Friday, October 24, 2014

Water Is Gold

I was over at my friend Lacey's for dinner last night, and as we were sitting down outside after we ate, I noticed a little green plant growing in her backyard that is entirely dirt. It's entirely dirt because we're in a terrible drought, we've had no rain in forever, and no grass would or could grow.

But this little guy sprouted up because condensation builds up on the top of their patio umbrella and drips off directly on this spot. The miracle of water!

Over near where the garden hose is coiled up, there was another burst of life where the spigot drips. Things here want so badly to grow ... but they're dying of thirst.

We made a little barricade around the plant to protect it and see what happens ...

... And then we prayed for rain, so that we all don't wind up like this girl in Paul Gronner's photograph (Closing reception tonight, 6-9 p.m. at the Verge Gallery at Bergamot Station)!

With so many people so concerned with wealth and status and consumption ... it's important to remember that water is gold, and without it, we're dead. That's that. Then today my friend said, "Water is God", and I thought he might be right.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Greatest Escape - A Matt Ellis CD Release Show Celebration

A good chunk of Venice ventured east last night to celebrate the release of our brother Matt Ellis' new cd, The Greatest Escape. As it was at 11:30 on a Wednesday in Thai Town at Harvard & Stone, the large westside turnout was extra impressive. But not as impressive as the show, or the new cd.

Leggy Peggy opened the night with some acoustic numbers, before Ellis and his band took the stage to regale us with their brand new songs (the cd was released via Itunes everywhere on Tuesday). It was actually a bit of a modern miracle how rocking they were, considering we were all in a slump after our pre-show Thai meal, and almost asleep.

But then Ellis and his band opened up with "Different Man" off the new album, and it was all the way on from there (and drinks helped). They went right into "I Don't Mind Losing", and followed that one with "Dangers Of The Night", with all its visual storytelling of a girl on her own in sketchy circumstances. That's the thing with most of Ellis' songs, they're all very visual and with full exposition of the tale he's telling, like all the best songs are.

"Heart Of Mine", from the Births, Deaths And Marriages album, can never be played without my thinking of the Ellis family pet, Banjo. He starred in the song's video, and it's just about the cutest dog thing ever. Love it.

But not as much as I LOVE LOVE LOVE the lush, beautiful "Seven Years At Sea". It's my favorite track on the new album, and maybe on any of Ellis' albums. Matt's wife, Vavine, joined him to sing this truly gorgeous, impossible to get out of your head song that details their life and times moving across the seas from Australia to Venice. I completely welled up and had a massive lump in my throat as they sang to and with each other ... for one, because their love is so true and rare (since 19!), and also because Vav is leaving today for two months in Australia and we're all really going to miss her.
I love this stunner of a song, and you will too.

Vav stayed up there for their also-lovely "River Too Wide" (whose video we all starred in, as Dia de los Muertos people!), and it was again awesome. Of course.

"Thank You, Los Angeles" is a good companion tune to "Seven Years At Sea" as it chronicles the time spent in Ellis' new home, and all that has gone down while living here. It's been one hell of a ride, that's for sure.  "Anyone had a shit week?", asked Ellis. One guy named Jake answered in the affirmative, and said it was also his birthday, so Ellis dedicated "Setting Sun" to Jake. It was a swell birthday song, and I really think Jake felt better, according to his smile.

All the band was feeling it, and were extra rocking for the title track, "The Great Escape". On the way to the gig I had told Matt that I cannot get this one out of my head, especially the part that goes "Fire away!" Okay, it's almost tied for favorite.

The final jam of the night took the hipster-rustic Harvard & Stone and turned it into a bit of a honkey-tonk. "I Know A Killer" had everyone dancing in there, a rare feat in a small bar on a weeknight in Los Angeles. So fun. Ellis stopped the song in the middle to break it down ... "This is a band record, two years in the making, and I want to thank them ...". Josh Norton on his fiery guitar got thanked, as did Grant Fitzpatrick on his bass, Tim Walker on pedal steel, and Richard (whose last name I'm blanking on) on drums, who was filling in for Fern Sanchez. They are stellar, and each vastly deserving of the accolades Ellis gave them.

"Now, let's finish this song, have some shots, and whatever else!" said Ellis as they blasted out the last of their show. The "whatever else" was a little tame for us, considering the hour, but we all headed back west feeling both well rocked and thankful - both to Los Angeles and for good friends.

The Greatest Escape is available everywhere now on ITunes.

Congratulations Matt!!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Verge Photography Show At Bergamot - Art In The Dark

There was a fantastic photography opening at the Duncan Miller Gallery at Bergamot Station on Saturday featuring the Verge Photographers. One of the Verge photographers is my brother, Paul Gronner, so our gang was out in full force for this one.

I thought it was an especially good turnout for a Saturday night art opening when we arrived, with people spilling out of the gallery and into the parking lot. Upon closer examination, I realized that many of the people were outside because there was a blackout inside the gallery, turning the whole thing into a kind of street party.

Inside, no one was deterred from looking at the art they came to see, and everyone had their cell phone flashlights out to better see the great collection of photos amassed here. In addition to the Verge collection, the Duncan Miller Gallery also features classic photos by the likes of Ruth Orkin and iconic shots of Einstein, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, and all the kinds of images that make photographic work so compelling.

Gronner's art was clearly my favorite (nepotism, for sure), with his gorgeous shots of Venice and sun-baked earth women (timely with our awful drought!) capturing the attention of collectors and babies alike ...

Sarah Hadley had some beautiful seascapes that were highly coveted, and Rico Mandel's work also featured stunning nature shots.

Susan Swihart's photos of regular everyday people were riveting, as were the visages captured by Benjo Arwas, Tami Bahat and Jamie Johnson.

These photographers on the verge of blowing up all made the best of the fact that people couldn't really see their work so well with no lights, enjoying talking about the pieces, sharing wine, and making new friends in the dark.

It wound up being one of the more fun openings in recent memory, as people were in this case using technology/cell phones to unite us for once ... lighting up the dark, and drawing us closer, rather than ignoring everyone around us while we glue our faces to screens.

As the power didn't return until the very instant the opening was over (seriously), the show's run has been extended to this Friday, October 24th, where there will be a closing party starting at 6 pm ... until the lights go out for real.

Congratulations to Paul Gronner and all the Verge Photographers on a truly inspiring and excellent show. It truly lit up the dark.

*Cool gallery shot 2nd to last by Matt Ellis.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The October Venice ArtBlock - Artists In Their Natural Habitat

I dig the Venice ArtBlock. It's free. It's for everyone. It's what Venice is all about. The October session was Sunday, another perfectly Indian Summer day, exactly made for strolling about town and snooping around the studios where our local artists work, and in some cases, live.

For this edition, I sadly had very little time, as I was all over the place last weekend, so I had to have a solid game plan. As it's always hard to see everything, no matter how leisurely your day is, I tried to hit up things I didn't see the last time around.

I began with a visit to my dear friend Amy Kaps over on Electric Avenue. She is a true artist, both in her projects and by how she lives her life. Her mission statement of sorts reads, "An interdisciplinary artist with a predilection for the abstract and surrealistic emphasizing the human form and condition."

That's right. She recently did a performance art piece where she was bound up in neon green streamer-like fabric that unraveled as she traversed Chung King Road in Chinatown, where she wound up back at the gallery nude. Kaps has courage.

She has a whole black and white stripe piece that she does, and has also created some gorgeous art clothing that you would love to wear, but they're just so precious they have to be hung on display. We had a lovely time (another day of sipping champagne!) chatting and just discussing art. What a treat.

Onward to the Lantern House on Milwood, owned by another dear, Scott Mayer.

His gorgeous home is famous for all the lanterns hung in his trees, but it's even cooler to enter the gardens and bungalows that make up his compound, with all the millions of beautiful and interesting things to look at.

Mayer has a lot of his own art and collections of curios to look at, but on this Sunday he also hosted the artists Aurelia Dumont, Leonardo Ibanez and Jens Lucking.

All were displayed in and around Mayer's house and gardens, and you really almost couldn't handle how great it all was.

On we went up California, where we stopped in to see and meet Emily Van Horn and Mardi De Veuve (another day of Veuve!) Alexis in her great, airy studio. The art was excellent, and they also served some delicious cucumbery spa water that was most welcome by that stage of the bike ride (thank you!).

As my clock was ticking, I sped over to the nucleus of the ArtBlock over on Vernon and Sunset Avenues. I've been to those studios many times, but there's always something new, and always good friends and great art to see.

I checked out the music at Attaway's studio, where it's always the most fun during Art Block.

They had a grill going right out on the sidewalk, giving it all that neighborhood bbq feeling, and there was art everywhere you looked.

I walked through the mobile Gypsy Trails Gallery, whose concept I love, and they always have cool works on display, this time by Hayley Colston.

I stopped in at the Alberto and Ara Bevacqua studio, where I also got to see our friend, Ellwood Risk, showing off his extra-cool pieces. He even gave me a poster, that I love.

I ran through The Distillery Building on Vernon and saw some great stuff ...

... especially from MB Boissonnault, Rachel Bujalski, Taylor Barnes, Cari Lee and the always awesome to visit studio of Jim Budman, but was in such a mad rush that I didn't really get to get to know it or discuss it with anyone ... as we were about to go make some art of our own!

That's again, what it's all about. Thank goodness we live in such a supportive artistic community, where inspiration and encouragement is yours every single day.

You merely have to open your eyes. The opening of your heart and mind will soon follow. Go!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Posh Veuve Cliquot Polo Classic

Last Saturday I did something I've always wanted to do ... I went to my very first polo match. The Veuve Clicquot Classic was held at the Will Rogers State Park Polo Fields, all decked out in VC orange. It was a blast. What a perfectly gorgeous day it was to get out in and see hot dudes on fine ponies while sipping champagne and checking out peoples' fancy outfits.

My friend Sally hooked it up as a birthday outing and we sat on the really nice VIP side of the field, where the Veuve Clicquot was everywhere, from champagne bottle chandeliers to the swag they handed out, like sunglasses and fans.

Ladies wore big hats and men wore pastels. There were many, many dresses I coveted, and a whole bunch of fake boobs I did not. I'm not so sure I'm into what the dudes wear to things like this, it's a little fussy for my men, but I get it. The drag was that VIP and General Admission are on opposite sides and you are not allowed to mingle (rather Titanic of them).

Though the GA did have to sit on the dirt or grass (vs. the tables with centerpieces and waiters on the other side), they had a slew of food trucks that were actually a lot more enticing than the kind of lame Wolfgang Puck lunch baskets we were given. Soggy sandwiches and wrinkly berries type stuff. Plus I had friends on the GA side and the only opportunity to see them would be at halftime in mid-field where staff held a rope separating the sides. Seriously. I'd like to see it be a little more one love. Free to roam if you want to. Why not?

The actual polo match was really great (when we were paying attention to it) ... it kind of reminded me of hockey on horses. One guy would wind up and shoot, and it would go wide, and we'd all moan like in hockey stands. Only this is almost more fierce (as fancy as it is), with horses roaring down the field and guys swinging mallets ... it's pretty heavy.

The guys are fun to watch (also like in hockey) and there are certainly polo groupies (many with the aforementioned freaky boobs), that got all excited when the men would ride along the fence and clang their mallets against the slats to rile up the crowd. It worked.

Halftime is the best, because just like in Pretty Woman, you're invited on to the field to stomp down divots in the grass. You're allowed to bring your champagne, so you're just out there having a grand old time, making friends (cool because it's such an international sport, so we were talking to people from all over, not just the Reg Bev Hills sorts) and clinking glasses as you tried to avoid the mounds that were not divots.

One new friend was so into it, she had a milliner in Australia make her a special Veuve Clicquot big orange and black hat just for the occasion. It's good that it's an annual event ... and also close to Halloween. Her friend made jewelry out of champagne tops, that you could customize with the event on the back. It's a thing.

Nacho Figueras, the Ralph Lauren model guy, is clearly the hot shot in the polo circuit, and the P.A. announcer seemed to really have a thing for him .... everything was Nacho this, and Nacho that, and how bad the guy wished he was Nacho (he actually said that a few times before we tuned him out). Nacho's team is called Black Watch, and they're - no surprise - sponsored by Ralph Lauren. They were stomping all over the Veuve Clicquot team, but I think it wound up at a closer 11-8 victory for Black Watch (by that time it was all a bit woozy).

Speaking of woozy ... Men are not that good at drinking champagne. Neither are many of the women that were in attendance. By the end of the four chukka (period) match, it was pretty sloppy up at Will Rogers, believe me. I was happy to have worn my red equestrian boots over the spiky heels many of the ladies in attendance were stumbling around on the lawn and dirt in.

The shuttle ride back to parking was more something to endure. One filthy drunk guy kept going off about how he's so rich, he could own everyone at that thing ... and he almost got gang beat by the time we arrived at VIP parking. It's sad to know that people that utterly obnoxious really exist. But they do, and events like these are their haunting grounds, sadly. It's people like that douchebag that are ruining our country, and I'm getting mad at him again, so I'll stop. But wealthy dickheads - check yourselves. People aren't having it - even your peers.

We didn't let that wreck what was a truly gorgeous and decadent afternoon, out in nature, being fancy and learning about the royal game of polo. It's real impressive athleticism on the parts of both the humans and the animals. I'd like to give it a swing. It really is a great day, and rather than thinking "Ok, cool, I've seen a polo match, done.", instead I found myself really digging it, and looking forward to next year. I'm gonna need a new swanky hat.

Clink (with a glass of rosé)!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The 2014 Other Venice Film Festival

Last weekend was the 2014 Other Venice Film Festival in its 11th annual showcase of the filmmakers of and about Venice.

The event is headquartered at Beyond Baroque, and Friday's opening night featured both films and a party to celebrate them. I'm always surprised that there isn't a better turn-out for this festival, with all the creative people working in film that live within Venice ... but it's a great time, every time.

The OVFF is tirelessly worked on all year long by Reuban de la Casas (Ruby), and he is always assisted by his two darling daughters, whom I've had the pleasure of seeing grow up through the years to become the smart and charming young ladies they are now.

Venice Duck Beer was flowing in the back yard of Beyond Baroque, where chairs were set up for the over-flow people that didn't fit in the auditorium, they could sit outside and watch the films projected on the wall. It's nice to watch films under the stars, after all. Doritos were a sponsor, so Doritos were everywhere. Kind of strange ... I'd like to see more Venice businesses chipping in to help sponsor this annual event - like the Venice Duck guys putting their money and mouths where their community is.

Bands played (Conrad and Natural Hi Fi) and friends caught up, both on and off the Venice Paparazzi red carpet.

The OVFF always features local visual artists as well, and this year it was the art of Christopher D. Hall and Gary Palmer, both of whom had their art on display at Beyond Baroque all weekend.

I caught both opening night films, 1%-ers, starring Michelle Rodriguez as a bad girl actress who gets in a bunch of trouble trying to hustle some tough guys in a game of poker. She winds up fine. It was fine.

The second film, Freedumb, I just loved. I would show it to people as a primer on what it's like to live and work in Venice as an artist. Directed by Lara Rudich and Sean Vanloozen, it follows the lives and creativity of well-known Venice artists like Jules Muck (artist), Wesley Flowers (musician/conductor of the Venice Symphony Orchestra), Ernie Miranda (glass artist), Jason Chrisman (pointillism artist), and more. Every one of them repeated things all of us who live here - and mean it - have felt and said ourselves. Some of my favorite truisms from the film:

"The best thing about being here is just that you're in Venice, not somewhere else."

"What is it? Every part of it."

"It's so free."

"It's miracles ... beauty ... creation ... EVERY DAY. You don't see many places like that in the world."

"It's eclectic people and the people that love them. I feel about as home as I ever have."

"It's the creative center of the Universe."

"There are 200 10 x 10 squares for free, for artists! What an office!"

"There's no other place like it."

"One day I started getting paid instead of arrested."

"Anyone who lives in Venice has no reason to kill themselves. There's palm trees outside. Sorry."

"It's a theater of life."

It doesn't matter who said what, because we all say all of it. I loved every frame of it, smiling and nodding the whole time. It WAS Venice.

I don't believe it won the competition, sadly, and I couldn't make it to the other two days of the festival, but all the winners are just that - winners.

Abbot Award Winners 2014

Best Youth Film "OperHator " Director Tara Nicole Azarian
Best Music Video "Something About You Ain't Right" Director Alisa Daglio 
Most Excellence Film Short "A Time To Kill" Director Justin Rettke 
Most Excellence Feature Film "Nothing In Los Angeles "Director Alexander Tovar
Best Experimental Film " Brit.I.Am "Director Andi Osho
Best Music Score "Celluloid Dreams" Director Jonathan Dillon

Another fantastic Venice event ... by and for our People. See you next year!