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Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe’s Emotion Picture Shines

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It’s been 5 years since Janelle Monáe released her album “The Electric Lady.” The sequel to her sophomore classic, “The ArchAndroid,” it was met with positive but not overwhelming reviews. Since then, Monáe has been a fixture in the mainstream, appearing in a number of high profile films including “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight.” It was a welcome surprise when “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane,” the singles from Monáe’s newly announced album “Dirty Computer,” were released in February of 2018. The two singles were sharp, catchy, and widely different, giving fans no real indication as to the sonic direction of the new project, which was now being dubbed an “Emotion Picture.” In the weeks that followed, Monáe released “PYNK (feat. Grimes)” and “I Like That” before the release of the album and accompanying 48-minute short film on April 27. Varied, fiery, and fun, the album’s strong vocals and eclectic production make it Monáe’s best album since “The ArchAndroid” and one of the best records of 2018.

“Dirty Computer” kicks off with the title song featuring Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Sweet and short, the song functions as more of an introduction, with the first true song being “Crazy, Classic, Life.” The tune here is strong enough, and the vocal performance and production are both full of personality. The real issue here is that Monáe sells herself short lyrically, leaving listeners with a song that has plenty of charm but is short on ambition. The album’s first hit is “Screwed (ft. Zȯė Kravitz),” which has an infectious hook and a bunch of playful uses of the word “screwed” in the context of desire and power. The vocal harmonies at the end of the song transition seamlessly into “Django Jane,” one of the album’s breakout singles. Here, Monáe shows off her rapping ability over a hefty, trap-inspired beat. Hugely confident and commanding, Monáe’s delivery really shines through on this track as she raps about being a black woman in the music industry. “PYNK (feat. Grimes)” takes the album in a stylistic180, replacing the swagger of “Django Jane” with delicate, indie pop. Grimes’ involvement seems to have been more with general songwriting and harmonies of the track, but the Monáe’s timid vocals in the verses definitely carry a strong Grimes influence. Monáe isn’t shy about emulating her influences, as “Make Me Feel” is reminiscent of Prince’s “Queen,” the late star being a known friend and collaborator of Monáe’s. “Make Me Feel” shines as the climax of the album, splitting the album in two with its powerful vocals and huge energy. The album doesn’t top the spectacle of “Make Me Feel,” but the back half has a number of great tracks including “I Like That,” “I Got the Juice (feat. Pharrell Williams),” and “Don’t Judge Me.” “I Like That” is a slick R&B track with a relatively plain instrumental, but the vocals and lyrical content more than make up for it with Monáe belting out an earworm chorus and rapping in the second half about embracing her identity and style. “I Got the Juice” continues in the vein of instrumental variety and features a percussive and oddball verse from Pharrell himself. While it’s definitely one of the quieter moments on the album, “Don’t Judge Me” is sensual and smooth, featuring restrained but emotive vocals.

While not all listeners will choose to consume “Dirty Computer” alongside the 48 minute short film or “emotion picture,” it’s worth noting the picture’s few additions and alterations to the standard listening experience. The short film does very little to alter the music, weaving narrative skits in between music videos. However, the emotion picture version of “PYNK” features an extra verse from Monáe which adds another dimension to the already fun song. Otherwise, the picture situates the themes of the album in a futuristic setting not too far removed from the narratives of Monáe’s previous work.

On “Dirty Computer” listeners can really hear Janelle Monáe hitting her stride. With songs spanning a myriad of genres and styles, there’s something for everyone on “Dirty Computer.” Dealing with themes of race and identity, female empowerment, and vulnerability, Monáe couples her strong vocals with a number of thoughtful lyrics. Ultimately, “Dirty Computer” is one of the most versatile and enjoyable pop records of the year, and definitely Monáe’s strongest project since “The ArchAndroid.”

Profiles in Art: Gene Witkowski

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Art can be a powerful tool for reaching many goals, including empowerment and personal growth. Gene Witkowski ̕ 21, a prospective music and math major, finds these and other qualities of art in his music. When I interviewed Witkowski to showcase his talent, he was genuine and candid, providing a beautiful look into the arts at Swarthmore.

 

When I talked to Witkowski about what it means to be a musician, I got to see the complexities behind the art he creates. What it means be an artist or creator varies from person to person, and his definition acknowledges the difficulties of authentically telling stories and being a voice for others.

 

“I think there’s an enormous sense of responsibility that comes with any form of creation. Through music I’m able to tell stories, and it’s important to recognize that even though those stories are yours, other people that you may not even know have experienced similar situations that allow them to see pieces of themselves in something you’ve created,” Witkowski said.  “For that reason, I’d like to think that with each song I write, I have the potential to change, or maybe even save, someone’s life by allowing them to live vicariously through me. And as a gay man and a member of the larger queer community, that sense of responsibility is even more potent.”

 

In Witkowski’s view, his love of creating music does not make him an artist, despite the fact that many would call him just that.

 

“I know other people might call me an artist, but I’d be hesitant to call myself that,” Witkowski said. “When people use the word “artist,” I think there’s an element of commercialism there, as if their art is simply a hobby or a profession, and in that sense I don’t think that I create art.”

 

For him, music is an essential outlet for processing emotions. Witkowski explained that he is not so much an artist as just a human who feels pain, love, loss, and any other other emotion. The only difference is that he chooses to express those emotions through his music.

 

Witkowski’s passion for music was in many ways established in his childhood. He began singing in church as a child and started piano lessons at the age of five, which his mother made him continue.

 

“My mom sang in church and gospel choirs when she was younger, and my dad toured as a roadie with a number of prominent bands in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I’d say I inherited my musicality from both of them,” Witkowski explained.

 

Witkowski explained how his musiciality was not simply an inheritance, but also something that they helped to facilitate.

 

“I remember wanting to be able to play a ‘boy’s instrument’, and my dad suggested the guitar, as well as promising to give me his old electric from his touring days once I learned to play. And it fit well with the dream I already had by that point of wanting to be a famous musician, so I had my mom sign me up for guitar lessons. It came pretty slow to me, but I loved it then and continue to now.

 

“I actually do remember the first song I wrote; it was this really innocent two-minute-long song called ‘Place For You in Me’ that I told everyone I’d written for my grandmother, but was actually about a girl I had a crush on when I was six or seven years old. The lyrics essentially talked about how much she meant to me, how she had embraced me unconditionally, and how I would be willing to do the same for her.”

 

“I remember a few years ago, I went back and tried to add some more to it, but I couldn’t bring myself to make any changes. It was so cheesy and obviously written by a little kid. But it felt perfect just the way it was. Which is a little ironic when you think about it, given all of the songs I write now are about boys,” Witkowski reflected.

 

Witkowski’s musicality was also an essential part to understanding his own sexual orientation and its impact on his relationship with his father. In many ways this came from one of his favorite singers, Troye Sivan.

 

“I publicly came out as gay for the first time on my sophomore retreat when I was fifteen; when I returned as a junior to lead the same retreat the next year, I spoke to the retreatants on my troubled relationship with my father and the process of coming to terms with my sexuality, and used Sivan’s ‘HEAVEN’ as a preface to my talk. I remember watching his coming out video on YouTube when I was fourteen, one of many I found online while grappling with the realization that I liked boys, and as a result was the exact opposite of the son my father wanted,” Witkowski said.

These stories of Witkowski’s youth were deeply personal and provided a lot of insight into his music. Witkowski also explained that Sivan was important to him in a plethora of ways and is a source of inspiration.

 

“So I dealt in terms of repression, all the while wishing I could be as free and unashamed as Sivan was, whether it was as momentous as coming out to my family or even something as seemingly inconsequential as saying ‘he’ or ‘him,’ instead of ‘she’ or ‘her,’ in a song.” Witkowski said. “He was the representation I desperately needed, and so when the time came for me to stand in his shoes, it felt only fair to me to pay him homage. I see so much of myself in him, and I continue to be inspired by the good he does, not just in his music, but in his activism. And a smile comes to my face every time someone tells me that my voice or my lyrics remind them of him.”

 

Witkowski’s openness about his music and where it comes from for him can serve as an inspiration for all those who are struggling to find a way to cope with whatever they may be going through.

 

“Don’t evaluate your successes by the successes of other people, don’t be afraid of making something you don’t like, and wherever possible don’t put any limits on your artistic ability. I’m constantly guilty of comparing myself to others, but you should never think of making music or painting or whatever medium it may be as a competition between you and somebody else; your job is to create something you’re proud of, not something that you think someone else will be proud of,” Witkowski explained.

 

Witkowski shared some powerful advice to conclude.

“Some things may be perfect the first time around, but sometimes they’ll be shitty, and that’s okay. It might take some time and several attempts, but your hard work will undoubtedly pay off in the end. And be as flexible as you can at all times. Don’t try to put your art into boxes or police the content you create, even if it’s different from anything you’ve done before. Don’t give yourself deadlines to meet. And don’t stop yourself from doing anything just because you tell yourself, or someone else tells you, it won’t be good enough.”

 

Profiles in Art: Olivia Smith

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One of the first things that is easily noticed upon arrival at Swarthmore is the incredible amount of art that students create every day, which often goes unnoticed. From my own experience, for people from smaller, more rural areas, the exposure to different forms of artwork can be limited. This is not the case at Swarthmore. Those inside and outside of the art department tell stories about the world around them in unique and creative ways. These stories are what drive this series to create pieces that highlight the thoughts and works of different Swarthmore artists.

Olivia Smith ̕̕̕̕̕̕ 21, a prospective economics major with French and math minors, is one of many incredible artists sharing their work at Swarthmore. She is a photographer who has been heavily involved in the Kitao Gallery since last semester and has recently become president of the Swarthmore Photography Club, which she is working to expand during her time in the role. Smith’s involvement with these organizations gives her a unique perspective on art at Swat, making her the perfect person to start this series. While she studies at Swarthmore she hopes to take foundational drawing as a means to balance her photography work with other mediums.

“Because I consider myself a photographer, I consider myself an artist, but I don’t know if I have a very good definition of what art is, so things can get a little confusing. I think everyone’s an artist in some way or another,” Smith explains.

“I guess I like making beautiful things not in the beautiful ‘pretty’ sort of way, but the beautiful ‘enrapturing’ way. I definitely think art is a cultural, and hopefully cross-cultural, unifier, so I’d like to say I contribute to that somehow … but who really knows?” Smith went on.

Art has been part of Smith’s life for a long time. “I remember two photos that I would call my first artworks. One was of three stuffed animals, one of which was holding a sign that read ‘forgotten’ with misspellings and poor handwriting. The other was of song lyrics from ‘Little Talks that I had collaged and hung from a hanger. I was pretty angsty in middle school,” she reflected. Along with those pieces, she also loved taking photos of words and graphics.

“While I started as more of a architecture/street photographer, I moved more to portraits and shoots with models because I have a friend back in St. Louis who would go on small expeditions with me. I have to give her a lot of credit for my work over the years; she is such a motivator,” Smith detailed.

“Within the realm of those model shoots, I often find myself fighting with my feminist anti-objectificational views that clash with taking pictures of women, but really anyone. This internal struggle always results in the conclusion that my portraits should not just be a picture of a human being, but a picture of an identity, and one that should have the primary goal of empowerment for the model,” Smith explains as she connects how the struggles of photography enable her to tell stories. This goal of empowerment is evident in the photos she takes and how the models are portrayed.

“I’d say that to be a photographer you have to have a sense of adventure,  and to some extent, rebellion. It ultimately makes the actual act of the photoshoot a work of art as well,” she concluded, “Once I had to convince an enraged campus security guard from calling the real cops on us for setting off smoke bombs near a school. Oops.”

 

Making the Best of It: Hooking Up

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For some reason, “making” is something viewed as a relic of the past, something that was done out of necessity and boredom before the Internet. This however, is far from true: there are millions of people around the world and in the U.S. who sew, make pottery, knit, crochet, embroider, and use any other variety of media to express their creativity and make. Despite knowing this, for the longest time I thought that I would never meet another maker my age. The only makers I knew before coming to Swarthmore were people my parents’ age or older.

Here at Swat, however, I met more makers than I ever could have imagined. Many of them introduced themselves when they saw me crocheting in lectures and in various spots around campus. Others work in the LPAC costume shop with me, where we spend hours working on costumes and our own projects in each other’s company. There are some whom I’ve spotted from a distance, doing cross-stitch in psychology classes, knitting during chorus, and wearing their own clothing designs. I’ve also met a plethora of people who have expressed an interest in making but don’t know where to start or don’t think they have much of a reason to start at all.

I started making when I was five years old and grew determined to learn to crochet like my mom and I’ve been hooked ever since. I love how tactile the whole process is, with the yarn running through my fingers, hook rolling in my right hand, and the new fabric pooling gently in my lap. I love purchasing yarn and digging through my stash, feeling the variety of textures and feasting my eyes on every color imaginable. I love the sense of accomplishment when I’ve finished a piece and see it in use, especially when I can create something to bring joy to another person.

For me, crochet and crafting is not just a hobby, but a supplement that improves the overall quality of my life. It’s a bit of anxiety relief that I can pull out of my bag at any moment. It’s a channel for me to work out the stress of the day and turn it into something beautiful. It is something that even when I’m feeling my least capable, I know that I can do. Even when what I’m crocheting is difficult, it is a problem that is physical and tangible— it is still a relief from the other problems of the day, which tend to be theoretical. Crochet is a way for me to be able to provide something high quality to my loved ones so I can express how much they mean even if I can’t show them that with my wallet. Crafting is flexible enough that I can always find a way for self-expression, even when I’m at a loss for words.

Because of how much I get from making, I can’t help but have a strong emotional and somewhat spiritual connection to it. This, in turn, means that each piece I make contains a bit of myself in it. And while I may not be able to speak for all makers, many have a similar connection to their craft. Having this kind of creative outlet and connection is something that is especially important here at Swat, as it can provide a much-needed break from and an outlet for all that stress. Without it, I would truly feel like I spent the majority of my time on assignments and other things I don’t enjoy.

While the pieces that we make usually have a set function, they should not be discounted as a form of art all their own. Color, form, and composition all come together in craft pieces to serve an aesthetic function as well. My current crochet project, for example, is a patterned shawl that draws on traditional Scottish knitting motifs and is composed of several shades of grays and purples. Even patterns for children’s stuffed animals that I’ve crocheted are designed with a deliberate aesthetic in mind, ranging from minimalistic lions, vibrant maximalist fish, whimsical fairytale frogs, and punk tattooed rabbits.

Throughout the semester I hope to use this column to share this love of making with you all. There will be tips on places to find classes and supplies (spoiler: you may not even need to leave campus),  inspiring interviews, and hints on how to have crafting fit into your life. And who knows, maybe some of you will find inspiration on how to make your life a little better too.

 

See You Sweat: Injury Reserve at Olde Club

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Injury Reserve’s set began with a simple, sad piano line. Those familiar with the song whispered excitedly or shouted in anticipation. The Friday night crowd in Olde Club wouldn’t be left waiting long as the explosive drums and vocals kicked “Oh Shit!!!,” the single from the group’s 2016 album “Floss,”  into gear. MC Ritchie with a T growled the titular chorus like a junkyard dog, demanding the crowd’s energy. Even those new to Injury Reserve were soon chanting along: “Oh Shit! They said, “Man we want some more hits… What that sound, like man, that’s some cold shit…’”

Originally from Arizona, Injury Reserve is a California-based hip hop trio featuring MCs Stepa T Groggs, Ritchie with a T, and producer Parker Corey. Striking while the iron was hot, their most recent project, the brief EP “Drive It Like It’s Stolen”  was released less than a year after the critically acclaimed Floss. It’s clear from their work ethic and from their lyrics that Injury Reserve feels they’re being underrated. Injury Reserve has put out a project every year since 2013, consistently gaining momentum since their debut “Live From the Dentist’s Office.” Despite their undeniable growth, a true commercial breakout has proven elusive. In their song “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe” Groggs muses: “It’s way more than a catchy ass hook / Don’t know the right people, you ain’t getting no looks / If it was that easy, we’d be getting more looks.” However, it seems unlikely that Injury Reserve will compromise their sound in an effort to chart higher. Parker Corey draws from an eclectic sonic palette, making beats that range from aggressive, industrial cuts like “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe”, to the jazzy saxophones of “S On Ya Chest,” and the more contemplative ballad “ttktv,” which evokes James Blake more than many contemporary hip hop artists. With such a versatile sound, Injury Reserve has never been shy about naming influences like Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and The Cool Kids. The beat to “See You Sweat” in particular evokes Pharrell’s production style and Ritchie with a T’s constant repetition would have fit right in on a N.E.R.D. record.

Much of the personality in Injury Reserve’s music carried over into their live set as well, as Ritchie with a T took the role of making fun of the crowd or cracking the occasional sarcastic joke and then jumping back into a passionate verse about feeling unable to trust those around him. “Washed Up.” Their live performance, just as their recorded music, was characterized by great range. Songs like “Eeny Meenie Miney Moe” had the Olde Club crowd shoving each other whilst screaming along with Ritchie “Ah! We made it!” However, the more vulnerable moments featured Groggs and Ritchie reflecting on inner demons and the gravity of personal loss on the somber  “North Pole.” While significant attention thus far has been given to Ritchie with a T’s performance, Groggs would not be outdone. At one point the beat cut out due to technical issues, but Groggs rapped his entire verse until the song’s conclusion without missing a beat. Another standout moment was the performance of “What’s Goodie,” where Ritchie and Groggs showed off their lyrical chemistry, trading the odd bar throughout the course of the track. Also important to note were the production tweaks made by Parker Corey for the live set: most of the beats were louder and more distorted. This decision allowed the trio to turn songs such as “Washed Up,” which might otherwise not move a crowd, into climactic, high energy moments. In this way, the group didn’t box themselves into a sonic corner. In fact, their set was a relatively even spread of songs from their three most recent projects. Their performance certainly benefited from the intimate setting, as Ritchie’s nasty, growling delivery kept the energy near the stage high.

After an encore performance of “Oh Shit!!!,” Ritchie with a T left the stage, saying: “We are Injury Reserve aka Brockhampton aka Run the Jewels aka whatever other rap group you wanna compare us to.” This was a playful jab at the hip hop community’s need to compare indie rap outfits, but there was serious ambition in his voice. Injury Reserve feels as if they’ve been underrated and overlooked in hip hop, but with a new album confirmed to be releasing this year, the trio appear determined to reach new levels of exposure and success.

 

Chris Thile on the artistic process

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Before the main event on Saturday evening, Chris Thile spent an hour with a smaller audience answering questions on the artistic process and the state of music in the modern day. Thile is a virtuoso mandolinist, singer, and songwriter, best known as a co-founder of Grammy award-winning Nickel Creek. A leading figure in modern bluegrass, Thile fit the image of the artist. He was dressed in worn jeans and a blue striped oxford, three buttons undone. His receding brown hair was tousled, and he spoke with a certain thoughtfulness, pausing to consider before answering questions.

He began by playing a cut from “Daughter of Eve.” Originally a nine-minute song, the sample was both funky and bluesy, shifting between highly technical plucking and impassioned strumming as the song progressed. After the initial riff, Thile began to sing “The Cherubim will name me / The most beautiful daughter of eve / But they will more kiss my cheek / Before Eden is open again.” The song is both simple and complex, hymn in form but poem in function. It asks us to consider the beauty we see around us, to question it. While the mandolin often produces a folksy tune, Thile somehow sounded modern, new and exciting.

As the song faded, Thile paused, then began to speak.

“What I want to talk about,” he said, “is the importance of constructing the lightning rod instead of waiting for lightning to strike. There’s a famous Faulkner quote that goes like this: ‘I can only write when I am inspired. Thankfully, I am inspired every day at 9 a.m.’” It’s not about waiting for artistic revelation; the revelation is found through long hours of hard work. He described the process of writing as “hammering indiscriminately away at a block of marble… until some shape emerges.”

Hearing Thile describe his rigorous and thoroughly artistic writing method was refreshing compared to a music industry that sometimes seems to have lost the art of songwriting. Thile defined the “genre of pop” solely as music written with the purpose of entertaining the masses. This purpose is what often dissuades artists from experimenting. Cultural and financial pressure often forces them to continue to work within the boundaries instead of taking risks.

In an age of limitless music streaming, Thile believes that there is a “potential loss of whatever the musical equivalent of dialect is and the beauty of an accent.” As an example, Thile covered the beginning of the fifth song on Nirvana’s second studio release “Nevermind,” “Lithium.” Played on the mandolin, the chords sounded sharp, short, and a bit folksy. Thile would say that was his dialect or his accent. He layers into the established song his own nuances, as the best covers do, and in doing so, he was able to both honor the song while making it his own.

Thile ended his discussion with three music suggestions. The first is a called “My Bubba,” a duet of two women, one Swedish and the other Icelandic. Their intimate harmonies blend beautifully over soft acoustic guitar. The second is the latest Tame Impala record, “Currents,” a mix of synthetic and pysch pop that is new and riveting. Finally, Thile suggests we all give Carolina Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize-winning a cappella project “Partita for 8 Voices” a listen.

“New is easy, and good is easy, and new and good is really hard,” Thile said as he tuned his mandolin.

A lot of music ends up sounding either too repetitive or too “out there.” The intersection of new and good is where the best music comes from. There, one can find the artists who take risks and experiment. Sometimes they are successful and break into the mainstream, but still often they are not, only there for those willing to search hard for the remarkable.

Gallery-Hopping in Old City

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For this week’s piece, I tried venturing outside my regular streak of museum exhibitions and visited a few galleries on North Second Street in Old City. Maybe you already know about this Philadelphia neighborhood, a lively trove of art, food, and history, but it was my first time visiting. To be perfectly honest, I always feel slightly out of place in neighborhoods like Old City, namely because of the bougie parts. A Roche Bobois (a high-end French designer furniture store), farm-to-table restaurants, and Yoga studios attended almost exclusively by white women are just a few things that tune me into this. Last Saturday, however, when I visited the galleries, I was pleasantly surprised and relieved by the cordial nature with which I was received. Everyone I met in the galleries, whether they were an artist or curator, was excited to talk about the art with me.

I’ve gone gallery-hopping in Chelsea, Manhattan, and you can always make a day out of it. The best part about these smaller galleries in Chelsea and Old City is that they are not only concentrated in one area, but they also do not charge for admission! Visiting these galleries is an excellent way to expose yourself to new artists you have never heard of, or see new work by artists you do know. It’s always ever so slightly draining, mentally and physically, but you can look at so, so much art in one day without paying a dime. It is, of course, difficult to forget about money entirely with the occasional price tag in commercial galleries artists have to make a living too!

This week, I chose to focus on two galleries that are actually located right across the street from one another: Muse Gallery and Larry Becker Contemporary Art Gallery. Right now, both galleries have contemporary abstract paintings on view, which might make them worthwhile to visit in tandem.

Founded in 1978, Muse Gallery is actually an artists’ cooperative, meaning it is run by and exhibits the same practicing artists without ties to a larger institution or corporation (like a museum). The cooperative was initially established with feminist underpinnings, which persist to this day with 18 of the 19 artists in the cooperative identifying as women. Currently on view until April 30th is “Disturbance in the Color Field,” a solo exhibition of Diane Lachman’s new paintings.

Lachman works in oil, watercolor, and acrylic, with some of her wooden panel paintings bordering on sculpture. Her paintings focus on color and explore it as a means of communication through abstract and geometric shapes. These shapes bear few if any ties to observable realities. The wonderful thing about color is that you don’t need to study art for years to appreciate it, so shows like this have the potential to be enjoyable for a lot of visitors. My personal favorites of the show were her watercolors; there’s something about the soft, ethereal fields of different hues that pleases my eye (and heart, honestly), something that’s innate to the medium of watercolor itself.

But others may find Lachman’s acrylic or oil on wood paintings more interesting, which, for me, evoke nostalgic memories of colorful wooden toy blocks. These oil on wood paintings, likely from her Color Chords series, apply concepts of musical expression and composition to painting and color. On her artist website, she writes about this series and the application of music theory.

“Like musical chords, where tension between different tones is resolved by their participation in the whole, I strive to compose harmonious paintings by carefully selecting color notes. I search for an exquisite chord that transcends the individual notes until I find the visual perfect pitch,” writes Lachman.

Muse Gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday, from noon to 5pm. If you are interested, the gallery will also be holding a reception celebrating the show on April 23 from 2p.m to 5p.m during which you can meet Lachman and the other artists in the cooperative!

Across the street from Muse Gallery is Larry Becker Contemporary Art Gallery. I was drawn to this gallery by the colorful Thornton Willis painting, “Stepover,” hanging near the window, having just looked at Lachman’s show. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised by the worn wooden floor (most galleries have this austere sterility to them, but not this one) and the gallery owners’ cat. The gallery’s current show “18: Six Artists [Some Paintings]” exhibits the work of Willis, John Zinsser, Peter Tollens, Tim Schwartz, Steve Riedell, and Marcia Hafif. There are 18 paintings, three per artist. This show will be up until May 6, and the gallery is always open Friday and Saturday from 11a.m to 5p.m.

I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted looking at the art, yet I distinctly remember each of these 18 paintings, which speaks to how memorable these works were. Willis and Hafif have been painting since the 1960s, with the other artists having worked for at least thirty to forty years, so in their newer work exhibited here, I felt I could see the honing of each artist’s style of investigation. Some artists are more concerned with color, like Hafif, while others seem to focus more on the materiality of paint, like Zinsser. The juxtaposition of these works with slightly different foci, however, allows us to compare what the various artists have done with the paint, and prod at the question of why they each did what they did. In sum, while this show exhibits artists some people may never have seen or heard of before, it also allows for individuals more familiar with the artists and their work to engage with the show as well. It’s fun for newcomers, but not boring for connoisseurs, in other words.

There are so many other little galleries to check out on North Second Street that I haven’t covered here, like Twelve Gates Art Gallery, 3rd Street Gallery, The Clay Studio Gallery, Pentimenti Gallery, and many more. I definitely recommend making a trip to Old City for these fun little art galleries. Go see this!

March First Friday

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On the first Friday of every month, galleries around Third Street in Philadelphia open up for free and feature special exhibits. “First Friday” is a public event that takes places in various cities around the United States on the first Friday of each month, bringing artists together around the country. First Friday started in Philadelphia in 1991 as an effort to host a collaborative open house in Old City and has now expanded to several bars, restaurants, and vintage stores.There is always something new to look at as you hop between galleries, the only common theme between the galleries being that they are all free and in Old City. Most of the events for the night happen along Third Street, making it easy to wander from gallery to gallery.

I started my night  with a small gallery featuring several paintings that were made to look as if they were stained glass. The artist, Rae Chichilnisky, used a relief outliner, similar to puffy paint,  to outline objects in her paintings. The relief outliner, which added an extra dimension to the painting as it popped off the canvas, made the paintings resemble stained glass.

The Center for Art in Wood was our next destination. The gallery was participating in “Small Favors: Think Inside the Box,” a series with The Clay Studio. The gallery featured a plethora of impressive pieces ranging from things as practical as an ice cream scooper to a wooden sculpture that resembled a tornado. Hanging above the opening to the main gallery space was a sculpture of a life size meteor that was illuminated from within. Attached to the meteor was a swarm of butterflies with wings made of laser cut wood.

The gallery was filled with people of all ages wandering around and commenting on the pieces. I was impressed at every turn and appreciated the volunteers that pointed out small but extraordinary details about each piece. One volunteer brought our attention to a wooden blanket that was made of delicately made wooden triangles glued to a silk screen. She sharedour awe and appreciation for the time and skill that went into the displayed piece.

The Third Street Gallery continually participates in First Friday. This Friday they featured ink drawings from Matthew Hall. “Fabricating Nostalgia,” the exhibit in the gallery, featured beautifully drawn scenes that demonstrated the complexity of everyday moments. He also shared the gallery with a photographer, Keith Sharp, who featured a collection of photos of scenes around Media, PA.

The Jessica Eldrige Studio was one of many participants in “First Friday”and presented a unique twist on how guests interacted with the exhibit. The gallery invited guests to bring any object that could fit into a zip-close bag. Then when guests arrived at the gallery, they could trade their item for one of the small pieces produced by the artist, Aly Giantisco.

In addition to the various galleries that were open, the night also featured a free concert at the Christ Church Neighborhood House. The Poor Richard’s Chamber Music Society played renditions of Bartok, Meyer, and Brahms’ to add to the First Friday festivities.

In addition to wandering through galleries and listening to music, there are several restaurants that participated in First Friday. Baril, a French restaurant known for their seafood, features their incredible traditional soup plate with a live performance by the jazz band, Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society. If you’re still thirsty and/or looking for First Friday specials, Olde Bar is the place to end your night. For First Friday, they featured a cocktail special called For Whom the Bell tolls.

The next First Friday will happen on April 7th and the list of events, participating galleries, restaurants and stores will be available online through visitphilly.com’s First Friday section. As the weather warms up the amount of participants will only increase, so it will become more exciting and fun.

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