Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Word Up

Madison’s a lucky city, particularly when it comes to the amount and quality of arts events taking place here throughout the year.

And we can add another great event—for this year and the next, at least—to our roster. The National Poetry Slam hits Madison August 3–9 with a bevy of activities celebrating spoken word and performance poetry.

It’s a big deal that Madison is hosting NPS, also known this year as the Lyrics on the Lake Festival. It’s bringing seventy-six teams that will compete in slam “bouts” at venues across town and plenty of other writers and poets who will take advantage of the myriad workshops and classes offered during the days of the festival.

Those uninitiated with slam poetry will find a powerful introduction next week. Preliminary bouts will take place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at MMoCA, the Brink Lounge, the Drury and Evejue theaters at the Bartell, the Majestic, the Comedy Club and the Orpheum. Each team, with four or five poets apiece, will have four opportunities to perform and score points, which are given by a panel of five judges selected randomly from the audience. Teams perform two of the three nights. Check the complete bout schedule online.

At the end of the preliminary bouts, the twenty-five highest-scoring teams will advance to Friday’s semifinals. The top four teams from that night will go on to the finals on Saturday at Overture Center.

Workshops and classes will take place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at UW’s Humanities building. And after the preliminary bouts those three days, the Bartell’s Drury Theater, Café Montmartre, Genna’s and the Mercury Lounge will host late-night events.

Anyone wanting a sneak peak of what they may encounter at NPS should check out the For the Record segment from this past Sunday. Neil Heinen sat down with David Hart, operations director for NPS, Evy Gildrie-Voyles, events director for the Madison Slam Team, and Danez J. Smith, a member of the Madison Slam Team.

Gildrie-Voyles and Smith’s performances at the end of the half hour are sure to make anyone rethink Big Bird and bling—and want to check out as many events as possible next week.

For more information on Lyrics on the Lake, visit

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

August Artists: Local Perspectives

One of the great pleasures of viewing art is seeing something familiar in a new light.

We’ve all likely been acquainted with quintessential Wisconsin scenes, its city landmarks as well as the rolling hills and farmsteads in its outlying areas.

But paintings in a new show at Fanny Garver Gallery refresh these images. Wisconsin Landscapes, running August 1 through September 3, features work by Kate Mueller, Georgene Pomplun and Tom Murphy.

Their subjects range from State Street and Olbrich Botanical Gardens to farmland and forests. Inherent in the landscapes is a distinct sense of place that should resonate with Madisonians, yet through the paintings the artists offer their own perspectives on life here.

Since the paintings allow viewers to see Madison as the artists do, what better way to learn more about their art than through their own words?

Kate Mueller

Preferred medium and style: After experimenting with many different media as a young artist I finally worked up the courage to try oils. I’ve loved painting in oils ever since. The richness and depth of color and the feel of the paint when working keep me going. It is an endlessly challenging and rewarding medium. I paint in a realistic fashion with a strong foundation of draftsmanship, yet I hope to avoid too much detail or tightness in my paintings. It’s a fine line to walk … Realism that isn’t too real!

Why I paint scenes of Wisconsin: Well, most simply put, I live here! I see so much beauty every day I sometimes feel I will never get to painting it all. Having lived elsewhere in the country I appreciate even more the amazing richness of our local landscape, the variety that our state encompasses, and the ease with which we can be a part of it.

Favorite Madison subject to paint: I am currently enjoying painting both Olbrich Gardens and the interior of the Capitol building. Olbrich Gardens has such wonderful shadows and shapes that play on the beautifully tended paths and plantings. I think an artist could spend all the seasons finding new moods and compositions to paint. The interior of the Capitol is also truly beautiful to me because its light and shadow are both delicate and bold with big shapes and fascinating details, the tale of history and the hope of the future. Since it is so large it is a challenge to capture the grandness of the space as well as the intimacy of the experience. Madison, like so many other parts of Wisconsin, has infinite settings worthy of a painting!

Biggest challenge or surprise: I live rather near the shore of Lake Michigan and personally love the water. I have been drawn to that grand lakeshore as subject matter; to the water, the stretches of sand, the windswept trees, and to the many boats and ships there. I have been surprised at how much I enjoy painting the boats in the harbors and have found that I love the shapes of boats. Many of them seem to be living, to be moving, even when they are far from the water or from their life of usefulness. Trying to capture that energy and feeling is a great challenge, one that I love!

What makes Wisconsin landscapes special: Well firstly, I think that one of the occupational hazards of being an artist is seeing the beauty in everything! So no matter where I am I almost always think, “Oooh, I’d like to paint that” or, “That would be a great painting!” That being said, I can use England to explain what I think makes Wisconsin special. If you have been to England (or even have a pretty good mental picture of it) you may understand what I mean when I say the landscape is “intimate.” Vistas may be broad but they are not too grand, there is a sense that you can reach out to what you see, that it is accessible.

I think that is the main thing that makes Wisconsin truly unique as a place to paint. We have so many different landscapes here: sweeping dunes, lush forests, rich farmland, cityscapes, rivers, lakeshores, cliffs, marshes, and more. Not many states that I know of contain such a variety of views, all within easy reach. And when we look at our state we have that wonderful sense of “intimacy,” that we can see the next rolling hill and make out its farms or towns, or forests … that we can go there, and look from there to the next … hidden glades and broad panoramas … close enough to be comforting but vast and rich enough to inspire. If I painted in Wisconsin every day for the rest of my life I'd never capture all that it has to offer!

Georgene Pomplun

Preferred medium and style: I work in oils and am primarily a landscape painter, although I paint a variety of subjects. I’m particularly fond of horses and cows and love to paint flowers. For a show last year at the Fanny Garver Gallery I did historically important buildings and structures in and around Madison. Lots of research. Lots of fun.

Why I paint scenes of Wisconsin: I live out in the country in an old farmhouse with my husband Tom and our dog. Paintings abound at every turn. The Wisconsin landscape has a serenity and a solidity that is timeless. I moved to Wisconsin almost fifteen years ago and love living here. I have come to appreciate the change of seasons and the small things close to earth that I did not see when I lived and worked in downtown Chicago. I’m drawn to the wonderful old barns in Dane County, and love painting them. In a way it is my stake in preserving their legacy, because often I will return to the same place a year or two later only to find the barn gone.

Favorite Madison subject to paint: I’ll take the question at face value and concentrate on Madison proper. Hands down, it is the farmers’ market on the Capitol Square. I have made many paintings of this ever-changing phenomenon. I love to paint the Capitol as a building, though, as well.

Biggest challenge or surprise: Hmmmm, tough one as there are always challenges and surprises with every effort! The hardest part of painting outdoors, or en plein air, is to capture the subject before the light changes. It is really tough. Generally four hours is the outside length of time before the shadows and light source change so much that it is impossible to continue. In an ideal world an artist can revisit the same place at the same time of day to finish a large canvas. I do not have that luxury so my plein air paintings are out of necessity fairly small.

What makes Wisconsin landscapes special: In the absence of a single defining natural phenomenon like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains, the Wisconsin landscape is, to me, much more of a statement about the harmony of many elements. The lakes, trees, rivers and prairie land combine to make a splendid array, which changes constantly at different times of the day and during different seasons. I love the topography of the rolling hills and occasional bluffs. I especially love to see plowed fields following the contours of the land.

Tom Murphy

Preferred medium and style: I prefer working in oils because I’ve found them to be the most controllable medium. Oils dry slowly and I paint slowly, so I can get in to make changes or wipe out a misjudgement; time enough to bring a work to the best I can.

Why I paint scenes of Wisconsin: Well, I could say, “because it is there” with all of its variety of greens, its hills and lakes and rivers. Of course, when Jack Garver invited us to do this exhibit on “Wisconsin Landscapes” we were deep in that long, long winter. So, to get started on any scene, I had to rely on photos from friends or memories from my childhood in Eau Claire. It was fun to take things from those “visual suggestions” and work with them—perhaps romanticize them a little—to see what I could come up with.

Favorite Madison subject to paint: The University campus and particularly the Union Terrace are always popular, and in second place is State Street itself. It’s fun to be working on something I feel people will particularly enjoy.

Biggest challenge or surprise: I think that any time a painter tackles something here in town the trick is to come up with a reasonably fresh and different view, so for me that’s the challenge that is both difficult and the most fun. I don't always succeed of course, but the failures never see the light of day.

What makes Wisconsin landscapes special: We’re loaded with terrific iconic buildings and views—both ends of State Street and everything in between; the Union Terrace, the Square.

Photos top to bottom are Big Sky Wisconsin and Olbrich Gardens by Kate Mueller, Early Summer Morning by Georgene Pomplun and Winter Moon by Tom Murphy.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The August issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• Our Rating the Suburbs feature with some artsy places to check out.
• An Overtones profile on Dasha Kelly, a Milwaukee poet heading up the National Poetry Slam in Madison in August.
• The monthly Overtones events calendar with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in August.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fair Finds

Gorgeous weather, dazzling art and enthusiastic crowds merged this weekend at the fiftieth Art Fair on the Square. A truly eclectic mix of art—paintings, sculpture, mosaics, prints, photography, furniture, clothing and much more—was represented in the more than four hundred artists who showcased work at the annual event.

The following are just a few of the artists and work that caught my eye as I made my way around the Capitol Square.

Prairies and fields become dramatic settings when they’re rendered by Kansas City watercolorist Susan Lynn. Her saturated colors—from sunny golds and rich reds to cool greens and deep blues—make her landscapes simultaneously realistic and better-than-real-life.

Bay Area-based photographer Chris Honeysett travels near and far capturing striking scenes of Yosemite and San Francisco—his image of the Golden Gate nearly obscured by fog is not to be missed—as well as European cityscapes and Asian landscapes. He also offers poetic photographic studies of plants, architecture and other unique forms.

Pop art meets the landscape painting tradition in the eye-catching oils by Susan Hodgin. The Indianapolis artist uses pattern—mostly dots—and vibrant color to describe the world around us.

To say Cali Hobgood-Lemme photographs everyday items misses the startling beauty the Urbana, Illinois, artist finds in a made bed, stack of folded button-down shirts, bathroom sink or a pair of men’s shoes. If only my furniture and laundry could look this exquisite.

Johnson Creek artists Wendy and Marvin Hill hand-paint block prints. The images have a literary quality—each seems to tell its own story.

Quiet, delicate, mystical, beautiful. Any of these words could be used to describe the photography of Ashland, Oregon’s Raquel Edwards.

Subdued colors and an almost hazy quality seem to make viewers slow down and appreciate the oil paintings of Todd Voss of Hovland, Minnesota.

Photographs by Todd Lundeen, a former UW–Madison art student, show people, landscapes and architecture of the Far East through vivid color and almost hyper-realistic clarity. I’m not sure an Art Fair-goer was able to pass by his booth without picking up a serious case of wanderlust.

Photos courtesy of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Culture Shock

Any Madisonian with a penchant for French culture is likely aware of—and planning to attend—La Fête de Marquette as it takes place Thursday through Sunday.

This annual festival coincides with the French national holiday Bastille Day and celebrates the best of France—its food, art and music. The latter is a particular focus and this year’s event brings in musicians from across the French-speaking world, including France, Canada, West Africa and Cambodia.

Much buzz has been surrounding Montreal rock quintet Les Breastfeeders, who will perform during Friday night’s “Le Nuit des Étoiles” (“Night of the Stars”). Made up of Luc Brien, Suzie McLeLove, Sunny Duval, “Joe,” Johnny Maldoror and Pat Sayers, the group mixes punk and garage sounds with yé-yé, or sixties French pop.

The band’s been growing their popularity in Canada, Europe and the U.S., especially following their release of Déjeuner sur l'herbe in 2004 and Les Matins de Grands Soirs in 2007. But their performance at La Fête de Marquette marks their first trip to Madison.

As their visit was fast approaching, Duval took time out to answer a few questions about the band and their music.

You’ve been characterized as garage-rock, pop-punk. How would you describe your music?

Rock ’n’ roll, which includes punk rock, rockabilly, garage, surf music.

What are your musical inspirations?

Our friends, lifestyles, the back alleys, Montreal and a whole lot of vinyls.

Where are your favorite places to perform? And how is performing in the States different than performing in Canada?

It’s a bit different singing in French to an English-speaking audience, but basically all of North America is very similar. We favor playing a full cheering house, no matter the size, and being well greeted (food, booze, a little hotel room and a nice backstage). With all these conditions, you’ll get a thundering performance!

Why did you decide to come to La Fête de Marquette in Madison?

Well, our manager says, “You guys could play a certain show in a certain town.” We say, “Fine let’s go.” We just love traveling, so we’re going places to visit and play and meet new people. So we’re going to Madison this time!

What do you hope people get from hearing your music?

The same urge to party-dance-drink-make love-sing-start a band we have. The exploding/imploding feeling we get as we step onstage.

La Fête de Marquette runs from July 10 to 13 at the Marquip parking lot at the intersection of East Washington and Baldwin streets. For more information, visit the festival website.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rocking for a Reason

The scene wasn’t what I expected to see in a recording session.

In a wood-paneled room, four young men sat in a semicircle with instruments and mics, a mess of cords near their bare or stocking-clad feet. No lights needed to be turned on; natural light from the many windows was enough. And through those windows, all I could see was green forest.

I should have known better. After all, this was no everyday recording studio and The Giving Tree Band is not your typical musical act.

The Chicago-based band—made up of Todd Fink, Bob Salihar, Pat Burke and Eric Fink—is an earth-friendly acoustic group that promotes sustainability and peace through their music.

And that music takes influences from folk, country, Americana and bluegrass styles, and features instruments ranging from a guitar, banjo, upright bass and mandolin to a ukulele, harmonica, dulcimer and slide dobro.

Since forming four years ago, the group has done everything it can to be green. Many of their instruments are built from naturally fallen trees and reclaimed wood. And they produce music using renewable energy, package CDs—their first was Unified Folk Theory in 2007— using recycled materials and support eco-minded charities and organizations.

But in recording their second album, the foursome wanted to go even greener. That’s what brought them to the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo. The first certified carbon-neutral building by the LEED program of the U.S. Green Building Council, the center is preserves the legacy of conservationist, writer and philosopher Aldo Leopold.

While the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center might seem a natural venue for this eco-minded band, their request to record their album there was the first the center ever received. And it was a bit surprising, says Aldo Leopold Foundation education coordinator Jen Kobylecky.

But when Todd Fink asked if the band could come up for a meeting, she agreed—especially when the group showed her what they are all about. “All of a sudden there was this impromptu little concert,” she says.

The center agreed to let the band record there, deciding on four weeks starting in late June. And Kobylecky couldn’t be more pleased with the arrangement. “It’s really exciting,” she says. “It’s not something we ever would have envisioned. But the goals of the band match up really nicely with that of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.”

Fink agrees: “They share the same inspiration we do,” he says of the center’s focus on promoting sustainability and the natural environment.

In fact, The Giving Tree Band is so happy with the partnership that they want to pay homage to the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in the title of their new album. They’re planning on naming it Great Possessions, the name Leopold originally intended his final book to be called, Fink says. However, Leopold died in 1948 and the book was published a year later as A Sand County Almanac.

Fink says this second album will feature the band’s most traditional as well as most experimental music. And the solar-powered recording session at the Legacy Center is hardly the only aspect of the album that’s environmentally friendly. The CDs will be manufactured using wind power, packaged with recycled materials, printed with nontoxic soy ink and shrink-wrapped in biodegradable corn cellulose.

Furthermore, the band is living green while recording, camping at nearby Mirror Lake State Park and biking ten miles every day to and from the Legacy Center.

Living with as little of an environmental footprint—and doing things simply—has always been important to the band. “We wanted to make music with a purpose,” Fink says. “We wanted to do everything we can to be in harmony with the environment.”

The band members sing in four-part harmony, taking turns as lead vocalist, and they don’t use electronic effects. Coincidentally, this tactic seems to set them apart; fans say they like the band’s fresh and original sound, Fink says. “A lot of technology isn’t needed to be creative,” he adds.

That said, being a green band isn’t always easy. It can be expensive and require extra research. And oftentimes the musicians have to be more involved in the business and management sides of music making than most of their peers to ensure things are being done in line with their principles. But the additional effort is worth it to the band. “It’s just a matter of being creative,” Eric Fink says. “The universe will provide you a solution to these challenges.”

Fortunately, things are getting easier, the bandmates say. More people are learning about what they’re doing and some want to help. They’ve learned from working with like-minded bands such as Cloud Cult and Hot Buttered Rum. And Highland Strings donated eco instruments and Harmony Valley Farm is supplying them with fresh fruits and veggies while they’re recording in Baraboo.

But on their fourth day in the studio, the band was upbeat, working hard and excited for what’s ahead. As the foursome sat practicing and recording a song, one line seemed especially poignant. “Help me to save you,” Fink sang. If he was referring to the earth, it appears the band is on its way to doing just that.

Concert Alert: The Giving Tree Band will perform a free outdoor concert on July 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Legacy Center to mark their halfway point of recording. And check their website for other upcoming shows.

Photo by Stephen Martin.