Faces of Artober
There are hundreds of artists on the Artoberfest schedule—here are five
The calendar of art in Chico during the annual Artoberfest celebration is impressive. Each October, Friends of the Arts Director Debra Lucero and the city of Chico provide a guide to a packed month’s worth of local exhibitions, events and performances that, taken as a whole, provides a compelling argument that this is genuinely a vibrant destination for enjoying art of all disciplines—from shows produced by big dogs Chico Performances to Chico Cabaret’s rendition of Evil Dead, The Musical, and the dozens of film, theater, music, art and poetry happenings in between.
All that art isn’t created in a vacuum. There are hundreds of artists and organizers who have worked hard to create and plan all the shows and events we’ll soon be enjoying. So we decided to bring the focus in tight and concentrate on five of those individuals, from varying disciplines, in order to put faces to some of the art on the Artoberfest calendar.
Leading the watercolor army
There are a lot of rooms in Amber Palmer’s Counseling Center & Gallery, but one stands out. Just off the lobby is a small room lined with shelves that are crammed with hundreds of toys—action figures, dolls, model space ships—and right in the center of it all is a miniature sandbox.
“It’s where kids and adults can build their world in the sand,” said Palmer. “Almost like painting a picture or living out a dream.” The idea is that clients can play out conflicts and resolution with characters and symbols from the shelves that represent what’s going in their lives.
There are other therapeutic tools on display in the room as well, including paintings on the walls by children who have experienced trauma.
“Art is one way to express what feelings you need to express, and get [them] out,” Palmer said. “With children it just comes right out, and it’s so telling.”
As she continued the tour through the series of interconnected office spaces on The Esplanade where she’s practiced for 25 years, there is art everywhere; some by patients, but most of it a monument to local watercolor painters—from world-renowned Sal Casa, to Lois Cohen, to Palmer’s own expressive works.
Palmer didn’t start making art until college. While working for her degree in psychotherapy at Chico State, she took classes from well-known painters/instructors Ann Pierce and Casa (“Please don’t grade me as an artist,” Palmer told him. “I’m a psych teacher.”)
“The therapeutic art just blended well with psychotherapy,” Palmer discovered. “It’s kind of like my right and left hand.”
Among her many endeavors since entering the local arts community, Palmer has been a chairwoman of the Chico Art Center (helping to create the first Open Studios Tour) and started and acted as regional director for Very Special Arts, a program for developmentally disabled children.
And, in 2007, Palmer got together with a group of fellow painters who had for years been students in Casa’s watercolor classes at Chico Art Center, and formed the Butte County Watercolor Society. The initial intent was simply to put on a group show featuring the works of Casa’s watercolor students, but at the urging of Casa that soon evolved into the creation of a society of painters who could network, put on workshops, provide support for one another and hold a national juried exhibition. And this Artober, the 1078 Gallery is hosting what will be the second annual juried show (opening Oct. 6), which was judged by retired Chico State art history professor and Avenue 9 Gallery co-founder Dolores Mitchell. A total 35 pieces were chosen from 77 entries received from all over the country, and a $1,500 prize will be awarded to the best of show. Additionally, painters Casa and Pierce will each present honors awards (with a $200 prize) to their favorites.
“For 1078 to give us the opportunity to do this show during Artoberfest month,” Palmer said gratefully, “[it] increases our exposure/connection.”
From its initial 13 members, the BCWS’s membership has grown in three years’ time to more than 60. Now, in addition to the annual show, the society holds bi-monthly educational gatherings where members do everything from having esteemed artists and teachers give critiques to offering painting demos.
“It has created a wide swathe of connected artists,” Palmer said, “and respect for the creativity of watercolor, [and for] watercolor as a medium.”
Community theater convert
For many people, from Broadway snobs to those who’ve never watched a play, the term “community theater” doesn’t carry the best connotations. Ironically, this was once the view held by current Blue Room Theatre Artistic Director Benjamin Allen.
“I struggled, initially, with the term,” said Allen, who stepped into the administrative position for Chico’s downtown community theater company last August. “It conjured up images of Christopher Guest and Waiting for Guffman, but in the past five years I’ve realized the term can stand for so much more. In fact, community theater provides opportunities professional theater can never approach.”
Allen has traveled a long road to this realization. Aside from turns as Benvolio in a 1992 ballet production of Romeo and Juliet and Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men (“Imitation, and poor imitation at that,” he said of his high-school performance), Allen’s passion for theater remained mostly latent.
Instead, Allen left Paradise—where he’d lived since junior high when his father took a job as rector at St. Nicholas Episcopal Church—to study philosophy and religious studies at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. He did a year abroad at Trinity College in Dublin and kicked around Europe, North Africa, Southeast Asia and Portland, Ore., before landing in Chico in 2003.
“I found my way to the Blue Room on a gentleman’s bet,” Allen said. One of his good friends was living in Chico and participated in the theater. He left town shortly after Allen arrived. “One night, after a beverage or two, he asserted that I was now responsible for taking over his acting duties in town. As a gentleman I agreed, and it couldn’t have been a month later that I auditioned for a late-night Twilight Zone Live directed by Betty Burns.”
From there Allen began acting regularly at the Blue Room, as well as at Butte College and with Shakespeare in the Park. He fostered friendships and working relationships with a list of Chico theater luminaries including Blue Room co-founder Dylan Latimer, Joe Hilsee, Brad Moniz and Jerry Miller and soon started writing and directing as well.
“All of this without ever once being in an academic theater setting,” he said. “I don’t say this to toot my own horn, but because it illustrates the unique opportunity the Blue Room and Chico-area theater provides to its practitioners—that an individual without any educational background in theater, and not a heck of a lot of natural talent, could still be provided with the tools to act, write, direct and now even administrate.
“Even the inherent flaws to theater in a small city prove of benefit. Often, the greatest talent move on to bigger ponds, but this ensures new actors, writers and directors [have] the opportunity to practice their craft, and many of those who do leave return to share their experience and contribute to the community they once called home.”
Allen said he now understands how local theater can foster empathy and deep, visceral communication within a community. In his own words, it is “Art changing the world one small city in the North State at a time.”
Hip-hop salvation through collaboration
The T-shirt slogan will be: “Chico Hates Hip-hop.”
That’s the plan, anyway, for the Moonshine Collaborative’s first foray into the world of fashion. The new Chico hip-hop record label and production company might be having fun with its proposed T-shirt design, but for anyone who has been in our little college town since rap has been in existence, the sentiment rings at least partially true. At least it did.
“Clothing is big in hip-hop, so we figured we’d come out with a line of T-shirts,” said Dash Weidhofer, the 22-year-old singer/musician/producer/rapper and Moonshine director/co-founder.
And whether it’s shirts, putting on shows, performing with one another, making videos, recording CDs, or pressing them on the multi-CD duplicator they bought together, the collaborative model is paying off for Moonshine, and for Chico as well. The collective’s grass-roots approach has quickly taken off, and many of its varied personalities have vaulted into the local spotlight: In addition to Weidhofer, its current roster includes notable MCs Eye-Que (and his band Live Assist), TyBox, Willdy Diamond and Inclined; DJ Matt “DJ Matticulit” Siracusa (also a CN&R photo intern) and brand new producer Ge.
“I started it because I realized how difficult it was to get anywhere. I decided to launch a cooperative [where] basically people will pool money and resources,” Weidhofer explained, adding, “People in town now know who we are.”
Sitting in his downtown studio, which doubles as Moonshine’s headquarters—with a vocal booth in one corner and walls lined with sound-absorbing egg-crate foam—Weidhofer looked every bit the young hip-hop producer as he pulled up a track called “Smoove” on his computer’s recording program. The backing track was sent to him by Tyson “TyBox” Harris, and as the appropriately “smooth” beat unfolded, Weidhofer effortlessly sang a couple bars of the melody of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” (à la Bing Crosby) —“Heaven, I’m in heaven …”—further demonstrating his concept for the track’s vocals with a few hummed riffs playing off the melody.
“Just something real smooth,” he said.
That smooth voice pops up all over his fellow Moonshine artists’ recordings. In fact, regardless of which MC or group is in the spotlight—playing a gig or recording a CD—chances are, some or all of the other members are involved as well.
But if it’s singing that’s required, Weidhofer is the guy. He’s the singer (as opposed to rapper) of the group.
“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t into hip-hop until 2 1/2 years ago,” Weidhofer admitted. That was when Nick “Shadrach” Smith asked him to play in the now-defunct Chico crew P.AND.A. Since then, Weidhofer has been a quick study. He’s now a regular member of Eye-Que’s band (singing, of course, and playing percussion) and he’s just started a new neo-soul/jazz/hip-hop crew called Peach.
He’s just one example of Moonshine’s eclectic roster. There is a refreshing newness to each of its players, who make a point of stating a respect for hip-hop’s history, while not falling victim to the played-out trends. (Or as they put it, their goal is to: “Preserve the integrity of hip-hop music through creation of innovative and fresh ideas.”)
“We all just kind of gravitated toward each other,” Weidhofer said about his committed crew. “Some people go on a run, some people lift weights, these guys rap.”
Journey of a thousand notes
“Coming out on stage and doing the tuning ritual, that’s the visible part of my job,” said Terrie Baune. However, she added, “It’s a very small part of the job. … I can’t think of a lot of jobs where the public part and the private part are so disparate.”
Baune was speaking recently from her home in Arcata about her demanding job as concertmaster of the Chico/Redding-based North State Symphony.
“My main job [as concertmaster] is to coordinate the strings in regards to articulation,” Baune pointed out. Loosely defined, articulation refers to the way notes are played—whether, for instance, a note is short or held out, and how they are connected to one another (slurred together, perhaps, or articulated singly).
The position of concertmaster in an orchestra is occupied by the leader of the violin section. Baune is a notable violinist whose résumé includes the National Symphony Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra of New Zealand. She also serves as concertmaster of the Eureka Symphony, as well as co-concertmaster of the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra. She is also a member of San Francisco new-music chamber ensemble Earplay.
“I sometimes will describe [my concertmaster job] as assistant to the conductor in regards to articulation,” Baune added.
The bulk of Baune’s work occurs prior to a concert, she said, when she receives the string parts—violin, viola, cello and double bass—of the particular pieces to be performed.
“I go through a set of string parts ahead of time,” offered Baune, “and decide which notes should be played long or short, or with one end of the bow or another,” a process that Baune referred to as “doing bowings.”
Those articulation decisions then are “copied into all the parts, for everyone,” which includes the woodwind and brass players. “So when people practice their parts before they come to rehearsals, they are practicing articulation as well as the notes.”
Once in rehearsals, Baune will refine her choices based on such things as the additional decisions the conductor makes about how he wants the music to sound, and how certain of Baune’s non-string choices—say, for the clarinets—are working in actuality.
“What I do up front is I put in a lot of stuff I think will work,” she explained, “and make the necessary changes during rehearsals.” Then, “it’s my job to translate the musical direction of the conductor into technical terms for the players. Say he wants this part to sound more serious; I’ll say, ‘OK, we’re gonna move the bow closer to the bridge and slow it down.’”
Baune is looking forward to the North State Symphony’s upcoming season, specifically the season-opening European Treasures concert this weekend (Oct. 2-3) that features Robert Schumann’s “Concert Piece for Four Horns and Orchestra” (“You don’t get to hear that too much” she said), and the November premiere of Redding-based Simpson University music teacher Dan Pinkston’s Symphony No. 1.
“I always like the chance to interact with the live composer,” she said of the Pinkston piece. “Schumann, Tchaikovsky—I would just like to be able to call them and ask, ‘Why did you do that?’ With the live composer, I can actually do that.”
—Christine G.K. LaPado
Experiments in the art of space travel
“Chico has been one of the most amazing places in the world for me. Everything starts out there, it seems.”
San Francisco-based conceptual artist and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats really did have a good reason for making so vigorous an assertion.
In a recent phone interview, Keats pointed out that his “honeybee ballet,” which was featured at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2008, was actually a repeat performance of the time he first “planted flowers deliberately in relationship to the hive to suggest moves” to a group of bees at Chico State’s University Farm in 2006.
His rather famous “pornography for plants” installation—in which presumably titillating film footage of pollination is projected onto the leaves of plants—began in Chico as well, in 2007, at 1078 Gallery, and involved 90 rhododendrons.
Keats’ lengthy, unusual résumé includes such things as copyrighting his own mind, trying to genetically engineer God in a Petri dish, selling real estate in the theorized extra dimensions of space, and creating a silent cell-phone ring tone based on a John Cage composition called “4’33”,” which features four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. He was also featured in a March 2010 New Yorker article focusing on his then-current “television-for-plants project” at the AC Institute, which provided a gathering of rubber plants with the opportunity to travel vicariously by being shown a video loop of beautiful scenes of the sky over Italy. And he is trying out yet another of his novel, creative acts in Chico next month when he brings his Space Race exhibition to the Chico State Humanities Center Gallery.
Space Race will come on the heels of Keats’ forays into creating extraterrestrial abstract art based on space signals picked up by a radiotelescope at a Puerto Rican observatory, and his recent planting of “two explorers—a pair of small succulents accustomed to rocky terrain” into “pots of pulverized asteroid” watered with distilled water. This, offered Keats in a recent LASA (Local Air & Space Administration) press release, amounted to nothing less than the equivalent of “landing two astronauts on the rocky soil of a Kuiper Belt asteroid.”
Keats’ Humanities Gallery show will feature potatoes suspended by toothpicks in cups of mineral water from which they will absorb tiny bits of lunar anorthosite and Martian shergottite (actual meteorite fragments), thereby inhabiting the actual surfaces of Mars and the moon, and thus becoming “the most alien beings on the planet by the middle of October,” as Keats put it.
Overlapping Keats’ Chico show will be his “human space travel” installation at the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco, at which bottles of “reasonably priced” lunar, Martian and stellar mineral water will be sold, allowing people to “just drink up the mineral water, and absorb these alien environments.”
“Everything is absolutely straightforward,” Keats insisted of the potatoes-in-space installation, adding that he does not want any doubt—“like Neil Armstrong and the lunar landing”—to surround this event. “I don’t want that sort of doubt. … Doubters will show up and they will believe for the first time that a terrestrial species has gone to the moon.”
—Christine G.K. LaPado