Friday, April 27, 2012

Dangerous & Exciting things: Fire, Karnival, and Russian Roulette

April is flying by, my friends. Feels like the First Friday show just happened, but the month is almost over.

I've been taking a break from fine art and general painting, for the most part -- my post-art-show decompression activities have included practices, rehearsals and/or meetings nearly every night of the week in preparation for upcoming performances and shows. By day I'm a brunch slinging, cappucino crafting barista... then I spend countless hours concocting and calculating the perfect balance of visual psychedelic geometric dreamscapes in oils and acrylics... by night I'm a fire twirling, feather teasing alter-ego of myself on stage and in my "spare time" (what's that, again?)  I'm customizing said alter-egos showstopping threads from old tired garments and thrift store scores... all while planning a 45 minute, prime night & time fire variety show for a festival of a few thousand attendees.

Scorch Fire Show, PEX Summer Festival 2010 - performing the opening number, "Shiva." 
Photo by Oscar P.

It's that time of year again and planning for the summer's festivities, including the now legendary PEX Summer Festival has begun. Though it started with a disorganized dream, four years later we find ourselves for the first time keeping the exact same show name and administrative team - the Russian Roulette Variety Show, featuring the hottest, most talented troupes and performers from Philadelphia (and beyond) showcasing their newest work every year at PEX Summer Fest in the coveted Friday night spot. I am proud to announce that The Russian Roulette Variety Show is now accepting submissions for performers as well, which you can do by filling out the form here.

 A shot from behind the "stage" - Scorch Fire Show,  PEX Summer Festival 2010. Jexime Icon performing her fire fan solo in front of the Shiva fire sculpture (built for the show by Vinny Gasper, funded by a grant from PEX.)
 Photo by Emily Watson.

 Scorch Fire Show, PEX Summer Festival 2010 - performing the opening number, "Shiva." 
Photo by Emily Watson.  

R.R.V.S., please be advised, is a variety show - meaning there is no performance genre too weird (or too normal either, I suppose) to be considered. But performers be advised - if you haven't already begun working on the piece you are thinking of submitting, you may be out of luck. Giving that the festival is only a few months away, we are looking for troupes and performers that already have their shit together, to put it bluntly. Along with filling out the application form, you are required to submit a video to us of your current progress for your specific performance for the show. (Even if it's rough, even if you don't have it 100% figured out, we need to see it. Apparently some folks don't understand this concept.) Chances are if you haven't started working on this already, it might not be "done" in time for PEX. If this is your situation, don't fret - this is not the first, nor the last show from Russian Roulette. If you really want to put in the effort, chances are you will be able to be part of this magnificent and magnanimous show.

Why are we implementing such specific guidelines and demanding requirements for Russian Roulette? It's very simple - for one, of course, we want our show to be the best it can be. Keeping the acts interesting, different... the choreography polished, the music varied, making sure the entire show flows in a way that will keep our audience eagerly awaiting the next act. No awkward pauses between acts, no boring 7 minute solo acts with the same prop, NO intermission (people just get up and leave) and of course, no one catching on fire. (Very important.) Most of us involved on the administrative team have been doing a similar show for the past few years, and we've made the mistakes we needed to make to learn from them... this "disorganized dream" that wasn't even my own, when it began, has come a long way. (When I first got involved and the summer festival was in it's infancy - I was very very new to fire, to performing, to PEX, to everything - but, felt drawn to do it still, knowing that I had a very different but useful range of experience under my belt and in my heart I could make these shows better than they would otherwise be.)

Here is a great video by Hedy Sirico from 2010's PEX Summer Fest 
performance of Scorch Fire Show.

Anyway, myself and the rest of the R.R.V.S. admin team are busting our asses right now (we don't get paid for this, remember) to put on another fabulous show this summer. I absolutely consider this another part of my "art", it just happens to be within a different genre.

Lux Arati performing at PEX Summer Festival in 2011 as part of The Russian Roulette Variety Show. 

Lux Arati performing at PEX Summer Festival in 2011 as part of The Russian Roulette Variety Show. (Not sure who took these photos - apologies for not giving due credit. If this is yours please contact me ASAP and I will get on that.)

This weekend - Saturday night - I will be performing with both of my groups, Lux Arati and The Penny Treats at Karnival. The Penny Treats are performing an old number that we've reworked (think- red feather fans...) and Lux Arati is debuting something brand new, totally mind-blowing and maybe still in-progress. I like to think of this show as a dress rehearsal for PEX Summer Fest and R.R.V.S. -- although I hope it will still be as kick-ass as it should be. For once, I picked the track we're performing to - "All Alone" by Gorillaz. It happened to be on a mix CD in my car, one of the only CD's it felt like playing for awhile, and I must have listened to it on repeat for a week before playing it for my girls. It's a little electronic, a little hip hop, and a little booty shakin' action, little bit of BOUNCE-WIGGLE-BOUNCE... all that... plus bellydancing with fire fans? Holy shitballs. This is gonna be quite a spectacle. Watch out... literally, because some of the moves are pretty complicated and if we drop our flaming fans on you, it may burn a little. Might sting a bit.

 Lux Arati fire montage - poster for Karnival, April 28th at the Arts Garage in Philly.

On that note, I REALLY have to work on my costume for tomorrow. Click on this link to get to the Facebook event for Karnival. Here are some of the bangin' posters for the event featuring yours truly. I will post relevant media when I have it available.

(Oooh la la!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Masterpieces, minutes and the moon

"An artists only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection,
and on his own terms, not anyone else's."

(J.D. Salinger)

A great big huge THANK YOU to everyone that came out for First Friday. And an extra special thanks to Terrence Laragione at Buzz Cafe for hosting, and my fabulous husband Alex for helping me out with every little thing.

In total, I managed to get roughly 5 new paintings finished in time for the show. And three paintings "sold", including two that several friends of mine were fighting over. I say "sold" in quotations because I haven't received payment for these paintings yet, nor have they actually left the show to be in the hands of their new owners. (But they will be, and have been marked as such.) There were no actual fights, but some cash did get thrown at me at one point. I wasn't really prepared to sell anything on the spot. In fact, I'm lucky I got there dressed (half an hour after the official start time) and that all my paintings were hanging where they should be. With tags, frames and hardware. If it wasn't for the last minute... I would never, ever, get anything done. My mantra for life, apparently.

I'm also very happy to announce the (sans a few minor touch-ups) COMPLETION, yes, it's finished - of this monstrous painting that has been consuming my life for over a year now. It's done, and my plan was to give it to it's new owners right after the opening. Alas, that situation is now also complicated, so for now it's on display in Buzz Cafe.

And here is my beauty, my masterpiece, my magnum opus... ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you in it's finally finished state -

The Honeycomb Merkaba.

The commissioned painting that I've been working on for over a year.
"The Honeycomb Merkaba" / 30" x 40" /oil, mixed media on canvas.

I've been meaning to write something - it's own special little artist's statement - about this painting. It deserves it, after this long - after studying, scrutinizing every line, shade and tone over a billion times. I want to be able to explain it better, and taking some time to figure out exactly what it's about and what it means would serve me well I think. I've started, written a few words and began looking through the notes I took in my many stages of planning and reworking... and of course, the numerous in-progress posts here in my blog. I took plenty of pictures throughout this process, although after the fact I wish they had all been standardized (all on the same wall or in the same kind of lighting setup) so I could turn them into some kind of gif or animation. I think I can still work out some kind of presentation of what I have where you can really literally see it changing and things being added and taken away. It just won't look as nice as it could have.

"Puerto Rico #1" / 16" x 20" /oil on canvas (NEW)
— at Buzz Cafe Philly.

Another piece that was finally completed in time for the show. Not three days before I was working on it, "touching it up", and inadvertently repainted nearly the entire thing. (Ooops. It's done though, now. Promise.) It does look, finally, how I wanted it to. It feels like Puerto Rico to me, that moment sitting on the balcony, the ocean seconds away, rum and ice clinging in the glass he's holding. Palm trees just out of view, blowing in the warm breeze. It's #1 because obviously I intend to paint more from this one and only vacation my husband and I have taken together. So it goes.

"Organic/Chemical/Mechanical" / 12" x 24"/ oil, paint marker on canvas (left)
and "Tree of Life" / 19" x 11.5" / acrylic on wood (right)

More new pieces on display. The one on the right I've posted before, and the one on the left was another one finished just in time, with a custom frame made for it by my wonderful hubby.

That painting, Organic/Chemical/Mechanical, started as an experiment, a side project using up extra paint in between working on The Honeycomb Merkaba. It was, originally, inspired by crop circle formations, though it has come a long way from where it began. I used a similar method of combining oil-based paint markers and oil paint (shh, my "secret" weapon) as I did in Honeycomb. And for some reason, people really liked it.

I never expected it to turn out so well (a side note, the colors don't show up as well in the photo here as they are in real life) and never expected one of my friends to want to buy it, for the sticker price too, during my show that very night. Problem was, I was working on it a month or two ago, and another friend of mine who happened to be at our house at that moment, expressed his interest for it as well. I threw out a (too low, apparently) price, his feedback inadvertently provided inspiration for the title, and I said... "It's not done. You can't have it yet, and yes if you show up with a wad of cash wanting to buy it, it's yours." That is, until I actually finished it, had a custom frame made for it, and priced it at least $100+ higher than that number for the show. I figured, not thinking it would happen, that if someone offered me that much more for the same painting (closer to what it's worth to me to sell it for) then I'd have to take it. I am trying to do this, aren't I? I put these extravagant prices, sometimes, on these paintings I end up loving intensely, thinking that whoever wants to rip this one out of my hands had better fork over enough money to satisfy my loss. Then I end up almost giving them away to dear friends, causing problems when I'm actually put in a position to make real money off my work. Le sigh, le sigh. Maybe someday, all my paintings will be worth thousands and thousands of dollars, and I'll still give them away to my friends. (Don't know you? Pay up, bitches.)

You can view the rest of the pictures from First Friday here (uploaded to my Flickr account) or here on my Art by Xtina Facebook page.

Though the show is over (it is still up through the end of April and probably most of May) there is no shortage of things on my to-do list. It's spring now, and festival season is upon us and the best weather for performing is already here. Almost every night of the week I have rehearsals or meetings, practicing fiery belly dancing with the Lux Arati ladies or burlesque with "Loco" for The Penny Treats, not to mention plotting and planning an entire variety show for PEX Summer Festival. More info on all of that to come. The next performance, and I'll post the poster & more information for it soon, is Saturday April 28th where both my dance groups are performing at Bangarang's annual Karnival bash at the Art's Garage here in Philly.

Whew. So much going on, barely enough time to breathe before the next project or event. Occasionally I need to take a moment and obsess over something more simple - like the moon, my night time sister, my astrological planet and the inspiration for my first tattoo. Not the last full moon, but the full moon before THAT - we were heading home from somewhere right after it got dark and noticed this gigantic, gorgeous orange wheel o' cheese sitting on the horizon. We rushed home and grabbed the good camera, tripods & telephoto lens, and ran out after it. We never caught the gigantic, orange beast hanging in the sky, but we did obsessively take some pretty interesting pictures of the full moon and some thick, fluffy clouds that night. Till quite late, I believe. Here is one.

On that note, a very successful show this month and a busy performing season ahead. Bring it on, world. I'm ready.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Gearing up for First Friday @ Buzz Cafe

Poster design for First Friday.

Less than a week away, I am busy as hell trying to finish a bunch of new paintings and prepare for my next First Friday event. So far I've thrown together designs for a 2-sided flyer (printed, though I still need to distribute my half around the neighborhood this week) and turned that into a 11x17 poster, which I just picked up from the printer and dropped off to the cafe. Though time consuming (working on those kinds of things sucks me into the computer for hours and hours) I still find it kind of fun - but it distracts me from the things I really need to do to get ready for this show. Make sure my work is finished and ready to hang!

Here is the front (left image) and back (right) of the flyer.

The biggest accomplishment I'm trying to get done by Friday's show is the completion of my year-and-a-month long painting of which I have referenced endlessly on this blog - "Honeycomb Merkaba". I really, really want to get it finished, hang it up for the opening and pass it on to it's new owners. It's truly, really, almost there. (I swear.) As long as I finish up any of the painting with oils by today, it will hopefully be dry by hanging time on Thursday afternoon. Crossing my fingers.

Just came back from visiting my parents in sunny tropical Miami, Florida - still recovering from my mini-vacation. I had to go straight back to work Saturday and Sunday, so today has been my first day off - and I needed to sleep in. Thankfully, the fabulous cafe that I am exhibiting my work at is not only a) literally down the street from my house but b) serves delicious, strong coffee, that which I am currently consuming. Not sure when I became such a coffee fiend, but it's necessary for gettin' er done, which needs to be my mantra for the next few days.

So here we go. The clock is ticking and the daylight remaining on this sunny Monday afternoon is waning. My paintings behind me are calling my name (only I can hear it), begging me to work on them just a little more to make them as close to perfect as I can muster before exposing them to the rest of the world.

Let me also remind my readers that the official afterparty for my show will be held at Frank's Kitchens. If you've never been to a First Friday at Frank's... well, you've been missing out.

Thanks to Tom Carr and the rest of the Frank's crew.

SO - if you live in the City of Brotherly Love, please make it out this week to an epic duo of First Friday events, both taking place in the culturally creative lower class mecca, the gorgeously ghetto-ass neighborhood of Kensington. Just north of Northern Liberties, just west of Fishtown. The only place that unestablished artists can find affordable rent, much less a studio to do their work in. Where we have lived (happily) for nearly 5 years now, and where I will be showing my work starting this Friday for the next two months.

Please RSVP to the Facebook event for my show by clicking here, and while you're at it RSVP to the afterparty hosted by Frank's Kitchens, located just a few blocks away.