The month of May marks annual National Bike Month, during which people in cities all over the country are encouraged to ride more, learn about bike safety and mechanics, and commute to work. I myself have been a bike commuter for almost twenty years, first when I lived in Seattle, riding through rain, sleet, and hail to get to my high school teaching job, and now climbing through a mountain pass to get from my home in Santa Monica to my job at the Skirball.
I am often asked why I ride my bike to work (and if I’ve totally lost my mind or have a death wish), especially in the last few years during the massive construction project along the 405, which has made the 405 corridor bumpier and more haphazard (and hazardous).
For me, riding my bike has always been a mix of personal pleasure and public service. I enjoy the exercise of it, the hour or so of vigorous riding to begin my day. But I also see it as a way to honor that very core Jewish value which we at the Skirball try to impart through our programs and exhibitions: that of taking care of the earth and each other. I feel, perhaps naively, that I’m doing something (albeit a small something) for our planet: a bit less CO2 emitted from a tailpipe, a few more friendly exhales in the direction of the plants along the road, a bit less stress put out into the world.
I start out each early-morning ride pedaling through the dark in Santa Monica with a red light on the back of my bike and a headlamp strung up around my helmet. Continue reading →
It was with a young girl’s excitement that I learned the Skirball would be presenting The Hits, the Life, and the Lost Lyrics of Allan Sherman, a conversation between author Mark Cohen and journalist/film producer Tom Teicholz about the legacy of song parodist and comedian Allan Sherman. Mark Cohen has written the first biography of Allan Sherman and I am excited to learn more about this voice that had such an impact on my childhood. I still remember listening to Allan Sherman’s songs when they were released. We had a record player in the room I shared with my sister, and that’s where we listened to his records. I don’t remember how many albums we had, but we played the songs over and over and laughed ourselves silly—including my parents. Of course, the song I remember most is from the homesick kid at sleepaway camp: “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah, here I am at Camp Granada …”
Listen to Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” here:
We really appreciated this humor for at least two reasons: First, I went away to a girl scout camp and was so homesick and unhappy, Continue reading →
Ever since I made the decision to leave the security of a paid day job to be a full-time graphic novelist, my goal has been this: to pursue what I love.
When Jordan Peimer, Vice President and Director of Programs at the Skirball Cultural Center, asked me to work on moderating a panel about graphic novels—a subject that aligns perfectly with the current exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open—my first thought was, “Cool, I’m completely not cut out for this.” But after some deliberation, and considering the heavy-handed Who’s the Lars von Trier of Comics approach, I concluded I’d do what I have done my whole career: follow my heart. This has always led me down the path of success, and undoubtedly would not fail me now.
There is a Los Angeles pride in me that has always considered the Skirball to be a hallmark of L.A. arts and culture for the past decade. I knew each member of this panel had to be an Angeleno. Continue reading →
Reproduced on the cover of the May/Jun 2013 issue of At the Skirball and the April 25–May 2, 2013 issue of the L.A. Weekly (pictured at left) is the new painting The Door Is Always Open, by celebrated artist Gary Baseman.
The title of this work—like that of our major new exhibition on the artist’s life and career—borrows a phrase from Gary Baseman’s own father. Ben Baseman used to tell his son, “Gary, the door is always open.” It was a reminder that the Fairfax District four-plex that he called home would always provide protection and loving kindness. Continue reading →
Gary Baseman’s beloved companion, Toby, has been all over the world, from Rio to Chiang Mai, Moscow to D.C. But what L.A. hotspot do you think he has missed? Let us know by June 21 and Gary will pick one of your suggestions and take a photo of Toby there. Come see the photographic proof of Toby’s visit unveiled at Into the Night—Secrets and Truth, Friday, July 12.
L.A.-based rock band Nightmare and the Cat makes music that escapes easy categorization, blending jangly pop, bluesy riffs, and anthemic hooks that soar with lead singer Django Stewart’s powerful vocals. Catch them this Thursday night when they play Gary Baseman’s House Party to celebrate the opening of Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Stewart speaks below about the band and their unique collaborations with Baseman, who will paint live on stage during their set.
What is the origin of the name “Nightmare and the Cat”?
It is a song by an amazing artist who never got signed and never made it on stage. He disappeared without a trace, and Sam and I just loved the song and his lyrics so much, we named our band after him. I’m hoping that one day we may meet him wherever he may be.
How did you meet Gary Baseman?
We met Gary at our friend Carina Round’s birthday party. She had written a song for one of his characters and Gary came out of nowhere dressed in a giant pink ChouChou costume and asked Claire in our band to dance.
Watch a video of ChouChous dancing:
How did Baseman painting on stage while you play come about?
This was a very natural occurrence. I feel Gary has always been making art while we sing and play. Painting was just a grander medium than the usual little sketchbook. Continue reading →
Chris Green, at the entrance to the Red Hook studio suite.
Brooklyn is cool. Way cooler than I am (47, married with child, driver of a Volvo, living in Brentwood—you get the picture). And even cooler than Brooklyn in general is a particular artist’s enclave in a particular section of Brooklyn called Red Hook that is the workplace of designer/puppeteer Chris Green. Chris is none other than the visionary creator of thirty-five-plus kinetic animals—some freestanding with moving parts and others full puppets in the bunraku tradition—that inhabit Noah’s Ark at the Skirball™. Designed in collaboration with the Noah’s Ark creative consultant team led by Alan Maskin and Jim Olson of Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, Chris’s life-sized creatures, from Japanese red foxes to South African zebras, are absolute icons of Noah’s Ark. Their beautifully carved wooden heads and outlandish bodies are fashioned from discarded items as diverse as whirling air ventilators and wooden sake cups.
Hence my excitement over visiting Chris in his Brooklyn studio while on a family trip to the East Coast last week. My mission was to check in on a new family of animals that Chris is working on: four mountain gorillas who will be coming aboard Noah’s Ark permanently this June. These adorable gorillas have movable arms and hands, and bodies made from repurposed material. Their heads, made of basswood, are carved by Chris’s gifted colleague and studio-mate, Eric Novak.
One of the gorilla heads in process; carved by Eric Novak.
Each time I’ve visited Chris’s studio over the past seven years I’ve felt like I was entering Geppetto’s workshop, and this time was no different. It’s a magical place, with dusty tools and gadgets of all sizes and puppets of every conceivable style—some created by Chris and others by Eric or one of the other designers who share the two-story workspace, capacious by New York standards. Continue reading →
Reading Hand-Drying in America, please excuse my messy desk.
I first experienced the work of Ben Katchor more than a decade ago when I read his graphic novel The Jew of New York, a wild tale about a scheme to carbonate Lake Erie and pump seltzer water directly into the tenements of New York City. I loved both the creative wit and the spare drawing style that brought this tale to life. I am very excited to finally meet the man behind the many tales when he appears here next week in a rare Los Angeles appearance.
I had a chance to chat on the phone with Ben recently and I asked him how he started doing graphic novels. Here’s what he told me:
I was exposed to comic strips as a child, growing up in New York. They were always something that existed outside of the certified educational system, a kind of forbidden literature for children. By the time I got to high school I outgrew them in terms of stories, but I still liked the drawing. I realized that the drawing was the thing that really interested me. Continue reading →
The Jewish holiday of Passover is not celebrated in temple, it is celebrated at home. On the first (and often the second) night of Passover, families and friends gather for a ritualized meal or “seder” during which they drink wine, sing songs, and tell the Exodus story—with the goal of reminding everyone at the table that freedom is a gift to be cherished.
Every family’s seder is different, from the Haggadah they choose to read from to the seder plate on which they present the holiday’s symbolic foods. To celebrate this uniqueness, a few members of the Skirball staff share the story behind their seder plates, starting with mine!
I have always liked the bright and cheery design of my mother’s seder plate, and assumed for all these years that she had gotten it as a newlywed when she and my father were married. I discovered this year that she actually purchased it herself when we moved from New York to California when I was a child.
Until we moved, my mother never needed her own seder plate. In New York she attended first her grandmother’s, then her aunt’s seder—large family affairs conducted mostly in Hebrew that continue to this day. When we moved to California, in search of warm weather and business opportunities, we were forced to leave that family tradition behind. I know the move was bittersweet for my mother, as she was very close to her family, but I think this plate represents her hopefulness about starting a new tradition with her children. I have to say, she has done an excellent job, because Passover at my mother’s house is something we look forward to every year.
“Our seder plate has great personal meaning since it was made by friends, Leslie Gattmann and Eugene Frank, who operated a ceramic Judaica business for many years. Each piece was lovingly handmade and hand-painted. We use it every year at our family seder, which includes many great traditions from beating each other with green onions during the “dayenu” song (a Persian custom that we simply had to adopt) to raucous searches for the afikomen (dessert matzoh) by the youngest guests, who are now grown men.