Sunday, February 25, 2007

I'm Proud of My Brother, Jason

Jason Freeman, Amy LaVere, Craig Brewer, John Still, Jeff Pope(l to r)

The Company: from the Memphis Flyer #939

Craig Brewer's local actors keep their feet on the ground.


Photographs by JUSTIN FOX BURKS

Craig Brewer so badly wanted Kim Richards to play Christina Ricci's mother in Black Snake Moan, he had his people search far and wide to find the retired, relatively obscure actress who seemed to have dropped from the face of the earth. He wanted to use Richards for one reason: He'd had a terrible crush on her since 1975, when the child star played the role of Tia, a magical alien in Disney's sophisticated kid flick Escape to Witch Mountain.

"After shooting, [Kim and I] took a walk, and while we were walking I kind of put my arm around her," Brewer says playfully. "And I remember wishing I had some way to go back in time and find that chubby kid I used to be and tell him everything that was going to happen to him."

Success has its privileges, and, thanks to Hustle & Flow, Brewer now has the ability to indulge his inner child a bit as well as the clout to recruit A-list actors such as Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson. But after three feature-length films showcasing the work of Memphis actors, artists, and musicians, there's still nothing that revs him up like talking about his adopted hometown and the underappreciated talent it attracts.

"Whenever I come home after working on a project, I can't help feeling this sense of look at what we made together," he says. "I get completely giddy with this feeling that [Memphis artists] are finally leaking out."

Though set in rural northern Mississippi, the faces in Black Snake Moan look an awful lot like Midtown. Veteran stage actresses Kim Justis and Jo Lynne Palmer take a pair of delightful turns as an easily shocked waitress and an impeccably coiffed Southern matron. Fifteen-year-old Overton High School student Neimus K. Williams plays the pleasantly surprised victim of Ricci's amorous advances like an old pro, while Brewer alums John Malloy and T.C. Sharpe say more with a stupefied look than most actors can accomplish with a monologue. John Still, the seedy chop-shop boss from The Poor & Hungry, plays a drunk and disgruntled ex-Marine. Jeff Pope, a horny trick from Hustle & Flow, pops up in Black Snake Moan as a suburban drug dealer, while Claude Phillips, Hustle's memorable junkie, makes an equally memorable impression as the owner of a stripped-down Mississippi juke joint.

Set to gritty blues riffs arranged by Memphis musician Scott Bomar and recorded by artists such as Jim, Luther, and Cody Dickinson, Charlie Musselwhite, Roy Brewer, Kenny Brown, Jason Freeman, and Alvin Youngblood Hart, all these contributions make up a part of the bigger picture. Like the stock players assembled by directors such as John Ford and Preston Sturges, Brewer's local talent brings an abundance of quirkiness, color, and authenticity.

"It reminds me of my ancestors," Brewer says of his local human resources. "Some of them sold eggs. Some of them got into milking cows. All the way back to the Civil War, they were always looking for something different. I can imagine them saying something like, 'Well, it looks like ol' Craig's on to a new cash crop.' Conversely, as Brewer takes long walks with his childhood fantasy and imagines Memphis culture as an exportable commodity, his actors refuse to become starstruck.

"I would really just like to be a steadily working character actor," says musician and occasional stage performer Jeff Pope, whose character supplies the drugs that send Ricci's already out-of-control character into a three-day blackout. "I remember when Craig invited us all up on stage at Sundance," he says. "I felt overwhelmed, because I didn't think I'd really done anything special."

"I'm going to the Black Snake Moan premiere, and I'm going to wear a pair of zebra-striped shoes when I walk the red carpet," says Amy LaVere, the throaty singer whose resemblance to rockabilly sex symbol Wanda Jackson landed her a role in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. "I'm wearing them in honor of Jim Dickinson's Zebra Ranch," she asserts. Like Pope, LaVere has always wanted to act but found music to be a more accessible mode of expression. Even now, recording and touring come first.

"I'm just not in a position to go to L.A. and find an agent," she says. "I've got a new record coming out in May, and I have a responsibility to support that record to help recoup costs. So acting is something I can't aggressively pursue."

Still is an actor without an agent who refuses to attend cattle-call auditions. In the early '90s, the voiceover artist best known for his work with WKNO-TV and radio decided to try his hand at acting and took classes so he wouldn't sound so much like a radio announcer. Shortly thereafter, he landed a lead role in Brewer's first completed film, The Poor & Hungry, and went on to play smaller featured roles in Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan.

"I just don't have good audition skills," Still says. "But Craig thinks I'm a good actor and he's an actor's director. He knows how to get the performance he wants from me."

Freeman doesn't appear on camera in Black Snake Moan, but his work is crucial to the film's success. Freeman, a moaning roots musician who got his start busking on Beale before breaking out with his jug-grass ensemble the Bluff City Backsliders, helped to teach Jackson how to play his purple Gibson guitar.

"This isn't the sort of thing I ever sat down and visualized myself doing," says Freeman, who fell in love with the blues when an older brother brought home a copy of Muddy Waters' Hard Again. "But it doesn't completely surprise me either. I always knew I'd be -- well, not famous but involved in interesting and creative things."

"I'll never forget when Claude Phillips first auditioned for Hustle," Brewer says of the renovations contractor turned character actor. "I had somebody else in mind, but this guy really looked like an old sessions player for Stax. I felt his desperation when he was trying to sell this keyboard [for a bag of weed], and that's when I realized that [the lead character] DJay could be staring straight at his own fate. Even if he had success as a rapper, he could hit the juice or smoke too much weed and end up in the same position. So I cast Claude ... and everybody from Chris Rock to Spike Lee has asked me about him."

"One time when we were shooting, Craig just hollered out, 'I love seeing Memphis people in my movies!'" Phillips recalls. "And let me tell you, that was a real turn-on."

Date created: 02/22/2007
URL for this story:

David Comstock @ L Ross Gallery

David Comstock

L Ross Gallery

5040 Sanderlin Avenue

Suite 104

Mphs. TN 38117

March 2

6-9 PM

call the gallery for more information: 901.767.2200

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Melissa Dunn @ Material, February 23- March 23

In My Yard, acrylic on canvas, 2006

For immediate release:
February 21, 2007

Contact: Hamlett Dobbins, 901.219.1943, or Melissa Dunn, 901.276.9691 or

Material is excited to announce its second exhibition of the 2007 season: Melissa Dunn: Foster Avenue Paintings

Foster Avenue Paintings will run from February 23rd to March 23rd.

The opening reception for Melissa Dunn: Foster Avenue Paintings will be on Friday, February 23rd from 6-8 pm.

This is the second exhibition for Melissa Dunn at Material. Hers was the inaugural exhibition at the space in December 2004. For years in the late nineties Dunn maintained a studio at Marshall Arts. Five years ago she moved her studio and began painting in her home. The paintings for her last show at Material, 38 N McLean Paintings, were made in her small studio in her apartment on North McLean. The new batch of paintings feel more open, reflecting her larger, brighter studio space at her home where she has quietly and diligently worked for a little over two years now. Dunn’s work has been featured in local shows at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts, Otherlands, and Plan B Gallery as well as an exhibition in Regensburg, Germany.

About the show Dunn commented that this show is building on the last show she had at Material. It’s a deeper exploration of abstraction in all its parts: subject, place, color, form and composition. “I feel like I could be working like this for another ten years and maybe then I'll get closer to success.”

Material is located at 2553 Broad Avenue, two doors west of the now defunct, but still world famous, Beer Joint. Parking is available on both the north and south sides of Broad Avenue.

Following the reception the exhibition will be open by appointment only by contacting the artist at 901.276.9691 or

image: Melissa Dunn, In My Yard, acrylic on canvas, 2006

See Commercial Appeal Review here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Gallery news

I just got some good news. Starting next month I'm going to be represented by a gallery in Dublin.
I spoke with them on Friday and they want nine drawings/paintings on paper and four paintings in the summer. It looks like a one person show won't be happening until 2009 though.

Now, back to working on the drawings for my show with Dwayne!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Stephen Gilbert: Obituary

Obituary: Stephen Gilbert
by: Alastair Grieve

Wednesday February 14, 2007

Gilbert did not perhaps receive the recognition in this country that he deserved.

The artist Stephen Gilbert, who has died aged 96, did not perhaps receive the recognition in this country that he deserved. He was himself partly responsible for that, since he was self-effacing and worked for most of his life abroad. He had scant regard for local chauvinisms, preferring international groups in Ireland, Paris, Denmark and Holland - as well as in England.
He was born near Perth, in Scotland, of English parents, the grandson of the sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert. From 1929 to 1932, he studied painting at the Slade School, London, where he befriended Roger Hilton and met the sculptor Jocelyn Chewett, whom he married in 1935. The couple established themselves in Paris in 1939, but the following year, Stephen having been turned down for military service, they left for Ireland, where they spent the war years.

It was in Ireland that Stephen painted a series of small canvases of spectral insects with staring eyes and ferocious mouths, and of human hydras. Described by Edouard Jaguer as "la peinture de paroxysme", these were anguished paintings, usually with a balance of wings or heads, on either side of a central body. They were inspired partly by Masson's surrealist art and by reading Jung, Nietzsche and Jakob Böhme. Stephen showed them with the White Stag Group in Dublin in 1944.

The Gilberts returned to Paris in 1946; it was a tough environment and they lived extremely frugally. A decisive moment came in 1948 when his paintings at the Salon des Surindépendants attracted the attention of the Danish artist Asger Jorn, who invited him to join the recently formed radical group, Cobra. Apart from William Gear, Gilbert was the only British member. He held an important position within Cobra, painting a central wall in the house they decorated with murals at Bregnerod, near Copenhagen, in 1949, and being the subject of a monograph in the series Petite Bibliothèque de Cobra. He also worked with the Dutch member, Constant Nieuwenhuys, in Amsterdam and Paris.

Together, in 1950 and 1951 Gilbert and Constant developed from the febrile imagery of Cobra to an abstract art of loose geometric forms and restricted colours, chiefly black and white. In Holland they studied Mondrian, Malevich and Rietveld, and, in the face of the rising tide of tachisme in Paris, structured their paintings of 1952 to 1953 with clear geometric planes coloured with strong primary colours on white grounds.

Wanting his colour planes to occupy real space, Gilbert moved from painting to three-dimensional, orthogonal constructions in 1953 to 1954, precisely made from painted aluminium sheet and angle. His move linked him to the English group of constructivist artists gathered around Victor Pasmore, including Anthony Hill and Kenneth and Mary Martin, and he showed with this group in London in 1954. In Paris, he joined André Bloc's Groupe Espace. Strongly influenced by De Stijl ideas, he aimed to destroy closed volumes and activate open space by means of rhythmic placing of coloured planes on an architectural scale.

In 1955 Gilbert moved further towards an architectural realisation of his ideas with a model for a house to be built in Yorkshire by an enlightened developer, Peter Stead. Further projects followed for blocks of flats made of mass-produced coloured metal and glass panels but, in the end, only two houses were built, and without Gilbert's collaboration. But he continued to develop his constructions, and in 1957 abandoned rectilinear frames and let coloured planes, in reacting curves, stand on their own. By 1960 he had ceased to use colour, relying on curved planes of polished metal, spreading from a central stem, to reflect the light and the environment in which they were placed.

He achieved some fame with these works, winning first prize for sculpture at the Tokyo Biennale in 1965. By the end of the decade, he was producing more earth-bound constructions of welded tin or copper. His wife died in 1979 and, perhaps in homage to the forms of some of her carvings, he began a group of tall copper pillars with subtly modulated edges.

These were his last major sculptures and by the mid-1980s he had returned to painting. Using India ink, pastel and watercolour he painted a long series of loose abstracts with, at times, hints of imagery of the kind he had invented in Ireland. His last exhibition was organised by the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds early last year. He is survived by a son and a daughter, two grandchildren and one great grandchild. A full retrospective would be a revelation.

Stephen Gilbert, artist, born January 15 1910; died January 12 2007

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Studio Views: Dun Laoghaire

Views of my laundry room/ studio...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Artist of the Month: Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh

***images and writing © Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh & Catherine Leen, respectively***

Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh: Eatramh

Intervening time or space, interval or even lull in weather are all translations of the resonant title of Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh's second solo show, Eatramh. This title explicitly links her latest exhibition to her previous one, Deoraíocht, which featured a painting of the same name. Eatramh marks an important departure from the first show, however, which was based on the literary source of Pádraic Ó Conaire's Scothscéalta and its theme of exile. The importance of the space in between has expanded in Eatramh to become an exploration of the medium of painting itself.

For Ní Mhaonaigh, the desire to capture space, time, emotion and experience cannot be neatly captured on a canvas, with the result that her works are suggestive rather than representational. There is a suggestion throughout of flux and a strong sense that the journey towards an image, rather than the creation of a fixed, specific representation, is key. The works Stage I and Stage II capture the notion of an event about to take place through unpeopled spaces that seem precarious and delicate without their customary activity. Similarly, Platform conveys a sense of expectation and unrealised drama.

Despite the artist's refusal to take recourse to the creation of easily identifiable forms, the works do not reject the allure of painting. Ultimately, Ní Mhaonaigh's sensitivity and skill combine to create a unique style that blends the language of painting with the performative and the philosophical.

- by Catherine Leen

2006A catalogue with an essay by Catherine Leen has been published to accompany the exhibition. For further information please contact the gallery. Title: Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh: EatramhISBN: 0-9552525-4-7

Dublin's Ha'Penny Bridge: Better With Robin

The Weekend

I've had a good weekend so far.

Yesterday I took the train down to Greystones to have dinner with Sioban and John. I was very glad to see them and I knew it would be my first non-frozen meal since Robin left last week.
It was great to catch up with them---last weekend they rented a cabin in Sligo to celebrate John's birthday.

It's about a twenty five minute walk to the train station from their house so I left in time to catch the 11:10 (the last train from Greystones) to Dun Laoghaire. But when I got to the station they said that the trains were cancelled because wires were down over the tracks.

Luckily they were sending a shuttle bus to drive the route so I didn't get to Dun Laoghaire station much later than I would have normally. As I got out of the shuttle I just had time to sprint across the street to catch the last #7 bus going up the hill to the Sallynoggin stop. I've walked that distance many times now but last night was cold and very wet so I was glad to get that bus!

Today I woke up around 11:30 just before Sioban's cousin Shiela Gorman called. She wanted to bring by some old catalogs of her brother, Richard Gorman's, shows. She knew I would appreciate them. I had about ten minutes to frantically tidy up the place and put a kettle on before she arrived. We had a great talk about Her brother's, hers, and my work before going down to Georges Street for the open air market in People's Park. We walked around talking for awhile before I purchased my usual Sunday hot apple cider fortified with whiskey---then we got a table outside (cold but sunny) and talked art and travels for about an hour. I said my goodbyes and headed over to the newsstand to get a paper and a Modern Painters before heading back up the hill towards home.

It was great for Shiela to give me those catalogs. She's a very nice, interesting lady and has promised to come visit us in the states. I'm going to her brother's show in Limerick on the 22nd. If he's half as nice as she is I'll really enjoy meeting him.