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.

Paige Culley, Valeria Galluccio, Morgane Le Tiec and Megan Walbaum in Chouinard's "Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights" (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

Paige Culley, Valeria Galluccio, Morgane Le Tiec and Megan Walbaum in Chouinard’s “Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights” (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

AM: So you’re actually recreating what we would see in the painting itself.

MC: Exactly. Especially all the human movements, the body, because there are so many things in the painting of Bosch. You have little devils and little monsters and little animals and all sorts of bizarre things. But I put all my attention on the human body.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about In Museum V2?

MC: This is another world. This is a performance danced outside over a period of two hours where the audience can come and go. Members of the audience are invited one by one to come to the dancer and share an intimate desire or a personal wish. The dancer then does a spontaneous dance that is a call to the stars, a call to destiny, so that the wish might be realized.

Members of La Compagnie Marie Chouinard performing "In Museum V2" on Mount Royal Avenue in Montreal (photo by Stéphane Pilon)

Members of La Compagnie Marie Chouinard performing “In Museum V2” on Mount Royal Avenue in Montreal (photo by Stéphane Pilon)

The audience member communicates his or her wish in a very discreet manner –whispering into the ear of the dancer. So it’s a very intimate connection and at the same time, the dance itself is shared with everybody.

Marie Chouinard (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

Marie Chouinard (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

AM: You have performed this piece in the past, but this time others are performing it.

MC: Yes, when I created this performance it was a three-hour-long solo that I was dancing in a museum. Now I’m very happy to offer it to my dancers. In Ottawa, two dancers – Carol Prieur and Valeria Galluccio – will perform in rotation.

AM: Do you still dance sometimes?

MC: Oh, yes.

AM: Can you tell me about your daily routine?

MC: I am doing so many different things. First of all I’m a choreographer, but I’m also an artistic director of a festival in Italy at the Venice Biennale and the director of two colleges over there.

Dominique Porte in Chouinard's 1993 work "Le Sacre du Printemps" (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Dominique Porte in Chouinard’s 1993 work “Le Sacre du Printemps” (photo by Marie Chouinard)

I’m creating pieces not only for my own company but for other companies in the world. I’m also the general director of my company. I’m writing, I’m doing visual arts – it’s very joyous, intense and multi-faceted. And I’m still training. And I’ve raised my family. I have a son – he’s now 20 years old.

AM: Where did your first interest in dance come from?

MC: This question brings me back to when I was a kid swimming. Swimming in the pool and remembering the love I had for organized gestures in the water to pull the water back so I could advance – the movement of the head and the breathing, the sound of the bubbles in the water, the regularity and the precision of that. After swimming for many lengths of the pool suddenly I got into another dimension of being.

I guess that was my first introduction to the love of dance. I had been taking ballet class before that but I had not experienced such a profound, connective feeling with movement and the breath.

Carol Prieur in "bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

Carol Prieur in “bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

AM: And you had early experiences with theatre as well?

MC: Yes, I took many theatre classes when I was in my teenage years.

Marie Chouinard performing her solo work S.T.A.B. (Space, Time and Beyond) in 1986 (Photo by Louise Oligny)

Marie Chouinard performing her solo work S.T.A.B. (Space, Time and Beyond) in 1986 (Photo by Louise Oligny)

AM: You’re known for breaking choreographic boundaries. Where does that impetus come from?

MC: I don’t think my impetus is breaking boundaries – my impetus is creation. My impetus is exploring unknown lands. Creating means you do something that has not been done before. You put something into the world. I guess that putting something into the world is sometimes bringing people outside of the box. But I’m not thinking of going outside of the box, I am out of the box.

AM: You must have had some negative reactions at the beginning with some of your controversial works.

MC: Since the very first creation there was a buzz and a feeling of love for my work. I’m so lucky. It’s a very big privilege to create art and that your art gets appreciated. My dancers have now been touring the world for the last 30 years. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful.

AM: There are a lot of musical and sound elements in your work. Why do you integrate music and sound?

MC: Because my art is an art in time and space, with bodies and sound and light. As an artist I am totally engaged in all aspects of my creation. I’m taking care of the scenography, the video, the costumes and the sound – everything but the music, which is created by Louis Dufort. Louis Dufort is a little genius. I love his music and I am so happy to work with him for 20 years now.

James Viveiros and Carol Prieur in Chouinard's "Le Sacre du printemps" (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

James Viveiros and Carol Prieur in Chouinard’s “Le Sacre du printemps” (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

AM: As I perceive it, there’s a lot of sexuality in your works. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MC: You use the word “sexuality,” but I just think I’m using the body. I’m just engaging the body into movement. When you look at a flower, would you say you are witnessing a sexual moment? It is. A flower when it is opening is a sexual activity. And when the trees are blooming, you don’t say, “Oh, this is sexual.” When I offer a flower I’m not thinking that I’m offering the sex of a plant. I’m just offering a flower. Well, in creation, it’s the same. When I create a work, I don’t think sex. I just think life, the force of life, the impetus of life, the beauty of the bodies.

AM: You have written a book of poetry – Chantier des extases. Why did you write it?

MC: Because I’m a creator. Because I’m also drawing, doing photographs – I’m creating so many things. Because I have joy in creation, because I like to create.

Marie Chouinard with Frédéric Mitterrand receiving the grade de chevalière de l’Ordre des arts et des lettres de la France in 2009 (photo by Farida Bréchemier)

Marie Chouinard with Frédéric Mitterrand receiving the grade de chevalière de l’Ordre des arts et des lettres de la France in 2009 (photo by Farida Bréchemier)

AM: You also created an iPhone app called Cantique. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

MC: You can download it for free on your iPhone or your iPad. It’s kind of a game. Using the icons, the player can alter the dancer’s face and the sound in real time, creating an original choreographic dialogue with endless possibilities. It’s beautiful, joyous and surprising. It is about communication between human beings.

AM: How would you encourage non-dancers to be part of the love of dance if they haven’t had formal training?

Carol Prieur in Marie Chouinard's "Henri Michaux: Mouvements" (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Carol Prieur in Marie Chouinard’s “Henri Michaux: Mouvements” (photo by Marie Chouinard)

MC: First of all they could just walk in a wood or walk by a lake. Just walking and feeling the breath as they walk and feeling all the body parts as they walk. Feeling the wholeness of it and the breathing at the same time. Perceiving that mind gets into the realm of perceptions and sensation and communion with the environment and the soul and the spirit of life. That’s already a lot. If you get that, wow!

La Compagnie Marie Chouinard will perform Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on July 14, 2017 and In Museum V2 at the National Gallery of Canada on July 15. For more information about Marie Chouinard and her work please visit mariechouinard.com.

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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.

Ponce's "The Day The Music Died" (November 2012) featuring Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Roger Peterson and Ritchie Valens (photo by Javier Martinez)

Ponce’s “The Day The Music Died” (November 2012) featuring Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Roger Peterson and Ritchie Valens (photo by Javier Martinez)

AM: Tell me about your first mural in Pacoima.

LP: The first one I did was Danny Trejo – it was December 3rd, 2011. It’s not the first mural I ever did. I’ve been painting murals since I was in diapers, with my father. I painted murals at my high school. I’ve always painted, but that’s the first mural I did with the intent of making a change in my community.

Levi Ponce with actor Danny Trejo (R) in front of Ponce's December 2011 mural of Trejo (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

Levi Ponce with actor Danny Trejo (R) in front of Ponce’s December 2011 mural of Trejo (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

So I went out by myself, and by the end of that project I had three volunteers. And we had such a great time – Danny Trejo himself came out. We decided to paint another one the next weekend and another one the weekend after that and we just kind of kept going. And a couple of years later we had a long stretch that the media started recognizing, and it was dubbed the “Mural Mile.”

Ponce with his mural "Ramona Lisa," painted in June 2012 with the assistance of R@H and Kristy Sandoval (photo by Javier Martinez)

Ponce with his mural “Ramona Lisa,” painted in June 2012 with the assistance of R@H and Kristy Sandoval (photo by Javier Martinez)

AM: What was the reaction from the community to the first murals that you painted?

LP: People loved them. Most people have seen murals but they didn’t have them in their own backyard. Coming with an arts degree and arts background I was really, I feel, elevating the standard of muralism in the area and elevating the way it was done. Before that there were other muralists in the area but they were all getting paid. I wasn’t, and I was using whatever resources I could find to get art up on the walls and gift my work. And that kind of changed the other artists’ mentality and we started seeing other artists in the area do the same, where they were gathering paint and starting to paint for free for the community.

"Pacaoima Neighborhood Mural," painted by Levi Ponce in 2013 (photo by upinthevalley.org)

“Pacaoima Neighborhood Mural,” painted by Levi Ponce in 2013 (photo by upinthevalley.org)

AM: What made you want to give to your community rather than charge for your services?

LP: I got that from my father. My father’s a free spirit, to say the least. My dad’s some kind of a hippie, some kind of a weird artist, he’s crazy. And ever since I was a child, he would always give things away and he would give things away that sometimes our family needed. I got that from him and when this all came about, the thought of charging never really crossed my mind. I’ve made a living as an artist my entire life and I’ve always charged, but this was different.

Levi Ponce (centre) with his father (far left) giving a mural tour to students from Mexico City's U.N.A.M. university (photo by Hector Ponce)

Levi Ponce (centre) with his father (far left) giving a mural tour to students from Mexico City’s U.N.A.M. university (photo by Hector Ponce)

AM: Can you describe some of the other murals that you have in the area?

LP: I try and keep it eclectic but I always paint people – I’m a portrait artist. I try and paint Latino people, but I paint everybody. Overall my work is very positive and very people-centric and I try and improve the neighborhood that I’m painting, whether it’s just aesthetics or with a message or whatever it might be.

Levi Ponce's mural of boxer Muhammad Ali (photo by Javier Martinez)

Levi Ponce’s mural of boxer Muhammad Ali (photo by Javier Martinez)

AM: How have your murals helped other people?

LP: Most people who come out have some kind of interest in art – that’s what brings them out. But I would say that change happens on different levels. We’re changing a wall and changing the aesthetic, but we’re also changing the mentality of people who help or who are surrounding the mural.

Volunteers helping out with a mural (photo by Javier Martinez)

Volunteers helping out with a mural (photo by Javier Martinez)

We’re showing them not only how they could take control of the neighborhood, but how to take control of their lives. And yeah, there’s people who are working their way out of the projects by art and who are now going to college. And there’s people who simply want to improve and get better at art.

AM: How do you make such large works of art? What’s behind it technically?

LP: I first draft something up in Photoshop and once I have that layout going I go to the wall and I transfer it. There’s very little improv on the wall, there’s very little guesswork – it’s usually all been hatched out ahead of time. That way I know what kind of colors I’ll need, how much of which color I will need, and then I can divvy up the wall knowing ahead of time what I’m painting. Usually I purchase the supplies, I show up on the wall, and I divide the work among the volunteers. I use the grid system, which has been around since Da Vinci. We just take it one square at a time on the grid. And I divide the grid accordingly, depending on skill level – paint novices and professionals and children and what-not.

AM: You’re using regular housepaint and brushes for your tools?

LP: I try to use high-quality artist acrylics, but they’re not always available, since most of the stuff I’m paying for – there’s not always a sponsor. You end up just mixing it all together.

"Mother and Child," painted by Levi Ponce and Kristy Sandoval in Istanbul, Turkey in 2015 (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

“Mother and Child,” painted by Levi Ponce and Kristy Sandoval in Istanbul, Turkey in 2015 (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

AM: And you don’t use spray-paint. Could you explain why?

LP: First of all I don’t need to, and I get much more control and better results with a brush. People tend to see it as more of an art form when you’re using acrylic and brushes whereas when you’re using cans it takes on a more temporary feeling and has an implication of vandalism that most people still haven’t shaken from their heads. So I try and not use cans, and stick to the brushes.

Levi Ponce painting in February 2013 (photo by Javier Martinez)

Levi Ponce painting in February 2013 (photo by Javier Martinez)

AM: At one point there was a ban on having murals on private property. Can you tell me about that?

LP: It was legal up until 2001 and then it became illegal. It became illegal because ad agencies had taken advantage of murals and muralists setting up large-scale advertisements and calling it art. So the city caught on, they banned all large-scale artwork. For about 12 years you couldn’t paint outdoors large-scale at all.

Ponce with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (L) in 2013 (photo by Kevin Taylor)

Ponce with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (L) in 2013 (photo by Kevin Taylor)

It was in the middle of that that I started painting. I knew what I was doing was a good thing, I saw that the community embraced it. I never once considered the law. It was as obvious to me as picking up trash off the street. It was like, “I don’t care if it’s illegal – I’m doing the right thing here. Nobody’s taking care of Pacoima, nobody’s taking care of what they call the North Valley. All the money goes to the Westside, it goes to tourist areas, it goes to the beach. So we’re going to take control of our own neighborhood and we’re going to improve our neighborhood.”

Ponce's mural "Born in the East Valley," featuring comedian Cheech Marin (photo by William Garret, Jan. 5, 2014, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

Ponce’s mural “Born in the East Valley,” featuring comedian Cheech Marin (photo by William Garret, Jan. 5, 2014, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

My work was embraced. It was loved and cherished by the same people who made it illegal. Everybody on the L.A. City Council who voted to make it illegal, I have awards from all of them. Every district up to the mayor, and including state and federal level. I’ve gotten awards all the way up. It’s funny, but the law is flexible, I have found.

Ad for a 2015 PBS SoCal documentary on Los Angeles artists featuring Levi Ponce and Peter Shire

Ad for a 2015 PBS SoCal documentary on Los Angeles artists featuring Levi Ponce and Peter Shire

AM: You had a commission to do a mural at Venice Beach. Can you tell me a bit about that?

LP: It was a commissioned piece by the Paradise Project – wonderful people. They believe that we’re all one, we’re all connected, we’re all one divine being. They promote love, they promote being happy on this earth. They wanted to promote pantheism by sharing other people who fell in line with the pantheist thought – whether they were aware of it or not. Most of them were great thinkers or philosophers or scientists. They wanted a good portrait artist – that’s how I came about. And we made it happen at Venice Beach.

AM: Where else have you painted murals?

LP: I have them mostly in the San Fernando Valley, a part of Los Angeles that I feel has been neglected art-wise. I’ve been all over – commissioned pieces and museums and festivals. I’ve been to Turkey, in Istanbul, Katikoy. I’ve been at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Yucatan – MACAY. I’ve painted commercially in the Hamptons, Tribeca, Chelsea. I’ve been in San Francisco, San Diego, and Florida a number of times. I’ve been everywhere. Wherever the brush takes me.

Levi Ponce (middle of scaffolding) taking a break from creating work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Yucatan, Mexico (photo by Alicia Anderson)

Levi Ponce (middle of scaffolding) taking a break from creating work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Yucatan, Mexico (photo by Alicia Anderson)

AM: What did you study at university?

LP: I went to school for animation and I worked in motion graphics for a while and I did animation work for years after graduating. I didn’t paint my first mural until I was 24, so for a couple of years that’s what I did and I still do it to this day. An animation degree took me into motion graphics, which took me into compositing and visual effects for the film industry here in L.A.

Ponce at New Deal Studios with other members of the miniature effects crew for "Interstellar," which won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2015

Ponce at New Deal Studios with other members of the miniature effects crew for “Interstellar,” which won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2015

I’ve worked on a number of films. I did digital compositing on Star Wars: The Force Awakens – the last Star Wars movie. I did practical VFX work on Interstellar, which won an Oscar for visual effects. It was amazing to work on that film – it was an Academy Award winning team. I’ve worked in the film industry and that kind of led me to my work at Disney Imagineering, where I’m combining animation skills, digital skills, practical skills and everything else to help create and design coming attractions.

Ponce with his mural "Dali," a 2013 portrait of Salvador Dali (photo by Javier Martinez)

Ponce with his mural “Dali,” a 2013 portrait of Salvador Dali (photo by Javier Martinez)

AM: What are your upcoming mural projects?

LP: When I first got started I did a 12-piece series. I plan on doing another 12-piece series in Pacoima. I’m taking a break. I’m not going to take on any new big pieces, significant pieces. I’m going to wait about a year or two and actually develop a 12-piece set. And once I have this set of murals I’ll take some time off from Disney Imagineering – a couple of months – and I’ll paint all 12 at the same time.

I don’t plan on taking volunteers on these pieces. I’ve always done that and I will continue to do that, but these 12 pieces will be mine. I want to really push what I can do on my own and I believe that by having the art being the best it can be, it will inspire artists in the area to pursue their dreams.

Ponce's "Tribute to Michelangelo," painted in August 2013 (photo by Levi Ponce)

Ponce’s “Tribute to Michelangelo,” painted in August 2013 (photo by Levi Ponce)

A lot of people say you can’t make it as an artist and it’s hard to make a living. And that’s a lie – you can. I see it at Disney all the time, I see it at all the other major studios in L.A. There are so many ways to make a living as an artist. It’s just that most artists aren’t aware of them. They think that art is paint on a canvas. They think of design and drawings in a notebook, and while that’s very true, those same skills can be applied to a variety of different jobs across the board in the entertainment industry – high-paying jobs – and you just need to be aware of them so you can train for them and apply for them. And that’s part of what I’m preaching – part of what I tell people when they come out and paint.

For more information about Levi Ponce and his art, please visit leviponce.com.

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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.

"Rotating Emotions #1" by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Rotating Emotions #1” by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: When did you create your first neon?

LS: I decided I wanted to seriously take this on in the early ‘80s. I couldn’t really communicate to the sign companies what I wanted. I was dealing with a bunch old men that were used to making subway signs or Nike signs, and here I come along as this young kid wanting to do three-dimensional shapes and things that run on batteries.

I was hitting walls left and right and I felt like I needed to learn how to bend it. It wasn’t an easy thing. There were no schools like there are now. So I found this guy in Salina, Kansas that was a master tube-bender and asked him if he would be interested in letting me study under him. He agreed and I went and learned by a really great master.

Lisa Schulte and staff at Nights of Neon on Feb. 17, 2017 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Lisa Schulte and staff at Nights of Neon (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: How is a work of neon made?

LS: The actual bending of the neon starts with a straight piece of glass four or five feet in length and you follow a paper pattern – every place that you see a curve or a bend or a 90 degree angle. You create your design in your head, put it on paper, then you scan it. I have a large plotter that prints it out if I want to go 40 feet or four feet. What I do is very costly and very time-consuming so there’s very little room for error.

Part of the Nights of Neon showroom (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Part of the Nights of Neon showroom (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: It can be dangerous as well.

LS: Yup, I have burns all over my hands. The glass is super hot and sometimes you get distracted and you touch it. When you commit to bending something you need to stay focused and stay on track with it. 14,000 volts go through that tube to purify it, which is twice as much as the electric chair. You deal with a little bit of mercury, you deal with fluorescents, there’s a lot of elements that need to come together. There is no short-cut. It’s very scientific and every step definitely needs to be followed to assure longevity on the tube.

Lisa Schulte and canine friends at her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Lisa Schulte and canine friends at her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: Tell me about how your company was formed.

LS: My first major event was the Olympics. I did several events where I created futuristic cities. I started creating environments for fashion shows, music videos and special events in Los Angeles. The creativity that I was bringing to music videos or parties in Hollywood was very fresh and nobody had really done that before. I’d do one and then somebody would call me for another and another and another. So it started to build, and I formed my company, Nights of Neon.

Neon created by Lisa Schulte and her company, Nights of Neon, for a film in the "Batman" series (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Neon created by Lisa Schulte and her company, Nights of Neon, for a film in the “Batman” series (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

I have to give credit to having my company for so many years and getting to do a different job every single day, whether it was for Warner Brothers or Paramount, and working with the best of the best in the industry, whether that be Steven Spielberg or Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen.

I’ve always been pushed to do the impossible with neon and I’m that personality where nothing has scared me. Having the company and the type of clientele that I’ve worked with over the years has raised my level of creativity because I’ve been surrounded by enormous talent.

Batman against a background of neon created by Lisa Schulte and her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Batman against a background of neon created by Lisa Schulte and her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: What were some of the projects you did with Nights of Neon that you are most proud of?

LS: Some experiences that were super memorable were when I worked with Spielberg on the movie Artificial Intelligence, which was a Stanley Kubrick screenplay originally. Because Kubrick had already passed away, Steven wanted to honor his vision. You were trusted to create these worldly environments where the sky was the limit, and had the time and the money and the resources and the creative people around you that gave you the trust until you got those worlds.

And then working with Schumacher on the Batman series – with big budgets again – and working with creative directors that have enormous visions.

A still from Steven Spielberg's 2001 film "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" featuring a neon environment created by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

A still from Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” featuring a neon environment created by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: What are you currently working on?

LS: I’m working with Christian Dior – a pop-up for Rodeo Drive. I did stuff for Daft Punk for the Grammys. Over the weekend there were all these private parties around town and pop-up events at Maxfield that I did. And I’m working on a new show called The Perfect Pitch. It’s kind of like The Voice – I’m creating some signage for them. And yesterday I worked on the television show Mom. Every day I get to work on some pretty amazing things.

Neon helmet signs created by Lisa Schulte and her company Nights of Neon for a Daft Punk pop-up store at Maxfield's in February 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Neon helmet signs created by Lisa Schulte and her company Nights of Neon for a Daft Punk pop-up store at Maxfield’s in February 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: When did you start doing your personal artistic work in neon?

LS: Ten years ago I decided to pull away from my company and let the people I have here run it, and spend more like 70 percent of my energy creating my own design, showing my work at museums and galleries, getting representation and becoming very serious about being a fine artist.

"Untitled Wood Series #3" by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Untitled Wood Series #3” by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

My own work creatively is so different – like the wood series, that’s something you would never probably ever see. Trying to combine organic materials with neon and find a marriage.

AM: How did you first start working with wood?

LS: I had a beach house for 10 years and every day I would take two or three walks with my dogs. I would make sure I got out there when the tide was low because of the treasures that the ocean would bring up, whether it was beach glass or wood or whatever else. I just started collecting.

That was pretty cathartic for me because I was struggling with turning 50 – feeling less sexy, less cute. Walking on the beach and really taking a look at that piece of wood on the filthy, wet sand I related to it because I felt the beauty is going to go away, and people have to reach in and really listen to you and get to know you. So I brought the wood home, I’d let it dry out, I’d clean it up, I’d sand it, and then I’d have this gem.

And then I wanted to shine a light on it – like look at this beauty, something that normally we would just pick up or throw back in the ocean, or step on and crush.

"Untitled Wood Series #6" by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Untitled Wood Series #6” by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

I think the combination with three-dimensional neon was challenging, because three-dimensional neon bending is not done with a paper pattern. You are bending to the wood, which is a whole different concept. I felt the marriage was beautiful.

"Lucky" by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Lucky” by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: Some of your neon work involves words. How do you get your inspiration for these phrases?

LS: I’m not really good at expressing words, but I think of them. And it’s pretty nice to have this ability to put them in lights and not necessarily have to say them. I am a very introverted type of person. I was a middle child so I didn’t say much, so I have remained pretty quiet and shy.

I get inspiration from my friends too. One of the pieces I did is called, “I Live in Denial.” He’s a screenplay writer and was always living in denial about his work, and it was really hard for me to let him know, so I just made it in neon for him.

Even when I’ve been in relationships, instead of giving real flowers I’ll do a 10-foot rose and send it over to the person. It’s been fun to be able to use it in that fashion because it is a bit over the top but can also be very sexy and subtle and intimate.

"I Live in Denial" by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“I Live in Denial” by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: Tell me about your most recent work.

LS: I have a museum show going on. It’s totally different from what I’ve been working on in the last five years. It’s very abstract, very colorful.

This last body of work was more from my unconscious and I just let it happen. It’s the first time I’ve let my ego go. It brought me back to when I first started – the freedom I had without having to live up to this bar of, you’re at the top of your game, this pressure of these people you work for, and “perfection, perfection.”

"Crossroads," a new work by Lisa Schulte featured at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Crossroads,” a new work by Lisa Schulte featured at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: Can you describe the process of making it?

LS: I had a show in Austin and had taken all the wood pieces with the white neon and came back disappointed. Not that art is about selling your work, but it does validate you. I came back really angry that everybody loves my work, everybody thinks it’s the best neon they’ve ever seen, but it’s not translating into sales.

I just started grabbing the neon I have in my studio from my company – 30 or 40 words that were already made – and shoving them on to a pedestal, upside down, backwards, vertical, horizontal. I made the sculpture and I was like, “Let’s encase that in plexiglass.”

And then I took a bunch of shapes and I started throwing shape on top of shape on top of shape, and lit it up. Then I took 30 pieces of straight lines of neon I had just made – like a pick-up stick pile, just random. I didn’t care about color, I didn’t care if it was six feet or eight feet. I created five sculptures in one day. The anger had disappeared from my body and I felt like, “That was really organic.”

"Broken Promises," a new work by Lisa Schulte on display at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Broken Promises,” a new work by Lisa Schulte on display at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

I felt like I had a breakthrough and a museum came by to see my work. They were like, “Wow!” They got rid of somebody in a show to put me in it. I was kind of shocked, but I was like, “Okay, that’s the real me.” It was the easiest show I’ve ever created.

I think that is what artists search for – that unconscious, where your hands are just doing it. I really think my ego was getting in the way of my art. And I think it comes from having my company and having to be so perfect.

When you work for Chanel or Nike or the people I work for in my day job, there is no room for error. You need to be spot-on, you need to be perfect, you need to be the best. Now I’m free to do whatever I want to do and I’m not judging myself anymore.

Lisa Schulte with new work at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Lisa Schulte with new work at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: Are you working on any other projects right now?

LS: I just installed that show and had my opening on Saturday and I’m still digesting the body of work. I have some ideas of where I want to go with what I’ve started here but again I feel like it needs to be very organic. I don’t want to use my normal method this time around.

AM: In one of your interviews you were quoted as saying, “The world is in need of illumination.” What did you mean by that?

LS: Especially in these times today – very dark times we’re living in – to be able to bring light to dark times. We can’t exist in the world without light. So to be a light bearer in this world, to have a torch, to shine some light – if I can bring a little bit of that to what I think is a pretty dark place, and seems to be getting darker and scarier. We have to have light. It’s one of those essentials. I feel pretty fortunate to be someone who gets to work around it every single day of my life and share it.

Lisa Schulte at her studio on Feb. 17, 2017 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Lisa Schulte at her studio on Feb. 17, 2017 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Lisa Schulte’s neon art is currently on display in the show “Movers and Makers,” which runs until April 16, 2017 at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, Los Angeles. For more information about Lisa Schulte and her work, please visit her at lisaschulteneonartist.com,  nightsofneon.com, or on Instagram at theneonqueen.

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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.

The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street was the site of 1969 riots that kicked off the modern USA gay rights movement (photo by Troy David Johnston, Flickr Creative Commons)

The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street was the site of 1969 riots that kicked off the modern USA gay rights movement (photo by Troy David Johnston, Flickr Creative Commons)

I really tried to focus on the idea that there was not any kind of casting or pre-production. It was really from a random experience. Sometimes I’d go out and tour around at night-time and try to find subjects and would never find somebody, and sometimes I would find three or four. Every day was different.

At the very end – to fill some of the spaces – we were introduced to a trans panel one night through one of our subjects and we met some of our trans men. And that led us to getting to know some other men. The trans men were much more difficult to connect with on the street because there’s nothing that you would register as female.

AM: In your book, the portraits are accompanied by stories. How did you get these stories?

MS: It was just about the photographs at first, but once we got to know our subjects a little bit better I did interviews with half of them and we took those interviews and built transcriptions in order to accompany the photographs in the book. The exhibition doesn’t have the caption information or the stories. The book does. And we also included in our presentation a short 20-minute documentary of the interviews.

A portrait of Les Larue by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

A portrait of Les Larue by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What did you learn about the transgender experience through your project?

I feel like there’s an incredible misunderstanding of the personal journey that people go through in order to be able to feel like they’re in the right body. It’s obviously a very difficult and important step to have the self-respect and the depth and the determination and the commitment to be able to do that.

The other thing I learned is that my subjects, for the most part, were all very willing subjects. It was the first time they’d ever been seen in this new form – somebody that would get to know them and be interested enough to go and take a picture and talk to them about it.

Carmen Carrera (R) with her husband Adrian Torres and their daughters as photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Carmen Carrera (R) with her husband Adrian Torres and their daughters as photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What have the reactions been to the book by the people you photographed?

MS: I think some of them were a little surprised that we kept it very honest. We didn’t Photoshop or change the way that somebody looked in any way whatsoever. They’re very raw pictures and a lot of my subjects were honored and fine with it, but at first they were a little bit surprised how honest they were.

Mahayla Mcelroy photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Mahayla Mcelroy photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What kinds of reactions have you had from the public?

MS: We did a show in New York that was unannounced and unadvertised and we had 500 to 800 people walking through there a day. The thing I realize is that everybody has a trans story like, “My best friend’s daughter is going through this.”

Actually my lawyer, who’s 80 years old and who helped me with the book project, looked at me after going through the book and goes, “my great-nephew used to be my great-niece.”

So I was really tickled with the way that people responded. It’s all about being open in your own mind to the way the somebody feels about themselves. Maybe it does open questions in terms of our own bodies and our own self-discovery, but for the most part it’s about somebody else and you have to be tolerant of something that needs to be shared and obviously created.

Jamila Pratt and Paradise Valentino in a portrait by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Jamila Pratt and Paradise Valentino in a portrait by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: Tell me about the exhibit that is currently showing in Los Angeles.

MS: We’re doing a show with Tarrah von Lintel, who’s a wonderful gallerist in Los Angeles who really wanted to do this show and who also has just transitioned. She just loved the work and we’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback on the relationship of the work within the gallery. It’s a beautiful, beautiful space. So we’re very honored to be there.

AM: In terms of your overall career, how did you develop your interest in photography when you were first starting out?

MS: As a kid I was really more interested in printing. I learned the simplicity and the process of photography through the darkroom. And then eventually I went to a small state school, and in my third year at school I met my mentor James Newberry, who was teaching documentary and print-making. And that was when I started to develop the idea of portraiture.

Barack Obama photographed by Seliger for Rolling Stone magazine in 2012 just before beginning his second term as president of the USA (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Barack Obama photographed by Seliger for Rolling Stone magazine in 2012 just before beginning his second term as president of the USA (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: You have had and are having an amazing career as a Rolling Stone photographer and also with Condé Nast.

MS: Well, I worked with Rolling Stone for 10 years as their chief photographer. And then I moved to Condé Nast and I worked for Vanity Fair and GQ exclusively for them for 10 years. And now I work for both places.

I’m enjoying the fruits of working for lots of different people and lots of different editors. I work very closely with Jann [Wenner] and Jodi [Peckman] at Rolling Stone, and I work with Graydon Carter and do a little bit of work with GQ and Fred Woodward still. I do fashion work and I do my own work – just kind of immerse myself in what’s out there. Magazines are obviously changing all the time, so it’s an ebb and flow.

The Dalai Lama photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

The Dalai Lama photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What are some of the highlights from your career as a magazine photographer?

MS: There are so many amazing experiences I have had in terms of making pictures. I think if people were to ask about a couple of highlights I would say probably working with Obama was interesting – going to the White House. An experience working with a president is always pretty memorable. Then working with the Dalai Lama.

One of the earlier Rolling Stone things that I did that got my foot in the door was a twenty-fifth anniversary portfolio, which was a series of 15 or 16 photographs that celebrated the 25 years of Rolling Stone. That was amazing.

Musician Kurt Cobain was photographed by Seliger and featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a special memorial issue following Cobain's death on April 5, 1994 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Musician Kurt Cobain was photographed by Seliger and featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a special memorial issue following Cobain’s death on April 5, 1994 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

And the last ten years I’ve been doing some fashion work and I had an incredible couple of experiences working for Franca Sozzani, who just passed away, for Italian Vogue, and shooting couture during French Fashion Week and seeing that world, which was so fresh and unusual as well.

Actress Gretchen Mol photographed by Seliger in 2007 for Italian Vogue in 2007 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Actress Gretchen Mol photographed by Seliger in 2007 for Italian Vogue in 2007 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Working with legends in the music world has always been a great benefit for me just because – like a lot of people – I really enjoy music. So to go and photograph some of my heroes has been a highlight as well, like Neil Young and Bob Dylan and George Harrison, Joni Mitchell. That’s been a fantastic route.

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards photographed by Seliger in 2011 for British GQ magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards photographed by Seliger in 2011 for British GQ magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What do you think are the qualities that helped you to be successful in this field?

MS: I think that portraiture is a fine balance of unveiling or revealing somebody when there’s an in-between moment.

Tennis star Serena Williams photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Tennis star Serena Williams photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

What we try to do is capture not only a visually provocative feeling within the photograph, meaning something that has a balance of composition and design and lighting and photography, but also one that really is significant of who these people are.

So I think great portraiture is really about, without sounding corny, essence and craft.

AM: Is there someone that you have not photographed yet that you would really like to photograph?

MS: There’s lots of people. Unfortunately a couple of them have passed. I never photographed Prince, I never photographed Michael Jackson in terms of entertainment. Both were obviously legends.

Two members of the feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot photographed by Seliger in 2014 for Vanity Fair magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Two members of the feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot photographed by Seliger in 2014 for Vanity Fair magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

It seems like there may be a new, fresh take on the world in terms of people getting more energetic about not only political figures, but leaders. But I’ve also been really interested in photographing the way that the earth is changing and the way it shapes our indigenous world as well. Everything is a project – it just takes time.

Comedian, actor and producer Jerry Seinfeld as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz featured on the cover of Seliger's 1999 book "Physiognomy" (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Comedian, actor and producer Jerry Seinfeld as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz featured on the cover of Seliger’s 1999 book “Physiognomy” (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What projects do you have coming up in the near future?

MS: We’re still working on getting this book complete and moving through that. I’m kind of shaping some ideas for a next project and getting ready to lay out a possible anthology of 30 years. So that will be next year for me – editing and shooting.

We pretty much spend our weeks working on our commercial work and just kind of balancing out both worlds so that we have the resources to be able to do the other work.

Mark Seliger’s exhibit On Christopher Street: Portraits opened on Jan. 14 at the Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles and runs until Feb. 25, 2017. For more information about Mark Seliger and his work, please visit markseliger.com. 

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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.

AM: How has the number of screenings compared to that of your earlier films?

CM: I think that my last three films were all sold in more than 45 countries, but probably 4 Months performed best because it won the Palme d’Or. At the same time there’s something about this film – it’s somehow more accessible to spectators. It’s either the fact that it’s my third film in a row which got something in Cannes or because it’s not as difficult as 4 Months or Beyond the Hills. The response is really very good. I was very happy to see in Telluride, for example, that they added an extra screening.

Poster for Mungiu's film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Poster for Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

AM: You have said that the film grew out of your experience of parenting. What is the connection between your experience of parenting and the subject of the film?

CM: I still live in Romania, so I need to make a decision about my children. I see many parents deciding early on about the education of their children because it’s not the same kind of education if you prepare them to stay and you imagine that they will live here, or if you prepare them to study abroad at the age of 18 and maybe have an international career.

Maria-Victoria Dragus in <em>Bacalaureat (Graduation)</em> (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Maria-Victoria Dragus in Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

And then there are a lot of small, practical things happening every day which place me in a position to consider what’s best to tell the children. Driving my children to school every day I have to decide if I respect the traffic rules and wait for the red light, and then there are 20 cars getting in front of me, or if I decide to be the first one to cross. Because this is the kind of competition that still exists here because things are not very well settled. 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.

Benjamin Von Wong with Ka Amorastreya (photo by Carmine Di Donato)

Benjamin Von Wong with Ka Amorastreya (photo by Carmine Di Donato)

AM: What were you doing in Europe?

BVW: I had two projects. The first one was to shoot in a strip-mining museum where they had a couple of different mining machines. We got post-apocalyptic characters and smoke grenades, and the idea was to create a piece against coal-mining. I’m going to create as engaging of a piece as is possible, to appeal to the younger video-game style generation.

And then the other shoot was in Poland. We found an underwater excavator in Poland and got a dive crew together, got a model, tied her underwater in 14 degree Celsius waters, and had a little piece of coral. The idea was to raise awareness for dredging, which is a fairly big issue, especially in the fishing industry.

"Cormorant Fisherman," done in partnership with Ballantine's Whiskey, by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Cormorant Fisherman,” done in partnership with Ballantine’s Whiskey, by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Where were you born and raised?

BVW: I’m Canadian. I was born in Toronto actually, and my parents are Chinese-Malaysian. I’ve been to 13 different schools in three different countries, so I travelled quite a little bit when I was young and I spent about half my life in Montreal.

Benjamin as a young man doing Taekwondo (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

Benjamin as a young man doing Taekwondo (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: What were some of those countries that you lived in?

BVW: It was just Canada, U.S. and China. In China I lived in Beijing for four years from eight to 12 years old, and while in the U.S. I lived in Dallas, Texas for a year and a half.  I also spent six months in California when I was a bit younger.

AM: Did you have any inclination towards visual images or photography when you were a kid?

"Portrait of Don MacKascill" by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Portrait of Don MacKascill” by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

BVW: I really liked comic books. I think that’s probably the closest to visual attraction that I had to anything. Photography was never something that I was particularly interested in. Even when I picked it up it was just a new hobby to take on with new technologies to try out, and it crept up on me throughout the years. When I quit my job in 2012, I didn’t necessarily want to become a photographer, I just didn’t want to be an engineer, and so I became a photographer by default.

AM: Was there any artistic influence from your family?

BVW: No, my family is not artsy at all. They did push us to try a lot of things out. I have a black belt in Taekwondo, I started playing violin when I was four, they put us through drawing lessons, painting lessons. We’ve tried everything from pottery to sculpting and just a little bit of everything. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HONJI WANG AND SÉBASTIEN RAMIREZ

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in their 2010 duo AP15 (photo © Nika Kramer)

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in their 2010 duo AP15 (photo © Nika Kramer)

By Anita Malhotra

In the six years that they have worked together, Europe-based dancers and choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (Company Wang Ramirez) have created an innovative body of work that blends hip-hop with other dance styles while exploring themes like relationships and cultural identity with freshness and humor.

Frankfurt-born Wang is of Korean background and studied ballet before discovering hip-hop. Ramirez, an award-winning b-boy, has Spanish background but grew up in the south of France.

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez interviewed on Feb. 27, 2016 at the Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez interviewed on Feb. 27, 2016 at the Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Starting with a short piece submitted to a hip-hop competition, they began creating larger scale works that established them in the contemporary dance scene. These include AP15 (2010), winner of a New York Bessie Award; Monchichi (2011), an exploration of their own relationship; Borderline (2013), featuring five dancers at times suspended from cables and a rigger; and Felahikum (2015), a collaboration with Rocío Molina that juxtaposes hip-hop and flamenco.

Frequently appearing in Europe, North America and South America, they were selected through auditions last year by Madonna to work on her 2015-2016 Rebel Heart Tour. Anita Malhotra spoke with Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez on Feb. 27, 2016 in Ottawa, where they were in town for three performances of Monchichi at the National Arts Centre.

AM: How did each of you get into dance and what were your first experiences?

SR: I started in ’95 as a self-taught dancer. I started in the south of France, and with year after year of training and being in the underground hip-hop scene, competing and battling, I got to know dance. I wanted to grow out of this and develop. I was interested in choreographic work, so I started to create my own work. I created my own company in 2007, and with this company I started to create more theatrical dance pieces. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA HARVEY

Dancer, ballet stager and teacher Cynthia Harvey (photo by Ian Whalen)

Dancer, ballet stager and teacher Cynthia Harvey (photo by Ian Whalen)

By Anita Malhotra

Dancer, ballet stager and teacher Cynthia Harvey first distinguished herself in the ballet world as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov, among others, and appeared with Nureyev & Friends. She then moved to the U.K. to be a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet. Since the mid-‘90s, she has worked as a stager and teacher around the world, and in 2013 launched her foundation En Avant, which offers scholarships and master classes to young dancers. Recently, she was named the new artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, a post that starts in May.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Cynthia Harvey, who lives in eastern England, via Skype on February 14, 2016, a few weeks before three performances by the Hong Kong Ballet of her production of The Sleeping Beauty at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. 

AM: When did you first get interested in dance?

CH: I started when I saw Fonteyn and Nureyev on television on the Ed Sullivan Show. I thought she was a princess – she had a tiara – so I wanted to be her. I was very much the girly girl, so ballet was great. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH EMILIE-CLAIRE BARLOW

Emilie-Claire Barlow at the UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival on July 20, 2012 (photo by Tabercil, Flickr Creative Commons)

Emilie-Claire Barlow at the UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival on July 20, 2012 (photo by Tabercil, Flickr Creative Commons)

By Anita Malhotra

Growing up in a family of professional musicians, Toronto-based singer and arranger Emilie-Claire Barlow sang in commercials as a child and went on to release her debut album in 1998 at the age of 22. She followed this with 10 solo albums featuring arrangements of jazz standards, contemporary favorites, Brazilian songs and other repertoire. One of these, Seule ce soir, was sung entirely in French and won a Juno Award in 2013 for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.

Also a successful voice actress, Emilie-Claire Barlow has performed for such TV shows as Sailor Moon, Almost Naked Animals and Peg + Cat.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Barlow, who was at Toronto’s Pearson Airport en route to Montreal, on Dec. 4, 2015, a few weeks before a performance at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.

AM: I can’t help noticing that your name is half English and half French. Where did the French half come from?

ECB: It’s a very simple answer. The French half of my name, which is of course the first half of my name, is simply because my parents loved the name. They thought it was really pretty. My parents are Anglophone – there is no Francophone in my family at all. My mother is a Francophile. She loves the language, she loves all things French. And so here I am now with this name and trying to do my best to live up to it.

"The Beat Goes On," Emilie-Claire Barlow's eighth solo album, features songs from the '60s

“The Beat Goes On,” Emilie-Claire Barlow’s eighth solo album, features songs from the ’60s

AM: You did release one album that was entirely in French. How did you accomplish that considering French was not your native language?

ECB: It’s my second language and I took very basic French as a child, but it was quite minimal. It really came because I started touring a lot in Quebec seven or eight years ago and I wanted to be able to communicate with my audiences, both during the show and after when I’m meeting people. I also found myself immersed in the musical culture of Quebec and having opportunities to promote my music on various television and radio shows, which would feature other artists – Quebec artists. So this whole other songbook and repertoire started to open up to me.

Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALBERTO VEIGA (BAROZZI/VEIGA)

Alberto Veiga (L) and Fabrizio Barozzi (R), founders of the award-winning architecture firm Barozzi/Veiga (photo courtesy of B/V)

Alberto Veiga (L) and Fabrizio Barozzi (R), founders of the award-winning architecture firm Barozzi/Veiga (photo courtesy of B/V)

By Anita Malhotra

Spanish architect Alberto Veiga and Italian architect Fabrizio Barozzi began collaborating in 2004, making a name for themselves with a series of award-winning submissions to architectural competitions in Europe. Their unique and strikingly beautiful buildings and designs, often inspired by the surrounding environment, embody their philosophy of a simple architecture based on fundamental principles like light and scale.

Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, Poland by Barozzi/Veiga, which won the 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award (photo courtesy of B/V)

Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, Poland by Barozzi/Veiga, which won the 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award (photo courtesy of B/V)

 Their works include an auditorium in Águilas, Spain that echoes the shape of a nearby rock; a dance school in Zurich, Switzerland featuring a series of inverted triangles; and a symphony hall in Szczecin, Poland that is inspired by the verticality of the surrounding buildings. The latter, completed in 2014, has won numerous prizes, including the prestigious 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Alberto Veiga about the work of Barozzi/Veiga at their office in Barcelona on September 3, 2015.

Alberto Veiga at his office on Sept. 3, 2015 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Alberto Veiga at his office on Sept. 3, 2015 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What is your background in architecture?

AV: I studied architecture in a small city in the north of the country – in Pamplona. After I worked there for 5 or 6 years, I decided to move to the south – to Sevilla. And in Sevilla I met Fabrizio. We were working there together in an office. He studied architecture in Venice, but he moved because of the Erasmus Programme, this European exchange program that permits students to move around the continent.

Our background was the approach of a student trying to learn as much as possible of the classical view of the architectural office. Of course, our studies were different. What Italian architects understand by architecture is something more linked with history, the past. It’s more rhetoric, more narrative. I studied in the north of Spain, in a small city. The vision is more technical, it’s more functional. But we had a similar approach about what we wanted to do from the beginning. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS LAUDERDALE (PINK MARTINI)

Thomas Lauderdale, pianist and founder of Pink Martini (photo by Autumn de Wilde)

Thomas Lauderdale, pianist and founder of Pink Martini (photo by Autumn de Wilde)

By Anita Malhotra

Few people can say they have appeared as a soloist with a major symphony orchestra, aspired to be mayor, founded a band whose albums have sold more than three million copies, and worn a cocktail dress in public. Portland-based pianist and composer Thomas Lauderdale, who launched Pink Martini in 1994, has done all these things and more.

Under his direction, Pink Martini has released eight best-selling albums of tuneful, sultry songs in 25 languages that blend world, jazz, pop, lounge and classical styles. From its origins as a four-member band playing Portland parties for progressive causes, it has grown to 12+ members, including vocalist China Forbes, who co-writes many of the songs with Lauderdale. In the process, the “little orchestra” has toured much of the world, played with more than 50 symphony orchestras, and appeared at such venues as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, L’Olympia theatre in Paris and Royal Albert Hall.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Thomas Lauderdale, who was in Portland, on June 17, 2015.

Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale (photo by Holly Andres)

Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale (photo by Holly Andres)

AM: What are your earliest memories of music?

TL: I was born in Oakland, California and my family moved when I was two to Indiana. My parents were from the earnest side of the ‘60s. They had a reel-to-reel tape machine and there were six things that made up my childhood in terms of music. They were: Ray Conniff, Ray Charles, Roger Miller, the New Christy Minstrels, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. In addition, my father was a Church of the Brethren minister – one of the three peace denominations along with the Quakers and Mennonites. I was deeply affected by the hymns that were played during church – the bloody hymns of the 1880s, 1890s. So those were my biggest influences.

What all of this had in common was beautiful melodies. I never paid attention to lyrics until we started writing songs for the band. It was always about melody for me. Because the lyrics are in 25 different languages, the common thing holding them all together are the melodies. So one doesn’t necessarily have to speak the language to understand or to appreciate the beauty of the melody. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH EMIL VIKLICKÝ

By Anita Malhotra

Czech jazz pianist and composer Emil Viklický (photo by Tomáš Krist)

Czech jazz pianist and composer Emil Viklický (photo by Tomáš Krist)

Often described as the “Patriarch of Czech jazz piano,” pianist and composer Emil Viklický was born in 1948 in Olomouc, Moravia and later moved to Prague. Although his formal training was in mathematics, in the ‘70s he won awards for his jazz improvisation skills and music compositions, and in 1977 he received a scholarship to study for a year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

As a jazz pianist, he has performed in the USA, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Israel, and Europe with various artists and ensembles, including with his own trio.

As a composer, he has worked in a wide range of styles, including jazz, contemporary classical, electroacoustic, and in an original style combining jazz with Moravian folk music. His works include three operas, full-length film scores, television music and incidental music for theatre, as well as numerous orchestral and ensemble pieces. He has won many awards for his compositions, and in 2004 was commissioned by Wynton Marsalis to write a melodrama for jazz band based on the prison letters of Václav Havel. In 2011 Viklický was honored with the Czech Republic’s prestigious Medal of Merit.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Emil Viklický, who was at his home in Prague, by telephone on June 14, 2015.

Emil Viklický

Emil Viklický

AM: What first attracted you to music?

EV: I grew up in a painter’s family. My father and my uncle were both painters. And my grandfather was a railway engineer in Vienna, so we had a grand piano at home. So I guess I started banging on it when I was two or three.

AM: How did you embark on a career in music?

EV: When it was time for me to decide what to do, I decided I wanted to be a composer. But my father said, “Are you crazy? Do you want another artist in the family?” My father was referring to his older brother, the painter Victor Viklický. The Communists came into power in the country in ’48, and Victor was put in labour camp in southern Slovakia. So he was just gone. My father said “Look, you have a talent for mathematics, so why don’t you go for maths and have music as a hobby?” I was an obedient boy, so I agreed. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH KENNY WERNER

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Jazz pianist, composer and educator Kenny Werner (photo courtesy of Kenny Werner)

By Anita Malhotra

Brooklyn-born jazz pianist, composer and educator Kenny Werner studied piano at the Manhattan School of Music and jazz improvisation at the Berklee Institute. Greatly influenced by the Boston piano teacher Madame Chaloff and the Brazilian concert pianist Joao Assis Brasil, he developed a paradigm-shifting approach to performance that led to the publication in 1995 of his best-selling book Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within.

As a performer, Werner has appeared extensively throughout North America and Europe. He has also composed many works for small ensembles and orchestra, and received the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his orchestral piece No Beginning, No End. Werner recently became artistic director of Berklee’s Effortless Mastery Institute (formerly the Performance Wellness Institute), which helps students develop and maintain healthy performances practices.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Kenny Werner, who lives in Monticello, New York, by telephone on June 13, 2015, a week before his performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Kenny Werner performing with his quartet and with Toots Thielemans in Antwerp, Belgium in 2008 (photo by Bruno Bollaert, Flickr Creative Commons, Aug. 15, 2008)

Kenny Werner performing with his quartet and with Toots Thielemans in Antwerp, Belgium in 2008 (photo by Bruno Bollaert, Flickr Creative Commons, Aug. 15, 2008)

AM: You just came back from Europe. What were you up to there?

KW: I was playing in different configurations with someone who in the last seven years has become a very deep music partner of mine – Benjamin Koppel. He’s a brilliant alto player and composer, and his whole family is a kind of royal musical family in Denmark. So we just spent about two weeks doing about five or six countries – Denmark, Spain, Germany, France and Austria – some duo, and some with rhythm section.

AM: What is it about playing with him that is so satisfying?

KW: Well, it’s the same thing that makes it special playing in my trio. It’s the conversation back and forth, arranging freer improvisations to such a degree of clarity in the interaction that you could almost say it was composition being written down at that very moment. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE COCKBURN

By Anita Malhotra

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

In his 45-year career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter, Ottawa-born Bruce Cockburn has produced 31 albums of passionate, evocative songs based on his personal experiences and his observations while travelling, often in war-torn countries and in a humanitarian role.

With more than seven million records sold, he has been honoured with 13 Juno Awards, 21 gold and platinum certifications, membership in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. In 1982, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2002 was promoted to Officer.

Last year, Cockburn published the extensive, very personal memoir Rumours of Glory, which details his childhood, travels, humanitarian work, personal relationships and spiritual search as well as the stories behind many of his songs.

Anita Malhotra spoke to Bruce Cockburn, who now lives in San Francisco, by telephone about his life and music on June 12, 2015.

Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

AM: You turned 70 a few weeks ago. Was turning 70 any particular cause for reflection?

BC: It’s cause for alarm more than reflection! I put so much reflection into writing the book that it wasn’t, really. It’s like, “Okay I’m 70 now,” and I wrote this book and the book has all this stuff in it, but I think that that kind of superseded any information to be overly reflective of on my birthday. A bunch of us were gathered in a little resort town in Delaware at the end of the northeastern U.S. tour that I was doing through the month of May, and there was a lot of eating, drinking and merriment, and that’s what I was thinking about.

AM: Your autobiography Rumours of Glory is very personal, very honest. Was the process of writing the book cathartic for you?

Bruce in 1947 as a toddler with his parents in Kingston, Ontario (photo courtesy of Bernie Finkelstein and Bruce Cockburn)

Bruce in 1947 as a toddler with his parents in Kingston, Ontario (photo courtesy of Bernie Finkelstein and Bruce Cockburn)

BC: Not exactly. It was instructive in certain ways and it was an interesting process, by turns gratifying and kind of exciting, and horrible. The horrible part had to do with deadlines, mostly, and with a couple of points where I got stuck and didn’t know how to proceed. But the chief one of those was remedied by engaging Greg King to be a co-writer on it. I’m not really given to a lot of rehashing the past. I’ve never been much for going back and sentimentalizing things, or being perturbed by things other than the things that have gone into my make-up that have to be exorcized either by time or by psychological or spiritual effort. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH BRIA SKONBERG

Jazz trumpet player and singer Bria Skonberg (photo by Thomas Concordia)

Jazz trumpet player and singer Bria Skonberg (photo by Thomas Concordia)

By Anita Malhotra

Born in 1983 in Chilliwack, British Columbia, trumpet player, singer and composer Bria Skonberg has been featured as a bandleader and guest artist at more than 50 jazz festivals in North America, Europe, China and Japan.

In 2010, she relocated from Vancouver to New York, where she has headlined at Symphony Space, Birdland, The Iridium and Dizzy’s. She has released three albums, one of which peaked at #7 on the U.S. National jazz charts. In addition, she has earned a New York Bistro Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist, four Hot House Jazz Magazine Awards and is a 2015 recipient of the Swing! award from Jazz At Lincoln Center.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Skonberg, who was at her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 10, 2015.

The cover of

The cover of “Into Your Own,” Bria Skonberg’s third album, released in 2014 (photo by Seth Cashman)

AM: Where did your love of jazz come from?

BS: I was introduced to jazz through the school big band and the local Dixieland jazz festival. Chilliwack had a jazz festival for over 20 years and they did a really good job of incorporating the youth bands of the district into the festival. So we’d get our set and then we’d get passes for the whole weekend to go and watch professional players do their thing. That was a much more organic introduction to jazz as opposed to listening to it because the old-style scratchy recordings don’t always translate to young listeners. Continue reading

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