In The Company of Inspiring Artists

This year appears to be going at speed! We’re now entering March and, before we know it, the spring will be upon us.  As the pandemic and lockdown continue, I have kept busy and occupied with a few projects and writing for Occhi Magazine. I’m sure you’d agree it’s very important to keep inspired whilst inspiring others.

I’ve had the enormous pleasure of speaking to a number of talented individuals in film & TV, music, and visual arts since my last entry. This includes LA-based  German composer, Thomas Eggensberger, Blues musician Robert Hokum, and emergent photographer Paul Fletcher.

German composer, orchestrator, and songwriter Thomas Eggensberger perfectly illustrates what it means to be a very talented artist who feeds on the opportunity to collaborate on new and exciting projects that challenge his creative boundaries. He has collaborated with a broad spectrum of creative artists in the  US, UK, and Germany, composing for film, television, and games, as well as concert music and collaborative art. Now based in Los Angeles, California, he is co-founder of the composer collective and sample library builders ‘Green Light District’.  We had the opportunity to discuss his career, Green Light District, and much more! Check out the full interview here.

The pleasure of being part of Occhi is meeting the many talented individuals who show commitment to the arts beyond their personal gains or commercial success. One person who should not go unrecognized is Robert Hokum. Robert has a rich history of showcasing artists and promoting the London Borough of Ealing as a creative hub. He has been on the British blues scene for some 50 years. His accolades and accomplishments include being a Director of the much-needed Ealing Club Community Interest Company, which seeks to build on Ealing’s iconic music heritage. He is the Artistic Director and Founder of the Ealing Blues Festival, which, since it was established in 1987, remains London’s longest-running Blues festival. He was also a founding committee member of The Hanwell Hootie, which has become one of London’s biggest free music festivals. With pleasure, I had the opportunity to catch up with Robert. This is the first of Occhi’s special series of Ealing Club Eclectic Interviews and streamed sessions with artists living or working in the London borough. Check out the full interview here.

Paul Fletcher is an emergent photographer worth keeping an eye on.  I had the pleasure of working with Paul in the construction sector over several years and, a few years ago, interviewed him for this blog on what was then his growing interest in photography. Influenced by his career in architecture, and interest in innovation, his emergent practice is driven by a voracious curiosity in people and how societies operate. Fully awoken through battles with mental health, and now the global coronavirus pandemic, his arresting work instinctively captures meaning whilst provoking interest in each theme explored.  He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, the Schumacher Institute, and now a patron of The Photographers’ Gallery in London. It was a great pleasure to catch up with him to discuss life during COVID-19, the trajectory of his practice, and more! Check out the full interview here.

As February comes to a close, I wish you and yours a great weekend and a safe and prosperous month ahead!

 

 

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‘Colonial Currents: Black Women, Water, Trauma, and Baptism’ At The 15th National Black Writers Conference

The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York (CBL) presents the 15th National Black Writers Conference (NBWC2020). The conference, which started on Wednesday, runs until Saturday, November 14, 2020. The event, in association with Akila Worksongs, was rescheduled from its annually-held Spring dates due to COVID-19 and will be held virtually. This year’s theme, Activism, Identity, and Race: Playwrights and Screenwriters at the Crossroads, is a new focus for the Conference that boldly affirms and celebrates how the diaspora’s playwrights and screenwriters expand society’s understanding of Black life and the human experience. Forming part of an exciting program of events, anthropologist and interdisciplinary artist Alexis Alleyne-Caputo (Afro Diaries™) will present her short film titled  ‘Colonial Currents: Black Women, Water, Trauma, and Baptism’. 

Further to her previous projects exploring issues affecting black and brown communities, Alexis Alleyne Caputo’s project draws on current pertinent and intersecting issues, underscoring racial injustice, police brutality, climate change, COVID-19, and the global momentum supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.  The short film will be followed by a Q&A, which I have been invited to participate in.

Much reflection is given on how artists, activists, and educators can respond to the conference’s overall theme of activism, identity, and race whilst widening discussion, exploring solutions and disseminating findings beyond the conference’s virtual registrants. The artist who contributed to the project were Andria Thomas, Anasthasia Grand-Pierre, Cheryl Harrell, Desiree Parkman, Kashia Kancey, Maryann A. Payne-Benjamin, M.M.N. Caputo, Na’Talya Elizabeth Duhart, Shawna Watson, Shawnnette Longley (Rimidi), and Yolande Clark-Jackson.

Speaking on the eve of the conference Alexis Alleyne Caputo explains, ”This is a response to the conference theme of  Activism, Identity, and Race: Playwrights and Screenwriters at the Crossroads. The African American experience must be recorded and viewed from a wider lens, understanding similar or shared experiences of black people across the world. Milestones in history, our response, and the narrative of the African diaspora’s story matters. This is best served via the collaboration of literary and visual minds to celebrate our being and shape our future’’.

Other conference highlights include roundtable conversations, panel discussions, a town hall, film screenings, author readings, writing and playwrighting talk shops, a local vendor marketplace, and much more. The four-day virtual gathering brings together students, writers, artists, activists, scholars, literary professionals, theater and film giants, and other literature enthusiasts from near and far. The aim is to explore the challenges, rewards, and impact of working within the Black film and theater industries. Discussions will examine the ways that race, identity, politics, and popular culture shape the production of plays, films, and television shows.

For further information on Alexis Alleyne Caputo please visit https://alexiscaputo.com/

Click here for the program for the day.  For further information and bookings for the 15th National Black Writers Conference (NBWC2020) please visit https://centerforblackliterature.com

The featured image, courtesy of Alexis Alleyne Caputo  features Anasthasia Grand-Pierre (left) and  Maryann A. Benjamin (right)

Let Creativity Continue!

It’s been a long and difficult year so far. The ongoing COVID pandemic and the plight of so many is the summary of 2020. It continues to be a  particularly difficult time for the creative industries and freelancers on projects halted due to the uncertainties the pandemic brings. On a personal front, I’ve directed my energy on working on personal projects and spending time in the studio to combat feelings of upset, anxiety and worry over how life has changed for so many in so short a time. I had the pleasure of being included in a series of interviews with Scripps National News focusing on how people are coping with COVID and regional lockdowns. Check it out !

I’ve also had the pleasure of engaging with other artists and interviewed a number for Occhi Magazine. This has been inspiring and motivational. I encourage you to read some of our recent articles for inspiration, encouragement and believe we can channel our energy into being creative and finding a therapeutic release during these times. Articles include artists Audrey Barcio, Jessica Hess , REWA and Visual Artist Denis Mubiru.

Audrey Barcio, an American visual artist known for her paintings and installations.  Her work has been featured in New American Paintings, and in 2019, she was awarded a Pollock Krasner Foundation grant. Barcio maintains a rigorous, interdisciplinary studio practice in which notions of action, labor, and the human condition intersect with the history of Modernism to form the basis of aesthetic explorations.

Oakland, CA-based artist Jessica Hess is a hyperreal landscape painter. Her depictions of the urban environment both celebrate and validate the art of graffiti through a fine art lens of oil paintings on canvas and gouache on paper. Her awe-inspiring paintings have a powerful, dramatic, and captivating energy that feeds a desire to know more about the person behind the work. It was a pleasure to connect with Jessica to discuss her art and future projects.

My first impression of REWA’s art is its bright, harmonious, intense, and rich nature. The vibrancy and life in each picture draw you in, to examine its construction with excitement. She studied Physiology & Pharmacology at University College London and worked in the Insurance industry, so it was interesting to explore REWA’s development as an artist and approach to her work

Ugandan Artist Denis Mubiru provides a powerful blend of force, flavor, and prominence in his vivid, vibrant, and arresting work. His paintings, reminiscent of Basquiat,  are inspired by popular culture with bright colors and stylized imagery. Central to his work is the theme of transport and the migration or movement of people. His artworks often include roughly applied text which highlight the significance of thoughts or his experiences at the time.

These and other articles  are featured on Occhi Magazine. Wishing you all a safe and happy week ahead!

Images provided to Occhi Magazine, courtesy of the artists

Jessica Hess photo by Dustin Cantrell

In Conversation with Egyptian Painter Ghada Amer

Ghada Amer is an Egyptian painter, sculptor, and installation artist whose work addresses the issues of femininity, sexuality, and gender roles. Creatively she customizes ideas and symbols of religious fundamentalism and cultural identity via unique paintings and sculptures that illustrate her wide and varied talents. Ghada began her artistic training in Nice, France. As a student in the BFA and MFA programs of Villa Arson, Amer was excluded from painting classes because they were reserved for male students only. Refusing this narrative, she pursued an exciting career that continues to break boundaries. She injects a unique perspective on art, using different mediums to redefine what it means to be an artist. Ghada Amer now lives and works in New York City.  It was a pleasure to interview her for  Occhi Magazine.  Read the full interview here

Photo Credit: Arts/Industry, photographer Scott Seifert.

In The Spotlight: Ed Cross Fine Art

Hi all! Hoping all is well and you’re looking after yourselves mentally and physically during these difficult and trying times. I’ve been rather inconsistent with my entries of recent but I will endeavour to post, keeping you informed and hopefully inspiring your creative juices! I’ve been fortunate to interview several visual artists, musicians, authors, producers and directors for Occhi during the lockdown so please subscribe and follow the online magazine.

Ed Cross Fine Art works with emerging and established artists across and beyond the African diaspora. The gallery seeks to stage conversations – between practitioners, international audiences, and as guided by its artists to amplify voices historically silenced, and to create space for their independent development. Since launching in 2009, Ed Cross Fine Art has held exhibitions across the world: from New York to Paris, and London to Lagos, the gallery continues to build on its values of cooperation and curiosity. Occhi had the pleasure to speak to gallerist Ed Cross about the gallery and the sector trends, particularly in light of the COVID 19 lockdown.

Please tell our Occhi Readers how the Ed Cross gallery started.

Way back in 1988 I left my London publishing job at Heinemann to live in Kenya to pursue a career as an artist and continue my publishing interests as an independent agent for UK and American Educational publishers – so whilst Ed Cross Fine Art was formed in 2009 after I had returned to London, my connection to Africa long predates that. In Kenya, I collected some contemporary art just for the love of it and later worked as a sculptor myself for seven years but from the beginning, I was enthralled by the diverse creativity and energy that I experienced in East Africa and later the West and the South as I traveled the continent on business. In many ways, I liked the fact that the boundaries between art and life that I had known in the west were far less in evidence.

At around 2006, whilst still in Kenya,  I had an idea that would change my life – and this was simply the notion that “African Contemporary Art” was a hugely undervalued asset – undervalued culturally as well as financially. I saw this as both a business opportunity and a “mission” that,  it transpired,  would define my life. At that time there were very few artists from Africa who were on the world stage, El Anatsui had had excellent shows with October Gallery in London but it was at the Venice Biennale in 2007 that the magnificence of one of his great tapestry works overwhelmed the defenses of the Western art world and changed forever the perceptions of contemporary art from Africa.  By then I was already embarked on a journey towards raising the profile of artists from Africa. My decision to return to my home country was much to do with a desire to take the battle to the Western institutions and collector base and shortly after I arrived in the UK  I was pleased to learn that the Tate Modern who had previously shown little or no interest in African Contemporary art were embarked on a process of establishing a proper African contemporary collection.

Back in Africa, I had focussed on collecting contemporary works with some UK based friends but I soon found myself making friends with the artists whose works I was buying and realized that I could use the marketing skills I had acquired from publishing to help them sell their work – thus I accidentally became a gallerist.  The fact that I had studied History of  Art at Cambridge as an undergraduate helped too.

How would you describe the gallery’s program and what’s your USP, particularly for artists and art collectors?

A young curator who went on to hold one of the most important art jobs in the country once was kind enough to describe me as a magician because ECFA  “does all the things that a bigger gallery does without any of the usual infrastructures”.  In Kenya there is a term Jua Kali “hot sun” in Kiswahili covering the “informal sector” and I have always had a bit of an affinity with that way of doing things – we travel light.

Our resources go into wonderful and highly skilled colleagues, art fairs, pop-ups, and online platforms, and the development of materials that throw light on the artists we represent.  We had a space very briefly when I first started the company but since 2010 we have not had a physical space and since 2018 we have been lucky enough to be part of the Somerset House Exchange project which provides office space for creative businesses linked to its core mission of supporting the arts. This is a blessing in the current crisis.

Our USP is our relationship with our client artists and our commitment to the integrity of them as people and their work. We are always in search alchemy. It is all about the artist and their work, less about the gallery. We are not a gallery that tries to mold artists in any way but we are very much there for them – we are on the journey together and are often friends as well as business partners. We are also open to new “talent” and will take risks with new artists because we can and because it’s core to what we do. Many of our artists come to the art world via unconventional routes and we absolutely embrace that.

I am also only interested in artists that have something that I sense is profound and important to say – I am not interested in artists that try to game the system unless that is part of their practice. I have worked as an artist myself and my mindset as a gallerist is similar in many ways – in the end, you go with your intuition.

To read the full interview visit https://occhimagazine.com/in-the-spotlight-ed-cross-fine-art/

Photograph of Ed Cross by Dola Posh (2019)