When I started writing for Sky Blue Window almost three years ago, I expressed to the editor and publisher that I wanted to write my blog if I didn’t always have to be told exactly what to do. I didn’t want to just “cover” music. Instead, I wanted my writing to mirror my listening and wanted my pieces to follow my interests and curiosity. I also knew that a lifetime immersed in local music as a player, promoter and all-around cheerleader let me highlight people and music that I think make Indianapolis and Indiana great, at least from where I stand. I can’t believe they agreed, but they did, and every two weeks I surprised them with a new post.
This space gave me a great reason to talk about music with other people, which happens to be one of my favorite things in the whole world. I got to think of all the Hoosier musicians, music-makers and culture-makers that I wanted to talk about music with, and bi-weekly deadlines forced me into action. It gave me a reason to talk to Kenny Childers or Otis Gibbs about songwriting. I got to turn the tables on Kat Coplen and Dave Lindquist and ask them about music journalism. I was able to chat up the owners of my favorite record stores about how they came to create these amazing places centered around music. I had the pleasure of asking three of my favorite local deejays about their craft. What a great privilege I had to have access to insight from such talented artists and doers.
It gave me a lot of opportunity to think about how music informs my personal life and connects me to people and places. Like, how it influences my being a new parent, or, let’s be honest, how it influences my being the type of parent whose kid’s middle name is a reference to a Harry Nilsson song. Or how, in the face of loss, music helps fill a void. It inspired me to connect to a musical past that I had mostly abandoned. Mainly, it helped connect me to my home town and see it differently, which leads to my last point.
“When you talk about music, your face becomes beautiful.”
That’s a line from my favorite episode of This American Life, and a line that popped into my head over and over when I thought about this space. And it’s true. It’s true for me and it’s true for all the people I asked to talk about their favorite albums or favorite concerts. Those lists were fun to put together because it gave them a chance to think and talk about the music that is most meaningful and personal to them, and what role music played in whatever part of their life they wanted to share. Everyone has a top three list of songs, albums or lyrics that helped them grow, figure out who they are, or just helped to figure out how to really enjoy life.
We spend so much time in our lives talking about what we don’t like. We go on and on about what infuriates us about work, politics, traffic, commercial radio, annoying people, etc. I think we need to be mindful of what we like -- whether that’s music, culture or our city.
I didn’t want to be corny and reach for a Vonnegut quote to end my run, because of the ubiquity of Vonnegut in Indy lately, and because I mostly wrote about music in this space. Mainly, I don’t want to be a sourpuss, but I grew up in the Indianapolis that Vonnegut didn’t like. And, the feeling felt mutual. I grew up in a conservative, old-timey and very closed and judgmental Indianapolis, especially for arts and culture. Our newfound love of the great writer in the last few years sometimes seems a little revisionist, but maybe it’s something different. Maybe it shows me that Indianapolis has become a city that now values what it once didn’t. And maybe, it’s become the place I’ve always wanted to live in.“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.” There, I quoted Vonnegut. How could I not? His words are so apt.
Here’s my version and wish for Indianapolis -- I urge you to please think and talk about the things you like, whether music, books, art, food or theater. And think to yourself or scream out loud at some point: We can have nice things.
Race and baseball.
Sex and basketball.
Mystery and money in the strange case of Harper Lee.
I must say, writing about literary matters for SBW was a whole lot more fun than following Indiana politics in my previous job.
Granted, the bar is low there. A colonoscopy without anesthetic would be only marginally less fun than following Indiana politics for a newspaper.
Still, gee, what an interlude it has been, this damnably brief run of the Hoosier state’s only comprehensive arts-and-culture publication.
The merry pageant of music, visual art, theater, etc., etc., and the provocative personalities behind them will share their thoughts a bit later in the week. My “Words” beat will have its hands full trying to do partial justice to the dozens of discoveries a very, very underrated literary scene offered up to me in less than a year and a half’s time.
Race and baseball? It was from Chris Lamb, an IUPUI professor who was writing a book on the subject, that I learned about the Cannon Street All-Stars of Charleston, S.C., who would have been the first all-black team in the Little League World Series if they had not been screwed by Jim Crow.
Sex and basketball? The scandal that still reverberates around the University of Louisville is largely the doing of former Indy newspaperman Dick Cady. He was commissioned to fashion a book out of the story of Katina Powell, who said she furnished strippers and prostitutes to roundball recruits at the behest of a U of L assistant coach. Even Dick Vitale has interrupted his usual TV cheerleading by alluding to that untidiness. Unbelievable, Baby.
If I couldn’t bring a blockbuster audience to our beloved publication with high-profile sports-related sleaze, then how about some soap opera surrounding the revered Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird and his enfeebled creator, who’s since died? Fans who didn’t care for Atticus’s less shiny portrayal in the 2015 novel Go Set a Watchman, as well as those who doubted that book even was the decrepit writer’s idea, got treated to some inside dope from her alma mater, the University of Alabama. Fort Wayne native and distinguished writer Michael Martone, an English professor at UA, confided that few unkind words were likely to come out of there because the school had been courting Ms. Lee for many years in hopes of a fat bequest upon her passing. So, stay tuned on that one.
A prominent theme of all this: In literature, as in so many other areas, from statesmanship to sensational crimes, there’s always a Hoosier angle.
I was privileged to discuss books by Indy’s Andrew Levy, Sandy Sasso, Frank Thomas and Fran Quigley that I felt added significantly to the world’s lore about Mark Twain, Anne Frank, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Haiti, respectively. A book assembled in Wheeler Mission under the supervision of Ball State professor Lyn Jones is believed to be the nation’s first memoir written by homeless women.
Dropping the level from global to personal, there was the priceless – and potentially dangerous – blogger’s license to take up quirky topics and complaints as the spirit moved me. I could and did seek answers to such questions as:
~ What sorts of makeshift bookmarks do libraries and used bookstores find in their volumes? (A knife, credit card, cheese slice were among the more unusual bookmarks.)
~ Whom would Hoosier writers choose if they could name a street after one of their tribe? (Etheridge Knight the Indy poet placed first.)
~ Has the F word lost its potency from overuse in books and films? (Oh, heck yes.)
Delight and instruct is what words ought to do, William Blake told us. Writing about words for the aptly named Sky Blue Window accomplishes all of that for this grizzled veteran of the verbosity business. Seeing the blinds drawn and the glass slam leaves me with a sensation something like the Cannon Street kids must have felt. Their loss was much bigger than them, and our little group’s loss is all of Indy’s, and then some.
SBW will remain live through June 1st, with some additional new content posting each week. It just won't continue to have its Monday-through-Friday daily posts after this Friday.
Moving beyond the stereotype of the starving artists, there are many ways for these creative types to get by. The artistic cast of characters who entertain and enrich our lives are similar to Jerry and his crew on Seinfeld.
There will always be the Jerrys in the limelight, out there gigging every night at the club and succeeding on the merits of their likability. There are Georges who are below-average underachievers, finding success and failure in equal measure depending on which way their luck goes.
The Elaines are full of style and talent, but they support their way of life through administrative work. And, of course, there will always be Kramers, the natural eccentrics scheming their way through life.
For many of us in the creative world, there’s the reality of a life with no pot of money at the end of the liberal arts or visual arts rainbow. Not even after four semesters of jazz and composition, or finally being able to paint a narrative with depth of field and sense of space will someone award us health insurance or a steady paycheck. Finding your own unique way of hustling is the rule of the land, if anybody wants to survive.
Most of my peers who have made a rich life sustained entirely by their art are also those whose work ethic and talent was acknowledged and affirmed with the various education grants and scholarships they received every year of their college education. The students who had the most support, whether financial or through the esteem of their peers, are also the ones that succeeded the most.
Beyond my own anecdotal experience, some studies positively claim that the unemployment rate for artists is decreasing faster than the national average, and that overall they tend to live happier and more fulfilling lives than people in other professions. The fulfillment of artists is due in large part to the autonomy their work allows (with the exception of performance artists like musicians and actors, who may have less autonomy).
The data is tricky to read in that it categorizes a vast and diverse field -- such as “the arts,” when truthfully circumstances vary from profession to profession. It's not the same world out there for a designer whose work holds more marketable value compared to a conceptual artist’s work whose value is cultural and less tangible in the eyes of society. Additionally, seasonal work, such as acting or dancing for theater companies falls under the “employed” category even though it isn’t exactly a steady job with benefits and a 401k.
I would venture to say that the scholarships and awards that were awarded to my peers at Herron School of Art did go to the very best of the best. The Jerry Seinfelds of the world earn their applause and money through both talent and effort. But still, there’s something to say about the nontraditional artists who also displayed an immense, although less rewarded, amount of talent.
The night owls who were always late, the socially anxious ones who did not participate as much in critiques, the eternal bankrupt ones who would show up to class with less than ideal supplies, and the ones that life just kept happening to them in the form of car troubles, dead relatives and food poisoning.
I am reminded of an episode from season 8 of Seinfeld in which George Costanza reviews several candidates for “The Foundation’s” first scholarship, and he ends up awarding the scholarship to someone who reminds him of himself: a below-average underachiever. Not because I think that underachievers should get more scholarships to support their slacker lifestyle, but because I think there was a part of me that identified with George and his soft spot for the underdog.
I also tend to champion nontraditional students. I was one myself, after all. With my two jobs to help out my parents, while still living with them in the suburbs and commuting downtown to school, there were far too many priorities above my studies that rendered my academic destiny something other than what I planned.
While entertaining these thoughts, I met with Kim Hodges, Director of Development at Herron School of Art to find out exactly what a person needed to do to contribute in a meaningful way (financially) to the present life of the future artist, and I learned that it’s not difficult at all.
Any person can make a one-time gift in their name, which will go directly to a student. This gift is awarded according to the criteria of the donor for as little as $500 a year. For big spenders, an endowment is a one-time donation for which the scholarship exists in perpetuity (what a legacy!) and it is established with a minimum donation of $25,000 (payable over the course of up to five years). When fully funded, the endowment provides approximately $1,125 annually to a deserving student.
Additionally, Herron School of Art has two existing scholarships, a general fund for any student and a heritage one for minority students, to which people can give any amount of money at any time.
And so I leave you with these thoughts and data, and a proposition: In addition to helping the next Jerrys find nightly success, let’s encourage the future Georges, Elaines, Kramers, and even the occasional Newman for the future artists of our city.
Help students realize their vision and make our world a better and more colorful place. And maybe we can even support politicians with policies that give artists the access to health insurance and the steady paychecks other workers enjoy. Above all, I found it’s pretty easy to put your money where your mouth is.
When I start the process of creating these list-y top-three posts, I usually ask four or five times the amount of people I need to write an entire article, knowing that only a handful of people will actually get back to me.
But, when I started asking current Indiana musicians to name their all-time favorite Hoosier inspirations, I got way more than I expected. I think people really love to shine a light on their favorites and introduce people to artists they really love. So, in celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial, here’s part two of my series.
You know the criteria by now: I’m not looking for the most famous or successful musicians from Indiana. I’m looking for picks from the heart -- three Hoosier musicians, bands, songwriters whose songs, style or work ethic impact them on a personal and professional level.
Chris Banta, Brother O' Brother
John Mellencamp - I'm only human. Mellencamp was someone who took a little while for me to appreciate, but once I did, his music really feels like the voice of the Midwest. Essentially the Midwest Boss.
Sleeping Bag - Definitely a newer band in the scope of all-time etcetera, but I absolutely love every bit of their music. The Deep Sleep album is incredible and personal to me, as I was dealing with the loss of a family member and found myself listening to Deep Sleep almost every day.
David Baker - LEGENDARY composer, teacher, King of Cool. He was my History of Jazz professor at IU, and he also leads the IU jazz band and Smithsonian band. His accomplishments and creations blow me away, and the smallest conversations with him were always brimming with cool.
Lani Williams, Mars or the Moon
I'd have to say that female vocalists have always influenced me most, not only because I'm female and a vocalist, but because there aren't nearly as many women in leading roles as there are men. I find it as empowering watching other women shine as I do performing (and I seriously love playing with my three boy bandmates).
I first saw Stacia Demos shine her light in the band Middletown, though she is a force that can be found all over this city in many musical ventures (including children's music). I admire her strong presence greatly.
Kate Lamont has always been an inspiring and creative performer for me. Madlab and Blueprint Music are some of my favorites.
I feel like Jen Christy should get a mention here too. She's been out there, mostly as a solo artist, for a long while.
The Why Store was my gateway band to the local scene. I loved their sound, good energy... and Chris Shaffer has such a great presence on stage. One of my favorite music memories is him joining me on the Rock Lobster stage while I covered their Surround Me tune.
This town has a wealth of talented songwriters. Tim Grimm became one of my favorites several years ago. I saw him play at IRT with Ramblin Jack Elliot, and I was hooked immediately. His songs paint such vivid pictures of family, of Indiana. His songs feel like home to me.
For my third spot, I couldn't decide between Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band and Otis Gibbs. Too many nice things to say about both of those guys. Both rich in talent and character. It's why they continue to shine.
CHiVES - An old soul in mint condition. Real good live rock and roll with some intense creative rhythms.
David "Moose" Adamson - Jookabox was the only band around town that made me dance in public. Sedcairn Archives forces me to meditate in public.
Nate Hammond - It's anybody's game so long as this guy don't play.
Shelby Kelley - Awesome artist, great songwriter and the reason I came to Indy. I would steal his band (Shelby County Sinners) if I could get away with it.
Derek Johnson, Composer/Multi-Instrumentalist
My “top 3” Indiana musicians (drum roll please...). They all share these qualities: sincerity, talent and a really, really, really big thing to say.
Stasia Demos Mills
Tad Armstrong - Because he's unaffected and honest. Because he's as fine of a songwriter and performer as you'll ever meet ... anywhere. Because his songs always make me feel like I'm coming home.
Lily and Madeleine - Because I had to pull the car over the first time I heard their voices. Because they're a great Indiana example of what musical mentoring should look like.
A tie between Johnny Socko (because, uh, hello -- banana suit coupled with kickass musicians!) and Kate Lamont because, when that girl sings and collaborates with artists like TJ Reynolds or Sarah Grain, the earth shifts a little on its axis.
Dan Snodgrass, Bonesetters
I've always been in awe of Mike Adams’ writing and performance, whether with Husband & Wife or His Honest Weight. His voice and style are strong! His work feels like a close friend reminding you that it's OK to get deep and be silly and be yourself - even if it's your darkest self.
S.M. Wolf's sugary fuzz pop helps fill in the gaps in my teeth, especially their latest one. Adam and Co. know how to keep you up!
Gentleman Caller has a soft spot for me too. One of my top moments playing music was when Kenny said he liked a song of ours, when I'd been a fan of his since I discovered his albums on Musical Family Tree in College. Everything I've heard of his, or projects he relates to, puts me back into this time of uneasy nervousness, but in a good way.
Benjamin Cannon, Spark Joy Music
Jess Strantz (Von Strantz) - She's shown a talent for sprawling her demons and heartbreak across any canvas she chooses. Her voice is undeniably powerful, the songs beneath it all are well-composed and deeply felt, but their emotional impact will change your life.
Charlie Ballantine - Combining timeless melodicism with forward-thinking lines and textures, His style and approach is measuring the immeasurable and breathing new life into our jazz scene in Indy. His first LP Green is brilliantly composed and his live shows are extraordinary.
Jeff Kelly (Prowlers and The Prey) - He's quickly become one of the best songwriters in our city, combining passionate vocals with throat-punching honesty in his lyrics. His live performances, whether solo or full band, are almost religious experiences conjuring spirits that will surely alter how people view our local music scene. I honestly believe his best music is yet to come.
Melissa Davis, WFYI
Manners, Please. - I'm a big fan of newer Indianapolis based electro pop band Manners, Please. Super fun music with really introspective verses. Their lyrics cut close to the heart surrounded by playful acoustics. It's like packaging tears with unicorns. I can't wait to see where their music takes them.
Janet Jackson. - I probably don't need to add an explanation, here. Ms. Jackson is a national treasure, a legend and she's from Indiana. As soon as I hear her music, I'm smiling. School dance memories, forever. Indiana girl to universal superstar. That's pretty cool.
The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - Watching Rev & Breezy start as hometown heroes and grow to an internationally acclaimed blues band is an amazing process to witness. The talent and determination of this band is a wonderful representation of our Hoosier work ethic. Good people playing good music, and they're proudly from Indiana. We're lucky to have them based in our home state.
An author living in Lafayette, Indiana, has established himself as America’s, if not the world’s, leading authority on the uniquely exciting, culturally essential, politically entangled phenomenon of Cuban baseball.
Peter C. Bjarkman’s latest book, due out this May from Rowman & Littlefield, is Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story. Here’s a condensed version of our email interview about a publishing event made auspicious by new diplomatic warming between the nations.
SBW: Fascinated as Americans are with both the island and its game, we have it not just wrong, but backward. Is that what you’re telling us?
PB: What I tried to stress in the book was the unique nature of Cuban baseball as a world entirely independent of Major League Baseball control and thus a true “alternative baseball universe.” Cuba has been able to control its baseball for the past half century, admittedly and largely due to the accidents of Cold War political developments.
What is special about the island’s baseball is that Cuba has also been able (until recently) to keep all its best players at home and thus foster a baseball that is a true public entertainment and not merely a corporate commercial venture.
Obviously that is now all changing due to the complex set of circumstances that have caused players to flee the island in droves in search of big league riches.
SBW: Migration of Cuban ballplayers to the United States is widely perceived as a romantic pursuit of the American dream, but it seems to have a multifaceted dark side – illegal trafficking, separation from families, failures to make the grade.
PB: One thing I have tried to raise some awareness about here is that in the process of literally devastating the rest of the international baseball world to harvest talent for big league stadiums, MLB is in the process of perhaps sowing the seeds of its own long-range destruction. This is not a new story but just a new chapter and I try here to link the current harvest of Cuban talent to the lengthy history of MLB imperialism that has over the decades shut down all perceived competition (the 1940s Mexican League, the pre-integration Negro Leagues, the once thriving Latin American winter leagues, even the thriving small town minor leagues of the ’30s and ’40s).
SBW: Does MLB owe an accounting for profiting from a talent flow that’s tainted?
PB: I don’t know about an accounting, but they need to stop secretly fostering the Cuban human trafficking by throwing millions of dollars at players whose agents are certified by the MLB Players Association and who we know are engaged in such trafficking for profit. (There is no evidence that any MLB officials are directly involved in trafficking, but that doesn’t wash their hands. The example I like to use is the case of the trafficking into the U.S. of young girls for the sex trade; if you partake in buying the services then you are sustaining the operation. The same with buying drugs brought into this country by the Mexican cartels.)
MLB needs to do several things here – institute an international draft, stop requiring (in conjunction with the Treasury Department) that Cuban ballplayers renounce their citizenship and take third country residence. I suggest in the book that a logical system might be for the Cuban Baseball Federation to institute a posting system like the one in Japan and thus reach an accord with MLB that Cuban players could be free agents only after serving a contract period at home – which would end the trafficking. But so far the Cubans have not figured out how to do that.
SBW: Given the talent drain over the past two decades-plus, plus the new political developments, can Cuba retain control of its baseball destiny?
PB: I certainly believe the Cubans will attempt to do that. But they are fighting a losing battle as long as MLB welcomes defectors with open arms and huge contracts. The Cubans have no way any longer to keep their players at home. But the developments since December 2014 are already clearly showing that the Cubans will move a lot slower than most pundits have thought in relinquishing anything of their current system – which includes their baseball.
SBW: Deterioration notwithstanding, is Cuban baseball a more enriching experience than the heavily commercialized USA version?
PB: For me it certainly has been. The stadiums are small and intimate. Fans go to the park for the baseball and not for a multimedia extravaganza. Since there is no player trading and players spend their entire careers with the team representing their province, it is truly “our team” that fans root for and not some corporate entity with mercenary athletes masquerading as a “home town team.”
The fact that players remain in their own provinces, and also the fact that their salaries are barely above those of other Cuban laborers, conspire to make the bond between players and fans a close one.
SBW: How have you been affected by these years of immersion in the Cuban game?
PB: Having remarried and left academia in the mid-1980s I launched a career writing about big league baseball and pro and college basketball, but became largely disillusioned with MLB during the 1994 players’ strike. Shortly thereafter I went to Cuba with photographer Mark Rucker to write my book Smoke and there began a life-changing series of events.
I became fascinated with Cuban baseball, the Cuban people, and the Cuban social and political experiment. I continued to travel to Cuba on an increasing scale, developed close relationships with many of the island’s ballplayers and also most Cuban baseball officials, and started following the Cuban national team around the globe. That entire saga is subject of a new book – a memoir – I am currently writing that is tentative titled The Yanqui in Cuba’s Dugout.
If you read my last post, you already know that I’ve decided to dedicate the bicentennial year to celebrating Indiana the best way I know how: talking to culture makers about what they love about our state. I want to talk to writers about their favorite Indiana authors and poets. I want to talk to painters and sculptors about their favorite Indiana artists. I want to talk to local music makers about their most influential Hoosier artists.
I kicked things off asking local musicians to talk about their favorite Indiana music. This time, I asked 10 local visual artists to name their top three, all-time favorite Indiana artists, and to tell me a little bit about why they love them.
I gave them my criteria for ranking their favorites, which is pretty simple: I’m not looking for the most successful and famous artists from the state, or else Robert Indiana, T.C. Steele and Gustave Baumann would dominate most lists. Instead, I’m looking for picks from the heart - three Hoosier artists whose artwork, style or process impact them on a personal and professional level.
William Merritt Chase - traditional, created in depth depictions of his sitters' personalities. Several are penetrating especially his self-portrait in the Richmond Museum.
A major influence for me, David K. Rubins, artist/sculptor who taught at Herron. I met him in seventh grade when I started attending Herron’s Saturday School figure drawing classes and later befriended him in college at Herron. He had retired by then but occasionally during lunch we would sit in the hall discussing the figure. He created the young Lincoln by the Indiana Statehouse and wrote a book, The Human Figure.
Paul Sweany, former Herron instructor. He loved the Old Masters and we would talk art history when I worked with and for him at Herron. Although not a student, I was his T.A. and I consider his work some of the best watercolors created by Indiana artists.
I always cite my favorite local artists as Tyler Meuninck and Nat Russell ... both geniuses but I say it so adamantly and so often it’s starting to get weird, and I don’t need another restraining order. So here is a different list.
The best artist in the world happens to be from Indiana, Bruce Nauman. His video work is pure joy for me, very inspirational. His video double no at the Tate Modern altered my DNA.
Carla Knopp is an amazing Indianapolis artist that sort of epitomizes what it is to be an “artist.” Smart and steady, everything she makes is great; I’m a huge fan.
Mike Lyons - His work and his process of making work are fascinating, completely beyond me, I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s always beautiful or terrible in the best way ever.
Kipp Normand - His work makes the deepest part of me make sense. The world is made of boxes, filled properly, with the right amount of light and dark. And I'm allowed to keep all of the things, if I put them in the right places. And there are an infinite number of secrets and things to be curious about and places to trespass.
Kyle Ragsdale - His work is filled with colors that I never use, but love when he paints them together. I get lost in the dreams and the people I know and ones I don't know and want to make a costume and join the joy in the canvas.
Johnny McKee - His work is quiet and beautiful. Even pieces with a touch of violence are quietly beautiful. I like how deeply calm his work makes me feel. A cosmic stillness and peace.
It is impossible for me to list just three Indiana Artists. I've been influenced by hundreds of artists since moving to Indiana, and I feel that it would do a disservice to ignore so many great artists. I really can't make up my mind, so I will simply list the first Hoosier artist that inspired me while growing up in Defiance, Ohio.
1. Jim Davis - Once I mastered drawing Garfield, I knew I could become an artist. It was a simple litmus test, but an important stepping stone. Growing up in the Midwest, Jim Davis was a hero.
Casey Roberts - I love the way he combines visual imagery with process to create dreamlike landscapes that both calm and provoke my brain.
Benny Sanders - I've seen much of his recent work on my facebook feed, and wish I had more disposable income to add some of his mixed-media drawings and prints.
Barbara Zech - I love great handmade ceramics, and Barbara's pottery is some of the best that I have in my kitchen. Her tiled mosaics, seen on the canal walk and in several local neighborhoods, are one of my favorite things about Indy.
Harry Davis was one of the first Indiana artists that I actually met. I was working for Indiana Landmarks in 1989 and their main office here in Indianapolis was at Crown Hill Cemetery at that time. They had a series of large paintings of Indianapolis buildings from the 19th century all painted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The paintings perfectly captured the tension between the beautiful architecture and the shabby condition of the buildings. Harry Davis actually came to one of our staff meetings to talk about his work and when I learned about his experience at Herron and saw his fantastic early work from the 1930s, he became a hero of mine. He painted brilliantly all his life, a career of more than 60 years.
Eve Mansdorf teaches painting at IU. She is not from Indiana. She paints figures in interiors mostly. Somehow she has captured Bloomington perfectly. The style and colors of the rooms and the quality of the light is marvelous.
Casey Roberts work is simultaneously simple and multifaceted. He makes images that he calls drawings using a 19th-century photographic process called cyanotype. I don't know anyone else who does this. His imagery incorporates nature, folklore and the complications of modern life. He is one of the most prolific artists I know and one of the nicest. He also makes movies that are brilliant.
Lois Main Templeton - I love her because her work is, above all, authentic. She shows us who she is, in the now. She is clearly the godmother of Hoosier modern art.
Vija Celmins - She graduated from Herron in 1962. I heard her speak at Herron while I was there, and that talk and her work has made a profound impact on my work. Her influence on my art is pretty obvious.
Phil Campbell - His massive "Catfish Friend" took my breath away when I saw it in person. His personal narrative and careful craftsmanship make him one of Indy's all-time greats. My list could go on and on, and my love of local artists is strong. Our community of artists is made up of some of the hardest working, most dedicated people there is. I'm proud to work among them.
Ed Funk - Seeing his multi-layered paintings and woodblock prints for the first time inspired and confounded me simultaneously. Employing lines and shapes that have some underlying structure or rhythm that upon further investigation disintegrate, he seemed to be playing all the notes that were between the notes. He taught me how important the strength of a single brush mark could be.
David Kleeman - His sculptural work has always moved me. The use of found objects with hand-carved and molded mediums are Multi-dimensional, shamanistic and humorous. There is a wealth of symbolism and hidden facets to these works to investigate. It's a pleasure to revisit them again and again.
MaryAnne Nguyen - Her paintings and drawings always seem to possess remarkable craftsmanship, thoughtfulness and care-free humor. Just the studies and sketches that she prepares for paintings alone have been very inspiring to witness. There's an ethereal quality to her work that goes beyond description.
I'm known for struggling to pick favorites but Indiana has interestingly deep and rich ties in the world of art. One of my favorites would be an artist lesser known to have Indiana ties but who grew up in northwestern Indiana and that would be Isamu Noguchi. His work is so compelling in its understated but powerful concept and aesthetic. As I mature as an artist, I look to work like his as vital.
Another artist with stronger Indiana ties whose work I really enjoy is George Rickey. His kinetic sculptures are just gracefully elegant.
Picking a third is where it becomes nearly impossible so I have to draw a straw to choose, and I hate doing that. The arts in our community are growing leaps and bounds so it's such a broad swath of choices. Could I just take a moment to praise the great work of a whole community of artists? If so, I would have to shine a huge spotlight on the work of the artists at the Harrison Center. That would not only include the artists but the amazing ways the staff is always looking to promote and support us creators in the building. It's a magical place that deserves recognition for all of the amazing and creative components held within its confines.
T.C. Steele - Steele was a master of the young American Impressionist painting movement and was as good as any painter in the world. In addition to being
the most famous Indiana painter still, he also played a major role in the founding of John Herron School of Art, which has produced many of the artists who
impact our city every day.
Brian Myers - Myers' painterly style and choice of everyday subject matter had me instantly fascinated. His use of negative space and play between strokes of muted and bold colors create a sometimes dreamlike sense of perspective for the viewer.
Quincy Owens - Quincy's abstract paintings are rich and compelling with a lot of play between color and shape. His light installations are wonderfully simple and clean; sometimes more angular, sometimes more linear as circumstances vary.
Who are your favorite Indiana artists and why? I’d love to read your picks down in the comments or over on our facebook page.
The title of Roxane Gay’s best-selling collection of essays, Bad Feminist, can be taken a whole lotta ways.
Bad as in bad*ss, which would befit one of the most outspoken of contemporary American social critics.
Bad as in a feminist who confesses she’s not good enough at feminism.
Bad as in a feminist movement that this young African-American firebrand exhorts to do better by its poor and minority sisters.
The multifaceted author, speaker, New York Times op-ed regular and associate professor of creative writing at Purdue University will speak a week from Tuesday (Jan. 19th) at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts. Gay’s appearance is part of Butler University’s Visiting Writers Series.
The author’s forthcoming book Hunger will be among her topics of discussion. It’s a decidedly unsentimental memoir about carrying a heavy body through a society that worships the thin and comely.
Ever agile in the crowd of contemporary communication, she’s serving up portions of that story ahead of publication over Twitter and Tumblr. Digital, likewise, was the medium for our recent interview, conducted by email to accommodate her travel schedule.
Sky Blue Window: As an engaged writer taking on the most vexing troubles of our times, including the deaths of young black males at the hands of the police, are you optimistic about the future of the country – and of your craft?
Roxane Gay: I have to be optimistic, or there's really no point in giving a damn about this world. Things are a mess, everywhere, but we are more and more having the difficult, necessary conversations that can contribute to change. I am absolutely optimistic about writing, though I do remain frustrated at the barriers marginalized groups face in being able to participate in the writing world.
SBW: Your writing has been wide-ranging – novels, short stories, commentaries on topical issues, essays on the culture and history underlying these contemporary traumas, and now, a most personal odyssey in Hunger. Do you find your various genres pollinate one another?
RG: My work definitely finds itself in conversation but there are also differences between my fiction and nonfiction – different urgencies, mostly, and different ways of exploring truth.
SBW: As a teacher of writing, do you encourage students both to honor their own experience and to venture outside it?
RG: I do encourage both. There is a lot to be learned when students draw from their own lives and experiences in their writing, but they should not limit their creative inquiry simply to what they know. It's also important to engage with the world beyond that which they know. It broadens their thinking, their writing, their sense of possibility.
SBW: You work in a privileged environment, a major university. It must be a challenge to connect students and faculty alike to a world in which struggle for survival and dignity are the norm.
RG: I do? I mean, I teach at a state school in a building that is rusted, dirty and regularly infested by roaches. The ivory tower is . . . not that ivory. True story. All kidding aside, it isn't challenging to connect to the world beyond the university, because of empathy. We cannot be divorced from the world around us because we are in a college classroom.
SBW: Is it daunting, trying to bridge the racial gap in American feminism?
RG: It can be daunting, yes. There are an alarming number of people who don't understand inter-sectionality, or the idea that as women, we embrace multiple identities that merit equal consideration when we are fighting for equality and progress.
SBW: Your novel An Untamed State interweaves the beauty and suffering of Haiti, your parents’ birthplace, with the lives of characters from within it and from elsewhere. Do I over-interpret by taking this as a metaphor for the centuries of mistreatment of this destitute neighbor by the U.S.?
RG: An Untamed State is in no way a metaphor. The novel is exactly what is: a story about a woman who is kidnapped, brutalized, and then must find a way back to herself.
SBW: After Hunger, what’s on your plate?
RG: I have a short-story collection coming out this fall, a young adult novel coming out next year or the year after, and a few other fun things in the pipeline!
For time and ticket information for this event and other guests of the Visiting Writer’s Series, contact Butler University’s website.
It’s Indiana’s year. The big 2-0-0. Who’s ready to party? I am, for real. I’m pretty sure I’ve reached peak Indiana-themed T-shirt status already, so I have plenty of ways to show off my Hoosier pride to the rest of the world. But that doesn’t really seem like enough to honor my home state.
So, I’ve decided that I’m going to dedicate 2016 to celebrating Indiana the best way I know how: talking to culture makers about what they love about our state. I want to talk to writers about their favorite Indiana authors and poets. I want to talk to painters and sculptors about their favorite Indiana artists. I want to talk to local musicians about their favorite Indiana music. I hope to share their thoughts and pass them along throughout the year.
To kick it off, I went straight to my favorite topic. I spoke to people who have been in the trenches making music, producing music, promoting music and building communities and careers around sound in the Hoosier state. I asked them to name their top three, all-time favorite Indiana musicians, songwriters or bands and tell me a little bit about why they love them.
I gave them my criteria for ranking their favorites, which is pretty simple: I’m not looking for the most successful or famous artist from Indiana, if I were, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, John Mellencamp and Michael Jackson would be on nearly everyone’s list.
Instead, I’m interested in how music impacts a person's life and how songs, albums and lyrics provide a soundtrack to our lives.
So here goes:
Dave Lawson - School of Rock, Zero Boys, Mahjas
I definitely came up loving the amazing litany of punk bands from Indiana -- Gizmos, Zero Boys, Toxic Reasons, etc., and definitely Transgression. They were a part of the influence chain, albeit a far more metal iteration.
The surface of that metal digression was certainly scratched further with Blatherskite -- straight up grindcore (see napalm death, etc), but with exceptionally poetic lyrics for the genre and an extremely DIY punk ethic -- not to mention a strong hip-hop undercurrent (vocalist Johan went on to do mainly hip-hop projects around town).
Ben Leslie - S.M. Wolf, Musical Family Tree
When I try to think of my top three, I keep thinking of Jookabox. Moose's music (Jookabox, DMA) is inspiring, groovy, composed and eccentric. Very defining for me as one of the first Indiana music groups I encountered after moving here.
If I have to pick two more, the first would be a combo of Wes Montgomery and Melvin Rhyne. I saw Melvin Rhyne play piano with the Butler Jazz group. I was right next to him, because I was the student piano player at the time.
Finally, Christian Taylor's songwriting always gets me. It works solo or with a group. These are personal experiences with Indiana music. I'm not really thinking of big names that came from here, or musicians I've played with, which is a different sort of experience.
Faith Cohen, Global Beatles Day, Faith Cohen Photography
John Hiatt -- He gives the Midwest a good name, not a swaggering hillbilly, but a thoughtful, great and well-grounded singer songwriter.
Randy King -- Perfect, sly, dark and danceable pop.
Lily and Madeleine -- Since the first moment I heard them, I knew they were special, and they have their whole lives to improve on their growing songwriting skills graced by beautiful blood harmonies.
Frank Dean, Sindicato, Franks Guitar Shop
Bill Wilson -- Bill was a huge influence on me when I was getting rolling with my songwriting. I could barely talk around him, because he was so much better than everyone else in Indy.
Bobby Helms -- Bobby was from Bloomington, and, to this day, he’s the only recording artist to be awarded "Artist of the Year" back-to-back inCashbox magazine (in 1958-1959). He ruled the rock-and-roll and C&W airwaves with Jingle Bell Rock and You Are My Special Angel, but it was Fraulein that blew me away as a kid. Years later I had the honor of performing Fraulein with him onstage. It meant more to me than I can say.
John Hiatt’s -- John Hiatt’s Ridin' With The King was John basically showin' the rest of us how it's done. Brilliant!
Luann Lietz, The Jazz Kitchen, Sindicato
The Jackson 5 -- I lived near Gary, Indiana, when this album came out and remember dancing to it ALL THE TIME when I was 10. I literally thought The Jackson 5 were my neighbors, and that there was a good chance I'd spot Tito at the grocery store. I had no idea they had moved to California after they became stars. Ha!
Dog Talk -- from 1994-2004, I mixed the live sound for this popular local band. This album brings back lots of really happy memories of all the time I spent with those guys and their many fans. It was also the first live album ever recorded at The Jazz Kitchen. Not many people know that.
Frank Dean -- he's an incredible songwriter and arranger, and I get the pleasure of singing background on many of his songs a couple times a week at our gigs.
Scott “Rudi”Rudicel, Ruditoonz
The Why Store -- Chris, Michael, Greg and Charlie allowed my band, Liquid Circumstance, to share the stage with them probably 25 times, which allowed us much more success in the local scene than we probably deserved.
Bob Bullock -- Bob On This was an inspiration, in the glam rock and hair metal days, proving that ugly boys from Indiana could do it on their chops and songwriting skills alone.
And then a tie between Tim Brickley, Matt Sommers, Rusty Redenbacher, Vess Rutenberg and Tufty Clough.
Jeb Banner, Musical Family Tree
Chris Kupersmith (Fabric/Uvula) -- No one writes songs like Chris. They’re beautiful, profound and completely original. He's also one of my favorite singers.
Bill Cameron (Winechuggers) -- Bill is our own Harry Nillsson. Put him at a piano and you have an evening of fun.
Christian Taylor (America Owns The Moon): Christian can make you dance, he can make you cry. He makes you feel what he feels. So much soul.
Kenny Childers, Gentleman Caller
The top two are easy: 1. Sardina 2. Marmoset -- both of these bands saved my life. Brando is likely number 3, even though I'm an occasional member, so it feels a little dirty saying it. But the records are mostly made without me, so that's my justification.
All three projects are unique, exploratory, sad, collaborative, untethered to earth and make me wish I'd never actually learned how to play a barre chord.
Dr. Paul Kolman, Rock n’ Roll Dentist
The Pieces -- Such a great band musically and lyrically.
Gateway 2 Project -- My first introduction to Indy hip-hop.
Shadeland -- The Ghost, one of the best-sounding local recordings I have ever heard, plus it's just a great record.
Jon Martin, Sindicato
John Hiatt -- Discovering that Hiatt was from here meant a lot to me as a teen. It gave me a bit of hope that there was more to my city than the cow pasture beyond my backyard.
Frank Dean -- Simply put, my life is better because of his music, and not because he's my "big brother" and musical mentor. I sing his songs on the regular, including one written about me. I hum his melodies almost every day.
John Mellencamp -- I can tell you on one hand the number of times I've gone out of my way to listen to his work in the last 20 years, but the 15 before them gave me a big hand in learning my instrument.
As for my top three favorite musicians from Indiana? I’ll save my picks for a later post. But I’d love to hear yours down in the comments or over on our facebook page. Need to do some research? Kyle Long and Kat Coplen’s 100 Best Hoosier Albums Ever and Wikipedia are great references to start making your own list.
A few years ago blogs and other articles about culture seemed to say that the generation that came of age around the turn of the century, aka millennials, were going to save us all. But something’s changed in the last year or so, and today’s twenty- and early-thirty-somethings are increasingly labeled as the scourge of older generations.
Just last week, a friend forwarded me an article melodramatically titled, “ Why Are SO Many Millennials SO Uncool?” It’s another in a long line of hit pieces, written by a grumpy baby boomer or smug gen-Xer who has had enough of the younger generation, and has something to say about it.
The author (who I assume is a man, mainly because the entire essay reads a little dude-ish), lays out some simple metrics to support his hypothesis. Cool people are “those who don’t conform, who don’t always fit in, nor do they try to, … and are those who follow their own path.” Uncool people are “those who dress, act and have the same tastes as the masses and are vulnerable to corporate influences.”
The author tests his theory by watching the habits of millennials in hipster bars and grocery stores, and he concludes that a whole generation: A.) Unironically (that’s bad, apparently) likes Top 40 music, will openly sing along (again, horrible) with said songs in public, and doesn’t even try to be misunderstood outsiders (a major life goal!) B.) Has been spoon-fed musical and artistic cant by corporate boogeymen for so long that they’re unable to think for themselves, so they have unironic (read: tragic) singalongs to Taylor Swift and Adam Levine’s work in public, and, C.) Cares so little about authenticity or the struggle of “real” artists that music itself stopped having an impact on society, like it (purportedly) did in the ’60s, ’70s and ’90s.
Now, he says, because of corporations and millennials who let this all happen, we’re left with Beyonce selling Pepsi and making people fat and unhealthy.
It’s a pretty rich opinion, and it’s hopefully written with a touch of tongue-in-cheek. But it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of how a lot of gen-Xers and baby boomers talk about the generation coming up behind them, and their musical and artistic tastes. I hear it all the time in my professional and personal circles. Of course, in the same conversation, it is almost always stated or inferred that things were somehow more authentic in the past than they feel today.
But I’d argue this viewpoint is decidedly wrong -- none of this is new and none of it is specific to this generation. The majority of people in the world have commercial-friendly taste in music and like saccharine hits that they don’t have to think too much about. It’s true. It was true when I was a kid. It was true in the 1960s when The Velvet Underground was releasing some of my all-time favorite albums, the #1 albums of the day were by The Monkees, The Association and Herb Alpert (alongside the Beatles and Stones, of course). For me, 1979 was one of the best single years for music ever. That year gave us amazing albums from The Clash, Talking Heads, Devo, Television, Joy Division, Blondie, Elvis Costello and the B-52s. Yet the top albums that year were by Supertramp, Billy Joel and Rod Stewart.
When I was in elementary school, junior high and high school, the kids who liked “cool music” were a tiny minority compared to kids who liked what was in the Top 40. My wonder years were commercially soundtracked by the likes of Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, late-’80s Aerosmith, Starship, Poison, Tiffany, Vanilla Ice, and Don’t worry Be Happy.
Kids my age ate that stuff up like candy! Really, only about 10-12 people I knew liked Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Misfits or even Bowie (besides the Let’s Dance album, which, I’m pretty sure everyone agreed was magic).
Plus, money and influence have controlled popular music for as long as there has been a profit to be made from selling music on a mass scale. The US started prosecuting for Payola in the ’50s, but companies and industry pros have been finding ways to influence and manipulate what’s popular in music ever since. The author even points to The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which has been opened the door for major media corporations to consolidate their outlets into single ownership. This, in turn, puts the control of the flow of information and culture on mass scale into only a few hands.
He states that in 1983, 50 companies controlled the majority of media outlets in our country. Today, he says, that number has consolidated to six companies holding the majority of media outlets in our country.
For me it was always an adventure to find cool music and art that nobody I knew had discovered. I spent a lot of time and energy to find what I like. But that was before the Internet put every track, artist and genre I could ever imagine right at my fingertips. I wonder if having everything available all the time on the Internet makes it less likely people want to do the hunting and just accept the easiest things? I don’t know, but it’s not my job to tell an entire generation what music they should like. I’d rather be curious about what they create or why they like what they like. Irony is much more boring, in the end, than someone who takes the time to figure out what is appealing about a Katy Perry song. Or about David Bowie.
An Indiana girl, born and raised, Leslie Dolin recently took up artistic residence in the middle of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Gustave Baumann, German Craftsman-American Artist.
As the museum’s first-ever woodblock printmaking artist in residence, Dolin spends her days making prints, interacting with gallery visitors and leading workshops that show patrons the intricate process involved in printmaking. It’s an experience that offers her a unique view into both the museum’s inner workings and the visitors’ curiosity about printmaking.
A 1998 Herron School of Art graduate, Dolin’s work, both as an individual and in collaborative creations, has ranged from painting to printmaking. It has celebrated cultural icons, including Nina Simone, Chaka Khan and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as adorable woodland creatures.
But the Baumann exhibit and his printed takes on natural settings bridge two phases of her artistic life – her early years with landscape paintings and the graphic printmaking that she has more recently explored.
I’ve known Leslie for decades, and I was so excited to see her get this opportunity. She took a break from her IMA cubby (really, a large, windowed room in the middle of the Baumann exhibit) to chat a bit about her residency.
SBW: How did you become the first woodblock printmaking artist in residence at the IMA?
LD: I found a listing for the residency through the Indiana Arts Council classifieds. I read through it a few times and thought it would be a perfect fit for me, so I applied. I went through an interview process and was surprisingly offered the residency.
SBW: What do you do as the woodblock printmaking artist in residence at the IMA?
LD: My residency is part of a larger exhibition featuring the work of Gustave Baumann. My workspace is in the Process Gallery, and it’s open to the public. I get to use this space to make woodblock prints inspired by Baumann, while guests of the museum observe the process. I also lead workshops within the space that help facilitate a better understanding of the color-printing process, which can be quite complex. Another bonus of the residency is my exhibition, which is currently on display in the Bret Waller Gallery.
SBW: From collaborations with other artists to depictions of cultural icons, your work incorporates diverse inspirations. How does the Baumann show inspire you?
LD: My work has been diverse in subject matters. I started my career as a landscape painter and worked within that genre for years. The Baumann exhibit brings me back home, where I am making art from a place that is peaceful and familiar. Trying to capture the majesty of the natural world on a two dimensional plain has always been an intriguing challenge for me. I feel a kinship with Baumann in the sense that no matter where he was in the world, his surroundings seemed to be his biggest inspiration.
SBW: What’s exciting about being around the Gustave Baumann exhibition as a printmaker?
LD: Baumann has a very unique approach to woodblock printing. His prints read almost like paintings, in the sense that there is a depth and richness that one doesn’t often find in woodcut prints. He really had the ability to capture light and the texture of the landscape. Sometimes I walk around the exhibit and study his prints so I can better understand how to approach certain aspects of my own work. He was a true master of his craft.
SBW: How do IMA visitors tend to react to the exhibition and Baumann’s work?
LD: People that are unfamiliar with printmaking are fascinated by the process. To see this beautiful work first on the wall and then see it dissected into all of its parts blows people’s minds. People will walk through exhibit and come over to me and ask all sorts of questions. The visitors are really delighted by the craftsmanship and the time put into the creation of the woodblock prints.
SBW: As someone who’s come to the museum as a visitor for most of your life, what’s it like to be behind the scenes and actually on the inside?LD: I love being inside the museum. It’s amazing. I came on when the Gustave Baumann exhibit was being installed, so I got a behind-the-scenes peek at how it all comes together. I have a new appreciation for how the museum functions. It takes a lot of hardworking people to create an environment that is engaging and entertaining, as well as respectful to the conservation of the art.
SBW: You’ve taught people about the printmaking process, but what have they taught you in the process?
LD: Interacting with the visitors has been a very educational experience for me. I’m learning a lot about what people know or want to know about my chosen field. I particularly like engaging with people through the printing workshops. The participants are generally very enthusiastic and excited to participate in the exhibit in a hands-on way.
SBW: What about the printmaking process draws the most interest or confusion?
LD: The general public is completely baffled by the “registration process,” . . . the way of aligning block and paper to yield a consistent print. It’s a complicated thing to explain. Also, most people seem to think that woodblock printing is a lost art that nobody does anymore. While I like the romance of that notion, I try to assure everyone that there are plenty of us out there.
SBW: There are all kinds of ways to do and create art, what are the most special parts of printmaking for you?
LD: I have an emotional connection with printmaking. I find great solace in the process, from the carving to the printing. It’s a tactile art form that requires a lot of experience to fully comprehend. I love the idea of a multiple, that one image can be made many times, therefore making it more accessible to a wider audience. Also having many copies gives me more opportunity to experiment.
SBW: What’s next for you?
LD: Unemployment and prayers (she laughs). I recently secured a studio space at the Circle City Industrial Complex, so I will be participating in IDADA First Fridays there starting in March. My short-term goal is to secure enough supplies to lead workshops independently, and my long-term goal is to open up a print studio where I can teach. I will also be furthering my studies in Moku Hanga, traditional Japanese printmaking.
Leslie Dolin can be found at the IMA Wednesday through Sunday until Feb. 14. You can sign up for one of her workshops or learn more about the exhibit here.