Sunday, June 28, 2009

"home Sweet home"

Last weekend, after I ventured through the CalArts MFA graduate show, I took a stroll down 5th Street and happened to walk into a neighboring gallery. As I entered the space, darkness and eerie, illuminating light met my eyes.

However, looking closer at the wavering light, I saw it was video footage of little leaves, trees, and blue sky. The video was then projected against white wooden household elements such as a window and a staircase. The touch of nature gave me a sense of calm and even familiarity—it was something so real, yet its digital quality made it ephemeral and almost imaginative.

It was “home”—Mia Babalis’ current exhibition at the Deborah Martin Gallery. 

“Home for me is where everyone I love lives,” explained Babalis in a recent email interview, “the idea that I had a home enabled me to go anywhere
with a sense of freedom and confidence, because I knew I had a home to
come back to.”

As a former modern dancer in New York City, Babalis traveled all over, performing with Alvin Ailey, Ballet Hispanico, Lar Lubovitch, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. So is the life of a dancer—stage is the home. Today, Babalis finds herself in Santa Monica and still in the arts, but using the mediums of installation and video rather than music and choreography.

“I hope [“home”] will provide a place to remember and connect to [the viewer’s]
experience of home,(present and past.),” said Babalis of her show, “I didn't want to make a rosy picture, but one that included dark
corners, so to speak. This is what makes life beautiful.”    

“home” is on view at the Deborah Martin Gallery until July 3 (


Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Why Yes: CalArts MFA Graduates Answer in Why Theory"

Why Theory was the question. And, recent CalArts MFA graduates replied in the seeming pages of coloring books, video footage of flowers, and a gold and cubic zirconium ring—just to name a few.

            MFA candidates from the California Institute of the Arts presented their final exhibition, Why Theory, this past Saturday at the Spring Arts Tower in downtown LA. A colorful crew of 33 recent graduates was on display, their art responded with vision, sound, light, color, movement and pop to the rather philosophical call of the exhibition title.

            “[The exhibition] does not question ‘why theory?’ rather, through the dynamics of the artists, emulates simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction of ideas that manifests everywhere from the confines of a painted canvas to the body of a performing artist,” explained Rita Gonzalez, co-curator of the show and assistant curator of Contemporary Art at LACMA, in a press release.

With that sense of freedom, I found myself wandering through the labyrinth-like corridors of the gallery space in a watchful search of my own answer to Why Theory.

Something that took apart the norm, the humble, the overlooked, the very personal and pieced it back together into a work of art, a story. Maybe it’s the journalist inside of me or a sudden thirst for a good story, but I was drawn to Brica Wilcox’s D/diamonds.

Using red string, the artist connect vinyl text, magazine images, and a glass-encased gold ring holding cubic zirconium to tell a sad, but intriguing story of marriage and divorce, marketing schemes and reality.

I won’t ruin the ending, but with any good story, D/diamonds left me a little heart-wrenched, still wanting more, and that surprisingly pleasant verbal reaction of “wow.”

So Why Theory. It’s something to ponder, something to discuss and perhaps rant on for a bit. However, let the art speak for itself and these artists shall spin you a tale.

CalArts MFA Graduate Exhibition: Why Theory on show from now til June 27 (

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Belmont Tunnel: Home Sweet Home for LA Graffiti Artists and Their Work"

                                           The Crewest crowd.

It was Saturday night, light was still out. The paint was dry, but the mini murals shone as if still wet from the last spray of color. Electric hues, bubble letters, cartoony characters, and calligraphic signatures popped from the walled murals in an eye-catching display.  Surrounded by their work, graffiti artists congregated with hip hop music blasting. Over the music, they conversed with each other and the public about their artwork, posed for photographs, and just had a good time.

Quite a different scene from the quiet halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for this one-time intern at the Met, LA-to-New-York-back-to-LA transplant.

That Saturday, I was amidst the crowds convened for the opening of “The Legendary Belmont Tunnel,” a tribute exhibit to the birthplace of West Coast graffiti at the Crewest Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Curated by Carlos Marquez, the show called upon respected artists to create their own “Belmont Tunnel” spray can while also documenting the artistic progression of the historic Tunnel.

“Belmont is where style started in LA,” Man One, founder and director of the Crewest Gallery, explained to this graffiti novice. And, “Mecca” was the word—graffiti artists at the exhibit worshipped the Tunnel as their artistic gathering place.

Despite its role as an artistic pioneer, Belmont Tunnel also held a nostalgic place in the hearts of these acclaimed artists. For Man One, the Tunnel was the beginning of his own career in graffiti art. He grew up watching artists paint there, eventually making his own murals there.

“Belmont was like home for me,” recalled artist Relic with a smile as he stood by his gallery piece, "STN."  Housing 40-50 of his own works, Relic has his own private gallery at the Tunnel, but deep within the layers of paint.

Relic explained, “The better the piece was, the longer it ran.” Simply, a mural piece that is recognized by other artists as particularly outstanding would not be painted over right away. Instead, a respected work might last weeks on display in the Tunnel, rather than mere days.

“Everyone knew you by what you did in Belmont,” said Wisk next to his self-titled work, “when you went to Belmont, you had to bring your A-game.” And for Wisk, it was a leap of faith and a bit of courage that propelled him to create his first Wisk piece at the renown Tunnel.

So, how is a New Yorker to relate this local urban Mecca of graffiti?

Wisk explained, “In New York, you have your hall of fame. Here, Belmont is the yard of fame.”

That's the laid-back cool of this LA art scene—its roots lie in this simple outdoor yard and transcend to become the historic and artistic holy ground for graffiti.

“The Legendary Belmont Tunnel” is on view now until June 28 at Crewest Gallery (