Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Remembering his Roots

It’s always exciting when someone with Madison ties makes a name for himself—whether inside or beyond the limits of our city.

Robby Hecht is doing that with his music. The UW alum—he graduated in 2001 with degrees in English and history, not to mention some good experience under his belt, having played local coffee shops, the Union and the stairwell outside his downtown apartment—is releasing his first album, Late Last Night, on May 6.

Read on to get to know this soulful, humorous artist.

Where did you grow up and how did you wind up in Madison?

I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, but I was born in Ann Arbor, where my parents both went to U of M, so I grew up a diehard Michigan fan with an internal longing to return to the Midwest. I had a friend who went to UW, and after visiting him, I was hooked, even though it was one of the coldest days I can remember. It only got better, of course. Now I’m a diehard Badger fan.

When and why did you start playing?

I decided that I was going to be a singer/songwriter when I was eighteen, during the summer between high school and college. I was moving pretty far away from home, and it made me really think about who I wanted to be. However, I barely knew how to play the guitar, so I spent a large part of my freshman year scouring the internet for the chords to songs that I wanted to learn. I was the guy sitting in the stairwell of the Statesider, keeping you awake at night with clumsy renditions of Jewel and Counting Crows songs.

What kind of music have you always been drawn to?

I grew up listening to my mom’s music, stuff like John Denver, Paul Simon, Dan Fogelberg. By the time I was writing, I was listening to a lot of Dylan, Otis Redding, and all that nineties acoustic pop like The Wallflowers and Ben Folds. I’ve been through a lot of songwriting phases. I spent most of my senior year learning Tom Waits songs—and then trying them out in Library Mall.

How would you describe the music you create?

There’s a lot of finger-picking and a lot of lyrics. Ultimately, I’m trying to help the listener feel and understand something. The most common comparisons I get these days are probably James Taylor, Amos Lee and M. Ward.

What impact did Madison have on your sound?

The first time I ever played in public was at the Steep N Brew on State Street. I never really tried to be a professional musician when I was in school; I was more into learning how to write songs at the time. I'd always save the back section of my 5 Star notebook for songs so that I could work on them in class when I was bored. I used to play at the Catacombs on-campus coffee shop, the Memorial Union open mic, on the street, stuff like that.

What did you do after college?

After college I lived in Madison for another semester working in the UW survey center, and then went over to Europe with my best friend Todd for what were probably the best five months of my life. After that, I went back home for a year or so to save some money, and then moved out to San Francisco where I spent all the money in about a year and a half. Toward the end of my time out there, I started writing songs with a musician/songwriter named Jason Jurzak, and we decided to move to Nashville as a band/writing team. Jason ended up moving down to New Orleans to play the sousaphone, and I made a home in Nashville.

What were your goals in putting together Late Last Night

Some of the songs on Late Last Night, including the title track, are ones that I wrote in college eight or nine years ago, so the record’s been a long time coming. There are no filler songs at all. I was also waiting to find the right producer, and I definitely did so with Lex Price. He’s unbelievably talented, and I got the chance to work with so many great musicians whose own work I respect like Mindy Smith and Jeff Coffin. It really is everything that I wanted it to be. My friends tell me it’s a great album to listen to while you’re in the kitchen cooking.

What’s next for you? Any plans to visit Madison?

I’m working on putting a Midwest tour together, and when I do I’ll definitely be playing in Madison. I have a ton of friends who either stayed or moved back to town, so I’ve got a lot of people bugging me to come soon. I’m shooting for early August.

For more info and to listen to tracks, visit and

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

The twice-annual Gallery Night is Friday at museums, galleries and businesses across Madison.

Learn how to live the good green life at the Going Green Wisconsin Expo Friday through Sunday at the Alliant Energy Center.

Madison Repertory Theatre offers The Nerd, a comedy running Friday through May 25. Also starting Friday is Broom Street Theater’s “most sexually charged play,” Multiple O; it runs through June 8.

And the UW School of Music welcomes pianist Jeffrey Siegel on Tuesday for a Keyboard Conversations installment on music from Austria-Hungary.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Artful Evening

Art, design, fashion, the who’s who of Madison … my head is still spinning over how these elements came together so beautifully last night at Design MMoCA. I have to say, last night’s preview gala was one of the best events I’ve attended so far this year.

Designers, retailers and arts enthusiasts mingled with the likes of Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, Toni Sikes of The Artful Home, Valerie Kazamias from MMoCA, chocolatier Gail AmbrosiusFood Fight’s Daryl Sisson, Lisa Sisson of, Christi Weber and Sonya Newenhouse from Madison Environmental Group, and many others.

The show—in which sixteen local and regional designers created “rooms” based on works of art from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection—continues on through Sunday.

Here are some highlights:

• The bedroom (above) from Mark Jenssen’s of Jenssen Design is one of the most intriguing vignettes. In it, a canoe form and lattice structure are suspended over a minimalist bed. The shapes are also found in the inspiration artwork, Robert Stackhouse’s Diviners.
• The living room space by Natasha Vora of Indocara Global Home Furnishings and Jodie Amerell of Inner View Consulting is a cozy and cool celebration of natural colors and textures that complement Lee Weiss’s organic, rhythmic Beach Stones watercolor.
Flad Architects showcase an office space based on Ellsworth Kelly’s simple Oranges lithograph of three circles. Streamlined furniture includes clean white circular chairs and a light wood desk. The designers show a sense of humor by placing a bowl of oranges on a shelf.
• Chuck Close’s Robert Manipulated reveals a face out of grid of gray squares. Davison Architecture + Urban Design nicely echoed the style in sleek furniture and the format in a floor of gray squares.
Bungalow Pros provide a break from clean lines and funky forms with a dining room featuring heavier wood pieces, while the Madison Environmental Group’s contemporary living room quells any concern that green design can’t be cutting-edge cool.

These are just a few of the creative, innovative and inspiring features that caught my eye. Check out the show and find your own favorites.

Design MMoCA runs 11 a.m.–8 p.m. April 25, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. April 26, and 11 a.m.–4 p.m. April 27. Visit for a schedule of lectures, gallery talks and a designer meet and greet. 

Thanks to Amy Lynn Schereck for the photos.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

An Artistic Addition

Madison has a newcomer to its visual arts scene: Bungalow 1227, a laid-back enclave for artists and art lovers at 1227 E. Wilson St.

Set in a cozy brick bungalow, the gallery is the latest undertaking of Pat Dillon, a Madison artist and writer (she’s written about travel for Madison Magazine).

“This is one thing I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” she says.

Dillon transformed the former home into a rustic gallery, exposing stone walls and keeping the original wood floors intact. Paintings and drawings fill the walls—as well as windows covered with sheets of corrugated metal—and pottery is displayed on shelves and tables.

That the gallery was a concept brewing in Dillon’s mind for years allowed her to keep tabs on artists she’d one day like to represent. She created Bungalow 1227 to be a relaxed space where local and regional artists can display their work. But she’s thrown some international artists into the mix, too.

Dillon also intends for the gallery to be welcoming the public. Art lovers of all stripes can pop in straight from the adjacent bike path or from a stroll along East Wilson Street to look, shop and talk art.

The gallery’s opening is May 2, in conjunction with the city’s spring Gallery Night. Her first show is Women Inspired Art, which runs through June 30.

Proceeds from all her shows will benefit a charity, this time the YWCA’s Third Street Program.

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Design MMoCA takes over the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Friday through Sunday for a showcase of interior design based on works from the museum’s permanent collection.

Thursday through Saturday, the UW Dance Program offers its Spring Program Concert at Lathrop Hall.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra brings the sounds of Russia to Overture Center with concerts Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Also at Overture is a free Community Hymn Sing Saturday morning in which the public can sing along with the concert organ.

The city will be filled with runners taking part in the 27th Annual Crazylegs Classic on Saturday. The 8K run starts and the Capitol Square and makes its way throughout the downtown.

And hundreds of alpacas and fans of the fuzzy animals will meet up at the Alliant Energy Center Saturday and Sunday for the Great Midwest Alpaca Festival.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

May Artist: Delving into the Dark

He’s a nationally recognized artist (with work at the Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, among many other museums and private collections) and a true Midwesterner (born in North Dakota, raised in Minnesota, and a professor in UW–Madison’s art department since 1997).

The prolific T.L. Solien is also the focus of a new show at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

T.L. Solien: Myths & Monsters, which runs May 17 to August 17, traces the artist from the 1980s to the present through more than sixty of his complex, sometimes familiar and always deeply personal works of art.

Viewers will see the wide-ranging phases of his art-making: His move into three-dimensional and allusionistic paintings. The period when he was starting in academics, unhappily away from his family, and filled his canvases with chaotic and self-deprecating images. His emphasis on pop culture. And his most recent exploration of literature, particularly Moby Dick and Ahab’s Wife.

I recently had a chance to talk with Solien about his work and his upcoming show.

How’d you become an artist and how would you describe your work?

I started going to art classes and being involved in art departments in Minnesota in the late sixties when there was a confluence of pop art and minimalism and conceptual art practice—very aggressive sculpture and very aggressive painting. I tried to make work at that time that was very contemporary, actively contemporary. So my work had a very experimental attitude. I made extreme paintings, extreme sculpture and dealt with avant-garde ideas. And I consider my work to still be that way. 

What guides your choice of subject matter?

My work has been autobiographical for about thirty years. I look at life experiences … and sometimes I use certain characters to represent myself or to represent others. I show moments of lacking courage or moments of challenging religious convictions or family balance topics.

The figures I use in my works are sometimes congested or fractured. Sometimes they come from pop culture sources or my own imagination. I weave them together to suggest psychological conflict.

What attracts you to surrealism or showing your own vision of the world around you?

As a kid, I was confronted with Picasso and Salvador Dali. By the time I was eight or nine years old, those were the people I looked to as artists. They brought very strong suggestive content to art making. I like works of art and my own works to reflect the subjectivity of its maker.

Your work is shown around the country. What does it mean to be a Midwestern artist?

That’s a complex idea. Initially, when I started to show work in the eighties in New York, Midwestern artists were know as parochial regionalist artists. I think I was looked at as a bit of an exotic, as eccentric. European artists whose ideas were similar to mine were also beginning to show work in New York. I was wrapped up by many writers with them.

Right now, I think being a Midwestern artist is neither an advantage or disadvantage. It’s just the nature of one’s work, whether it’s compelling to a dealer. It’s really a global art market now.

What do you hope people get from seeing your show at MMoCA?

I hope that they’re entertained and provoked. I’m just not in the entertainment business or in the business of providing joy to the viewer. I think life is a complex and difficult process and filled with dark moments and light moments. I’m a fatalist and happen to focus on the dark moments. I hope to engage them and seduce them into entering the inner dialogue I’m in.

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Madison theater packs a powerful punch this week, with the Madison Theatre Guild presenting The Laramie Project, about slain gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, through April 26 and University Theatre taking on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

Christopher Taylor of the UW School of Music continues his Beethoven Piano Sonata Series Wednesday through Friday at Mills Hall, while UW’s Varsity Band performs those same evenings at the Kohl Center. Pianist Ann-Marie McDermott headlines the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Friday Masterworks performance, and the Canadian indi rockers The New Pornographers take over the Orpheum Theatre Monday night.

Artists Sevki Kuzay and Wilfred illustrate the breadth of abstract painting in a show of new works this month at Fanny Garver Gallery

Get your nature fix—check out the wildflowers and watch the moon rise—at the Arboretum Night Walk Saturday evening. And last, but certainly not least, the Dane County Farmers’ Market moves back to the Capitol Square this Saturday, a sure sign that spring is officially here.