April 26th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
An interview with Miami's champion of independent film
Speeding through Miami in a 1992 Toyota Corolla after midnight is just another day on the job for mastermind and self-proclaimed "Minister of The Interior" of the Borscht Film Festival Lucas Leyva. Leaving his own after party, the head of the city's premier independent film event was on a mission for Miami's rapper-turned-mayoral candidate, Unkle Luke Campbell, who told Leyva that he wouldn't go onstage without three bikini-clad women to back him up—totally normal for a festival the Miami New Times calls "a wildly creative three-week event akin to Sundance on psychotropic mushrooms."
Semi-nude performances aside, the films included works by award-winning director and Miami native Barry Jenkins, up-and-coming sketch comedy dynamo Duncan Skiles and recent Guggenheim Video Biennale winner Jillian Mayer, who collaborated with indie powerhouse directors Rakontur Films. ("La Pageant Diva" pictured above.) In a city of excess, Leyva's unassuming disposition and generosity have made him an unlikely candidate for an independent cinema impresario, but his efforts prove that the 305 area code isn't always synonymous with South Beach debauchery.
We sat down with Leyva to learn more about the independent film festival and his role in making it all happen.
How many of the films in Borscht did you have a hand in personally?
All of them. I was really involved in "Play Dead" from the concept stage throughout, but I had a hand in every film screened.
How was it possible for you to create Miami's serious foray into independent cinema?
It wouldn't have been possible without grants, like the one from the Knight Foundation or the support of individuals who really understand the cause. In Miami, until recently, people didn't get it. They liked watching movies, but for people to invest in Miami cinema, they would expect to see Michael Bay films or "Burn Notice" type of stories. There's been a huge brain-drain here and because of that typically really talented film makers from Miami have left to L.A. or New York as soon as they had the opportunity.
How long was the process to get the festival to where it is now?
This is the seventh year. Borscht was really started in high school, when a group of my friends and I wanted to make movies, but needed a place to show them. Since then it has grown by leaps and bounds, and become a launching pad for Miami artists to show their work at festivals around the world, including Cannes, Sundance and South by Southwest.
April 7th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
From post-apocalyptic imagery to pop culture references, two painters explore a single theme
When close friends Casey Diebold and Adam Devarney both graduated from Pratt University their journeys as artists naturally took them to very different places. Devarney returned to the serenity of his native Burlington, VT, while Diebold stayed in Brooklyn to work as a commercial storyboard artist. Their diverging paths have finally crossed again in the form of "Godspeed," a collaborative exhibition opening 9 April 2010 at NYC's Sacred Gallery.
The loose concept comes from Devarney's suggestion of the phrase "God Speed"—a term that allows for their their work to be comfortably contained under one main theme, as well as individual interpretations. While Diebold played off the term more literally, depicting ungodly speeds and high-powered action, Devarney saw "Godspeed" as the loose English translation of the French salutation, bon voyage.
Heavily influenced by skateboard culture and '80s illustration, Devarney's work mixes mediums, styles and aesthetics. "I am excited by the idea of taking things out of context and re-purposing them, the chemistry interests me," he explains. Working with wood panels, Devarney explores voyaging characters on the brink of self-destruction. His paintings follow the "vagabonds of the great beyond," who are fighting the inertia of their movement.
The past might inform the resulting anachronistic portraits, but they're firmly in the future. Delvarney says, "my work in this show comes from a soulful place. I am exploring characters, weary and worn down, voyagers who have been pushed to the limit. That is something everyone can relate to." While Devarney's stoic aviators put the viewer on edge, Diebold captures cinematic realism in incredible detail at frightening speeds.
Diebold creates surreal graphics with dizzying movement and beautiful texture, an approach he says is informed by his "fascination with future dystopian culture and science fiction like 'Logan's Run,' or fictional gang movies like 'The Warriors.'" His love of films shows in the multiple layers of allusion in his work, from Alex Cox
to George Miller. His choice to depict the action at a particular moment in the narrative forces viewers to think of the infinite possibilities, creating a dreamlike effect.
"Godspeed" opens at Sacred Gallery this Saturday, 9 April 2010, and runs through 30 April 2010.
March 31st, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
Brooklyn-based chefs revive hard candy with secret ingredients and throwback packaging
Like millions of good ideas, Brooklyn Hard Candy was dreamed up over several drinks one night. But unlike most booze-fueled enterprises, this one has more than enough cred to back it up. The joint product of Le Cordon Bleu grads Danny Mowles (also the executive chef at NYC's The Roger Smith Hotel) and Nathan Panum, the pair set out to create something distinctly Brooklyn and unmistakably "hard."
"We saw everything moving towards local," Mowles explained when I recently spent the afternoon with him in Brooklyn. "We knew we wanted to do something sweet, but everyone was doing chocolate. After that it was just finding the right type of sweet that we could make our own."
Standout flavors include Wild Strawberry and Green Apple (I liked Tangerine and Blueberry too), but all seven have their own secret flavor ingredient, lending a subtly delicious aftertaste.
The cooking process follows standard candy-making procedure (cooking the sugar to a "hard crack" before adding citric acid and flavor), but the candy's shape is the result of a custom-made cutting machine. Sourcing all of their Ingredients from the U.S., Mowles comments, "One of the things we're most proud of is being a handcrafted American company."
To attract customers, balancing the look of the packaging with their values was just as important to the candymakers as making tasty treats. "People keep asking if we can do organic candy, and that kind of takes the fun out of it—it's candy—but what we have tried to do is keep the packaging as green as possible." Made of recycled glass, cork and paper, the bottle is reminiscent of the type used in old-fashioned apothecaries.
With demand wildly exceeding expectation, the duo is trying to find free time between their busy day jobs to produce enough candy for both retailers and a growing online fan base. Launched December 2010, the company still operates out of multiple locations. "We get time from big kitchens at night, come in there in the off hours, prepare as many vats as we can and see how it goes." An initial run in Brooklyn's Bedford Cheese Shop helped the charming bottles sell across the area, and moves to larger markets are in the works, as well as a new product—look out for a lollipop line in time for summer.
In the meantime the candies start at $7 per bottle and are available at Greene Grape, Brooklyn Larder and Blue Apron Fine Foods, or through Brooklyn Hard Candy's online store.
March 24th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
Checking in with the creative forces behind a bold multimedia production of Stravinsky's post-WWI theater piece
Meant to be "played, danced and read," one of Igor Stravinsky's most ambitious pieces, "Histoire du Soldat"—penned in the frenzy of post-World War I reconstruction—delves into themes of chaos and absurdity. Tackling the powerful message and Stravinsky's dissonant, pastiched style, director and choreographer Yara Travieso and illustrator Ryan Hartley recently adapted the difficult work for a multimedia spectacle opening tomorrow at NYC's Lincoln Center.
To visually bring one of Stravinsky's most complicated pieces to life more than a half-century after its inception required an intensive process. Hartley started sitting in on rehearsals early on to reverse-engineer around the motion of the bodies onstage. From there he pulled iconography from period source material and beyond. "As you watch," Hartley explains, "there is a progression of influences in the images from Stalinist Russia to Nazi Propaganda to wartime American propaganda that passes into today's war posters."
The resulting cunning videos form a densely-layered set-piece as compelling as the story playing out in the foreground (performed by dancer Esme Boyce and actor Brendan Spieth). This seamless mix of elements stems from Travieso's careful balance of theatricality and dance. "Multimedia is becoming a visual palette for a lot of audiences that are just used to dance or theatre." she stated, emphasizing, "It is becoming something they are starting to understanding as the next level."
Of course as much as trends in media influenced the director, as the Faustian tale (a Russian soldier makes a deal with the devil) unravels, the melodies' surrealist proportions drive the production. "The music itself is a mash-up of different influences. From Tango to Russian Folk music, the meter is constantly changing," says Travieso. Where some directors might feel stymied by the challenge, Travieso embraced it as a way to explore the multimedia aspects of the performance. Using disparate elements and technologies to create layers of information, Travieso's staging of "Soldat" fully integrates attempt at realizing what can be possible when the digital and spacial world's interact between each other and in front of an audience.
Showing as part of this year's Beyond The Machine Festival, hosted by the Juilliard School and featuring electronic and interactive music programs, opens tomorrow 24 March 2011, runs through 27 March 2011 at the Meredith Wilson Theater, and is free to the public.
March 15th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
Put yourself in the virtual driver's seat with the latest tech-enabled racecar toys
In 2010 Mattel put kids in Barbie's shoes when they introduced a built-in camera. Now, with their Hot Wheels Video Racer, amateur car racers can put themselves in the driver's seat too. Equipped with an LCD screen on the bottom and a built-in memory chip, the car functions as a low-res camera, capturing up to 12 minutes of footage at 30 frames per second.
The cameras mount to any computer via USB port and, using Hot Wheels software, kids can choose from a range of music, scene transitions and special effects when editing. The cars also come with adhesives and Velcro mounting straps so that budding filmmakers can attach the car to any surface—such a helmet, skateboard or remote control helicopter.
The Video Racer is track compatible, a feature that will be even more fun with the launch of Hot Wheels Wall Tracks, a mountable system coming out Fall 2011. With the car camera offering a 1:64 scale point of view, taking the car from the floor to the wall as it rounds loops and zooms down straightaways will allow kids to safely engage with the thrill of racing first-hand.
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks span $17-30, and the Video Racer will sell for $60. Both will be available online and in toy stores Fall 2011.
Top image via Engadget
March 10th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
A new book of eye-popping art from revered designer Tristan Eaton
When Tristan Eaton isn't designing toys or reworking brand identities as head of Thunder Dog Studios, he can be found collaborating with an array of today's exciting artists. An incredibly talented designer in his own right—with works in the permanent collections of both the Cooper Hewitt Museum and MoMA—Eaton has been an advocate of street culture since his time at Kid Robot. In the forthcoming "3D Art Book" from Prestel, Eaton curates over 100 hundred eye-popping illustrations from a cast of influential graphic designers, painters and clothing brands.
Eaton's love for stereoscopic images emerged at age 19, when as an apprentice at Detroit's famed screen-printing shop Highway Press, he began silk screening 3D posters. Less than a decade later through his breakthrough solo show, "3D Happy Action Fun," Eaton introduced the aesthetic into the concrete art gallery world. His work was so strongly received that shortly after he began working on a 3D project with a small group of artists including The London Police, Superdeux and Jeff Soto.
Eaton was inspired by reviving what was merely novel technology during the '60s and seeing how it is reflected today, saying "When you compare the artists in this book, you will see that we share nostalgia for the good old days of alternative art and pop culture; when you contrast us, you will see how each of us outsiders have re-envisioned these references in our own unique ways."
Taking four years for completion, works featured in the 224-page book include those from revered artists like Bill McMullen, Cey Adams, Dr. Revolt, Pose, Tara McPherson and Ron English. "3D Art Book" will be released in April 2011 and will include two pairs of retro 3-D glasses. The book is available for pre-order from Amazon and Powells.
March 7th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
Biomimetics, concrete cloth and other high-tech visions of awesome interactive design to come
Textile and design expert Bradley Quinn secures his place among authors on the pulse of technology and design with his new book, "Design Futures." The 240-page road map about design's immediate future, edifies communities from architects to budding app developers by detailing innovations in material, surface and imagination. Quinn focuses on a number of cutting-edge trailblazers attempting to manipulate form and function by reshaping current dystopias as a way to better the urban experience.
Treading the boundary between academic and journalist, the author's relaxed approach belies his curiosity. Balanced with his opinion of the trends he's observed and thoughtful conjecture, Quinn often leaves the reader with a gaping jaw. He posits that future cities will be markedly greener than the concrete metropolises of the twentieth century, writing, "In fact, every aspect of urban architecture will be responsive in the future, not only because the facades will illuminate and change shape, but also because the exteriors will be conceived as sensitive skins that harness energy while shielding the structure against the wind, rain and solar heat."
Impressive not just for the breadth of knowledge Quinn displays, his work also makes clear distinctions between micro and macro elements, and details how to seamlessly integrate elements from a myriad of sources into new cities. Interviews with individuals at the forefront of their respective industries add depth to the book, taking it out of pure fantasy into the realm of the real. "Design Futures" comes out 1 April 2011 from Merrell, pre-order it now from Amazon.
March 3rd, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
Exploring the limits of greyscale in a group show
With a mission of reinvigorating Chelsea's once youthful and vibrant art scene, Mallick Williams (daughter-in-law of actor Robin Williams) launched Mallick Williams & Co. in November of 2010. In the short time since opening, the upstart has already drawn attention for its ability to connect big-name artists to high-profile young collectors and shows no signs of stopping with their first official gallery show, cleverly titled "Hueless," opening tomorrow.
An exploration of the possibilities of grey scale, "Mallick Williams & Co. carefully curated pieces from both artists who normally work in black and white (in mediums such as graphite, charcoal, paper cut and photography) alongside work from artists who are stepping out of their traditional colorful palette to create something uniquely hueless." At the core of the group show is a roster of heavyweight street artists, including Shepard Fairey, Eric Haze, Skullphone and Russel Young. These more established artists will show alongside lesser-known talents like Marissa Textor and Sam Ske.
Young's piece, "Fifteen Minutes With You; Well I Wouldn't Say No", consisting of acrylic paint enamel and diamond dust screen-printed onto linen, creates an ethereal manifestation of a memory without falling into the abstract (pictured below left). Another portrait, "Drawn Face V" (above left) by Dirk Dzimirsky aims to "not only portray the physical attributes, but more importantly the subjects inner presence of life. I chose drawing over painting as this allows me to create many layers over layers of lines and dots which react to each other in order to create a vibrant texture with directions and movement."
On the darker side thematically, Marissa Textor's piece "An Outlet for Pent up Forces," (also graphite on paper, like Dzimirsky's) breathtakingly depicts volcanic rock in photorealistic detail. Nicholas Forker takes on a "shattered sense of community in the face of capitalist driven isolation" with a greyscale drawing representing an artist informed by a globalized marketplace of ideas.
"Hueless" runs through 15 April 2011. Visit the Mallick Williams & Co. website for the full list of artists.
March 2nd, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
A retrospective book sheds new light on one of fashion's most pivotal '80s designers
Although regrettably most famous for bankrupting Lanvin (costing them a reported $50 million), a new book delves into why Claude Montana was one of the most sought-after fashion designers that defined the '80s and continues to be an underlying force behind today's styles. "Claude Montana: Fashion Radical," co-authored with fashion journalist Marielle Cro, gives a retrospective look at the French designer's aggressive tailoring, dramatic silhouettes and bold use of color.
Montana was awarded two Golden Thimble Awards during his time at Lanvin, producing groundbreaking collections season after season. A consummate artist, Montana's incredible sketches are sprinkled throughout the book and are complimented by equally compelling photos. The visual narrative shows how each ensemble was like an entire work of art, clearly conceived down to every detail.
Beginning by defining the "Montana Woman," which he sees as "a traveller, an adventuress in some faraway place," the book includes a self-exploration of his work in an art-house critique, taking the reader into his mind and showing Montana's articulate design language. Throughout the book his growth as a designer reveals itself in what amounts to an intimate portrait of not just the man, but the legacy of high fashion in one of the most fashion-obsessed decades of the 20th century.
"Claude Montana: Fashion Radical" is available through Amazon as a pre-order and releases nationwide 1 April 2010.
March 1st, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
An interview with legendary illustrator Bill Plympton on his forthcoming book, friendship with Terry Gilliam and the future of adult animation in America
At 13-years-old Bill Plympton wrote to Walt Disney asking for a job in the animation department. The young illustrator was initially rejected, but an Oscar nomination six years later for his animated short called "Your Face" led to Disney knocking on his door—where Plympton finally got his turn to say no. These were the early days of Plympton's prolific career, which can be seen in its entirety in Rizzoli's new book on the groundbreaking illustrator. "Independently Animated" is a 264-page retrospective tome that traces Plympton's life and career as he paved his own Oregon trail from Portland to NYC in search of cinematic greatness.
Ignited by a foreword from close friend and Monty Python writer Terry Gilliam, the book—written by Plympton and David B. Levy—reads like a meandering journey into the mind of a slightly demented and always devious social agitator who wielded his colored pencils to entertain fans and influence artists around the world. Plympton surprisingly says his career as an artistic provocateur began accidentally, when a friend asked him to design a poster for his high school presidential campaign. "It was that moment when I realized the power of cartoons—they're not just the territory of goofy animals and funny jokes. No! Cartoons can make people think differently; they can push people to the edge."
"Independently Animated" also sheds light on Plympton's ties to the political world, which coincidentally began when he sold one of his comic strips to a small newspaper in Flint, MI, where an editor named Michael Moore was at the helm. His influence is undeniable in the realm of social satire. The compilation of photos throughout the book reveal a man who keeps his pencil on the pulse of political and artistic humor. His pointed sketches include one of Donald Rumsfeld, fresh off a trip to Iraq to meet Saddam Hussein, a sinister-looking Pat Robertson and an alien-esque Jesse Jackson. Throughout all of the twisted and inventive styles of sketches one thing remains, the ability to laugh at absolutely everything.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Plympton at his NYC studio, where told us more about his intriguing career and created an original sketch for Cool Hunting.
Growing up you wanted to work for Disney. What was it like when you finally got to reject them?
Yeah I did want to work for Disney, that was my big goal in life, to work for Disney. What happened was around the mid-eighties when I got started with animation, that's when the whole indie scene exploded. Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Kevin Smith, people like that they were making films outside of the Hollywood sphere, and I thought well that's an interesting concept. And so I got bitten by that bug also, and I thought 'Who needs Disney?' I don't want to work for some corporate entity, I'd rather just have control of my own films, so that's why I rejected Disney. Today if they offered me a good deal, I'd be more than happy to work with Disney, but it's not a big philosophical point for me. If the work is good and interesting I'll do it, but at this point I'm doing so well as an independent and I am making a living as an independent so why change?
What is the difference between how your work is perceived in America compared places like Japan or France, where adult animation is more mainstream?
One of the things that bugs me is that Quentin Tarantino can make these films that are basically cartoons, and they're wildly popular. But when I do adult topics in animation they say 'You can't do that, that's Disney's art form. You are taking animation and ruining it, you're sullying the wonderful, beautiful reputation of animation.' People in America just can't get it into their heads that animation is not strictly a childrens medium. That's why I want to try and break that stupid barrier. Japan, France, particularly Germany, Spain—they accept adult ideas much more easily than they do here in the States. That's the problem I have with distributors here—they don't know what the audience for the film is, or who is going to go see an animated film with adult ideas. So there is this sort of mind-freeze that these distributors have, and I disagree because I think there is a huge audience for them. Just look at the sales for graphic novels.
Was there ever a time when you longed for mainstream success even though you were working off the grid?
I think about that all the time. I look at a Pixar or a Blue Sky Film, or see their billboards all over the city, and they're opening in 4,000 cinemas nationwide and 10,000 around the world. I wish I could get that, it would be wonderful. But they have to pay a price for that—there's a certain deal with the devil that they make to do those. And the devils are usually the corporate studios, and they have to change everything to meet the desires of marketing teams. So it's not really their film, it's someone else's. I sure would like to make a film that played in 1,000 cinemas though, that would be so wonderful.
How would you describe you're relationship with Terry Gilliam?
I first met him about fifteen years ago, at the party for "12 Monkeys." I introduced myself, and he knew who I was he had seen my films. The next time I saw him was in Dubai, there was a festival there and he was the judge, or getting a prize. I introduced myself again, and he said "Oh Bill, how you doing?' I happened to have my portfolio of drawings from "Idiots and Angels" and so he said 'Let me look at them.' And he just went nuts, he was getting into the detail, and how I drew these drawings, and his press agent was there and said 'Terry we have an interview with the BBC, we gotta get going,' and he responded, 'Oh fuck BBC, I want to look at these drawings.' So he really got involved in the art, asked what he could do to help me with the film. I said 'Would you mind being the presenter of this film, no money, no commitment?' He's been really nice, he wrote the forward to the book, and he's doing the introduction to a documentary they're doing about me. He's been extremely supportive, he's just the nicest guy.
An imaginative retrospective, "Independently Animated: Bill Plympton: The Life and Art of the King of Indie Animation" will be available March 2011, but can be pre-ordered now from Amazon and Powells. To see some of Plympton's entertaining animated shorts, visit the gallery at his website.
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