Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Transatlantic Art Conversation: A Serial Discussion

Noah Purifoy's place, Joshua Tree, Inland Empire,
All photos © Miranda Gavin 2007

In what will become a series of free-form conversations, I'm hoping to take some discussions further afield and use cyberspace to connect across continents with artists of all persuasions and backgrounds.

For the first in the series, I would like to welcome Johnette Napolitano to The Forum. Johnette was the lead singer and bass player for LA bands Concrete Blonde and Pretty & Twisted (with the late Marc Moreland of Wall of Voodoo). She is currently a collaborator in the UK group Catfish Scar. Johnette composes music for films, is an environmental artist having studied in Mexico with Juan Quezada, and has also studied Flamenco dancing and singing in Spain.

Johnette, I’m just going to start with a quick fire succession of questions. Feel free to Answer, Ditch or use as a Springboard. I guess what would be interesting is your take on the street art situation in Los Angeles. First, what does Street Art mean to you? Is it Public Art? What about tagging and graffiti? And, is something lost in the transition from the street to the gallery when work is decontextualised?

I'm from LA which has a long urban history of public art that I attribute to the Mexicans, the original Californians...the first street in Los Angeles, Olvera Street, has a mural by one of the most important Mexican artists in history David Alfaro Sequiros. It was whitewashed back in the day for political content. It's more popular knowledge now that Diego and Frida Kahlo Rivera were just as well known for pissing off people with their art as they were for the art itself, probably more so.

The first thing that comes to my mind before anything is preservation and the way they've built a glass dome over Old Las Vegas, as if the whole world's about to blow like in a Ben Elton novel and we're designating biospheres and now 'culturespheres'. Art is always a matter of taste, so right away you're bound to have a problem.

They just busted somebody out here in the desert for tagging the Coachella Music Festival. For the last few years, the guy put it all up on YOUTUBE. Ah! vanity, my favorite sin. He owes lots and lots of money for damages… You know, there are so many reasons why street art exists, it really would be a regional study, and depend very much on the local history. Street art has been downright necessary and downright a nuisance, but there you have it, it’s the perception thing. Like a tattoo is a badge, a symbol of a tribe; a 'tag' was marking territory.

What about the readymade type found art that you showed me in Joshua Tree, Inland Empire, California? Is the definition of the work to do with the location of the work or is it about an attitude? Why do people create this type of work?
Now you bring up Noah Purifoy's place out here in Joshua Tree. There’s two acres of a man's vision. Again, it’s a matter of taste. I would take Noah's over any museum in the world; but to others it's junk. Nowadays outsider art and reclaimed art are more mainstream. Today you can find Howard Finster's work in galleries... and it's great. I'll bet that walking through his place in Athens, Georgia, is even more amazing, but how many people will have that opportunity? I remember a discussion with someone I was working with once and they had issues with the internet and art, virtual tours of the Louvre, etc...

Of course, immediately, I remembered when we were at The Louvre and what was much more interesting than the postage-stamp sized Mona Lisa were the surrounding throngs, gawking, and flashing their cameras... ouch! The Mona Lisa is pretty much better on any postcard than in person. So you have to concede that seeing anything.... even a penguin, for that matter in its natural habitat would be a whole different thing than seeing it in a zoo. Then again, you have a panda or a polar bear or platypus and you are lucky to see it at all, we just have to accept where we are in whatever cycle we're in. I thought that was elitist. If a kid sees a piece of art on the internet, and in fact that is the only chance in his life he will get to see it at all, I will be very grateful. Art, being organic, is threatened, like everything else organic. Because human beings are organic. So far, except for a few tits here and there. Which are also Art. So there we go…

Finally, can you tell me a little about your work Saints & Crosses which will be on show next month in California?

This is work in wood and tin. I’ll be shooting and describing some of the pieces online so if you don’t live out this way and are interested you can view. If you visit the gallery over the course of the month bring a photo of a loved one for the Dio de los Muertos altar. Nothing irreplaceable, obviously. Live flamenco music and dance, and the gallery features a biodiesel station in the back,"

Johnette will be exhibiting this work at Art Queen, Joshua Tree, Inland Empire, CA on 4 October at 20:00.

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