INTERVIEW WITH FRED PENNER

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

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

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: Can you give me an example of that?

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH CALLEN SCHAUB

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

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

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: What kinds of reactions have you been getting?

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

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

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

AM: Can you describe your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: What role does chance play in your work?

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

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INTERVIEW WITH HANK WILLIS THOMAS

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

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

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: When did you first get interested in photography?

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

AM: Did you take photographs when you were younger? Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ANNE DUDLEY

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH SASS JORDAN

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

AM: How has your tour been going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH MARIE CHOUINARD

By Anita Malhotra

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH LEVI PONCE

Levi Ponce (photo by Jim Newberry)

Levi Ponce (photo by Jim Newberry)

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levi Ponce as a child (photo by Hector Ponce)

Levi Ponce as a child (photo by Hector Ponce)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH LISA SCHULTE

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

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

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: Where was that?

LS: It was in San Diego, California.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH MARK SELIGER

By Anita Malhotra

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: What camera were you using?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTIAN MUNGIU

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu (photo © Dan Beleiu)

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

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTERVIEW WITH BENJAMIN VON WONG

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

By Anita Malhotra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM: Where are actually you Skyping from?

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

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

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

AM: Why did you move to San Francisco?

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

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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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