In the Studio with Alison Hall Cooley

“The first petri dish in life is your family,” says Alison Hall Cooley, a painter who interprets the natural world in a visual language of her own invention. One such conversation is now on display at the Adkins Arboretum near Ridgely in an exhibit she calls “Tidal.”

“What is our relationship with nature?” she asks. “Are we good witnesses to it?” As a witness or interpreter of nature’s nonverbal language, Cooley paints or speaks in an abstract lexicon that features pooling bursts of color amid smudges of non-reflective earth tones and outbreaks of parasitic crawlers. It’s both a beautiful and somewhat creepy assembly of imagery made up of blue-black bruises of pain and scabs of red-brown badges of healing.

Tidal 9140 (diptych), mixed media on panel, 48 x 72 inches.

I don’t pretend that Cooley would describe her work this way, but as she admits, art is open to whatever the viewer sees in it. So, I’m going with bruises and scabs on a really shiny surface that may or may not be crawling with insects. Cooley once favored watercolors on paper. Now her preferred medium is slick acrylic over gesso-prepped wood panel. Thirteen of her paintings, all labeled “Terra,” are on display at the arboretum gallery and gift shop—or 16 if you count her three diptychs as single pieces. (Cooley says she’d consider divorcing her pairs to sell them as singles.

That would be $1,600 to $2,800 per divorcee.)

idal 9220, mixed media on panel, 40 x 60 inches

But back to the petri dish of family. The term seems an apt metaphor for her work that could be and has been described as “biomorphic” and “molecular.” Cooley vividly recalls long car rides from their home in Washington, D.C., to south Florida with stops in between breaking up a 17-hour drive. “Every time we went back to Florida, our parents, my sister’s and mine, would talk about how nothing had changed. And I’d look at them like they’re crazy. There was change all around. I notice these sorts of things.”

Maybe that’s what makes an artist. That and her home environment which has changed dramatically over the years.
Cooley recalls that on their trips back from Florida, her parents would roll the car windows down when they got back to the D.C. area. The humid, muggy air gave them all a feeling of being back home again.

Some of these experiences we all share seem impossible to delineate in a painting. But Cooley tries. Living in a rural cottage just outside of Easton has brought aromas to her heightened attention—scents associated with tidal ebbs and flows of a nearby tributary, alternate blooms and decays of agricultural industry—from cornfields to peach orchards.

Cooley and her husband, Ben Simons, director of Easton’s Academy Art Museum, lived for a dozen years on Nantucket, an island far enough off Cape Cod to be invisible when you board the boat to that destination. Her work then, she says, “was informed by solitude, beauty and severity of the natural world.” The birth of their son, Finley, now 9 and as inquisitive as his mother, no doubt made a difference. Then a year of living in London infused Cooley’s “Hot Pink Period” with cosmopolitan electricity. “I think of pink as a very powerful and provocative color—the color of lungs, tongues, palms, gums, tissue—alive and vital.”

Living in or around Easton evokes a different palette—blues and greens of water and vegetation, black and brown of tree bark, rich soil and deep forests. Do I smell pungent odors of, for instance, a low tide in Cooley’s paintings now on display within easy range of cornfields, woodland and a bright green algae-bloom pond? No, I but I did catch a whiff of the creamy brie served at her opening reception. Yet in her work I detect a bubbly percolation that may burst at any moment to emit a putrid stink or delightful aroma.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts critic and editor now living in Easton.

“TIDAL” Through Sept. 27, Adkins Arboretum, 12610 Eveland Rd., Ridgely; 410-634-2847, adkinsarboretum.org

 

Spy Review: Emmons, Harvey, and Turrell by Steve Parks

The opening-night reception, drawing more people than you’ll encounter at other times in the Academy Art Museum galleries, was no occasion to absorb—much less appreciate—the content of the major new exhibition, Amze Emmons’ “Pattern Drift,” or figure out what the artist is trying to say.

AMZE EMMONS, Background Frequency, 2010, Screen print

I struggled to glimpse the wall labels, denoting the title of each seemingly inscrutable image amid people balancing canapes and plastic cups of wine. I gave up, knowing I’d return Monday morning to see each of Emmons’ 100-plus pieces in splendid isolation—briefly interrupted by dismissal of a kids’ class upstairs at the museum. Later, Emmons prepared for his three-day artist-in-residence workshop.

The problem with “Pattern Drift” is that there’s way more than meets the eye. Which may not be that unusual in a visual art exhibition—yes, we who appreciate art beyond pretty pictures get that—but Emmons’ architecturally based prints, drawings and cartoon inclinations are almost infuriatingly barren. To view them is to imagine a world left behind, structurally intact but devoid of human life after—what?—a nerve-gas holocaust? (A dog, the only figure I spotted in the show, reminded me of the nuclear-disaster classic “On the Beach.”)

For instance, there are no closing hours at major airports around the globe these days. Yet, if you take in “Pattern Drift” chronologically, clockwise from the first gallery to the left upon entering the museum, you’ll encounter a few takes on “Personal Baggage,” depicting luggage-claim architecture devoid both of landing passengers and arriving suitcases. I found those images sterile. But as I made my way around the “Modern Traveler” iconography of everyday life, from “Urban Lift,” an elevator interior, to “Insinuated Economy,” a plastic-poles and vinyl-ribbon maze to the head of the line, I started to get it. 

In the opposite gallery, orange traffic cones and concrete traffic barriers become a recurring theme. “Monument Parade” strings together a non-navigable array of cones strung together by yellow crime-scene tape. But the most currently relevant images are under the rubric of “The Great Machine”: Three abandoned voting stations, devoid of voters, are scattered amid trash and a “VOTE HERE” sign. In “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” two plastic chairs are set before a tangle of concertina wire. 

The less-satisfying final galleries at the rear of the museum are highlighted by a cartoonish depiction of an ice chest, like those found outside liquor stores or gas stations, opposite a table of perishables in need of refrigeration, and “Breakfast,” a food truck piled high enough to include a mid rise domicile.

Whether “Pattern Drift,” an architecturally driven show, is satisfying artistically is in the eye of the viewer. But, together with its teasingly enigmatic titles, this singularly focused exhibition attempts, if not altogether succeeds, in eliciting thoughtful engagement. Just take your time to process.

HEATHER HARVEY

Borrowing a Celtic term for her first exhibition in Easton, where she collects discarded material and turns it into art at her studio, Heather Harvey combines scientific curiosity with found

“All the Tomorrows” by Heather Harvey

objects to create installations that express her vision of “The Thin Place.” Not that I’ve encountered such a place, but it’s said to be a permeable divide between living and dead, heaven and earth, commonplace and out of this world. Three installations and a dozen watercolors explore this theme through very different means and skill sets. You wouldn’t guess the installations and paintings are by the same artist. 

Two poster-sized paintings greet the viewer who takes the stairs to Academy’s second-floor gallery space. But these cheerful abstracts don’t prepare you for the turmoil a few steps ahead. “Up,” a 2019 installation—all works in this show were created this year—suspends large pieces of plastic, metal and wood debris as if caught in a stop-action tornado. Similarly, “All the Tomorrows,” a collage of mostly identifiable objects—measuring tape, ribbons, plastic and cardboard packing material as well as broken eyeglasses and a child’s sandal—appear to be streaming in a ferocious wind temporarily holding its breath. Somewhat more subdued, “Order of Things,” projects pure disorder in its amalgam of crumbling plaster on twisted wire, tinsel from a bygone Christmas tree and a collapsed smiling-sun balloon. Each piece suggests chaos, a maelstrom of that which once was, now ripped asunder. 

Harvey’s paintings, by contrast, radiate a geometric sense of order. “Belonging” brings to mind celestial objects clumped together against a field of vectors, while “Joy” evokes orbiting spheres in a bright peach-and-lime universe. “Nothingness Shows Through” begs the question: Is this the Big Bang or is that dark center a black hole? By contrast, “Hobe Sound, 1-17-19 [for Mary Oliver],” is far more personal, denoting the place and time of death of a poet friend of Harvey’s while reflecting both gloom over loss and celebration of a life fully lived.

Will you know, after viewing this show, what a “thin place” is? I can’t say, but it’s a phat place to visit.

JAMES TURRELL

James Turrell, Mapping Spaces 2, 1987, Aquatint, photoetching, soft-ground etching and drypoint in colors, AAM 2018.14

“Mapping Places” is not quite an exhibit. Rather, it’s five new acquisitions added to the Academy Art Museum’s permanent collection showcased in its lobby. For a half century, James Turrell has worked with light and space as he says, “to create an experience of wordless thought, to make the quality and sensation of light itself something really quite tactile.” 

These five pieces were created by Turrell in 1987 as a print reference to portions of an unprecedented artwork being created within the volcanic Roden Crater in Arizona’s Painted Desert. Enumerated 1 through 5, each “mapping space” offers the artist’s take on human visual and psychological perception. One evokes an image we’ve all seen: Moonlight, perhaps, reflected on a dark body of water.  Another projects a mapping device over what appears to be a wood-grain plain. Or is it a desert seen from the sky? Another is a photo of the Roden Crater itself with what appears to be beacon of light at its core. 

All are worthy additions to the Academy’s collection. But none can possibly hold a candle, so to speak, to the actual Roden Crater project, the culmination of a lifetime of work in the field of light as perception. Maybe that could one day be an ambitious Academy-sponsored road trip.

 

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and critic now living in Easton.

AMZE EMMONS: “Pattern Drift”
HEATHER HARVEY: “The Thin Line”
JAMES TURRELL: “Mapping Spaces”
Through Sept. 30, Academy Art Museum, 106 South St., Easton (soon to have new Harrison Street entrance); academyartmuseum.org, 410-822-4787

 

 

 

Shore Arts: Heather Harvey at the Academy Art Museum

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Or in this case another woman’s treasure. If you live in Easton and you happen to check out one of the three new shows at the Academy Art Museum you just might recognize some of your trash featured in the Heather Harvey exhibit “The Thin Place.”

Harvey, a Washington College associate art professor, prowls the streets, alleyways and parking lots of Easton on what she calls “urban beachcombing” expeditions. She searches for debris that comprise her installations, three of which hang at the museum through Sept. 30.

Belonging by Heather Harvey

Harvey, a Syracuse native whose undergraduate degree from the University at Buffalo—“I’m an upstate New York girl,” she says—is in anthropology and archaeology. She regards herself as a science-inspired artist. Harvey earned her MFA in art from Virginia Commonwealth University and now chairs art and art history at the Chestertown college. She lives in Easton with her husband, who teaches history at Salisbury University—splitting the geographical distance from their academic venues.

At the Academy museum, her installations are accompanied by about a dozen paintings, watercolor and acrylic, that reflect a different side of Harvey’s exploration of “areas where we don’t have everything figured out, re-inculcating childlike enchantment and wonder.” These are “thin places,” a Celtic expression for permeable divides between living and dead, sacred and profane, commonplace and extraordinary—even extraterrestrial. The science part of that enchantment, she says, are “invisible ordering systems” that define our life on this planet—astronomy, gravity and weather, including wind (“we only see its effects”) as well as magnetic fields. Other paintings are metaphors for certain effects on our lives, such as emotions, or even more defining biological or sociological realities, including gender, race and class.

Possibility by Heather Harvey

Among the most personal of her paintings is “Hope Sound,” the name of the place in Florida where her friend, poet Mary Oliver, passed away. Painted on the day Oliver died, it expresses, Harvey says, her grieving, her thanks for having known her friend and “a sense of ascension.” By contrast, another painting derives from scientific curiosity, inspired by her trip with her husband two years ago to South Carolina to experience a total solar eclipse.

“There’s a little bit of Baroque in my pieces,” Harvey says, referring to a suggestion of exaggerated motion and detail to produce drama and a sense of exuberance. But she also goes for the sublime. “That’s beauty mixed with awe that borders on terror. An eclipse is like that,” she says. “An unsettling tension between the two.”

As for the trash you may or may not recognize, Harvey on her nocturnal sojourns seeks surprise in whatever she finds. “I’m not looking for anything in particular,” she says. “I don’t get the idea first and then go out and look for something to complete it. The objects themselves inform my work.”

Not all the objects are recognizable. Twisted pieces of metal. Shards of plastic or rubber. Others we can guess at, such as a bit of green-and-red ribbon. A discarded piece of Christmas wrapping? Maybe a tree decoration. Still others are unmistakable. A child’s sandal missing its mate.

Whatever, Harvey endeavors to create aesthetic treasure out of it.

For Heather Harvey, who has exhibited from New York City to Los Angeles, this is her first show in the hometown where she gathers most of her material. The other two shows coinciding with Harvey’s at the Academy Art Museum are Amze Emmons’ “Pattern Drift” and James Turrell’s “Mapping Spaces.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

OK, Mr. President. Now it’s Personal by Steve Parks

I haven’t lived in Baltimore for 35 years. But, born and raised in Easton, I will always consider Baltimore my hometown big city. After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, I lived in five different places within what is now Rep. Elijah Cummings’ 7th District. I lived in Columbia, where we started a weekly newspaper that employed a grand total of five. I lived in Woodlawn practically next door to Social Security Administration headquarters. I lived in Bolton Hill and on Preston Street just north of the Sunpapers building, where I worked for 12 years and, finally, on Walker Avenue just off Loch Raven Boulevard, where my wife and I first lived after our marriage in 1984 before moving to Long Island. 

Donald Trump, in his usual attack mode—ignorant, hateful tweets ignited by a three-minute segment (matching his attention span) on “Fox & Friends”—smeared Cummings’ district as a “rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” Cummings’ district encompasses on its fringes Johns Hopkins Hospital, regarded as one of the top three medical institutions in the United States, and University. Also in his district: University of Maryland Medical Center and Law School. Also, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the stadium that changed the character of ballparks all across the U.S. Also, the Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Museum. Ever heard of Harborplace, Mr. President? Maryland Science Center? The National Aquarium? Or the Baltimore theater district, including the Hippodrome, Centre Stage and Everyman? And that’s just in the city. Cummings’ district stretches nearly to Pennsylvania, deep into Maryland horse country, as well as south and west of Baltimore, including the planned city of Columbia, born of the imagination of the late Easton native James Rouse.

Trump dares to call Cummings “a brutal bully for shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE. . . . His district is considered the Worst in the USA.”  Trump went on to admonish Cummings to spend more time in his district to “clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”

As we’ve seen again and again, Trump knows next to nothing about his tweet targets. Elijah Cummings comes home every night to Baltimore and his district. The day before the president’s vile and vicious attack on the congressman and an entire American city, Cummings held a hearing on lowering the cost to his constituents and all Americans of prescription drugs. In his own tweet in response to Trump’s serial assaults on Cummings and his city, the congressman wrote respectfully of his only one-on-one meeting with the president in which he asked his support on using the power of the federal government to negotiate prescription prices to consumers. He says the president agreed to work with him to that end. “I took him at his word,” Cummings wrote. That was his only mistake.

(By the way, Trump has insulted American cities before, calling Baltimore native and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district “disgusting.”) 

But let’s look at what provoked Trump’s wrath. Cummings, in his constitutional role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, challenged acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan about conditions at the border, carrying out a policy that separates children, including toddlers and babies, from their parents, leaving them literally in cages where they have no room even to lie down on a concrete floor and are left in some desperate cases to drink out of toilets. Some have died. All have suffered.

Cummings had the temerity to question the Trump administration’s inept and inhumane policy of victimizing refugees for no better reason than that they are Latino. There is, no doubt, a crisis at our border. And Trump created it. At the end of the Obama administration, migrant crossings at our southern border stood at a 50-year low. But Trump campaigned on building a Mexico-paid-for wall and vilifying brown immigrants as rapists, murderers, drug dealers and disease-carriers. As a result, migrant herders took out ads proclaiming “last call”—your last chance to get to America before Trump slams the border shut. As a result, the leading recruiter for “caravans” aimed at our border is Donald Trump. 

And for this, for the courage of Elijah Cummings to call out the administration for its child-abuse crimes against humanity, Trump trashes Baltimore. But Trump will never call out the filth in a neighboring district, where his son-in-law is slumlord over decrepit housing in Essex. That’s in the 1st district, including all the Eastern Shore. Rep. Andy Harris has nothing to say about “Kushnerville.” He and almost all Republicans in Congress are Trump sycophants.

Citizens of Baltimore and others who are outraged by this racist jerk—this lazy ignoramus who doesn’t read, doesn’t listen; this compulsive liar, Putin puppet, Kim boyfriend (“we fell in love”) and co-conspirator in covering up the Saudi prince’s order to murder an American journalist—should fill the streets surrounding the White House to demand resignation. Forget impeachment. Republican toads—I’m looking at you, Mitch McConnell—will “exonerate” him in the Senate. Let’s take a page from the Puerto Rican playbook, led by other Americans mocked by the bigot-in-chief. I have no illusion that Trump will resign. To do so leaves him open to indictment. Instead of a second term he might face a jail term.

But we should make it clear to the world what America stands for—and what it stands against. If Democrats are socialists, then Trump is fascist. He’s said it out loud and proud that as president “I can do anything I want.” But a real president is sworn to uphold the constitution. Trump has brazenly failed his oath of office. 

A real president represents all of America, not just those who genuflect to him. That’s a fake president.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.

 

Spy at the Troika: Raoul Middleman and Wrestling with Art

Raoul Middleman’s personality is as colorful as his art.

That became vividly apparent in dual appearances at Plein Art Festival events Saturday evening: an interview and reception at the Troika Gallery, where 20 of his paintings are on display through Aug. 3, sandwiched around a film preview and question-and-answer adventure—you could call it performance-art storytelling—at the Avalon Theater.

Crusty Old Dude

Deservedly billed as “Legendary Artist” by the Troika Gallery, which sponsored the Avalon show and has represented him for 23 years, Middleman taught at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for 58 years until his retirement from teaching last month. His freewheeling, wide-ranging paintings are in the collection of, among others, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery/National Gallery of Art in Washington, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Academy of Design in New York.   

Middleman, 84, describes his approach to painting as “a wrestling match. . . . I start out with a vague idea of what I’m going to paint and then the brush, the application, takes over. That’s an exquisite moment. What I come up with is a surprise, even to me.”

“His personality and storytelling are inseparable from his brushstrokes and narrative art,” says one of his thousands of former Maryland Institute students, Liz Parks. (Full disclosure: My wife participated in our interview with Middleman, reminding him when he recalled his youthful days in Montana as a ranch hand (of sorts) that his student, then known as Ms. Goodman, dubbed him “the Sam Shepard of art,” after the late playwright known for his American West vernacular.

In a scene from an in-progress documentary on his career, titled simply “Middleman,” screened at the Avalon, we see the artist shopping at Lexington Market. (He’s Baltimorean through and through.) In the market for scaly models, Middleman chooses four fish to take to his home/studio. Not to be fried, baked or broiled. But they are served up raw in a seafood still life, similar to one in the window of the Troika right now. He arranges them around a couple of lemons, also purchased at Lexington Market, and slathers paint on the canvas as if filleting his catch. Then he changes his mind and reconfigures the scene.

His art has been described by critics as “messy and real,” reflecting the chaos of life and nature. If he has one particular muse, it’s “the super-funky Baltimore atmosphere,” citing filmmaker John Waters as a fellow-minded artist. 

He majored in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and hoped to become a writer until visiting a girlfriend in New Orleans who gently nudged him in the direction of art. Soon he was studying at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Art.

“I could always draw,” he said, adding, “If someone suggests you should do something different and that doesn’t work out, then you have two asses to kick.” 

Like many artists in any field, Middleman declines to be confined to a single genre. Early on, he did Pop Art, which he gave up in pique over a dispute with a New York gallery owner. He turned to landscapes, about as far from Pop Art as you can get, and continued in landscape artistry periodically throughout his career. Several wreckage-of-nature paintings can be seen now at the Troika. For a time, at its height in the 1960s, he favored abstracts and later narrative paintings telling a story that could be re-interpreted by whomever beholds it. 

He likens his progression to Renaissance painter Bellini, whose earlier paintings Middleman calls “linear” in style. Later, Bellini moved closer to the approach of many of his students, among them Titian—more painterly, more sensual. “To some, Bellini’s earlier work is his best,” Middleman says. But time bends fashion and taste. And what once was deemed hip is later dismissed as ho-hum. And vice-versa.

Middleman has ridden that wave throughout his career as a painter, even drawing inspiration from former students, trying new styles.

To his son’s question, Middleman recalled that at one point in his career he was an Abstract Expressionist.

 “ ‘No you’re not, Dad,’ ” Middleman said. “You’re an Argumentative Expressionist.”

Apparently, the father agrees.

“Painting is an open question,” he says. “A good painting is kind of an argument. Whatever the artist may think it means, it may be something completely different to each viewer. So, there is no single right answer. Only questions.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

Spy Review: The Rolling Stones “No Filter” Tour

The Rolling Stones made it back to Maryland during the long Fourth of July holiday, following the postponement of their Memorial Day weekend concert due to Mick Jagger’s heart-valve surgery. Any doubt that the Stones can still play, that Jagger can still command the stage and prance about in full-throated theatrical vigor, was obliterated on a steamy night that would drain men half his age and that of his partners comprising—yes, indeed—the world’s greatest rock-and-roll band ever.

Take that, Beatles fans. More on that later.

A confession in AARP terms: Historical perspective informs my opinion that the Stones are now performing better than ever. Which is saying a ton. In my estimated 27 times of seeing and hearing them live, which may account for my partial hearing loss, I’ve never known the Stones to mail it in, to go through the motions, though at times in the ’70s, when Keith Richards chased his heroin hangover with Jack Daniels, the band occasionally lost focus. Even then, their ragged play reflected a spontaneous and one-of-a-kind genius.

But on this Fourth of July eve, the Stones were as deliberate in their seemingly raucous mayhem as I’ve ever experienced. From the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” opener to the “Satisfaction” finale, the band—even with several new contributors to their supporting cast and sharply limited rehearsals constricted by Jagger’s recovery—never missed a beat. We can thank Charlie Watts for that. The band’s senior—an original Stone along with Jagger and Richards who turn 76 this year—has anchored their controlled chaos for 57 years, coming in at the last instant with the percussive heartbeat they all lean on, if only by vibration when they can’t hear it onstage.

I first heard the Stones in 1964, as I recall, on WCAO-AM, the top 40 station in Baltimore, when an overnight DJ wandered off the playlist to spin a 45 flipside that had Jagger moaning in bluesy-beggar mode “I need you, baby, Mona.” (“Without your love I’d surely die.”) Perhaps this captured the love-life anguish of a dateless 16-year-old. Whatever. The Stones’ Brit/blues fortified me against near-universal peer pressure to tilt my allegiance toward The Beatles. Six years later, when the Fab Four were no more, I taunted their fans by calling The Beatles “the world’s most overrated band.” It was tongue-in-cheek, sort of. They were undeniably great, but also hyped beyond measure. My measure was how well a band balanced studio albums and original songs with live performance. The Beatles never mastered the latter. They surrendered to screaming girls who drowned them out. The Stones, instead, virtually invented the modern rock concert by installing their own sound, and later video equipment plus beyond-Broadway stage sets. Meanwhile, The Beatles and other touring bands at the time relied on sound systems available to them at, for instance, Shea Stadium in New York, or the Civic Center in Baltimore.

The Stones’ mastery of this vital piece of their legacy is so evident as to be taken for granted. Most in attendance at FedEx Stadium, Hyattsville home of the Redskins, expect such aural and visual enhancement at any big-venue event. But geezers like me remember when bands sounded like what you might hear on a P.A. system at a bus or train terminal. Squawk! Squawk!

My first Stones concert was 1965 in Baltimore and the second that same night (or maybe it was vice versa) at the even-then decrepit Washington Coliseum. I discovered by way of Bill Wyman’s coffee-table scrapbook, which he autographed early this millennium, that I paid $7.50 for each concert. A few years ago, at what I expected would be my final Stones attendance, ticket prices moved two decimals to the right. That I could procure nosebleed tix for $99 this time around persuaded me to see them again, I presume, once more, for the last time. I’ve been fooled before, but given Jagger’s surgery and the Stones’ four-to-five-year gap between tours, that makes most of them 80-plus next time around. 

Wyman, now 83, may be responsible for the Stones’ astute attention to sound equipment. Senior to other band members, he was hired, in part, because he had his own speakers, better than any the others could afford. 

Back to “No Filter,” the Stones’ current tour: Every Stones epoch is represented on their playlist, including a brief instrumental interlude of “2120 Michigan Avenue” and a cover of “Mercy Mercy,” both preceding the 1965 blockbuster “Satisfaction,” ranked rock’s No. 2 all-time by Rolling Stone. The Stones played it like it was first time, virginal (or at least horny). Sometimes rock stars and others in stadium venues turn the microphone toward the audience to fill in the blanks, such as “I can’t get no” or “You can’t always get what you want,” and the gesture falls flat. Not here. The stadium reverberated with live feedback. The same on the disco-ish “Miss You”: “Too too too too, too-de doo. Too too-TOO too!” Even the apocalyptic “Gimme Shelter,” with now climate-change overtones, evoked a mournful wave of “ooooh ooooh woooh.”

On any and all of these numbers it’s impossible to miss the “rookie” among Stones regulars. In 1975, Ronnie Wood succeeded Mick Taylor, who replaced drug-addled Brian Jones before he was fired, then died face-up in a swimming pool in 1969. Wood is a “Picasso on guitar,” as Jagger described him. Next to the frontman, he’s the Stones live-concert centerpiece, displaying his electric and acoustic string athleticism, balanced by Richards’ inventive and high-caliber showmanship. Regrettably, Keith is a lesser figure in that the Stones are not producing new songs. It once bothered me that fans sat on their hands when the Stones played new material on their tours in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. It doesn’t matter anymore. There’s a treasure of songs left off the current 20-song setlist. I didn’t hear my personal favorite, “Dead Flowers,” or the one I personally identify with as a Dutchman’s Lane farmboy—I retired to Easton Club East, next door to the former dairy farm I grew up on—“Sweet Virginia” (“got to scrape the [excrement] right off your shoo-ooze”). But there were songs from every period, sung with no punches pulled, including “Start Me Up,” which was played at our first-dance wedding reception, best known for the lyric “you make a grown man cry,” ending with the woman in question’s desirability to a dead man. 

The Stones are profane and poetic. R-rated Bob Dylan, if you will. Who can argue with their philosophy: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time you just might find you get what you need?”

If you’ve never seen the Stones, this could actually be your last chance. They’re playing July 23 in Philly, barely a two-hour drive from Easton (less from Chestertown) since the Middletown bypass opened. Failing that, there are two shows Aug. 1 and 5 up the Jersey turnpike at MetLife Stadium. If you care about rock ’n’ roll at all, you must see these masters of the art.

I have no regrets now, having seen them, I suspect for the last time. But what of my post-Stones life? These guys are not too old to play. But I may be too old to see them. Getting to FedEx was way more hassle than I’d bother for a Redskins game or anyone else besides the Stones. But if they never tour again, what am I left with in terms of guilty pleasures? I don’t smoke and gave up recreational drugs way back in the last millennium. I don’t drink to excess and have been faithful in decades of marriage. The Stones are my last surviving vice. Guess I’ll have to take up gambling.

Steve Parks, retired journalist and arts writer/editor, is a recovering Stones addict now living in Easton.

 

Spy Review – On Land and on Sea: A Century of Women at the CBMM

“On Land and on Sea: A Century of Women” may seem an odd theme for a major photography exhibition at the regionally focused Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, especially considering that 71 of the 80 images—all black and white—were shot by Morris Rosenfeld and his son, Stanley, commercial photographers working mostly in and around New York City. 

Only one of the Rosenfeld photos, for a 1951 advertisement hawking Cruisalong pleasure boats, was shot along the Chesapeake—at Solomon’s Island. But the museum’s chief curator, Pete Lesher, supplemented the exhibit with nine photos—three each by Maryland contemporaries of the Rosenfelds. 

Included among the Aubrey Bodine prints by the late Baltimore Sun photographer is one of Eastern European immigrants working in an oyster-packing plant in 1957. Constance Stuart Larrabee, the only female photographer whose work hangs in the show, charms us with a candid 1951 portrait of Annie Daley, said to be the oldest woman on Tangier Island at the time. The island, just south of the imaginary line in the Chesapeake separating Maryland from Virginia, along with Smith Island just north of the line, were settled by European immigrants who first landed at Jamestown. Annie, in her traditional dress and bonnet, could pass for an early settler except that we suspect she did not live to 250 years of age.

The third Maryland photographer, Robert de Gast, captures shipwright June Wingo caulking the seams of a Maryland Dove reproduction in 1978. If you stroll across the museum campus from the Steamboat Building, where the photo show is mounted, to the shipyard overlooking the harbor, you’ll see a new reproduction of the Dove under construction. The original Dove, and Ark, its sister ship, brought the first European settlers to what became the British colony of Maryland in 1634 at what is now St. Mary’s City. “That photo was a no-brainer to select for this show,” says Lesher, who besides his full time job at the museum serves on Talbot County Council.

The other 71 photos, all by the Rosenfelds, are organized into seven chapters in the catalog by Margaret Andersen Rosenfeld, a University of Delaware anthropologist who married into the Rosenfeld family. “In the Yard” depicts women either observing boats passively on shore, as in the earliest photo from 1911, or working on them, hands on. “At the Wheel” finds women taking charge either rowing, steering or rigging the sails. Among the most dramatic is of Ruth Herring from 1933. She was the defending world record-holder among Class A Professional Hydroplaners. Her craft races along, all but airborne, with only the outboard propeller skimming the water’s surface. A series of wintry photos shows the grit of women boaters who competed in Frostbite Regattas at yacht clubs from Larchmont, N.Y., to Detroit. The races were conducted on waters that had not yet frozen over though air temperatures were far below 32 degrees. Though these are all stills, you can practically see competitors shivering.

America’s Cup races from the 1930s take over an entire wall in the second-story galleries of the exhibition. Phyllis Sopwith, wife of Sir Thomas Sopwith of Great Britain, is regally framed at the helm of their sailboat Endeavour, which challenged for the Cup—never lost by Americans until the 1980s—in 1934 and ’37. They were defeated by Gertrude Vanderbilt, also shown at the wheel of Ranger, and her husband Harold Vanderbilt, who designed the sailboat. It took a special ruling by the Cup committee for the women to be allowed onboard with their husbands for the races.

 

“Spirit, Sports & Spectators” ranges from an unidentified aviatress with her biplane in 1917 to three-time Ladies Tennis Champion of the U.S. Open, Mary Browne, in the same year. It’s hard to imagine her not tripping over her full-length tennis skirt—all white but still a stark contrast to women’s tennis wear at Wimbledon these days.

A century of women at the voting booth will be observed next year—the 19th Amendment granting women the vote was ratified Aug. 18, 1920—and is represented in this exhibition, drawn from one million images in the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Rosenfeld collection. In a 1912 photo, two women are attending a suffragette rally in New York, one standing and the other on horseback. They would not get to vote for another eight years.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton. 

“On Land and On Sea: A Century of Women in the Rosenfeld Collection” Through April 5, 2020 at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Steamboat Building
213 N. Talbot St., St. Michaels
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through October, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. November through April

 

 

Spy Review: Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival – Week Two

The second week of the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival fortnight of concerts opened with “Love Story”—not to be confused with the cloyingly saccharine 1970 novel and movie of the same title best remembered, or forgotten, by the line: “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” (Are you kidding? I’ve been in love with the same woman for decades and must have apologized a thousand times. But that’s another story.)

Pianist Diane Walsh

This “Love Story” celebrates the marriage and partnership of Clara and Robert Schumann, 19th-century musical geniuses whose lives are the stuff of tragic opera. Clara Wieck’s father so opposed her marriage to Robert Schumann that his daughter’s husband-to-be dragged him into court. Friedrich Wieck held such pride in Clara’s composing skills as well as her brilliance as a pianist that he feared her being subjugated by Robert, who would prove to be a loving but not entirely supportive spouse. The couple and their eight children—four of whom died young—lived on the earnings of Clara as a concert pianist. She had little time to write her own music and in any case gender bias restricted women composers from publishing or having their works performed in public. Meanwhile, her husband, who composed what is considered the first great chamber work for piano and string quartet—anchoring Wednesday’s recital at Easton’s Academy Art Museum—suffered the final in a series of mental breakdowns, condemning him to an asylum and early death.  It was in these last tortured years of his life that Clara, who survived Robert by four decades, wrote the sole chamber piece of her career, opening Wednesday’s concert.

Perhaps it is their personal story that influences my perception of these two masterpieces. But I cannot help but to classify, hopefully without gender bias, one as tenderly feminine and the other as virulently masculine.

Clara’s Piano Trio in G minor, Opus 17, as performed on the 200th anniversary year of her birth by pianist Diane Walsh, violinist Carmit Zori and cellist Marty Rosen, evokes a wistful remembrance of a treasured moment. Zori’s violin fulfills its melodic role throughout. In the lighter second movement scherzo, it leads us in a restless search perhaps for a place to lay one’s head, while in the third movement the weeping violin is echoed in tragic undertones by Rosen’s cello. The more hopeful finale is piano-driven as Walsh leads with dramatic flourishes to the string evocations of romantic sentiment.

J. Lawrie Bloom

By comparison, Robert’s quintet, taking advantage of the extra violin, here played with her usual flair by Catherine Cho, makes a defiantly robust statement as if announcing who’s boss. A soulful viola-and-cello duet, played by Maiya Papach and Rosen, leads to a big first movement finish with twin teardrop notes on violin. A wandering second movement—lost with no direction home—balances dual violin tenor against viola/cello baritone. A scherzo with agitative staccato riffs gives equal voice to all instruments racing pell-mell toward a pause before a final tumult that dives into a soft landing as if executed by an ace pilot—in this case a quintet of expert artists.

Week 2 of the chamber fest followed on the heels of Saturday’s gala at Easton’s Temple B’nai Israel, featuring clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom performing in his finale as co-artistic director of the festival with cellist Rosen, Bloom’s co-founder/director, and violinist Cho, his successor in 2020. Bloom earlier distinguished himself, as ever, in the “Romantic Interlude” concert at the Academy Art Museum re-introducing Louise Farrenc’s trio for clarinet, cello and piano—a piece written by the only 19th-century female professor of the Paris Conservatory re-published at the dawn of this millennium. Bloom’s bright clarinet soared in contrast to Rosen’s emotional cello underpinning as pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute bridged the two with tonal stepping stones across their melodic river. That concert concluded with a Brahms piano quartet expressing the anguish of his unrequited love for Clara, now a widow, unwilling to share her life with his. Such are the inspirations for great art.

On Thursday, the festival makes its debut in Cambridge, followed by two more concerts Friday in Easton and Saturday in Oxford, wrapping up its 34th season.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts critic and editor now living in Easton.

“From Rags to Riches” (concert, reception), Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Lilburn, Psathas, Bolcom, Gershwin; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13, Christ Church, Cambridge
“Romancing and Dancing,” Clara Schumann, Ravel, Bartok, Dvorak; 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 14, Trinity Cathedral, Easton
“The Art of the String Quartet” (concert, reception), Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann; 4 p.m. Saturday, June 15, Oxford Community Center
Tickets/info: 410-819-0380, chesapeakemusic.org

 

 

Spy Review: The 34th Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

The 34th annual Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival opened its two-week run Tuesday on as glorious an afternoon-into-evening as you could imagine or hope for—particularly considering this “Festival Opening Extravaganza” was followed by an outdoor wine-and-hors-d’oeuvres reception at Mason’s Redux, a short stroll down Harrison Street from the Christ Church concert venue.

The McDonaldChoRosen Trio

Before the music commenced—performed with panache by pianist Robert McDonald, violinist Catherine Cho and cellist Marcy Rosen—festival co-founder and co-artistic director Rosen was honored as an endowed cello chair providing scholarships in her name by Michael and Ella Bracy. (Rosen’s fellow founder/director, clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom, has announced his retirement from his festival role. Cho will succeed him in 2020.)

To get the near-capacity audience in tune, Jonathan Palevsky, WBJC radio host of “Opera Today” and “Music in Maryland,” offered a primer on the main-course selections: Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 4 (he wrote 10 in all) and Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Opus 90 “Dumky.” Beethoven, described as “irascible” by Palevsky, was experiencing the early onset of eventual total deafness as he wrote his fourth violin sonata in 1796. Dvorak, “the sort of guy you’d like to have a beer with,” Palevsky said, dubbed his fourth and final trio “Dumky” after the plural for the Russian word “dumka,” a literary term denoting lament and melancholy.

More on musical lamentations later. First, the festival’s opening chamber piece by newly hard-of-hearing Beethoven: The sonata’s presto movement features McDonald’s tumbling piano syncopation, grounding wind-swept violin chords as if a storm is brewing. The middle-movement scherzo suggests an ecclesiastical call-and-response evolving into a less formal keyboard-and-strings conversation.  The concluding allegro picks up the tempo in sprints, interspersed with notes of quiet reflection, before a furious head-shaking pace by Cho settles into a placid finish.

By comparison, Dvorak’s “Dumky” was more challenging and, to my ear, more emotionally inspired than standard Beethoven, however brilliantly written and beautifully played. Its six movements begin with teardrop piano accompaniment to weeping violin and cello waves. A dramatic shift evokes a staccato piano riptide countered by long, almost moaning, bowstring glides. A pastoral respite, rolling with downhill momentum tempered with pauses as if to take in the view, anchors one of the most affecting middle movements, performed with deft timing and touch by the Rosen-Cho-McDonald trio. It’s followed by a march cadence on piano introducing a violin-and-cello leitmotif and a running-the-rapids buoyancy that swirls into a becalmed pool of—what?—contentment or resignation? The finale mixes many of the preceding themes without repeating them verbatim with a departing note of defiance that might also be heard as triumphant.

Certainly, the performance of this accomplished and attuned-to-one-another festival trio was triumphant.

Wednesday’s open rehearsal offered a free peek into upcoming festival concerts, focusing again on Dvorak, this time his first piano quartet to be played at Sunday’s gala. Next up is “Romantic Interlude” Thursday, with music by Louise Farrenc, a rare 19th-century female composer, along with pieces by some of the usual male suspects, Brahms and Debussy, featuring harpist June Han, who also plays in Saturday’s concert.

Steve Parks is a retired arts critic and editor now living in Easton.

Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

“Romantic Interlude,” Farrenc, Debussy, Brahms; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 6, Academy Art Museum, Easton
“Spotlight: Flute and Harp,” Kuhlah, Ravel, David Bruce, von Weber; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8, Prager Auditorium, Easton
Festival Gala (concert, reception, silent auction), Mozart, Debussy, Dvorak; 4 p.m. Sunday, June 9 Temple B’Nai Israel, Easton
“Love Story,” Clara and Robert Schumann; 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, Academy Art Museum, Easton
“From Rags to Riches” (concert, reception), Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Lilburn, John Psathas, William Bolcom, George Gershwin; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13, Christ Church, Cambridge
“Romancing and Dancing,” Clara Schumann, Ravel, Bartok, Dvorak; 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 14, Trinity Cathedral, Easton

“The Art of the String Quartet” (concert, reception), Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann; 4 p.m. Saturday, June 15, Oxford Community Center
Also, free open rehearsal, 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 11, Academy Art Museum, Easton

Tickets/info: 410-819-0380, chesapeakemusic.org

 

Spy Review: The Broadway Jukebox by Steve Parks

The classic jukebox with the flip-over 45s is a museum-piecethrowback, although you can still drop a quarter into table-booth mini-models at chrome-framed American diners. “The Broadway Jukebox” format performed by the high-energy Brown Box Theatre Project, a Boston-based troupe now touring the Delmarva Peninsula, practically guarantees you’ll hear the song for which you cast your ballot just before the opening curtain.

But it’ll cost you more than a quarter.

It’s worth the investment. You won’t hear the original recorded version. Instead, you’ll be treated to a live onstage interpretation of your top Broadway choices accompanied by a bigger-sound-than-you’d-imagine from a three-piece ensemble, led by music director Liz Kantor.

Arriving early for the show gives you time to vote for two Broadway songs or medleys in each of five categories. In this new “Broadway Jukebox: Revolution” musical revue—no do-overs from last spring’s tour—selections fall under the Diva, Contemporary, Classics, Animation and Written by Rockers designations. Although it’s fun to pick your favorites, the conceit that the cast will sing only the most popular audience choices is a ruse. A harmless one, for sure. In most categories all or all but one of the song candidates were performed, at least in part.

Among my faves—by performance, not by my vote—were the back-to-back baleful love dirges from wildly divergent Broadway vehicles: “Fine, Fine Line,” as in “there’s a fine line between love and a waste of time” from the puppet-dominated “Avenue Q” and the rueful “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles from “Waitress.” Lisa Kate Joyce deploys baby-girl lamentations in drawing a fine emotive line between devotion and devastation while Carly Grayson ranges from whispering to wailing in romantic regrets.

However, the show’s earliest numbers seemed over-miked, producing some vocal distortion. Also, lighting was insufficient for the large Ocean City Performing Arts Center stage Thursday night. You couldn’t make out singers’ faces unless they stepped forward from the raised onstage orchestra pit. As the show progressed, tempo and volume varied and the players wanderedenough to ameliorate such distractions. In other respects, Kyler Taustin’s direction resulted in a crisp and inviting one-and-a-quarter-hour presentation.

In the Rockers grouping—though I’d rate Carol King as more singer-songwriter than rocker—Neo Gcabo put a mean Motown spin on “I Feel the Earth Move” from the jukebox-musical“Beautiful.” The gentlemen of the cast led in a firearmscrossover of shows designated as Rockers and Classics. Cam Torres delivered a raucous “21 Gun” salute from Green Day’s “American Idiot,” while X. Alexander Durden” dramatically reminded us of the historical havoc squeezed by “one little finger” in “The Gun Song” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.”

The most contemporary of the Contemporary ballot choices was “Moving Through a Window” from “Dear Evan Hansen,” reflecting the perils of social media addiction, while “Who I’d Be” from “Shrek” among the Animation picks lent a sense of the isolation of freaks, such as green ogres. Diva credits go to “Dreamgirls’ “ “Listen,” urgently sung by Gcabo.

Among medleys, the ensemble shined to ABBA, the Swedish disco wonders whose repertoire featured “Dancing Queen” and the jukebox musical’s title song “Mamma Mia!”

The revue’s “Revolution” theme emerged throughout, from “Les Miserables’ ” anthem to “Run Freedom Run” from the tragi-comic “Urinetown,” where failing to pay to pee can cost your life. Among the off-ballot surprises adding to the theme was the title song from “Tick, Tick . . . Boom,” the posthumous Off-Broadway musical by Jonathan Larson, Pulitzer and Tony winner for “Rent.”

I won’t give away the encore, lest it differs in subsequent tour stops. (Hint: John Waters.) But it sent the audience away on an upbeat note.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts critic and editor now living in Easton.

The Broadway Jukebox: Revolution”Oxford Community Center, 8 p.m. Sunday, May 26

Snow Hill, The Blue Dog, 8 p.m., May 29

Chestertown, outdoors, 200 block of High Street, 7:30 p.m., May 30

Salisbury, outdoors, Pohanka Riverwalk Amphitheater, 8 p.m., May 31

Cambridge, Dorchester Center for the Arts, 8 p.m., June 1

Berlin, Worcester County Library-Berlin branch, 8 p.m., June 2

Tickets: 443-808-1215, brownboxtheatre.org

 

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