Exclusive: Artist Enrique Martínez Celaya’s Cultural Guide to Los Angeles

 The Wende Museum

 

 

Enrique Martinez Celaya was born in Cuba at a time when the revolution was but a decade old, and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) just a couple of years behind. Tensions with America were still worryingly heightened.

It was perhaps that he arrived in the world into such harrowing circumstances (his family moved to Madrid in 1972) that eventually inspired him to particularly impressive levels of achievement, shifting seemingly effortlessly from scientist to philosopher, along the way acquiring such impressive academic titles as: Visiting Presidential Professor in the history of art at University of Nebraska (2007–2010); Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College (2014–present); Roth Family Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth (2016-2017); and Provost Professor of Humanities and Arts at USC (2017–present).

He also happens to be an accomplished and collected painter and sculptor, whose work is now included in the permanent collections at such exalted cultural institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig. He’s also written several scholarly books, including 2015’s On Art and Mindfulness: Notes from the Anderson Ranch, where he offers his singularly illuminating views on the process of making art.

 

 

Most fascinatingly, he actually sees his visual output as sharing philosophical and cultural ground more with literature than perhaps any particular genre of art. “Often when artists talk about writers,” he has said, “they’re talking about them as a source of content. I’m reading them for a moral stance in the world.”

He is currently preparing for a rather unprecedented exhibition in Berlin this coming February, for which he will be collaborating with the iconic German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945), whose infamous cycles The Weavers and The Peasant War directly confronted the deprivation of poverty and the mistreatment of the working classes. His paintings will hang beside hers (see a preview on his Instagram page), on loan from her namesake museum, creating a surely compelling juxtaposition between a living artist, and a deceased one who has influenced him.

“I have admired Käthe Kollwitz for decades,” he explains, “so I am honored and thrilled to be able to create an exhibition with and in response to her work in Berlin—the city where she lived and worked.”

As Martinez Celaya himself currently lives and works in Los Angeles, we asked him to virtually take us around the city to his favorite art destinations, while we wait for some of them to open back up. Which we’re very much hoping happens before 2020 is behind us.

 

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Prophet, 2018

Enrique Martinez Celaya’s Cultural Guide to Los Angeles 

USC Fisher Museum of Art

It is the first museum established in Los Angeles, and it often brings together scholarship, well-considered exhibitions, and exciting educational programs. It has an excellent permanent collection, but it is not always on view.

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens 

A wonderful collection, a vast library, and spectacular gardens. Everybody wants to see the museum’s most well-known work, Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, but don’t miss Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Diana and George Wesley Bellows’ Portrait of Laura.

 

 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

The first museum in Los Angeles that acquired my work. It has an encyclopedic collection, and two of my favorite things to see are Diego Rivera’s Portrait of Frida Kahlo, and the museum’s amazing German Expressionist collection.

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

The museum has a good collection of post-war and contemporary art, with great pieces by Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Sigmar Polke, and Jasper Johns, as well as influential California artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari.

 

The Wende Museum

The museum has a terrific and, at times quirky collection of art and artifacts from Cold War-era Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There is a lot to see, as artworks are mixed by the brilliant Joes Segal with books and strange objects.

The Broad

A post-war and contemporary collection. Skip the Koons and Kusama works, and visit instead the museum’s holdings of Leon Golub, Anselm Kiefer, and Joseph Beuys. The museum’s curator, Ed Schad, is one of the best-read art people I know.

 

Image by Mike Kelley, courtesy of The Broad

 

Santa Monica Art Studios

Located at the Santa Monica Airport in a 22,000 square foot hangar, the space houses private studios and public viewing areas. The studios offer a rare opportunity to see an active creative community, to look at recent artworks, and to speak with artists, who often welcome visitors into their spaces.

Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College

About 45 minutes from Los Angeles, the museum has a substantial collection that includes Native American art, Renaissance paintings, significant works by Goya, and contemporary art. For me, the highlight of Pomona’s collection is Jose Clemente Orozco’s Prometheus fresco, which is definitely worth the drive.

 

 

Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City

This special cemetery, in the heart of Los Angeles, is open during the day to explore. It represents one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted land in LA, including rolling grass hills and beautiful vistas. All graves have flat engraved tombstones in the ground, so there are no view obstructions. It has several European art reproductions, including Michelangelo’s Pietá at the top of the hill, integrated with small carved caves and grottoes. This cemetery also holds a good amount of history, in how long it has been in existence and who is buried there (Bela Lugosi, Rita Hayworth, Sharon Tate). It’s a magnificent art experience, much like walking through a sculpture garden or an art park in Florence.

 

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Mirroring Land, 2017

Exclusive: Loupe Artist Caison Wang’s Cultural Guide to Shanghai

Caison Wang, Regression

 

 

America’s relations with China are in a particular state of tatters—and it’s hardly even worth recounting exactly who is responsible for that situation. And with the TikTok ban imminent, don’t expect the outlook to get any rosier any time soon.

But art generally has a way of rising above the political clatter, and reaching across the borders/oceans. Of course now, with Americans all but grounded for international travel, the cultural exchanges will all be digital. Which is why the influential art streaming app Loupe has become ever more relevant—especially as its new motion art channel was recently launched, offering a whole new level of engagement with its carefully curated stable of global art talent.

One of those artists is Caison Wang, who studied Stateside in Atlanta, but is currently residing in the creative hotbed that is Shanghai. And as part of a pandemic inspired (meaning, we can’t actually travel right now) new series, BlackBook, in conjunction with Loupe, has engaged her to create a guide to some of her city’s most unmissable cultural destinations—including even where local artists like to go for a good night out.

 

Caison Wang, Surveillance

 

Caison Wang’s Cultural Guide to Shanghai

 

“I am a Shanghai-based artist, focusing on installation and sculpture related to social phenomenon, the human spirit, psychological values and consumerism. I have been based in Shanghai for The Swatch Art Peace Hotel residency since 2019, and it has been an exhilarating chance for me to enjoy a luxury studio in a centuries-old hotel, and meet professional artists from around the world. Creativity and diversity are central to the city; Shanghai is an incredible place to link with the international art market, and has created a new regional culture by absorbing cultures from all over the world.

I started working with Loupe as a graduate student in the United States in 2018. The platform shares many artistic talents to a wide audience, and it eliminates cultural barriers between the public and the artist. I have continued my work with Loupe in Shanghai and believe it is an incredible experience for emerging artists wherever they live and work around the world.”

 

 

Caison Wang, Seven Sins

 

Power Station of Art

On the desolate site of the 2010 World Expo, the Chinese government has transformed an old power station into an artistic gem. Power Station of Art (PSA) is the first state-owned contemporary art museum in China, so while that precludes shows that might be deemed too avant-garde, it is also the main site for the Shanghai Biennale. I think PSA provides the community with an open showground for modern culture, hence removing the gap between art and life, boosting the collaboration and knowledge production between different cultures and art categories.
My first group exhibition titled #HASHTAG in Shanghai was at the PSA. It was selected as one of three winning proposals for the 2017 Emerging Curators Project. I was so excited to be invited by the esteemed curators to exhibit my works “Mechanical Avalokiteshvara” and “Unconscious Hierarchy.”

 

 

Swatch Art Peace Hotel

Peace Hotel is at the center of the Bund and one of the most famous hotels in China. In 2010, the south building was redesigned by Swatch for the artist residency program, in which artists from around the world are invited to live and work on two dedicated floors. Its unique operational concept blends a retail environment with a hotel, workshops and apartments where artists live and work. Gifted artists from around the world are selected by an international committee.
The Swatch Art Peace Hotel has its own exhibition room on the first floor, which features 480 square meters for art exhibitions that are free to the public. Exchanges and interactions among visiting artists are always very lively and there is a lot of idea sharing amongst Chinese and Western artists. “Open Studio” events encourage communication among artists, the management team, the local art community and the public.
I was so lucky to be invited by the program to do the residency for six months in 2019—it provided me with a significant chance of sharing art. This incomparable historical building inspired me a lot in my creation process. During these six months, I learned and shared art, culture and fun with artists from different countries. I extended my research topic “Unconscious Hierarchy”(fig) and built a new installation that was shown during open studio night.

 

Square Gallery

A space engaged with pushing the boundaries of contemporary art. I love this art space because it has a unique form—it mutates together with the times it lives in. Initially located in Suzhou in a 900 square meter warehouse, it has hosted over 40 different artists from 15 countries. Since 2015, Square Gallery has held exhibitions and art fairs in China and Europe.

 

 

The Press by Inno Coffee

The Press, built-in 1918, was the first newspaper office of Shenbao for over half a century. In 2015, it was refurbished to become Inno Coffee, and it also retained the architectural imprint of the past. It’s a spacious and impressively renovated café. You could easily spend several hours reading, working, or just hanging out there.

 

 

Bund 18

This is my favorite drinks and dancing place, and I often recommend visitors to go there. Bund 18 was once the Chinese headquarters for the Chartered Bank—it is a historic building, that features the city’s most famous nightlife spots, including Bar Rouge, Mr. & Mrs. Bund, as well as a café and art gallery, all amidst iconic views of the Shanghai skyline.

 

Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson on Brisbane, Fashion + Choosing Your Best Pronoun

 

 

 

As we adjust to whatever is the new normal, we actually consider ourselves fortunate that we have still been able to video connect with interesting people around the world. One of those was Tim Nelson, frontperson and songwriter for Brisbane-based queer indie group Cub Sport. Essentially, if you’re partial to The 1975 and Frank Ocean, their new album needs to be on your Spotify.

Pre-COVID, we would have been hopping a flight to catch Cub Sport playing alongside headliners like HAIM, Chemical Brothers and Charli XCX at the UK’s Latitude Festival. And before the lockdowns their popularity was exploding, touring sold out venues across four continents, and becoming the darlings of Aussie music press (we’re all catching up now). And their just-released fourth studio album Like Nirvana more than lives up to the hype, tackling topics of self-identity, personal growth, religious upbringing, even the very concept of masculinity.

It’s early morning in Australia, and as we video chat, we ask Tim, who is adorned in band merch, about the origins and iterations of Cub Sport, his hometown Brisbane, and collaborating with childhood friend Mallrat.

 

 

Describe the Queensland/Brisbane music scene.

The scene is strong! Lots of my fave artists come from here: Mallrat, Thelma Plum, The Veronicas, Hatchie, Eves Karydas, Wafia, and lots more. Brisbane’s also home to lots of world-class producers, filmmakers, photographers…so it’s an exciting time to be creating here.

Is it a source of inspiration for Cub Sport’s music?

I love Brisbane! The weather here is consistently pretty good, and it doesn’t get very cold in winter. Lots of the things I’ve written about have happened here, so it’s definitely a big inspiration, whether directly or indirectly.

What’s the origin of the name?

We started the band when we were pretty young, and we all looked like babies; so we called ourselves Cub Scouts, which felt very fitting at the time. After releasing music as Cub Scouts for a couple of years, the Scouts Australia sent us a letter asking us to stop from using the word “scout.” So we ran through a bunch of different options, then we landed on Cub Sport. It took a couple of years to grow into it, and now it feels very right. I really love the name now.

Let’s talk about Like Nirvana, your new album. You’ve already released a few songs, “I Feel Like I Am Changin’,” “Drive,” and “Confessions.” In the latter, you touch on insecurities, sexuality, love and self-doubt. You’re being vulnerable to the listener. What was going on when you wrote this song?

We’d been away on tour for most of the year. When we got home, I was feeling burnt out. I felt like I had a lot of these things weighing on me that I didn’t acknowledge. Staying so busy allowed me to just keep pushing forward. When we slowed down, all those things started to surface. So when I was writing this song, I was holding the mic saying or singing whatever came into my mind. It felt like a purge of all the things that I was scared to acknowledge, and it just came out all at once. It was cathartic.

Was it directed at anyone specific?

It’s mainly directed at myself, but there are instances around the lyrics that involve other people. But I feel like a lot of it is just how I was perceiving things around me.

 

 

It’s safe to say love is one of the main themes of your new album. What does it mean to you?

To me, love is like a peaceful feeling that is also exhilarating; it’s the opposite of fear. Total acceptance, and I guess in my experience with love, there’s no second guessing. It’s such a difficult thing to put into words, but I think I express my idea of love best when I’m creating music that is inspired by it. I feel like love is the most powerful part of who we are, and what ties us together.

Does it hurt?

I don’t believe love itself hurts, but I feel like there’s a lot of other things that can happen around love that are painful.

I love Mallrat, and am excited that she’s featured on the new song “Break Me Down.” How did that collab happen?

So we’ve been friends for awhile now, and she grew up in Brisbane as well. When she was in town toward the end of last year, she came over to work on some music together. At that point, I thought I had finished the album, but then we just went into writing this song with total freedom. The result is so far from what we were expecting to create together, but it was so powerful, beautiful and special that it had to be on the album. It came from a feeling of limitlessness of what we can do.

Your sound has evolved since your last album. Can you tell me a bit more of the direction you wanted to go in this time?

I was really drawn to more live instruments on this album. The last one was quite synth-heavy and there were a lot of electronic drums. I think I was really drawn to the textures and the way that when I would record guitar on some of the songs it felt raw and alive. I never want to recreate what I’ve done before, and it was really exciting.

Where do you record?

I do most of it at home here in Brisbane. I have a home studio directly downstairs from where I’m sitting right now, and that’s pretty much where I wrote the album. There’s a few songs that I wrote while we were on tour in the US—”Saint” and “Eighteen” were both written literally on the road, and I recorded the vocals in Airbnbs. “Be Your Man Sam” I wrote and recorded in a little studio in Los Angeles; but other than that, all were written here at home.

What’s the creative process behind the videos?

Usually if we make a video for a song, I’ve had a strong idea of what I would like it to be. When Brisbane was in COVID lockdown, that’s when we were supposed to be shooting for this album. That didn’t end up happening, so we were left with no choice but to make home videos. It was just about capturing what we can.

 

 

I especially loved the Japanese vibe of “Confessions.”

Somebody sent me that anime and said, “this looks just like you”—so I went with it.

Well it does look like you. (Ed. note: The video is inspired by a Guts and Griffith manga story.  

Thank you. I was like, “well this character is beautiful, so thank you so much.” Then I searched for images of that character and I tried to find scenes and moments that felt like they expressed the same feeling as the song. Then I put it all together. I’m very happy about how it comes across. It looks like it was made specifically for the song.

How does the music influence your fashion, or is it independent from it? 

I feel that it’s all about self-expression, that the music and fashion complement each other a lot. And what I’m wearing can really impact like how I feel and how I perform. It’s about finding what feels like the truest part of yourself and drawing from that for inspiration in every area. I feel like when you can make a genuine connection with yourself and what you’re feeling, then all the things you draw from end up fitting together.

Do you have a preferred pronoun?

I would like to use “he/him.” I’d been using both “he/him” and “they/them,” and I think when I first started to consider which to use, I felt oppressed by the idea of gender binary: the concept that people should identify as either a man or a woman, versus non-binary or gender fluid—and I felt like I had to use “they/them” too, because I didn’t feel like the idea of what a man was meant to be. Since then, I’ve allowed myself to feel free and I think that “he/him” feels like who I’ve always been.

What do you hope people take away from Like Nirvana?

I would really love for people to listen to it start to finish. I feel like there’s a lot of power and release in the flow of the songs; to me it feels like an ascension from the trauma and the pain. By the end of the album, on “Grand Canyon,” where there’s the heavenly choir, I feel like it’s really calming and uplifting. I really want people to listen like that, because I feel like it can be a very healing experience for anyone, especially for queer people, who have that difficult experience growing up and not feeling like they belong.

 

 

 

Galerie Ropac’s ’30 Years Paris’ Will Bring Together Rauschenberg, Baselitz, Elizabeth Peyton

Georg Baselitz, X-ray doppel, 2020. Oil on canvas, 270 x 207 cm (106,3 x 81,5 in) © Georg Baselitz. Photo: Jochen Littkemann.

 

The pandemic has shifted, and will continue to shift the art world towards a new more virtual existence. But Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac debuted all the way back before there was even an internet, something that has become rather hard to even fathom, now that images are digitally zipped back and forth in a matter of seconds.

Indeed, the gallery first hung out its shingle in the gloriously historic Austrian city of Salzburg (“The hills are alive…”) in 1983, with a focus on the intersection of American art and cinema. Seven years later, at a new space in Paris’s still burgeoning at the time Marais district, the Christian Leigh curated exhibition Vertigo opened, which carried on with that very same mission.

“From the first day in October 1990, when I opened my one-floor gallery in the Marais,” founder Thaddaeus Ropac recalls, “I felt embraced and welcomed by a very unique Parisian art world—one that offered us the ideal ecosystem to present works by a very wide range of artists to a curious, enthusiastic and discerning audience.”

Anselm Kiefer, Für Walther von der Vogelweide – under der Linden an der Heide, 2019. Emulsion, oil paint, acrylic, shellac, chalk on canvas, 280 x 380 cm (110,24 x 149,61 in). © Anselm Kiefer / VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2020. Photo: Georges Poncet.

 

And so the Galerie Ropac is set to celebrate its 30th anniversary this fall, with a head-spinning new show pithily titled 30 Years Paris, at its current space in Paris’ possible next art-hot neighborhood of Pantin. The collected pieces will span the generations, crossing from the 20th Century decisively into the 21st. So long-venerated works by Joseph Beuys, Rosemarie Castoro, Donald Judd and Robert Rauschenberg will sit beside more recent paintings by Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Elizabeth Peyton and Yan Pei-Ming. Especially intriguing will be new works by Ali Banisadr, Adrian Ghenie, Daniel Richter…even Robert Longo, which were created exclusively for this exhibition.

There will also be something of a cultural “cage match,” as VALIE EXPORT’s Geburtenbett [Birth Bed], originally shown in the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1980, will be positioned in “dialogue” with Lee Bul’s Scale of Tongue, which had its premiere at the 2019 Biennale. Neither have ever been shown in Paris.

Ropac concludes, “The last 30 years in Paris have been incredibly inspiring, challenging, rewarding and, most importantly, particularly stimulating for the artists. I feel very privileged to have worked with many great artists, and I am deeply grateful to them for offering us exhibitions that have become legendary. It has been a joy to evolve in a cosmopolitan city that embraces art and culture with an intense international resonance.”

The show 30 Years Paris opens October 21 at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Please forgive us if we at least hold out hope that the European travel restrictions have been lifted by then.

 

VALIE EXPORT, Geburtenbett, 1980. Wedge, rusty construction steel; bed part: bare construction steel profiles with bed springs, bed springs doused with polyester; women’s legs: glass fibre reinforced synthetic resin; upholstery part: chrome nickel steel; fluorescent tubes: red ruby glass; video: Holy Consecration (part of a Roman Catholic mass, represented by a priest in a church), sound, monitor, DVD, looped, 150 x 470 x 165 cm. © VALIE EXPORT / ADAGP Paris, 2020. Photo: Ben Westoby.

Alextbh on Engineering, Instant Gratification + Being a Queer Pop Star in Malaysia

 

 

 

His name is Alextbh…and he is “Malaysia’s first queer pop star.”

Born in Kuala Lumpur, the rising R&B/pop singer has made a name for himself through his lacquered, romantic and often playful music, as well as his outspokenness about queer identity in Malaysia—a country whose government has explicitly and consistently condemned the LGBTQ+ community. 

Fully poised and confident in himself and his abilities, he fully holds the creative reigns, crafting emotive melodies and lyrics, producing his own music and even creating the visuals for his videos. His efforts have earned him co-signs from musicians such as Sevdaliza, Khalid, and Clean Bandit. 

On his debut EP, The Chase, released July 17, Alextbh approaches the uncomfortable feelings that arise in hookup culture: the heartache, the ambiguous longing. It’s both visceral and thought provoking. About the early single “Between,” Alex says, “I wanted to see how comfortable I could be with my sexuality in my songwriting. It feels empowering to write something explicit in a physical context, and I guess it’s something I should explore more often. Queer bodies are human bodies and there’s nothing wrong with trying to frame that intimate moment and showcase it.”

Still under quarantine, BlackBook spoke to the twenty-three-year-old rising star about growing up in Malaysia, his time spent social distancing, and his experience producing and animating the video for the single. 

 

 

 

These are strange times we’re living in. How’re you keeping busy? 

I find that picking up new job hobbies tends to make me happier. Anything that I can get my hands on and learn to distract me for a bit. So far I’ve learned a little bit of 3D modeling on Blender, and I’ve recently started learning about photography as well. Still wish I could pick up at least one book to read or even a podcast to listen to, but I have an extremely short attention span.

What’s the hardest thing about quarantine for you?

Keeping a consistent workflow. There are days when I’m really burnt out from the state of the world, and when I do feel that way it’s really hard to pick myself back up again. For instance, I’d go really intense on working out one day, and then ignore it for the rest of the week. I also think it’s difficult for me to realign with my social circle. Like, I’m not a FaceTime person at all. I need to physically hug my friends!

What have you been listening to lately? 

A lot of Kelela and Tinashe. There are days when Kelela’s “Bluff” just plays on repeat for like a hundred times while I’m working. She deserves all the coins! The main R&B girls really get me through a lot of the bad days. Oh, and Gaga too. I haven’t felt this excited since her “Born This Way” era.

Who are some of your strongest influences?

It used to be Flume. When I started out as a musician, most of the tutorials on YouTube were centered around EDM, and in my opinion Flume was the archetype of that genre. I then had a phase with James Blake, mostly because I admire his storytelling and his consistent and creative mix of analog and digital. Now I’ve transitioned to R&B and/or pop. It has been like that since “Stoop So Low.” I was obsessed with SZA, Sinead Harnett, Kelela and the like. So yeah, it depends on where my musical journey is. 

 

Image by Samuel Yong

 

I know you produce your music as well as write it, so what’s your songwriting process like? Do you start with lyrics then move on to production?

At any given time, if I have any lyric ideas in my head, I’ll just write it down on my Notes app, so I have a catalogue of verses and ideas that I can play around with later on. And then when I’m producing, I usually start with a beat, and as the sounds are taking shape, I try to match the lyrics with with the beat. But I have no idea what comes after. My workflow isn’t really formulaic. Some days I’m able to write, and some days I scrap the entire thing. 

I read you studied engineering, correct? What was the transition to music like? 

Yes, I graduated with a Diploma in Electronic Engineering, but I didn’t want to continue on that path. There wasn’t really any transition, I knew that making music has always been my main passion. I’d fire up Ableton any time I could get. I remember the day when I received my transcript, I knew it was set in stone. 

Where’d you learn how to make music?

YouTube. As with any skill, the resources are abundant, you just need to spend lots of time doing your research. When I’m bored I look up things like “R&B type beat tutorial” or “cool chord progressions” on YouTube. The world we live in is great. 

For the cover art for “Between,” you’re wearing a VR headset. What was the idea behind that shoot?

It was my friend/stylist Evonne’s idea (@d8.eyes). The song is centered around sex and instant gratification from hooking up with strangers online. It’s all about that cyberpunk vibe. 

The video is a sensual montage of closeups on male bodies (broken up with shots of flower petals), and you quite literally frame these intimate moments with a border made of your stage name. Can you elaborate? 

It started off as a challenge to see what kind of video I am able to make with the littlest amount of money, whilst being in quarantine—and that was the end result. I didn’t have anything planned in my head, really. I was just going through pond5.com and all these stock video sites trying to figure out if I can find anything good. I almost gave up because none of the footage was even decent. Like, they’re great for generic company videos or ads, but not for something artistic. That is, until I discovered those two stock footages. I cropped them out because ambiguity is sexy, haha!

How has your creative process changed?

I learned to be more efficient. Like, when I come up with a song I sort of already know how it’s going to look visually. I know who to work with, I know what to source for. Obviously this takes a lot of trial and time, but I’m happy with the current team I’ve got.

 

 

What was the hardest song to realize on the EP?

It would be “Numb.” It was emotionally challenging for me. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted that in-your-face approach in songwriting. I was wondering if I only wrote the song out of guilt. It’s about hurting people, and it’s not something I take pride in. It took me a while to convince myself to fully open up.

I have a surface level understanding of the actions Malaysia has taken against the LGBTQ+ community—could you talk about what it was like growing up there and why you feel the need to inspire change? 

Many people grew up with inferiority complexes, and I was no exception. You can’t blame me when it feels like the world demonizes your very existence. You head out and see billboards showing skin whitening products. You go on porn sites and see muscular white models. You try to buy contact lenses at a store and the salesperson pushes you to get the colored one because it’s blue and looks nice on you. Shit like that fucks you up. It takes a lot of tenacity to be queer and brown. I think a lot of us have been unlearning the complex, but it’s so deeply rooted and ingrained that it’s difficult to completely get rid of it. That’s why we need representation. That way, we can truly dismantle the broken system.

Where is your community centered? Do you find it in Malaysia? Abroad? On social media?

I’d say it’s in Malaysia. The queer scene over here isn’t big by any means, so you get to know people after two or three parties. I made a lot of friends from drag balls, or parties and [other] events. 

Can you speak a little about that community and any guiding figures in it that you look up to?

As with any community, there are like pockets of people scattered around. Not unlike that Mean Girls scene when Janice talks about the cafeteria. Some of my closest friends are drag queens, like Carmen Rose (@carmnrose), Cik Teh Botol (@ciktehbotol), and Acne (@justacnescarr). Doing drag isn’t easy at all. The amount of dedication, hard work and love they put in their craft is inspiring. They also pioneered the drag-techno scene in Kuala Lumpur, and it’s so cool that they brought in something that’s conceptually so foreign. Like, this isn’t Berlin bitch, it’s KL!

 

 

Was it a hard decision to become an openly queer voice in music? Were you worried about backlash and criticism?

Not at all. I wouldn’t imagine taking my queerness out of my work. I am queer, and something about saying that over and over again gives you so much power, [you feel] nothing can hurt you.

 What do you try to communicate through your music?

My emotions. All sides of the spectrum. In “Walls,” I was pleading. In “Stoop So Low,” I was infuriated. In “No Space,” I was adventurous. That’s what music is about, no?

What are you hoping The Chase will accomplish?

I hope anyone that listens to it can give me an answer to the questions that The Chase [puts forth]. Questions like, “do we need emotional visibility in hookup culture?”

As “Malaysia’s First Queer Pop Star,” do you feel as though you have a responsibility to communicate the queer community’s message?

Definitely. Each and every queer person here has lived a difficult life, and the ultimate form of reclaiming ourselves is to see everybody manifest that pain and turn it into something beautiful. Like drag. Or singing. Or becoming a data scientist. Or opening a law firm to help LGBT communities. I want to facilitate that change. I want my community to know that anything is possible, because I used to be the kid that felt like a failure. 

 

Image by Samuel Yong

BlackBook Premiere: Dreamlike New Kid Moxie Single + Video ‘All Day Long I Think Of You’

 

As with life, there was a randomness to how individual lives played out against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis. Take Greek born, now also Los Angeles based singer Elena Charbila. Had she been in Greece when lockdowns went into effect, she would have been in one of the safest places in the world; instead, she has been “trapped” in LA, where the situation only seems to be worsening.

Her response was to shift into alter ego mode, via her artistic nom de guerre Kid Moxie. A cool cult figure if ever, and bathed in enigma, she has found recognition on her own terms, collaborating with the likes of Maps and Angelo Badalamenti, and even composing the score for the recent Greek film Not To Be Unpleasant, for which she hauntingly covered the Alphaville classic “Big In Japan.” And now BlackBook is thrilled to premiere her latest single and video, “All Day Long I Think Of You.”

The title, of course, could not be more of the moment, at a time when so many loved ones have been tragically separated for such long periods of time. It is also the only lyric, a reflectively repeated mantra, as if to emphasize the sense of endless longing that comes with such separation.

 

The dreamy, ethereal atmospherics of the song remind of those most wistful, winsome moments in the Saint Etienne catalog, so rife as the track is with a sense of melancholic yearning. While the accompanying, quarantine-composed video is a dreamy, hazily romantic Venice Beach “travelogue” of sorts.

It’s taken from her new release Love and Unity, which was a collab with DJ-producer Luxxury—the latter referring to it as the “dream disco EP.”

Elena concurs, explaining, “Disco music always lifted my spirits like no other genre; but I never dared to make a disco album until Luxxury and I started playing live shows and doing DJ gigs together. He and I come from different worlds sonically, but with Love and Unity we finally managed to merge them.”

A full Kid Moxie album titled Better Than Electric is due out this fall.

You Need to Know Her: Nilüfer Yanya Dazzles in NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ Performance, Quarantine Edition

 

 

If you hadn’t heard of her, this is your lucky day.

Brit songstress and fast rising young talent Nilüfer Yanya‘s ability to create adventurously kaleidoscopic soundscapes that draw from raw nerves, a beating heart and a seemingly open-ended eclectic mix of indie pop, post-punk, soul and jazz is no easy feat. It was her 2019 Miss Universe long player that definitively established her as this rarified artist worthy of keeping company with the likes of St. Vincent, Karen O, Mitski and Fiona Apple; and it had music scribes tripping over their thesauruses to describe the ineffable wonder of it all. (Pitchfork, Billboard and Stereogum all listed the album as one of the year’s best.)

With mixed heritage that spans from Ireland to Turkey to the Caribbean, Yanya’s riveting voice pushes and pulls the listener into a unique world taut with emotional highs and lows. Her scope ranges from the hypnotic, pulsing trip-hop of “Baby Blu” to the edgy alt-rock of “In Your Head” (which sounds like she’s consciously nodding to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) to the stark—lone guitar and vox—beauty of “Monsters Under The Bed.”

 

 

Turbulent times these be. Here, Stateside, the whacking of the proverbial hornet’s nest has created a new world disorder—the likes of which history provides no precedent for. Likewise, with a worldwide pandemic, musicians and media are hurriedly scouting for new and creative ways to connect to the restlessly hunkered-down masses. Quarantine tele-concerts have become the prevailing solution.

Leave it to the exalted/beloved NPR music series Tiny Desk to remain equally vital and substantial for such an unstable time in our history. And Ms. Yanya’s intimate showcase for TD proves it an ideal platform for an artist whose versatile talents enable her to captivate in such stark/basic setting (the great ones always shine in stripped-down form). For corona-wearied music lovers looking for something brilliant and fresh to revive their beaten down spirits, it is a much needed shot of visceral, cultural life.

Enjoy.

 

‘I Am Not Producing Content’: Cristina BanBan Holds Forth From Her Latest NYC Solo Show

 

 

 

Following three months of a New York City in pandemic lockdown, we were finally able to venture to 1969 Gallery on the Lower East Side to catch the physical opening of Cristina BanBan’s Tigre y Paloma. The exhibition title comes from El poeta pide a su amor que le escriba… (trans. “The poet asks his love to write”), a poem by renowned Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, from his famous work Sonetos del Amor Oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the works were originally shown only virtually.

Already a venerable artist whose fusion of neoclassicism and Japanese manga is easily distinguishable, the paintings and work on paper are BanBan’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. Originally from Spain, she produced this body of work while quarantined in a Brooklyn studio, and the pieces are inspired by memories of her family, and time spent at the beach…including a few self-portraits.

 

 

As we walked in, we were met by the artist, who treated us to a guided tour of her work. She showed us pieces with brilliant, textured, and richly saturated color. As we walked toward the back of the gallery, we arrived at a very powerful image of a man and woman together in bed. Then we encountered Lagrimitas de Cocodrilo, a painting of a striking, powerful femme, with long ginger hair, which we later found out is one of the self-portraits. BanBan’s works are a form of escapism for both the viewer and herself, she told us.

She mentioned that she was classically trained from the age of five, and went on to study fine arts at the  Universitat de Barcelona. As a girl, she used to love Japanese anime. The paintings featured big eyes, and hands were a blend of acrylic colors and soft pastels, which looked like watercolor and rich pigment on paper. Her work is a mix experiences and memories.

We headed toward the secret back garden of the gallery with a Blue Moon brew in hand to begin our interview about her work and her experiences in NYC.

 

Image by Nelson Castillo; MUA: Meghan Yarde; Location Studio: Waverly Studios

 

 

You work is distinctive and recognizable. What started you on this path?

I have always been drawn to figurative painting, I use bodies to narrate stories. The vast majority of the characters in my paintings are female and contain a degree of self-portraiture. They don’t all resemble me, but definitely reflect my emotional and psychological states.
I had a very traditional education in the arts. Since I was very young I have taken life drawing classes, convinced that good work had to look as close as possible to the real world. I learned anatomy through a lot of practical training, hundreds of hours drawing from nude models or still lifes. I never got bored and enjoyed it. Some years ago when I started working in the studio trying to find my style, I realized that drawing was a fundamental part of my work, and I used those skills to play with the distortions of the body. Viewers recognize this and I guess distortion has become part of my signature.

Is it inspired by a Neoclassical style?

If you understand neo-classicism as a movement that took some aspects of classical style, yes, you could then say my work relates, because of the importance I give to drawing. I admire the elegance and mastership of Ingres portraits and preparatory drawings. I always try to embrace the beauty of the female body, its realness, but also assigning these women with a certain divine look through dramatic gestures and positions. I am interested in how the figures are placed in the foreground in Ingres’ work, eliminating the perspective, which is characteristic of my paintings.

Do politics and social movements influence your work? Art is a language: What do you want your viewer to take away from it?

My emotions and experiences have been the main source for my paintings. I think my work is accessible and expressive. The current social and political climate has impacted my recent work, with more realistic themes and metaphors. Thousands of New Yorkers have been fighting in the streets over a month. As a creative individual, I want to use my work to contribute to the cause. I am learning how to use my skills as a painter to make more meaningful work. I think this is an ongoing preoccupation for most artists.

 

 

What was the last exhibit you saw that left an impression and why?

Imagine Me and You, a Dana Schutz solo exhibition at Petzel Gallery, has stayed in my mind. I was blown away by the intensity of the colors, brushstrokes, and the distortion of the bodies and her twisted imagination. A bit grotesque and mysterious at times, Schutz creates very powerful emotional narratives.

During our photoshoot, we listened to your Spotify playlist, which included early J-Lo hits and Missy Elliot. What do you listen to while working in your studio?

I was probably feeling a bit nostalgic! It depends on the mood really. When I start a painting I go for something a bit more melodic, or repetitive beats that help me focus on what I am doing. I play loud music when I need to be energized. Kings of Tomorrow, Leatherette, Floating Points, Burial.. but also I can play a session with a mix of cumbia, bachata or salsa. I often go to NTS, an online radio station based in Dalston, London, to explore new genres and discover musicians. They have a great variety of sessions and it’s so inspiring.

Does the speed of culture now force you to produce your art at a faster pace to stay relevant?

Painting is the content on my social media but I am not “producing content” to share online. I share work when the show is already up, giving priority to the real experience first. I think of social media as a CV or a visual diary for me. I use stories to show a bit of my personal life and how I work in the studio, which perhaps can be interesting to those who wonder how pieces are made. Having said that, I don’t feel pressure to create new paintings to post, but I might feel tempted to show what I am making. My gallerist Quang Bao has put himself in charge of shutting down this recurring temptation.

 

 

Having lived in places such as London, Barcelona, and Ibiza, what’s your impression of NYC? 

I moved at the end of 2019. Then with everything that we have been trough in 2020, I can’t give you an accurate picture of my experience in New York yet, but my strongest impression is the incredible energy. The city always has something to offer, and so far I met very interesting, unique and talented people. I am looking forward to see what comes next.

You also have a show at Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica. Would you ever live in LA?

There is always this idea on the back of my mind that says “okay, and now what next?” Packing up and leaving everything behind is exciting but also can be a form of escapism. So for now, I am living in the present and I am grateful to be here.

Where would you like to travel to next?

Home.

 

BlackBook Premiere: Kaya Stewart’s Raw, Quarantine-Conjured Video for ‘California’

 

 

 

Lockdown, for those of us mature enough to comply with it, has been a bitch; but we’ve been constantly impressed with the creative ways artists have adapted to our group solitary confinement in getting their work out—maybe reference the Alison Mosshart lockdown to fully grasp our point.

The latest contender for “best use of time during a pandemic” is LA-based rising pop starlet Kaya Stewart. The daughter of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, and mentee of other Eurythmic Annie Lennox, burst on the scene in 2015 with her hit “In Love With A Boy,” the success of which begat a near constant road show for the next few years, including a slot on the Warped Tour.

Now with her new track, a more laid-back and grownup sounding “California,” Stewart had to conjure a clever way to make a video that captures the Golden State vibe of the tune, while only being allowed out of the house one hour a day. The result is the clip BlackBook premieres here, a muted grey and white study of our girl wandering around a concrete backyard / basketball court, intoning a plea to a sometime lover. While the refrain of “Let’s move to California” has been a known cure-all for bands from Led Zeppelin to the Beach Boys, it now comes with an even greater sense of the unknown; yet we’re guessing that there would be plenty of takers for Ms Stewart’s offer.

“The best advice I ever got about writing songs was to be as honest as possible; and I don’t think I’ve ever been as honest as I am in ‘California’. This song felt like therapy to me.” Says the artist, check it.