Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Georgia O'Keeffe: Something so perfect

Georgia O'Keeffe / Starlight Night, Lake George
Oil on canvas / 1922.

In 1923, Georgia O'Keeffe wrote a letter to a friend in which she described her rural retreat at Lake George, the family estate of the famed photographer and pioneering modernist art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, in New York's Adirondack Park: "I wish you could see the place here -- there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees. Sometimes, I want to tear it all to pieces -- it seems so perfect."

Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George, a major exhibition of paintings, works on paper and photographs examining the body of work that the American artist Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) created based on her visits to Lake George, is receiving an exclusive West Coast presentation at the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco. The exhibition began on February 15 and continues through May 11. It was organized by the Hyde Collection in association with the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. My wife and I visited the exhibition at the de Young on Easter Sunday and found it to be pleasing.

Georgia O'Keeffe / Autumn Leaves
Oil on canvas, 1924.
We were welcomed by O'Keeffe's signature style of modernism and abstraction in her paintings and sketches, a colorful collection that she created based on her years of experience in this Adirondack Mountains site.

The exhibition featured 53 of the more than 200 paintings O'Keeffe created on canvas and paper, in addition to sketches and pastels, and they were collected for this exhibition from both public and private collections. It covers one of the most prolific periods of her seven-decade career.

"Modern Nature explores the full range of the work she produced at Lake George, including magnified botanical compositions inspired by the flowers and vegetables that she grew in her garden, as well as the apples and pears that she picked on the property," according to a preview article in Fine Arts magazine about the O'Keeffe exhibition. "O'Keeffe became fascinated by the variety of trees -- cedars, maples, poplars, and birches -- that grew in abundance at Lake George, and she created works based on them featuring telescoping views of a single leaf or pairs of overlapping leaves."

Georgia O'Keeffe / Lake George (formerly Reflection Seascape).
Oil on canvas, 1922.

Among the paintings which I admired and enjoyed were Lake George (formerly Reflection Seascape), a 1922 oil on canvas, and Autumn Leaves, an oil on canvas that dates to 1924. Both evoke a spirit of place and reflect O'Keeffe's vision of a modern approach to a natural world.

Looking back, I think my favorite painting in the Modern Nature exhibition was Starlight Night, Lake George, an 16 x 24 inch oil on canvas. This 1922 painting by O'Keeffe, which is drawn from the collection of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, very nicely captures the subtle but distinct color and beauty of the lake and mountain horizon as seen from her summer retreat at Lake George. My first reaction to it was that O'Keeffe had realized her version of Van Gogh's post-impressionist Starry Night. 

Whether or not O'Keeffe ever admitted it, Lake George definitely was painting country for her.

 Photos: © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Celebrating the vitality of poetry

It's time to channel your inner bard /
Thursday is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.

The seventh national Poem in Your Pocket Day is Thursday, and I'm ready to celebrate.

April is National Poetry Month across America. It's a great opportunity to become acquainted -- or re-acquainted -- with poetry, and to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.

Since 2008, the Academy of American Poets have encouraged individuals throughout the country to join in the Poem in Your Pocket Day and channel their inner bard. According to the Academy of American Poets' website: "We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry's ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated."

Such as in the wonderful environment of a delightful independent bookseller, located in a vibrant neighborhood, that happens to be near one of the nation's top public universities.

As it happened, last Friday my wife and I walked into Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts Bookshop on College Avenue in Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood, near the University of California, to browse at books after dining nearby. In a prominent display in the center of the shop was a basket displaying hundreds of beautifully written "pocket poems" printed on nice stationary that could easily tuck into one's pocket to share with friends and family.

What a clever idea -- and these "pocket poems," feature many different San Francisco Bay Area poets, including: Maxine Chernoff, Brian Komel Dempster, Alice Jones, Hugh Martin, David Meltzer, Randall Potts, giovanni singleton, Tess Taylor and Alli Warren.

Also, Jennifer Elise Foerster, whose "pocket poem" contribution is entitled "Flight." I picked hers at random from the basket and look forward to reciting it on April 24.


As a child I tossed
all my imaginary friends
out the window of a fast moving train
because I wanted to feel my fist
break open as I freed them,
as each of their bodies
whipped against the siding,
their insides: snow
dispersing into wind,
their little heads rolling
across the yellow plains.

Because I believed they would return.
But non have since.
Not even the ones I didn't love.

Mrs. Dalloway's has encouraged its customers to come by their bookshop and pick up a "pocket poem" anytime during the month and share it on the seventh national Poem in Your Pocket Day. Bookstores, libraries, schools and parks throughout the country will be participating in pocket poem readings. This year, the celebration is carrying over to social media, too. Twitter users can use the hashtag #pocketpoem to share a favorite poem with their followers.

Indeed, the idea behind Poem in Your Pocket Day is a simple one, and anyone can create their own pocket poem. Here's how: Select a poem you love during National Poetry Month, then carry it with you and share it on Thursday, April 24 with friends and family -- even co-workers, too.

"Flight": From Leaving Tulsa by Jennifer Foerster ©2013 The Arizona Board of Regents. Pocket Poem reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.
Pocket poem illustration by Michael Dickens ©2012.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A remembrance: Jesse Winchester

Jesse Winchester / A songwriter with a sweet Southern heart.

Jesse Winchester was a songwriter with a sweet Southern heart. His songs were covered by an eclectic group of singers: Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, the Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello, among many.

I was saddened by the news over the weekend that Winchester, Louisiana-born who was raised in northern Mississippi and the city of Memphis, Tenn., and established himself in Montréal after dodging the Vietnam War, had passed away at age 69. He died "peacefully" at his home in Charlottesville, Va. last Friday.

Word of Winchester's death spread prematurely on social media a week before he succumbed to cancer when singer Janis Ian posted this tribute on Facebook: "RIP Jesse Winchester. As underrated a singer as Chet Baker. As underrated a guitarist as Willie Nelson. A man who held the audience in the palm of his hand without moving an inch. One of the best songwriters on earth."

However, it was because of this that I reconnected with Winchester, whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform in a solo show in the early 1980s at the intimate, old Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis one winter's evening during my college youth. Through Facebook, I reminisced about the humility of Winchester and of his music, both on my page and through a college friend's page, too.

I read about Winchester's death in the New York Times while eating Saturday morning breakfast at home. Music critic Jon Pareles wrote a wonderful remembrance of Winchester, born James Ridout Winchester, which I encourage you to take the time to read.

Nothing But a Breeze 
Winchester's 1977 album Nothing But a Breeze remains a favorite of mine and just last week, I listened to it from beginning to end, delighting in the singer's bonhomie and the joy of his sweet honey voice. Some of his best-known songs were: "Mississippi You're On My Mind," "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz," "Biloxi," and "Say What." While Winchester's songs were rooted in country, soul and gospel, his poetic lyrics reminisced about the South of his long-ago youth.

Earlier this week, PopMatters music columnist Colin McGuire wrote in tribute of Winchester: "There was something that separated him from his contemporaries, an amount of levity, an amount of intellect that brought his tales of heartbreak, innocence, youth and romance to life."

Because Winchester couldn't tour in the U.S. for many years while living in exile in Canada, few Americans knew about him. Yet, Winchester honed his songwriting skills and was nurtured by The Band's Robbie Robertson. It was while in Montréal that he found his poetic, musical voice, too.

Winchester finally returned to the U.S. to live over a decade ago, long after during the presidency of Jimmy Carter that he and other draft dodgers of the Vietnam War era were given amnesty in 1977.

The last time I saw Winchester perform was in 2009 on Elvis Costello's "Spectacle" TV show that aired in the U.S. on the Sundance Channel. He shared a New York City stage one evening with Costello and fellow singer/songwriter guitarists Neko Case, Sheryl Crow and Ron Sexsmith. His poignant song "Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding" brought Case to tears and humbled Costello. At the song's conclusion, the misty-eyed host remarked: "That's it, Jesse. The show's over. You finished me off. It happened at rehearsals and it happened now."

The revered Winchester, pitch-perfect and always accompanied by a lightly-plucked acoustic guitar, was one of the best at his craft of songwriting. He was a songwriter's songwriter and he will be sorely missed.

Bless his loving heart.

Photos of Jesse Winchester courtesy of Google Images.
Video courtesy of YouTube.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Worth a good listen: My spring music playlist

It's springtime, and with the new season -- and, hopefully, warmer weather -- comes new music worth a good listen.

Whether you're looking to create a mood or, simply, be in the mood, here's a playlist of some of my favorite new music I've been in tune with via KCRW.com, as well as exploring through my iPod, that's worth adding to your playlist, too:

• Beck / Heart Is a Drum / from Morning Phase
In "Heart Is a Drum," from 'Morning Phase,' American musician Beck Hansen "harkens back to the stunning harmonies, song craft and staggering emotional impact" of his 2002 album 'Sea Change,' "while surging forward with infectious optimism." 

• tUnE-yArDs / Water Fountain / from Nikki Nack
Tune-Yards is the genre-bending music project of New England native Merrill Garbus. Her songs embrace lo-fi, indie pop, R&B, folk, experimental pop and Afrobeat. "Water Fountain" is from her forthcoming album 'Nikki Nack' that is due next month.

• Cibo Matto / Hotel Valentine / from Hotel Valentine
Miho Hatori and Yuka C. Honda, both creative, artistic and talented types, comprise Cibo Matto, a "kicky, playfully weird New York art-pop duo," according to NPR Music. Their music will grow on you. Thanks KCRW.com!

• Joseph Arthur / Take a Walk on the Wild Side / from Lou
In 'Lou,' Joseph Arthur's tribute featuring his interpretation of 12 Lou Reed tracks, the American singer/songwriter offers a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of "Take a Walk on the Wild Side," by turning it into a heaving piano ballad.

• First Aid Kit / My Silver Lining / from Stay Gold
Although the Swedish folk duo's new album isn't due until June, "My Silver Lining" was released last week and it's already generating lots of buzz. The Söderberg sisters, Johanna and Klara, draw their songwriting influence from the likes of Fleet Foxes and their vocal harmonies are reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. Their music is oh so enjoyable.

Hopefully, these songs not only will appeal to your inner ear and hungry mind. They'll make you smile, too. After all, these days everyone want something to smile about. 

Enjoy listening!

Turntable image courtesy of Google images.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hope springs eternal for the Summer Game

Chicago's Wrigley Field / One of baseball's green cathedrals,
where hope always springs eternal for the Cubs.

"Now there's three things you can do in a baseball game: You can win or you can lose or it can rain." -- Casey Stengel

A brand new Major League baseball season started yesterday. Opening Day was celebrated at New York's Citi Field, and in Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago (for the White Sox), as well as in St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Arlington, Anaheim and Oakland. Today, it's Houston's turn to celebrate Opening Day against the Yankees.

Every team starts with a clean slate. Zero wins. Zero losses. Zero games behind -- even though two teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers, started the 2014 season two weekends ago in Sydney, Australia, all in the name of expanding the Great American Game all around the world. Meanwhile, all of the other teams remained back in Arizona and Florida playing Spring training exhibition games and getting into shape. The Dodgers played their "second" season opener Sunday night in San Diego, and they entered with a 2-0 record before losing 3-1 to the home team Padres in high drama on a home run in the late innings.

The baseball season is a marathon -- definitely, it's not a sprint -- and it lasts 162 games, stretching from March until October. Even the best teams are bound to lose at least 60 games over the course of a season and the worst teams will win at least 60 games. It's what happens during those other 42 games that makes or breaks a season. With the Dodgers commanding one of the highest payrolls in any sport, the media and Los Angeles fans will be monitoring every at bat and every pitch throughout the season, expecting the Dodgers to win their first World Series crown since 1988. 

Last year, one of my hometown teams, the San Francisco Giants, finished 10 games under .500, which, understandably, was a letdown for both the team and its fans. Yet, there's reason for optimism because the Giants have won the World Series in each of the last two even-numbered years, 2010 and 2012. And, as this is an even-numbered year, 2014 could be another year for the Giants to win it all.

Built in 1914, Wrigley Field is
the oldest ballpark in the N.L.
As for the lovable Chicago Cubs, who lost their season-opening game on Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates on an extra innings walk-off homer, they still haven't won a World Series since 1908 -- that's 105 years. The Cubs haven't even played in a World Series since 1945.

Will this be the Cubbie's year? Time and 162 games will tell their story. At least, the ivy-covered walls of the historic, friendly confines of Wrigley Field will be colorful even if the Cubs don't win many games in 2014. The Cubs' home opener at Wrigley Field is Friday, a day for North Siders to rejoice.

On Monday night, the Giants started their 2014 season on the road against the Diamondbacks on a clear, 80-degree evening in Phoenix. Lefty Madison Bumgarner, who earned his first Opening Day start, got roughed up early and left the game after the 4th inning. However, he saw his team rebound nicely in the late innings, rallying from a 7-3 deficit by scoring four runs in the seventh and adding two more in the ninth. The Giants won 9-8 on Buster Posey's two-run homer off closer Addison Reed in the ninth that broke a 7-7 deadlock and easily cleared the left-field fence at Chase Field. The ball landed well back in the bleacher seats and the "OUTTA HERE!" call by Giants TV broadcaster Duane Kuiper, himself a former Major Leaguer, was a welcome sound for Giants fans.

Giants catcher Buster Posey during
the 2010 World Series parade.
"I think we want to be a team that keeps grinding and keeps pushing," Posey said after the Giants' first victory of the season. "It was nice to be able to do that tonight right out of the chute to give us that confidence that when we get down we known we have the ability to come back."

Closer to home, the Oakland A's, my other hometown team, played their home opener against the Cleveland Indians Monday night before a loud and enthusiastic crowd at the aging and concrete Oakland Coliseum, which endured day-long rain showers that soaked the entire Bay Area, but finally subsided about an hour before first pitch. During ceremonies on the field before the game, which included fireworks, the A's were honored with a banner celebrating their 2013 A.L. West Division title. Unfortunately for Oakland and its fans, the A's lost their 10th straight home opener, 2-0. So, there was no walk-off heroics to celebrate. Tuesday night's game was rained out and the A's and Indians will play a day-night doubleheader on Wednesday. Rain or shine, hopes are high this year for the A's, and you should never count out the team's general manager Billy Beane, of Moneyball fame, from getting the most value out of his 25-man roster.

Baseball is the perfect companion for the summer as the days grow longer. It is both rhythmic and poetic -- its memories are savored for a lifetime while its losses are lamented. 

Indeed, it's a brand new baseball season and every team starts with a clean slate. One win doesn't make a season just as one loss doesn't, either. And, as fans, we'll be checking the baseball box scores every morning -- in the newspapers and online -- dissecting the rhythms of yesterday's games, with the hope that springs eternal for the Summer Game.

Play ball!

Photographs of Buster Posey and Wrigley Field by Michael Dickens © 2010 and © 2013.