when I first started off, they hadn’t started and we were both sort of starting from nothing. So it was a process of collaboration. They showed me what they were doing and then I’d play them a bit of what I was doing, and then it went back and forth.

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin featuring animation by Normal Studio of Dusan Petricic's illustrations from the 2013 book (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin featuring animation by Normal Studio of Dusan Petricic’s illustrations from the 2013 book (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

AM: How did you determine the style of the music?

AD: I wanted it to be approachable for a family audience but I also wanted it to have a degree of virtuosity because Joshua is an amazing violinist and I wanted to do something that would show off his particular talents. He has a particularly beautiful, lyrical style – a lovely tone, an absolutely massive, gorgeous sound.

Violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo by Chris Lee)

Violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo by Chris Lee)

The whole piece is about music being transformative and being beautiful. So it had to be beautiful – and I hope some of it is. And then you have the contrast with the world of the train and the underground. So parts of it are quite dissonant and quite rhythmic and quite loud.

AM: Could you describe the set-up of your home studio and how you work with visuals when writing for film or television?

AD: Usually when I’m writing film music or TV music I get the picture first and the picture dictates the structure of the music. It was a bit different on this piece. I have set-up where I have a Pro Tools rig, which is playing the picture.

And I am quite a traditionalist really, and I’m also a piano player, so I like to compose at the piano, and the piano becomes my orchestra. I do a degree of orchestration just working at my desk and working in my head, but I do like to use the piano as part of my composing process.

Anne Dudley recording her album "A Different Light," which was released in 2001 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley recording her album “A Different Light,” which was released in 2001 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: Your work has always been innovative. What are the new elements in this piece?

AD: I’ve never written a piece for solo violin and orchestra, but also the particular combination of the animation with the storytelling is so lovely because the animators are really clever. The animation is running live but the orchestra’s not playing to a click-track. So every performance will be slightly different.

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

But the animators have devised a method of working whereby if the music is going slightly faster or slightly slower than before, they have a little bit of leeway. So it’s the perfect combination of the excitement of a live performance without a click track and a film performance.

AM: Did you go to the world premiere of the piece in Washington earlier this year?

AD: Yes, I did. It was great. I really enjoyed it – fantastic. Great orchestra, Joshua was wonderful, it was lovely.

Anne Dudley's 2001 album "A Different Light" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley’s 2001 album “A Different Light” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What do you see as the message of the piece?

AD: It’s that we need to take time to listen. This piece revolves around the child who’s listening, and his mother, who’s not listening. She’s not listening to anything. She’s not even listening to him. So their relationship has become slightly dysfunctional because clearly she’s off in her own world and she’s not really relating to him. And when they listen together, something special happens.

I hope people don’t lose this wonderful experience of listening together. I see so many people and they’ve got their earphones in and they’re listening to their own music. And that’s great, that’s fine. But there is a sort of collective experience that we have going to a concert or playing music together or actually being with other people and encountering a work of art as a group is something really special.

Anne Dudley reunited with two other Art of Music founding members, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan, in a performance at Liverpool Sound City Music Festival on May 25, 2017 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley reunited with two other Art of Music founding members, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan, in a performance at Liverpool Sound City Music Festival on May 25, 2017 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What were your own first memories of music?

AD: My family aren’t musicians but we always had a lot of records and they played a lot of records. One of the earliest memories I have is hearing Danny Kaye singing the “Ugly Duckling.” It’s a classic, really, and there’s an absolutely beautiful moment in it where the Ugly Duckling becomes a swan. And this is reflected so wonderfully in the music.

Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

And I remember being totally transported by this moment, where the whole arrangement of the music changes. That’s a piece that I haven’t heard for years and years and years, but I know if I was to hear it I would know every bit of it because it really became a piece that I would obsess about and want to hear it all the time. I must have been about 5 or 6 at the time.

AM: When you were younger, did you have the ability to imagine an orchestration?

AD: Yes, I think I’ve always been entranced by an orchestra. I can’t remember the first time I saw an orchestra, but when I was learning the piano, if I was to be playing a Mozart sonata, I would be thinking about if I were to arrange this for an orchestra, who would play this line – would it be woodwind, would it be strings? And still today, if I hear something, and I think “ Wow! That’s fantastic orchestration,” I’ll make an attempt to find the score and see exactly how it’s done. I think it’s something you learn all the time – all your life.

AM: How did music become your career?

AD: I always knew that I had to be a musician. There wasn’t really any choice. I never had any Plan B. But I didn’t know quite what sort of music or what sort of musician I would be because I’m not a virtuoso pianist in any way. In fact, I used to play the clarinet. That was really my first study. And I didn’t study composition at college. I just sort of drifted into it, really, by doing arrangements and orchestrations for people. But music was always going to be my career. There wasn’t any doubt about that.

The 1987 Art of Noise album "In No Sense? Nonsense!" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

The 1987 Art of Noise album “In No Sense? Nonsense!” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: You studied classical music, but your first work was in popular music. How did you make that transition?

AD: From quite a young age I was also interested in jazz and I used to listen to great jazz pianists – Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson. I couldn’t play jazz at all at first but I really wanted to, so I went off and I had some jazz piano lessons.

A really good teacher taught me how jazz is constructed and how it’s related to classical music. So when I was about 14, 15, 16, I began to play in little jazz bands and pop bands. Even while I was at college I was doing that to earn money, and you meet people. I met Trevor Horn at a very early stage. I was about 20 playing in a band, and he was also playing in the band, and he was trying to get into music production, and I was trying to get into session keyboard playing and arranging, and he gave me my first job. And things grew from there really.

AM: How did your work with the Art of Noise influence the work that you did later on?

AD: Art of Noise was a band that was obsessed with technology. We loved technology and we tried to do as much with the technology as the technology could stand. We had one of these early sampling instruments, which is called the Fairlight, and we would sample things like people talking and doors slamming, and play with different pitches.

It was quite experimental. It was always quite a surprise to me that it was ever remotely successful because it was never really meant to be. It was meant to be quite avant-garde and off-the-wall.

Looking at it from the perspective of nowadays, I’ve always been interested in sound, and working in film music you have to be very aware that the music is only one part of the sound – there’s a whole sound design going on as well. So I feel that that’s something that may have started with my work with the Art of Noise. A consciousness of how music is part of a whole sound picture.

The soundtrack album featuring Anne Dudley's music for the 2006 romantic drama "Tristan & Isolde" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

The soundtrack album featuring Anne Dudley’s music for the 2006 romantic drama “Tristan & Isolde” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

But also, in my film music I still like – if it’s appropriate – to incorporate electronic as well as live stuff. And you know, it was spirited. It had a great spirit of creativity about it. It was good fun and I suppose I’ve always aimed to have quite good fun at things that I do.

AM: You have composed dozens of soundtracks for films and TV series. How do you get the inspiration to compose when you have a deadline?

AM: Well, actually I prefer to have a deadline. If I’ve got all the time in the world I procrastinate a bit. I think the inspiration comes from playing the piano, really. And improvising – from finding a chord sequence that you like, from finding the notes that fit together in a nice way, and building it from there.

AM: You’ve collaborated over the years with many people. What is the key to a successful collaboration?

AD: It’s hard to put any hard and fast rules to it. It depends on the person. I’ve had directors who are incredibly demanding and other people would find them very difficult. But I have respect for people if I think they’re right. I don’t mind how difficult they are because that will inspire better things from me. I think I’ve been very lucky in that most of the time I’ve collaborated with people who are brilliant. And the best thing is if they are brilliant geniuses, then they can raise the standard of your own work. So I’m on the lookout for genius people.

AM: What are some of the highlights of your career?

AD: I suppose it was quite fun to be in a pop group in the ‘80s. Pop in the ‘80s was such a big part of people’s lives, and in Britain there’s this program called Top of the Pops, which was the most important pop program. And I, as a kid, Thursday night you had to watch Top of the Pops. And then one week we were on it! And I never forgot that.

AM: What is your daily routine like?

AD: I try and work regular hours. I work from about 9 til 5 or 6. If I’m really busy I will then go and work in the evenings as well, but I don’t really like to do that. One day I might be in the studio recording, then I might be spending several days orchestrating something because that’s a very time-consuming process.

Anne Dudley on the River Thames conducting one of her compositions at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in June 2012 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley on the River Thames conducting one of her compositions at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in June 2012 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Or I might be writing something or I might be meeting somebody and talking about what we’re doing. Or I might be in the studio mixing something. It does depend, but I like to have some sort of pattern so that something gets done every day.

Today we’re mixing a TV film that I’ve just done, and we’re wrestling with power cuts, actually. We had just had a very large fall of snow over the weekend and being Britain, of course, we can’t cope with snow. We’ve had about six inches of snow and we’ve had one or two strange power cuts today, which is a nightmare. We were actually mixing and we had a power cut and it sort of just ripped the power out of the computer and it had to be rebooted.

Anne Dudley conducting at Royal Albert Hall (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley conducting at Royal Albert Hall (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What will you be working on in the coming year?

AD: There will be another Poldark. Also, I’m producing an album for the lead actress in Poldark, called Eleanor Tomlinson. She’s a singer and I’m producing an album for her. I’ll be playing piano and doing arrangements for it. And I’ve also got a solo piano album called Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise, which I did for a Japanese label because the Art of Noise is big in Japan. I’ve used the piano in quite an experimental way. I’ve used prepared piano and I’ve sampled it and I’ve used it as a percussion instrument – playing a rhythmic pattern on the lid and on the soundboard. That’s something that I’ll be continuing with and finishing in the new year.

The Man with the Violin will receive its Canadian premiere in a holiday concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Dec. 20, 2017. For more information about Anne Dudley and her work, please visit annedudley.co.uk

 

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INTERVIEW WITH SASS JORDAN

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

By Anita Malhotra

Toronto-based rock singer Sass Jordan’s earthy vocals and powerful lyrics have rocked North American ears ever since she released her debut album Tell Somebody in 1988.

Recipient of a 1989 Juno award for Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year, she went on the record several successful albums, among them Racine (1992), which produced four Canadian hit singles, and the critically-acclaimed Rats (1994).

Jordan has also worked as a theatre and television actress and was a judge on Canadian Idol for the six-year run of the show. This year, she celebrated the 25th anniversary of Racine by releasing Racine Revisited, a reimagined re-recording of her 1992 album Racine.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Jordan, who was at her home in Toronto, on Oct. 27, 2017 following her tour of the Netherlands and Germany and in advance of her Nov. 7 show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

AM: How has your tour been going?

SJ: I always get thrown by the word tour because in my world, tour means you go out for a couple of months and you don’t even come home at all during that time. Actually, I did do two weeks in the Netherlands and Germany, but I’ve been doing what you could call one-offs. All of that to say, it’s going fantastically.

Sass Jordan performing in Arnhem, the Netherlands on Sept. 15, 2017 (photo by Gernot Mangold)

Sass Jordan performing in Arnhem, the Netherlands on Sept. 15, 2017 (photo by Gernot Mangold)

I’m doing a different type of show starting in November where I’m going to be doing the Racine Revisited album front to back semi-acoustically, but in a format of storytelling. It’s like I’m telling the stories with the soundtrack of the music. So I’ll play a couple of songs, then I’ll tell a story or two, then I’ll play a couple more songs, tell a story. There’s two 45-minute sets of that, which I’m super excited about.

AM: So the stories will be about your life at the time when you recorded the music?

SJ: More about the writing of the songs, which of course includes my life. Just telling the story of the writing of the song and how that song came about. And hopefully the rest of the band will have little stories about what they were doing in ‘92, along with people who are at the show. I’m hoping they’ll want to be involved in the stories as well, or ask questions. I want it to be interactive – as if we’ve all gone out for dinner together and we’ve all had a glass of wine, and now we’re sitting around after dinner just telling stories with music. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MARIE CHOUINARD

By Anita Malhotra

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

Renowned Montreal-based choreographer and dancer Marie Chouinard is known for her groundbreaking dance works and exploration of the human body. Starting in 1978, she built her reputation with highly personal, experimental solo works, some of which attracted controversy. She formed her own dance company, La Compagnie Marie Chouinard, in 1990, and her more than 50 dance creations have been performed to acclaim in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world.

James Viveiros and Kirsten Andersen in Chouinard's 2005 work "bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS" (photo by Marie Chouinard)

James Viveiros and Kirsten Andersen in Chouinard’s 2005 work “bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS” (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Chouinard has received many national and international awards, including the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Order of Canada. She was recently appointed Director of the Venice Biennale’s dance section for 2017-2020. She is also active in other media such as film, multimedia, drawing and poetry, and has even created an iPhone app.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Marie Chouinard, who was at her home in Montreal, on July 10, 2017 about upcoming performances in Ottawa of two of her recent works: Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights and In Museum V2.

AM: How did your dance piece Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights come about? What was the impetus behind that work?

Chouinard's 2016 work "Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights" (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

Chouinard’s 2016 work “Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights” (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

MC: First of all the impetus for me is always creation. I love to create. This is a passion and a joy, and my job is to create. Why did I create this specific piece? I was invited by the organization of the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronymus Bosch to create a piece and perform it in their festival. There was this immensely big event organized in Holland around the death of this man 500 years ago. I love Bosch, I love this painter, and I immediately said, “Yes, I will do that.”

Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch painted "The Garden of Earthly Delights," sometime between 1490 and 1510 (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch painted “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” sometime between 1490 and 1510 (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

AM: How did you go about translating the three parts of the painting into dance?

Marie Chouinard's "Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights" (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

Marie Chouinard’s “Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights” (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

MC: The three panels of the triptych are full of bodies – full of people moving to different positions. There are hundreds of bodies everywhere in those paintings. So for me it was like seeing a snapshot of a moment in an immense dance of so many people everywhere. It was a joyous exploration to try to put all the bodies of the dancers into these positions and then say, “Okay, what might have been the movement before that and what might have been the movement after that position?” It started like that. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH LEVI PONCE

Levi Ponce (photo by Jim Newberry)

Levi Ponce (photo by Jim Newberry)

By Anita Malhotra

Los Angeles artist Levi Ponce is best known for his large-scale public murals, which he began creating in 2011 to beautify his neglected childhood neighborhood of Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. His work inspired other muralists to do the same, establishing an area in Pacoima that’s become known as the the “Mural Mile.”

Ponce’s personal and commercial artwork can also be found in Venice Beach, throughout the U.S., and in Mexico and Turkey. He has been recognized for his efforts with awards from Los Angeles City Council and members of the California State Assembly and Congress.

"Logic and Imagination," a mural portraying Einstein by Levi Ponce painted in December 2013 (photo by Chloe Cumbow)

“Logic and Imagination,” a mural portraying Einstein by Levi Ponce painted in December 2013 (photo by Chloe Cumbow)

Also an animator and digital compositor, Ponce has worked on such films as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Interstellar. He currently works at Walt Disney Imagineering.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Ponce, who was at his Los Angeles home, by phone on March 11, 2017.

Levi Ponce with his mural "Dorothy" (photo by Javier Martinez)

Levi Ponce with his mural “Dorothy” (photo by Javier Martinez)

AM: What was your first exposure to art as a child?

LP: I’ve always been around art. My dad’s a sign painter, so ever since I was a child I went all over town, up and down Los Angeles, painting signs with him. Painting signs exposed me not only to my father’s art of sign painting and murals and graphics but also to the art around the city and the art on the walls – be it graffiti or other muralists like Kent Twitchell.

Levi Ponce as a child (photo by Hector Ponce)

Levi Ponce as a child (photo by Hector Ponce)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about your family and growing up in Pacoima?

LP: My dad’s an illegal immigrant from El Salvador. He’s a U.S. citizen now. My mom’s an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. She’s a U.S. citizen now. And they met here in the States in the early ‘80s. I came around in 1987, and they’ve been together since. We grew up in Pacoima – my mom was a seamstress. She worked at a sweatshop, now she cuts hair. My dad’s a sign painter to this day. And I have a brother, I have a sister, I’m the oldest of three.

Levi Ponce with his mural "Dia de Pacoima" ("Girl with a Hoop Earring"), painted in 2017 (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

Levi Ponce with his mural “Dia de Pacoima” (“Girl with a Hoop Earring”), painted in 2017 (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

AM: What inspired you to start painting murals in Pacoima?

LP: Working with my father, when we would paint we would go all over L.A. and I would see that Los Angeles had art everywhere. Downtown L.A. has art, Hollywood, the Westside, everywhere you went you saw art. Whether it was highbrow, lowbrow, there was art on the streets.

And when we came home up here to the San Fernando Valley, which is literally removed from Los Angeles, there wasn’t really any art on the walls. There was graffiti, there were some school murals, but it wasn’t what you saw in Los Angeles. So when I started painting murals there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do it in Pacoima because that’s where it needed it. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH LISA SCHULTE

Lisa Schulte with her neon sculpture "Conversation" at her Los Angeles studio on Feb. 17, 2017 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Lisa Schulte with her neon sculpture “Conversation” at her Los Angeles studio on Feb. 17, 2017 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

By Anita Malhotra

Neon artist Lisa Schulte has been creating neon for events and films in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, earning her the moniker “The Neon Queen.” 

Hired to create a futuristic city for a special event at the Pacific Design Center for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she went on to fashion neon pieces for many Hollywood films, including many in the Batman series, as well as for countless music videos, TV shows, fashion shows and special events.

"Dreams of my Father," a new work by Lisa Schulte on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Dreams of my Father,” a new work by Lisa Schulte on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Her company Nights of Neon specializes in custom manufacturing of new neon works and has produced over 10,000 custom-built pieces of neon available to rent, one of the largest collections in the world.

Ten years ago, Schulte began creating her own personal artistic works in neon, pushing the boundaries of the medium by working in unconventional ways, including with natural materials.

Her most recent works, in a new style featuring an explosive synthesis of bright colors, shapes and text, are currently on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Schulte at her studio and showroom in Van Nuys, Los Angeles on Feb. 17, 2017.

AM: How did you first get interested in art and in neon in particular?

Lisa Schulte with her work "Untitled Wood Series #7" (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Lisa Schulte with her work “Untitled Wood Series #7” (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

LS: I was always interested in art when I was growing up but I came from a family that didn’t think that you could actually pursue a career in the field of the arts, so I was not encouraged to do it. Now my father is very proud of me that I did not listen to him and continued to pursue art.

I always had a fascination with light from my earlier days. I was a lightboard operator in nightclubs and I designed and controlled the lighting system for the dance floor.

So at that early age of about 19 I became very fascinated with light and started to focus in on one particular light source, neon. Even though neon’s been around for hundreds of years in one form or another, it wasn’t really being used outside of signage. So to bring it into a nightclub atmosphere and get creative with it was the beginning of my experience with light.

"Line from Nowhere" by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Line from Nowhere” by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: Where was that?

LS: It was in San Diego, California.

AM: You had an injury to your eye when you were a child. Did that influence your interest in working with light?

LS: I think it was a very unconscious thing. I was shot in the eye with a BB gun by my brother. At the time they didn’t have very good advancements in eye surgery so they put patches over both my eyes for several months in fear that the BB was still located inside my eye and may travel to the brain and give me a blood clot. I lived in darkness for three to four months and also with the fear of possibly never being able to see out of that eye again.

The moment of being able to see again and without having to wear patches and the moment of light hitting you when you’ve lived in complete darkness was such a powerful and joyous feeling I think it did have something to do with me going into the nightclub and deciding, “This is what I want to do – I want to control those lights.”

Lisa Schulte in a section of the 17,000 square foot showroom of her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Lisa Schulte in a section of the 17,000 square foot showroom of her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

I still have a lot of problems with my eye. I have to have laser surgeries all the time to relieve the pressure, so it is such a joy 50 year later to see light. I’ve created my own world of light around me. And shaping and bending light is a pretty powerful feeling. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MARK SELIGER

By Anita Malhotra

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

Acclaimed portrait photographer Mark Seliger has photographed an impressive list of celebrities and public figures that includes Mick Jagger, Serena Williams, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama. 

Starting his career with Rolling Stone in 1987, he served as the magazine’s chief photographer from 1992 to 2002. He then moved to Condé Nast publications, where he has shot covers for the magazines Vanity Fair, Elle, Italian Vogue and GQ, among others.

Mark Seliger has also released 11 books of personal work, the most recent of which is On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories. With a foreword by Janet Mock, the book features compelling black-and-white photographs of transgender men and women pictured on the iconic Manhattan street that has symbolized gay pride since the ‘70s. 

The photos from the book were the subject of an exhibition in New York City last fall and are now being shown again, this time in Los Angeles at the Von Lintel Gallery. Anita Malhotra spoke with Mark Seliger, who was at his studio in New York City,  by telephone on Feb. 1, 2017.

D’Jamel Young and Leiomy Maldonado featured on the cover of Mark Seliger's most recent book, "Christopher Street: Transgender Stories" (photo ©Mark Seliger)

D’Jamel Young and Leiomy Maldonado featured on the cover of Mark Seliger’s most recent book, “Christopher Street: Transgender Stories” (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: How did your project Christopher Street first come about?

MS: I live in the neighborhood, on Charles Street, and I’ve always enjoyed the theater of that block. It’s almost like an Ellis Island for anybody who is in a place in their world where they’re exploring. It’s just very open. And over the last couple of years I’ve really noticed that that area has started to homogenize and gentrify.

So it started off as me shooting portraits of some of the neighborhood color and circus and fun, and re-introducing myself and asking people on the street if I could photograph them. And after about a dozen portraits, it became apparent that we were working on a more in-depth story specifically focused on transgender.

A portrait of Soya by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

A portrait of Soya by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: Was there something in particular about the transgender subjects that interested you?

MS: It was very intuitive the way that it worked out. I think that makes the best kind of project, where you just spend time in one place and then you see what it becomes.

The most active and the most visually interesting moment on the street was a mixture of the normal theatrics of the area and a lot of very early morning people working the streets and on the streets. But also it’s obviously the hub of gay pride, and Christopher Street has a historical placement as well with the LGBT community and with Stonewall, so it really is a destination.

Amos Mac photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Amos Mac photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Fifty percent of my focus is always a process. So we were shooting with one kind of camera that I tested out and figured out that was what I wanted to do, and sticking with an environmental background on just one street. And then choosing black-and-white and just focusing on that.

AM: What camera were you using?

MS: A Hasselblad. It’s an analog, square-format camera I’ve had for many years.

AM: Was there a particular process you used to print the photos?

MS: We were printing on silver gelatin, so darkroom. Everything was done through an analog process.

NiTee Spady in a portrait by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

NiTee Spady in a portrait by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: In your work for magazines, I believe you usually come up with a concept or an idea for a photo. How did you go about conceiving these portraits?

MS: The portraits are really done from the street. One of the alluring aspects for me was just go on the street and meet people and take their picture. Some of them didn’t last more than six to ten frames, and sometimes we shot two or three rolls on somebody. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTIAN MUNGIU

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu (photo © Dan Beleiu)

Romanian film director and Cannes award-winner Cristian Mungiu (photo © Dan Beleiu)

By Anita Malhotra

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu has distinguished himself with a series of award-winning films that explore social issues in Romania in a highly realistic style. The best known of these is the riveting drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about a young woman going to great lengths to help a friend obtain an illegal abortion during the late Communist era. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, the first time a Romanian film had won this prize.

He followed it with two more Cannes award-winners: Beyond the Hills (2012), based on a tragic incident that took place in 2005 in a Romanian monastery, and Graduation (2016), about a doctor who uses a corrupt system to ensure his daughter’s academic success.

Poster for Cristian Mungiu's film Bacalaureat (Graduation), which shared Best Director prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Poster for Mungiu’s film Bacalaureat (Graduation), which shared Best Director prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Mungiu, who was a writer before becoming a filmmaker, is also internationally known for the six-part black comedy Tales from the Golden Age (2009), which he wrote and produced.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Mungiu, who was at his office in Bucharest, by telephone on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.

Director Cristian Mungiu on the set of <em>Graduation</em> (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Mungiu on the set of Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

AM: I wanted to start by asking about your latest film, Graduation [Bacalaureat], which won a Best Director Award at Cannes this year and had its Canadian premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. What are the next steps for the film?

CM: The film was bought as a screenplay by many countries and was later sold during the Cannes Film Festival to some other territories. Now I’m in this period when I have to travel and accompany the film because the film starts theatrically in the 40-something countries where it was sold. I started doing this in August in Italy, and I was very happy to see that it was the best-performing art house film in Italy this year.

Still from Mungiu's 2016 film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Still from Mungiu’s 2016 film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

I will start tomorrow with a small trip accompanying the film to the London Film Festival and New York Film Festival screenings. And by the end of the year it will start theatrically in 15 to 20 countries and I will probably be present at 10 festivals. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH BENJAMIN VON WONG

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

By Anita Malhotra

Toronto-born, 29-year-old photographer Benjamin Von Wong pushes the technical and artistic limits of photography like few other photographers do. His elaborately staged, fantastical photographs – often set in unconventional locations – look like they were created using photo editing software but are the result of painstakingly planned and executed real-life shoots.

His photo shoots have featured people dressed as superheroes posing precariously on the edge of a skyscraper’s roof, a model dressed as a shepherdess in an underwater cave with sharks swimming nearby, and fire used for dramatic effect in a variety of settings. All his shoots are documented with behind-the-scene videos that are as fascinating as the photographs themselves.

"Salvation," a self-portrait by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Salvation,” a self-portrait by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

Von Wong (he added the “Von” when he discovered there was another photographer with his name) also has a strong interest in altruistic causes. In 2013, he produced a Go Fund Me video for a girl with a terminal genetic disease that brought in one million dollars in donations in a month, and he is currently using his unique style of photography to highlight environmental issues.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Benjamin Von Wong by Skype on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

"Home" by Benjamin Von Wong, featuring Ka Amorastreya (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Home” by Benjamin Von Wong, featuring Ka Amorastreya (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Where are actually you Skyping from?

BVW: I’m currently in San Francisco. I recently decided that this was going to be my new home base. And I just got back from about six weeks of travel though Europe less than a week ago.

"Deadpool" by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Deadpool” by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Why did you move to San Francisco?

BVW: I wanted to be surrounded by dreamers and entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place. I used to be in Montreal, and as much as I love the city, my feeling was that every time I came back home nothing changed. Whereas I can go away for two months and come back to San Francisco and it’s a whole new world every single time. It’s only been about nine months now, half of which I’ve spent travelling, but it’s been an amazing choice for me to move here and have the opportunity to interact with all these different companies and corporations and individuals. Continue reading

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