Hoping you’re all well and enjoying life. It’s been a busy few weeks, head down working on a few projects and paintings. I’ve included two recent works which form part of my Fusion Series. The works will to be exhibited shortly.
The Fusion Series is an experimentation of colour, using a variety of acrylic paints and ink, encouraging you to think about the relationships between tones and textures in paintings, how they provoke emotions and support mental well being.
A variety of health professionals accept that our healthcare environment has a significant impact on a patient’s perception of their medical care and, in some cases, their actual recovery. Health professionals continue to explore the psychology of colour and how chosen hues on walls, floors and furniture can have a positive, or indeed negative, effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.
Continuing the original theme, the attached works have been influenced by a growing body of evidence that climate change induced mental health issues are increasing. It is particularly worrying to know this is a growing issue with teenagers.
I will endeavour to share evidence and updates in future posts.
Hoping you’re all having a great start to the week. I thought to share links to two recent reviews I’ve written for Occhi Magazine, a great online magazine supporting the arts. ( Be sure to follow Occhi for the latest reviews, interviews and updates on all things creative and entertaining!) Two great acts have new tracks out- check out singer/ songwriter Juliana Kanyomozi ‘s new single ‘I Love You’ and the artist collective Trade Secrets new release entitled ‘True North.’
For colleagues and blog followers in the UK, the Architects for Social Housing (ASH) collective take up residence in London’s ICA Upper Galleries. ASH are exhibiting their designs and work, including a map of London’s existing estate regenerations, at public open days on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 August, and they host informal discussions about different aspects of the housing crisis every evening of the week. As an ongoing presence, the group embodies the application of cultural practice within social activism. Established in 2015, ASH is a working collective of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, filmmakers, photographers, web designers, artists, writers and housing campaigners operating with developing ideas under set principles.
With the dramatic increase in economic disparity across the UK, there is a heightened need to find sustainable solutions to the housing ‘crisis’. ASH’s work responds to a lack of support for social housing and the communities they home. First among the principles they work to is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as luxury apartments, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the demolition of social housing, enabling the continued existence of the communities they house.
The residency runs from August 15th to 20th. For further info please visit the ICA website.
She Has a Name, the 2016 Canadian drama by the Kooman brothers, was released in the UK this month and will be shown at selected cinemas across the country during the coming weeks. The film’s primary focus is the harrowing story of two young girls who become victims of trafficking in Thailand. The film highlights the level of human trafficking, the height of corruption and the power businessmen yield from such a despicable activity. Please click on the link to read my review of the film for Occhi Magazine.
Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of black artists to a dramatic period in American art and history.
The show opens in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights movement and its dreams of integration. In its wake emerged more militant calls for Black Power: a rallying cry for African American pride, autonomy and solidarity, drawing inspiration from newly independent African nations.
Artists responded to these times by provoking, confronting, and confounding expectations. Their momentum makes for an electrifying visual journey. Vibrant paintings, powerful murals, collage, photography, revolutionary clothing designs and sculptures made with Black hair, melted records, and tights – the variety of artworks reflects the many viewpoints of artists and collectives at work during these explosive times.
Some engage with legendary figures from the period, with paintings in homage to political leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane and sporting hero Jack Johnson. Muhammad Ali is here in Andy Warhol’s famous painting. An original Sugar Shack painting by Ernie Barnes – known as a Marvin Gaye album cover – leaves the US for the first time.
Spanning the emergence of Black feminism, debates over the possibility of a unique Black aesthetic in photography, and including activist posters as well as purely abstract works, the exhibition asks how the concept of Black Art was promoted, contested and sometimes flatly rejected by artists across the United States.
With most of the 150 artworks on display in the UK for the first time, the exhibition introduces more than 50 exceptional American artists, including influential figures Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Lorraine O’Grady and Betye Saar, among numerous others. This landmark exhibition is a rare opportunity to see era-defining artworks that changed the face of art in America.
SOUL OF A NATION: ART IN THE AGE OF BLACK POWER
Soul of A Nation- Art in the Age of Black Power runs at the Tate Modern from 1st July to 22nd October. For further information please visit the Tate’s website
In recent months I’ve been working in the finance and lending sector. In the present financial climate, many small businesses and social enterprises are struggling to get off the ground due to a lack of support from high street banks. This is a particular concern for the arts sector, arguably made worse by the UK’s imminent departure from the EU. Fortunately there are alternative lending channels in the form of responsible finance providers (community development finance associations) that service and support the needs of such initiatives. The Key Fund in Sheffield UK is one of these providers. On a visit to one of its events, I was fortunate to meet Nicola Greenan, External Relations Director of East Street Arts. East Street Arts is one of a growing number of beneficiaries of Key Fund financing. Nicola and her colleagues kindly agreed to answer a few questions regarding East Street Arts and its objectives.
How did East Street Arts start?
In 1993, East Street Arts emerged in Leeds with the aim to take reference and inspiration from the rich history of, and current developments within, the artist-led movement. Karen Watson and Jon Wakeman founded the organization on the ideology of the alternative, contesting the place for art and the role of the artist resulted in the initiation of studios, facilities, professional support and public activities.
The first public exhibition took place in 1994 in two temporary empty shop units underneath the railway arches in Leeds city centre.
In 2000 East Street Arts moved to Patrick Studios, the site of St.Patrick’s Social Club – a former boxing club on St.Mary’s Lane in Mabgate. With a capital grant it renovated the building with Leeds architects Baumann Lyons to create 34 custom designed artists studios and facilities.
The business has grown over the last 23 years; working across four permanent venues, eighty temporary and partner spaces across the UK, making use of civic spaces and the public realm, East Street Arts develops new work and positions art within our everyday lives and contexts.
What are the aims and objectives of East Street Arts and how do you aim to achieve them?
Our mission is to focus on the development of artists through our events programme, membership activities, professional development and studio/facility provision.
We aim to support artists to create work and experiences that bring lasting change to our everyday lives; we do this by supporting artists’ creative needs, wellbeing and prosperity and by providing an environment that nurtures creative exploration and collaboration for audiences.
How and who can be a member of this collective?
Anyone can become a member of East Street Arts. The ethos of our membership is about support and exchange. We need member involvement to help us ensure we are meeting member’s needs. We currently have over 300 members, many of which are also studio holders.
Our membership is national and subscription based, the fees represent 1% of our overall income and they and other raised funds directly support:
UK and Europe based residency opportunities
Access to facilities, equipment and space
One to one tailored professional development sessions
Promotional and profile platforms
A range of professional development sessions
An annual research trip to meet peers in key European city
A dedicated members monthly newsletter
How important are your studios in supporting artists and communities?
Studios expose the rich diversity of artists practice, broker new relationships, collaborations and events and play a pivotal role in a city’s cultural and creative identity.
We offer artists affordable, diverse and managed studios based within active and inspiring environments. Over the last twenty years studios have remained a constant and essential part in the work we do in support of artists.
Studio holders are an important part of our community and we work hard to ensure we have the right kind of space. We welcome artists working across art forms and at different stages of their careers.
We currently have over 200 artists and groups working across our range of venues in the UK. In Leeds we host studios at Patrick Studios, Barkston Studios and Union 105, and in Gateshead Old Town Hall. In addition we have a variety of studios within our Temporary Space scheme.
Can you explain the Art Hostel Leeds initiative and how it works?
Art Hostel is the first social enterprise Art Hostel in the UK, leading the way with a brand new concept: a social mission focused on strengthening the local economy by creating new jobs and encouraging income into the area via ethical tourism. Also supporting neighbourhood regeneration on the oldest street in Leeds, Kirkgate, an area earmarked by the city council for repair and reinstatement.
Art Hostel will pioneer a new model for artists to interact with their wider community – aiming to change the way people stay, encouraging visitors to contribute to the city of Leeds while they are here, providing a physical infrastructure to make, create, debate, sleep and explore. The basement project space will host a dynamic, rolling programme of artists events, installations, performances and creative happenings; also, this space can be hired, linking back out into the cultural underbelly of the city.
In terms of differentiating the offer, Art Hostel fulfills local demand – it is currently Leeds’ only year-round, budget-style-stay, offering bespoke accommodation from as little as £22.50 per person, per night in a shared dorm room, or in a choice of private bedroom’s, costing £55 per night, sleeping two.
Also Art Hostel is accessible to anyone – you don’t have to be involved in the creative sector to stay there, making art accessible to those who wish to be involved, but also to those who may not have otherwise chosen to participate, de-mystifying visual arts and discovering new audiences.
You received support from Key Fund, a community development financial lender. There is a lot of debate about the importance of funding for social enterprises at present. How important a part did they play in the success your initiative?
As this was a new business model for us as a charity and we needed to move swiftly to ensure we were ahead of the game, regular funding avenues would have been to lengthy a process. The timing of the project was so vital that gaining finance as quick as we could with a social investor that understood how the organisation operated was key to making the project happen. Without Key Funds support the project would not have happened.
Those of you familiar with Harlem in New York have probably seen it’s transformation over recent years. Walking around the area, you can see a difference from how it was over a decade ago. The area is yet another example of the gentrification of urban environments with increased rents, an array of expensive condos and luxury apartments purchased by upwardly mobile city workers. Of course, no area of the city should be exempt from developments or regeneration projects if they further the goal of more sustainable communities, benefiting society’s most disadvantaged. However, there is a legitimate concern for generations of local families being forced out of an area full of history, artistic expression and a sense of place. I’m very interested in the many views held by stakeholders and continue to observe how Harlem, as an historically and artistically rich area, benefits from change. This brings my focus to how Harlem is celebrated as an arts and cultural hub by contemporary writers.
There are numerous resources capturing the essence of the Harlem’s Renaissance, the cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in the 1920s and 30s. The latest is Joe Okonkwo’s novel JazzMoon, set against the backdrop of the renaissance and glittering Jazz Age Paris. The novel will be published by Kensington Books this May.
David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife has called Jazz Moon “A passionate, alive, and original novel about love, race, and jazz in 1920s Harlem and Paris — a moving story of traveling far to find oneself.”
Jazz Moon’s author Joe Okonkwo is a graduate of the University of Houston with a B.A. in theatre and an MFA in Creative Writing from City College of New York. Joe made his living in theatre for a number of years as an actor, stage manager, director, playwright, and youth theatre instructor.
His short stories have appeared in a variety of print and online venues including Promethean, Penumbra Literary Magazine, Cooper Street, Storychord, LGBTsr.org, Chelsea Station, Shotgun Honey, Best Gay Stories 2015, Rind Literary Magazine, Em Dash Literary Magazine, Best Gay Love Stories 2009, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. His short story “Cleo” has been nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize.
Continually fascinated by Harlem’s rich history, I was intrigued to quiz Joe on his perspective and his ability to capture the essence of this notable period of African American history in the book.
Q.What books have most influenced your life?
James Baldwin’s Another Country was a big influence. I read it in high school, but not as part of any curriculum. It was the first gay book I ever read. When I finished it, I was depressed because I had really entered into the world of that book and found other people like me and I didn’t want to leave.
Toni Morrison’s books have been a big part of my life, especially Beloved. Historians and sociologists talk about how black Americans continue to be scarred by the experience of slavery. That was certainly something I believed, but more in a theoretical sense. Then I read Beloved and I saw that it’s not just a theory. Morrison captures the personal side of slavery and how it destructive it was—not just on a grand scale, but on a very personal level. Slavery destroyed individuals. It was a destruction that doesn’t heal easily or quickly. It’s a destruction that filters down the generations. I think Beloved is the most powerful book I’ve ever read because it takes the theoretical and puts human faces on it.
Q .What was the hardest part of writing this book?
JO- Jazz Moon is a historical novel, so making sure I had my facts correct was probably the biggest challenge. Making sure the characters’ language and slang was in keeping with the times. I reference a lot of real songs in the book, so I had to make sure that they had actually been composed by the time Jazz Moon begins (1925). Making sure descriptions are historically accurate.
I think the major challenge for any writer of historical fiction is sure to blending the historical research in to the story in a seamless and creative way. You don’t want the novel to feel like a history book. It’s historical, but still needs to read like fiction. I get extraordinarily irritated when I read historical fiction that feels like I’m reading a chapter from a history book. I do want to be instructed, but I don’t want to feel like I’m being instructed.
Q. Tell us briefly about your forthcoming book Jazz Moon.
JO- It started as a short story in 2004. It’s set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Age Paris. It’s part coming-out story, part love story, part personal and creative odyssey.
I love the Harlem Renaissance. If I had a time machine and could go back to any era, it would be the Harlem Renaissance. The 1920s were a very difficult time to be black in the United States, but it was a very culturally and politically fruitful time nonetheless. Literature. Art. Broadway. Jazz, of course. And it was during this period that the foundations of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was laid. It was during the Harlem Renaissance that people—both white and black—realized that black was beautiful and, in terms of Broadway and the recording industry, marketable.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Harlem during that period (and something I focus on extensively in Jazz Moon) was gay life. It was mostly underground, but not completely. There were gay bars and an annual drag ball that was one of the social events of the year. There were places called “buffet flats,” which were the 1920s equivalent of sex clubs. You’d go to a house or an apartment and in each room were “performers” engaged in a different sexual activity. Could be hetero or homo. As an audience member, you selected the rooms and activities that piqued your interest the most, hence the “buffet.”
People were not pro-gay in the way we think of pro-gay in 2016, but they were certainly aware of the gays and mostly took the attitude of live and let live—as long as gays weren’t too open.
Q.Tell us about the book’s protagonists? Was there a real-life inspiration behind Ben Charles and his devoted wife Angeline?
JO- There was not a real-life inspiration behind Ben and Angeline. Jazz Moon is not based on real people. That said, there is absolutely a lot of me in many of the characters, especially Ben. I didn’t realize just how much of me was in these people until I was near the end of the process. Some of the characters are who I am. And some of the characters are who I want to be.
Q. What other real-life inspirations did you draw upon if any?
JO- Jazz Moon is, in part, a coming out story, and Ben suffers greatly during this process. I did draw on my own coming-out experience. I realized I was gay when I was thirteen, denied it like crazy till I was seventeen when I came out to myself, then “formally” came out at age twenty-one. While working on the novel, whenever I hit an emotional roadblock about Ben’s coming-out, I’d delve into my own experience, which was, at times, painful, lonely, and confusing.
Q. Much is being made of the gentrification of Harlem. Since 2000 particularly, the number of historically black, blue collar residents has fallen notably, especially in central Harlem. Whilst capturing the spirit of the renaissance, do you feel Jazz Moon contributes to forwarding the discussion of heritage, sustainable communities or a resistance to change?
JO- I don’t know about sustainable communities and resistance to change. But I would certainly like to think that Jazz Moon can start people thinking about heritage. As I’ve already mentioned, the Harlem Renaissance was a culturally and politically rich period. It’s a period that deserves study and recognition. We’re starting to see some recognition, I’m happy to say. Queen Latifah starred in a biopic about the great blues singer Bessie Smith last year. Audra McDonald is getting ready to open on Broadway in a version of Shuffle Along, which was produced in 1921 and was enormously important in the development of the black Broadway musical. I would be honored if Jazz Moon’s legacy is that it contributes to the continued rediscovery of the Harlem Renaissance.
Q. What are your future projects?
JO- I just finished a short story called “Picnic Street.” The first draft was based very closely on a childhood incident, but in subsequent drafts, the story veered pretty far from that incident. The story just started to write itself, which is exactly what you want: to give in to the story.
I have another short story that’s writing itself in my head right now. It may end up being a novella. I’m not sure yet. It involves politics and love and how (or if) people of differing ideologies can also have a successful relationship.
My next novel will again be set in the Harlem Renaissance, but this time it’s about a real person from the era: Gladys Bentley. She was a pianist and a blues singer and a drag king. She was known for wearing a white tux and white top hat and performing at a gay Harlem club called The Clam House. She would dirty up the lyrics of popular songs and flirt with women in the audience. She claimed to have married a white woman in an Atlantic City ceremony, but no one knows the identity of this woman. In the 1950s, Bentley gave an interview to Ebony magazine, renouncing her lesbianism and claiming that taking female hormones had “cured” her. She had an amazing, entrancing voice. She makes a cameo appearance in Jazz Moon and my protagonist is hypnotized by that voice.
There’s still so much to know and learn about the Harlem Renaissance. I’m not done with it yet.
Q. What advice would you give to young enthusiastic writers?
JO- READ. Read everything. Literary fiction. Genre fiction. Thrillers. Biographies. History. Read the news. Read politics. I’m a political junkie. I read up on political affairs every day and I’ve found that reading politics makes my fiction writing stronger. Political writers have to get to the point, get the facts across, and accomplish that in a way that’s engaging and keeps the reader reading. That’s valuable for a fiction writer. But to the main question: just read. Stephen King says that if you don’t have the time to read, then you don’t have the time or the tools to write.