Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with Brushes
February 22, 2017

For our February Luce Unplugged show, we teamed up with D.C. Music Download to welcome brushes, a rock 'n' roll band from the District, to the Luce Foundation Center. Brushes' set will feature music from their upcoming record, as well as a new single based on Gene Kloss' painting, Midwinter in the Sangre de Cristos, which is on view in the Luce Center. We spoke with Nick Anway and Tommy Sherrod to dig deeper into the band's creative process and their preparation for this Thursday's performance.

The Band Brushes

Brushes band members: Nick DePrey, Mike Okusami, Tommy Sherrod, Nick Anway, and Matt Henderson (not pictured). Photo by Lydia Casmier.

Eye Level: How does collaboration influence brushes' creative process?

Nick Anway: Brushes started as a recording project, and in a way I think that's where it still sits. We've played together in lots of different arranging contexts over the past year, with a group of musicians that have been playing together for five years in several other projects, but we're most articulate in the recording context. I think a lot of the fun of this stage of this project has been starting to flip that on its head: to write through performance and articulate those ideas later in recording. The experience of writing songs and then testing them out together with different arrangements and gigs really helps you see which parts of a song are fundamental, and which are fluff.

EL: At your Luce Unplugged performance, brushes will release a new single based on Gene Kloss' painting, Midwinter in the Sangre de Cristos. How did this painting inspire your new song?

NA: Much of our new record is about remembering home, returning to it, and reflecting on what it means. We've used imagery and sounds from the "American Western" to embody that process because this genre encompasses much of the heroic ideal vs. the problematic reality dynamic that we often feel in reflecting on our shared home through community, society, government, etc. Much of the material deals with an important juxtaposition between the home the narrator is searching for (skies, sunsets, clouds, wings, doves etc.) and the bleaker home they've come to recognize. Gene Kloss' painting, which is a depiction of the American West, jumped out to us as a visual representation of that motif, so we composed a theme for it.

EL: You experiment a lot during the recording and mixing process. How do you define yourselves as artists and what message do you want to communicate through your music?

Tommy Sherrod: We start with a foundation or concept and then pretty much just try things—pick up a different instrument, work out a weird mixing or production idea that comes to mind. If we don't like something we do, we scrap it and try something else.

NA: To date, most of the brushes' music has begun in a very introspective lyrical form. But as we add voices on other instruments, and through the mixing process, a more complete voice starts to emerge. How do we define ourselves as artists? Shoot, that's a good question. Our musical voice is a big part of that. At the moment, I think we're just trying to lift folks up a little bit.

EL: What do you think makes the arts scene here in D.C. special?

NA: The spirit of the D.C. arts scene that has been most potent to me is the incredible tradition of music that the area is home to. It's a tremendous legacy to learn from and, hopefully, to pay homage to through our work.

EL: How do you all prepare before a show?

NA: We don't have much of a ritual at this point, we just try to create space for open, honest expression when we're on stage.

EL: Lastly, how can fans access your music?

NA: You can check us out on Soundcloud, Bandcamp or Spotify.

Hear brushes play February 23 at 6 p.m. after a staff-led talk on Gene Kloss' painting in the Luce Foundation Center. For more details, check out Luce's Facebook page. See you Thursday!

Posted by Madeline on February 22, 2017 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Luce Artist Talk: Five Questions (+2) with Sparkplug Collective
February 21, 2017

Each month, the Luce Foundation Center partners with neighboring Flashpoint Gallery to bring local artists to speak about their artwork and how it relates to SAAM's collection. This Sunday, February 26, we welcome Sparkplug Collective, eight local artists from the D.C. Arts Center, to discuss how collaboration and continued education help local artists thrive. We chatted with Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin and Jerry Truong, two artists within the collective, to discuss how their community fosters creative growth, what they think of the D.C. arts scene, and how their current exhibition, Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us, draws on long-time themes of self-portraiture also seen within the Luce Center.

Members of the Sparkplug Collective

Members of the Sparkplug Collective: Top: Michael Booker, Megan Maher, Casey Snyder, Jerry Truong. Bottom: DeLesslin George-Warren, Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin, Brendan Smith, Jerome Skiscim.

Eye Level: How would you describe the visual arts scene here in D.C.?

Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin: Describing the D.C. art scene is a complex question, and we would all probably answer it differently. I have lived in the D.C. metro area for over twenty years and have seen it ebb and flow. Right now, I see local artists pushing the boundaries with materials and content as well as building on established ideas about art. The work in Selfie: Me, Myself, and US exemplifies this as we all started with self-portraiture and developed the idea with different concepts and media. Over the last five years, I have witnessed a surge of energy from artists themselves to create a place for their work. As more traditional galleries have closed, artists are exhibiting in alternative spaces such as Artomatic, Delicious Spectacle, and Pleasant Plains. One thing I think we can all say about the D.C. art scene is that there are numerous opportunities to see a variety of art from local museums to open studio events and everything in between.

EL: Can you tell us a little bit about where Sparkplug artists gain their inspiration and how the community fosters creative growth?

FAY: Being a diverse collective of people, both in artistic practices and cultural backgrounds, inspires creative growth through the dialogues and experiences we share with one another. We can see the same subject from multiple points of view, allowing each individual to consider things they may have not been able to consider before. We are all looking to develop and grow as artists and as people, and creating a stimulating environment allows a constant flow of inspiration.

EL: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a part of Sparkplug?

FAY: Having the opportunity to learn and connect with one another is the most rewarding aspect of Sparkplug. The past two years have given us room to experiment. Most of us are exploring different media because of our exposure to one another's artistic practices. Being part of this collective allows us to expand our network and become more connected to the D.C. art scene. We help each other advance in and out of the studio.

EL: Describe Sparkplug's creative process in the collective's Flashpoint exhibition, Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us?

FAY: We met once a month to check-in and talk about what was going on with us—artistically as individuals, but also about what was happening locally, nationally, and globally. We hosted critiques at our studios which helped fuel ideas and inspiration; then went back to our studios to think and create. Each artist's creative process was different, sometimes private and always personal. In my case, it continues to be an ever-changing process depending on the ideas I want to develop.

EL: What motivated you to use the selfie as a starting point for an exhibition?

FAY: We developed the idea of an exhibition about the self/selfie because artists have been engaging in self-reflection for thousands of years. It also speaks to the current cultural obsession with using digital representations to create an identity. This duality spoke to the Sparkplug Collective as an opportunity to individually express the way we encounter social media and representation, and, at the same time, tap into a long history of self-reflection and creation methods.

EL: What are two points you hope a visitor takes away after seeing the exhibition?

Jerry Truong: One of the most satisfying aspects of this exhibition is being able to show the different approaches to the theme, which is that the mundane act of taking a selfie has connections to the long history of self-portraiture. We hope viewers will leave with an appreciation of the varied ways in which portraiture is practiced today and how far some of the artists in the collective could stretch that definition. While the act of taking selfies could easily be dismissed as superficial or pointless, we wanted to show that the things we experience in everyday life are worthy of investigation and artistic inspiration can, ultimately, come from anywhere.

EL: Lastly, why art?

JT: We all came to art in different ways. Some of us have been creating art since we were children; others came to it more recently by way of music, performance, and even journalism! For each of us, art has given us space to ask questions of ourselves and the world we live in. It allows us to explore space, color, time, material, and, of course, ourselves.

Please join us this Sunday, February 26 from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the Luce Center for Sparkplug Collective's presentation and a short Q & A afterward. More information about the event can be found on our Facebook page.

Posted by Madeline on February 21, 2017 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Missed Connections for Valentine's Day
February 14, 2017

We rolled our eyes at each other and shared a smile when the conductor threatened to offload the train. You were wearing the most beautiful red lipstick. Me, a musician coming off a late night gig uptown. I'd been up most of the night and my eyes began to close. When I woke up, I saw you on the platform walking up the stairs. Is this your usual train? All I can think of now is that color red I'd like to turn into a song and play for you. Can I?


Lily Furedi's Subway

The subway is fraught with connections, some missed, some made. Even in Furedi's day, the unwritten rule of thumb was to avoid eye contact, and keep to oneself. Unless, of course, you find yourself totally transfixed by someone in your gaze.

At SAAM, we're always connecting people with our artworks. On Valentine's Day, we thought we'd explore one of the more interesting sections of many print and online publications these days: the often poetic, always interesting urban haiku of missed connections. Please check out our Instagram feed for more artful missed connections.

And of course, Happy Valentine's Day!

Posted by Howard on February 14, 2017 in American Art Here
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An Evening with Lonnie Holley
February 9, 2017

Our Luce Unplugged series has been pairing art and music together since 2010. Typically highlighting the work of local musicians, we're excited to present a special pop-up performance with visiting artist Lonnie Holley at the Luce Foundation Center on Friday, February 10, from 5:30-7 p.m. Join us for an art talk and music concert!

Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley spent most of his life in the Birmingham, Alabama area. He began carving in 1979 after his young niece and nephew died in a house fire. He used pieces of castoff, industrial mold-making "sandstone" he found near his sister's home to create tombstones for them. Holley found the objects to be powerful containers of emotion and memory, and he took up carving as a creative outlet. By the mid-1980s, he expanded his output to include paintings and sculptures made from found objects—things thrown away by others became art in his hands. Eventually, Holley used his creations to build an immersive art environment in his yard and the surrounding plots. He often sang while he worked and sometimes recorded himself on tapes to give to friends; but it wasn't until 2006 that he first recorded his music for a wider audience.

Lonnie's sculptures are extemporaneous; he responds to objects he finds and people he meets. He's seems always to be moving, shaping things, and putting thought and memory into tangible forms. His musical arrangements are the same way. The layers of sound in Holley's performances reflect lifelong experimentation, interacting, and reacting to the world around him in a way that is both fluid and highly poetic. For each performance—whether a live concert or a studio recording—he improvises the notes and lyrics on the spot, so his music morphs and evolves with every playing.

Holley once said his music and visual art are inseparable and the best way to experience both would be to walk around a museum while he sings to you. This Friday, February 10, you'll be able to do just that. Holley will perform his music with Ben Sollee and Jordon Ellis (whom you might recognize from their recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert). The concert begins at 6 p.m., but if you can leave work early, join us at 5:30 for a discussion with Lonnie and Ben led by Matt Arnett, a longtime supporter of Lonnie's music. Lonnie has an early sculpture on view in the Luce Center, and a large sculpture on view in the newly reinstalled galleries for folk and self-taught art on the first floor of the museum. So even if you don't attend the concert, you can check out his work the next time you visit!

Posted by Bridget on February 9, 2017 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Harlem Heroes and Black History Month
February 7, 2017

Photo of Jacob Lawrence

Carl Van Vechten's Jacob Lawrence, from the portfolio 'O, Write My Name': American Portraits, Harlem Heroes

The cultural efflorescence that was the Harlem Renaissance is captured in a series of portraits currently on view in the exhibition Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten. In 1932 and for the next three decades, author and social critic Van Vechten began taking photographs, capturing the images of African American artists, musicians, athletes, and writers often before they were famous. These include a 24-year old Lena Horne and a slightly older Leontyne Price. Included in the exhibition are photos of three artists whose works are in SAAM's collection: Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Horace Pippin.

Harlem Heroes represents just one part of the museum's extraordinary holdings of artworks that express the African American experience. Currently, nearly 200 of these works are on view throughout the museum's galleries and in the Luce Foundation Center. Covering centuries of creative expression, the artworks include paintings, sculpture, prints, textiles and photographs. Artists include William H. Johnson, James Hampton, Loïs Mailou Jones, Mark Bradford, and Mickalene Thomas.

In honor of Black History Month and SAAM's deep commitment to showing works by African American artists, Dr. Walter O. Evans, noted collector of African American art and artifacts will speak at the museum at 6:30 p.m. on February 10. Dr. Evans will discuss the important contributions to American culture by icons of the Harlem community captured in Van Vechten's portraits. These include W. E. B. DuBois, Bessie Smith, Paul Robeson, Ella Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes and more.

The exhibition Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten remains on view through April 2, 2017. If you can't make it to the talk, you can watch our webcast.

Learn more about SAAM's collections of African American art by exploring our exhibitions on Google Arts & Culture.

Posted by Howard on February 7, 2017 in American Art Here
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