Ray Kappe for TREATS magazine

Once upon a time in America, the future seemed bright. Original ideas in art and architecture existed in abundance. Industrial innovation, superimposed upon the blank slate of a humbled post war world, provided a new blueprint for living. American cities were being re-imagined in steel, glass and light. Homes were to be functional but happy, uncluttered cradles within which the new generation would thrive. Amid the blooming ideals of modernism, a brighter and more harmonious future for humankind seemed guaranteed. Sixty years on, hope has devolved into uncertainty — but modern architect Ray Kappe, for one, has yet to lose his optimism. 

Nearing his 90th birthday, Kappe is one of the last living architects to have practiced during the birth of mid century modern. And he’s still building modern homes, expanding on the vision he first established in the 1950s and 60s, when he took the clean steel lines of his predecessors — Frank Lloyd Wright, Neutra, Schindler —and crafted them in wood, lending a uniquely Californian warmth to the modern era. Challenging natural sites, precipitous canyons in particular, were his forte. Not as acts of man’s dominance over Mother Nature — rather, Kappe’s hillside homes pay homage to Nature’s complexities, echoing her elegant geometry. 

The most notable example is his own home, the Kappe Residence (1967), a 4,000 square feet redwood and glass structure camouflaged among the mature oaks and eucalyptus of a steep hillside in Los Angeles’ Rustic Canyon. A warm, luxurious tree house, with interlocking levels connected by Escher-like stairs, it miraculously hovers above a natural spring. To this day, the water bubbles beneath the house, feeding into the Rustic Canyon channel and then  the Pacific, a permanent, natural monument to Kappe’s fondness for solving impossible problems. Hell for Kappe is a flat plot of land — and that’s why we chose to sit here, at the midpoint of man and nature, ground and sky, with Kappe and his wife Shelly for some smoothies and talk of the future. 

“Whatever you do, enjoy your life, don't make it difficult,” says Kappe, unpretentious and warm as his home. He’s dapper-casual in a charcoal shirt open at the collar, tan pants and a gray goatee. Sitting on a royal blue chair beneath a midcentury steel lamp, Kappe says wise things that apply to both architecture and life, waving his expressive hands as his speaks, his voice a low, friendly rumble. 

“You know, I never found architecture difficult,” he says. “I never felt like I was suffering through this thing, never worked nights like so many others. Yes, it was very rare if I worked a night or a weekend. I didn't do any of that, because you get there just the same. I used to tell my students, if you finish a project early, good — go to the beach. Sometimes the more you work on something, the worse it gets.”

Case in point—it took him just two weeks to design the Kappe Residence. Maybe less. The resulting structure is “one of the most magnificent houses in Los Angeles” according to the LA Conservancy, one of the top ten houses in LA, according to the LA Times in 2008, and “a landmark of nature-friendly modernism,” according to the New York Times magazine, which described Kappe as  "the only architect who truly signifies the seamless combination of Modernism and canyon vernacular.” 

Well, two weeks plus some modern ideals can go a long way.


Ray Kappe was born in Minneapolis in 1927, the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania. His grandfather was a cabinet maker and contractor who built Craftsman-esque homes and barns all over North Dakota. “I liked him a lot,” says Kappe. “He bought me my first bicycle. I used to ride all over with that little bike.” Kappe loved Minneapolis, with its Scandinavian influences, tree-lined streets and pristine lakes. When he wasn’t outside, he wished he could be. He spent most of his childhood staring out of the windows of rented apartment buildings — his father, it seemed, had an unusual aversion to the American dream. “My dad never wanted to own a house, and he liked renting,” says Kappe. “What brought that on, I’m not sure. I never could quite understand. Maybe it was the idea of having to keep up maintenance?” To this day, Kappe’s homes, no matter how ambitious, are known for their sturdiness, practicality and energy efficiency. Dad would have been proud.

When he was 10 (13? fact check), the family packed up and moved to California, taking a long road trip across the northern states to get to their new home. Kappe remembers a lodge they stopped at in Glacier National Park in central Montana — the big skies and rustic structures, expansive yet cozy, inspire him to this day. “I can still smell the big fireplace. I can feel the scale of it. The whole thing. Those things stay in your subconscious.” His eyes water up as he remembers. 

It was 1940, and America was about to go to war. Kappe, exempt from combat  because of his age, enrolled at Emerson, a junior high school in West L.A. which just happened to have been designed by leading modernist, Richard Neutra. Accustomed to the claustrophobic brick and mortar confines of his Minneapolis school, the bright clean lines and light-filled hallways of Neutra’s school were a revelation to Kappe, who had obviously inherited his grandfather’s fascination with construction. “Walking the long corridors was a whole new experience, for me. The openness, the light.” He visited a Neutra house as a teenager, and, around the same time, read an article about architecture as a profession. His mind was made up. He knew exactly what he was going to do with his life. A gifted student, he worked hard so he could gain a place at UC Berkeley to study architecture.

When I went to Berkeley, you didn't have to go to class,” he recalls. “My last year, I didn't go at all. Actually, no. I would always go once, the first class, and then five weeks later we would turn in our projects and I would always score high. That gives you a lot of confidence as a young man, especially when it happens time and again.”

Confident, pragmatic, and inspired by the mid century architecture of Neutra,  Schindler, John Entenza's Case Study houses, Lloyd Wright’s block houses,  Kappe entered adulthood very much a modern man in a modern world. Only thing missing was the girl.


Shelly Kappe brings over some bright green smoothies that match the color of the carpet. She’s wearing a pant suit and flip flops. She loves living in their house, fifty years after moving in.

“It’s always very uplifting to be so open to nature,” she says. “That’s the whole philosophy of his design — the indoor-outdoor idea. Whatever is happening outside, we know about it because it feels like it’s happening inside also,” adding “we’re friends with squirrels, until they eat the tender leaves on the trees. They really do some damage.”

Even after seven decades of marriage, it’s obvious the Kappes are still very much in love.

“We met at UCLA, on the library steps,” she recalls. “Somebody introduced us, a mutual friend. It was a lucky day.” 

It was 1947. Shelly was 18, and studying design at UCLA. Ray was 19 and teaching surveying to soldiers returning from the war. “He was a handsome and lovely guy, but I thought he was going with someone seriously. Turns out, it was not so serious.”

They fell in love, married, and settled in LA where sunshine, cheap land and low interest loans had set the scene for a housing boom. The city had been flooded with people working on military production lines, and now they needed places to live. So, with his partner Carl Maston, Kappe set about building for America’s future. They completed their first apartment building in 1954. Before long, the single family home became the crucible of Kappe’s experimentation, even while the Case Study program was being blocked by LA City Councilmen who thought  it was a Communist plot, because of the shared gardens. 

It took a few years before Kappe’s grand vision — borne of growing up by the lakes, visiting that lodge in Glacier, and the airy work of Neutra — was given form as the home we sit in today, the home that established Kappe as one of the most important voices in American architecture. The house showcases his unpretentious mastery of light and space, his deep love of nature. His two sons, Ron and Finn, also became architects. How could they not, growing up in a  house like that?

“It’s very measured this house, always the same measurement from one place to another,” Kappe explains. Seven feet from the car port to the first laminated beam. Seven feet from the floor to the ceiling. Everything in the house is divisible by or a factor of seven — except the joints, which are based around the number 18. “I can’t remember why,” he says. He likes the number three, too, “because it comes up in nature a lot.” 

His next house, the Gould Jacobsen House, was just as challenging, dropping 42 feet down a slope, and jutting out into a canyon, suspended in mid air. The Sultan/Prince House in Santa Monica Canyon (1972/1976) is the largest of Kappe’s homes — 7,000 square feet, four floors, with seven mezzanine levels,  supported on eight redwood towers, built in a wooded estate, with decks built among the treetops. Filled with grand gestures, Kappe’s homes often face south, and feature lofty ceilings so they can trap the heat of the winter sun. In the summer, trees shade the glass. Kappes’ homes are nothing if not Modern Midsummer Nights’ Dreams.

When California limited glass to 20% of a building’s floor area as a way to save energy during the oil crisis, Kappe was outraged. Not only is glass at the core of the California aesthetic, in his opinion, he also knew that all you need to do to see energy is combine the glass with high ceilings. In fact, his homes were significantly more energy efficient than those that met the new glass code — something he proved to the legislature. When Reagan cut NASA’s budget, Kappe’s designs for an experimental house whose glass skin changed from opaque to clear depending on the weather fell sadly by the wayside.


With the resurgence of modernism in the last twenty years, many have tried to imitate the originals; it’s par for the course, says Kappe. “An excellent architect will always have people trying to copy him; some may do it well and the rest probably won’t. Bottom line, you can’t be what someone else is. If it isn't within you, I don't think you can just copy somebody and have it come out the same way. Your criteria are different, for starters.”

The idea of criteria is pivotal to Kappe’s modern philosophy, not just for architecture, but for life. Criteria provide a manifesto, a code of conduct, a general philosophy extends beyond an architecture practice and into all your choices and broader aesthetic. This emphasis on authentic self knowledge, on getting to know your own individual criteria, formed the basis of his teaching at SCI-Arc, the world-renowned architecture school he co-founded with Shelly and several other teachers in 1972.  He started the school with fifty students and a handful of faculty from Cal State Pomona, where he had founded the architecture program before being asked to resign for being too experimental. With SCI-Arc, he launched one of the most cutting edge centers of design education in the world, espousing a radical pedagogy in which traditional hierarchies of teachers, administrators and students went out the window. Originality of thought took precedence over established ideas. Self-discipline and vision, not grades, were what mattered. 

He recalls when Frank Gehry joined the SCI-Arc faculty. They taught a class together. In the classroom, the divergent “criteria” of Kappa and Gehry, now California’s best known living “starchitect”, made themselves apparent. “I would give a rational critique of a student’s work and try to get them to think through the possibilities in a Socratic way. Gehry would come around and his crit would be “fuck it up”. 

Kappe was the socially-conscious Joni Mitchell to Gehry’s punk showman Malcolm McLaren. Some argue that Kappe’s dedication to social betterment through teaching, rather than his own fame, cost him the kind of stardom that Gehry would later attain with his high profile projects like the Guggenheim Bilbao and Disney Hall, as Gehry became a poster child for the fragmented, individualistic Postmodern aesthetic that flourished in the 1980s and 90s.

Kappe disagrees that teaching got in the way of his career, in fact, he says the opposite is true. “Teaching helps your practice,” he says. Truth is, when post modernist thought briefly replaced modernism as the paradigm du jour, rather than hop aboard the gravy train, Kappe just shuttered his practice. That seemed preferable to him than “adapting” to a set of criteria fundamentally abhorrent to him. To this day, the very term “post modernism” seems to irritate Kappe. As does some of the work of his former colleague.

“Disney Hall, is a handsome building, but it is built horribly,” he says. “The way it’s constructed is insane as far as structure is concerned - huge beams going all different ways to hold up a very lightweight skin? That makes no sense to me whatsoever.” He adds that he does consider Disney Hall to be an interesting building, “and a lot of parts of it are quite good; I just wish he would have had a little more sense, structurally. Unfortunately, you see a lot of this in schools now, students doing these beautiful things, but they don't have the slightest idea how to hold them up. It’s all skins, all external…”

When modernism entered its latest revival in the early 2000s, a new generation of architects and clients clamored for the clean, intelligent lines of the midcentury aesthetic. Including developer Bob Ghassenian, who bought a 1957 Kappe house in the Hollywood Hills in 2005. Who better to restore the modern property than the modern man who built it himself? Kappe agreed, and the project was such a success that in 2010, when Ghassenian imagined a bigger home for his growing family, he brought Kappe, then 83, back on board to build his dream house from scratch. 

Kappe’s authentic analogue process—he still draws everything by hand (and passes the drawings on to his sons to draft to CAD)—and his quasi-spiritual understanding of materials, add a je ne said quoi to Kappe’s structures that is missing in much of today’s neo-modern architecture, says Ghassenian, developer of the Mr C hotel in Beverly Hills. “Many times, the challenge with some of the contemporary modern architects I see today stems from the materials they use - luxury stone and glass, and sometimes they can feel a little bit cold. Ray uses wood, concrete and stone, all of which are generally cold materials, yet his work is very, very warm. Honestly it’s magical, what he brings.”

In the 21st century, with the modern aesthetic re-born in an era that is markedly less optimistic than the era in which it first came to be, Kappe represents a living link to the past, as well as a guiding light into the future — a future filled with uncertainty about the survival of the planet amid the greatest technological strides ever seen. In these times, the best thing that architects—and people in general—can do, he says, is find their criteria and respect Mother Nature. “Remember if the architecture is ahead of the trees, then the trees tend to move around you.”

Paul Nicklen, Ice Photographer

Originally published here.
Our fragile polar ice caps are exquisitely photogenic — but only a handful of photographers have the passion, patience and persistence to capture these frozen worlds on camera. Among them is Paul Nicklen, acclaimed National Geographic photo-journalist who puts his life on the line, enduring minus 40°F temperatures and hiking hundreds of miles of tundra, so he can bring us the most compelling polar photography ever seen. His images of polar bears swimming beneath the ice, of narwhals crossing tusks, and of penguins releasing micro bubbles as they ascend through the water have given the world a front row seat to the daily magic — and drama — of these inhospitable, majestic regions where, as Nicklen says,  “ice is everything.”
“Ice is a highway, a place to rest, for bears, a floating sushi bar,” says Nicklen, speaking on the phone from his boat, about 300 miles north of his home on Vancouver Island. “If we lose ice, we stand to lose everything that lives on it; the foundation for algae. For krill. Seals lose the place to birth to their pups. Polar cod lose their homes. This effects everything at the top of the food chain. When you look at the life cycle, everything starts with ice.”  Nicklen says it’s his life’s purpose to protect the ice — “Luckily, all it takes is one image to get the world’s attention,” he says. And it’s true; with 22 million Instagram followers and a reputation as one of the greatest living nature photographers, Nicklen has the power to influence minds and spark action with one click of his camera shutter.
Nicklen grew up on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic Circle, in a tiny Inuit town, population 190. His parents, a teacher and a mechanic, moved there in the mid seventies with their two young sons just “for the adventure” of it. They were one of three non-Inuit families in as cold and remote as a place as can be, where the sun would set on November 22, and would not rise again until January 19 the next year. “There was no TV or radio, no phone,” says Nicklen. “Snow became my sandbox, and I was learning survival skills while working through the cold at eight years old, under the aurora borealis.” Early on, he felt a “deep connection to nature”; he had pet seagulls, a pet harp seal. He became aware of the patterns of the wildlife around him—the white wolves, beluga whales, walrus and narwhals, feeding, living and breeding on and under the ice, year after year.
It was while studying marine biology in his twenties that he first got the idea to photograph the creatures he felt so close to. He had recently taken up scuba diving, and on one dive, he took a camera down with him. “That was when I realized there was a role for me,” he says. “As a scientist you’re taking the beauty of nature and turning it into dry facts — but I wanted to bridge the gap between science and people, using the power of visual storytelling.” Each time he zoomed in on the wildlife on the rapidly vanishing pack ice, he saw an opportunity. An opportunity to save it.
Nicklen has published eleven stories for National Geographic magazine, each one a feat of enormous bravery, luck and resilience. Hypothermia is par for the course. A few years ago, while diving with emperor penguins in Antarctica, Nicklen had to be pulled out of the water mid-shoot, as his body temperature dangerously low. “The water was the coldest that salt water can be before freezing,” he recalls. “At first, you lose feeling in your hands and feet, and your core gets cold, and then you lose all feeling in your limbs. It hurts like hell at first—but it’s when the shivering stops and everything starts to cramp up, that you have to stop, because you re entering the early stages of hypothermia.” Problem was, he didn’t want to stop shooting. “I never wanted to get out, ever. I wanted to take readers under the ice, and show them the penguins as these incredible water athletes, that can dive 1,500 feet deep and swim for three weeks at a time.”
For twenty years, he had wanted to swim with the narwhals, and photograph them. So he bought an ultra light airplane, had it shipped to the Antarctic, and when the weather was clement enough, he would land it on a drifting panel of ice and hope for the right moment to slowly introduce himself. “Took me ten years to get three hours of photographing narwhals,” he says.
In 2007, a decade’s worth of photographs Nicklen had taken on and under the ice comprised the unforgettable Nat Geo story, “Vanishing Sea Ice”, among them, a particularly haunting image of a polar bear swimming under the ice, its ghostly reflection hovering above it, thanks to the peculiar refraction and mirroring of light that occurs underwater. Nicklen had imagined and sketched that photograph on a piece of paper ten years before he actually shot it. “Everyone knows what a polar bear looks like — but not everyone knows that they are incredible swimmers who can swim 100 miles without getting hypothermia. I wanted to show people that side of them.” It wasn’t until after emerging from the water that he looked through the images on his camera and realized he had finally got the shot he had dreamed about for so long.
Another Nat Geo cover story, on the elusive spirit bear saw Nicklen walking side by side with one of the rarest bears on earth (there are as few as 100, according to some estimates).“I don’t slink or sneak around like I’m a hunter — I let them see me and stand upright and talk to them.  I walked through the forest five feet away from the spirit bear. You have to be really respectful, but really relaxed.”  Doesn’t he ever get scared, getting so close to wild animals? “No. The most scared I’ve ever been as when I was attacked in the New York subway,” he says. “I don’t do well in crowds or around people. I guess some guy saw the terror in my eyes and threw me up against the wall.”
Nicklen’s Nat Geo story about growing up on Baffin, and the melting of the ice pack, resulted in the magazine’s biggest sales in 14 years. It was, in his own words, a “gut wrenching” story. “I don’t lecture people on climate change, even though it’s incredibly emotional when I find a dead polar bear. I cry my eyes out. Because these are the animals that I am trying to protect. You see animals pacing up and down and there’s a feeling of panic in them, this urgency. They need a meal, and if they don’t put on enough fat they won’t make it through the winter. It’s tough, but I can’t lose hope; I’ve got too much work to do, to show people what’s at stake.”

Essay: LA Women After Dark, for New Size? magazine

"Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” - Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Los Angeles is a city defined by its sunshine; but what of the Los Angeles that exists in the aftermath of its famous sunsets? This is, after all, a city known for its noir literature, stories of strange crimes amid endless summers, seedy boarding houses, jazz and marginal thieves; double-dealing moguls and disenchanted starlets, detectives sifting through remnants of broken dreams, Bukowski's Henry Chinaski waking up to his millionth hangover in this fiercely ecstatic dystopia. 

In her lyrical ode to Los Angeles, “Palm Latitudes: A Novel”, author Kate Braverman personified the LA night as a woman, La Puta de la Luna — mistress of the moon.

“La Puta de la Luna prefers to experience the night as it actually is, raw, hungry and lawless. She will feel the press of deep gulfs above, in the hollows and paths where planets come to feed in a sky littered and beyond reconstruction. Then, the center of the city will be barren as a meteor, its excessive profusion of light will mean nothing, its spires and towers less significant than the craters pitting a dead orb in space. La Puta de la Luna never forgets that this city, like all others, is a hallucination.”

I love walking in LA after midnight. Braverman is right, there is something hallucinatory about it.  In the spring and summer, the night air is scent-laden, delirious with jasmine, orange blossom, eucalyptus, gardenia, dust, and the stinking waft of skunk. Streets are lined with tall, strange Bird of Paradise flowers. Palm tree fronds rattle in the soft wind that scatters violet Jacaranda blossoms on the cracked ground. Today, LA’s streets are lined with the tent homes of the homeless and dispossessed, many of them inhabited by women. It’s said a very pretty blue-haired girl deals crystal meth from her flimsy nylon tabernacle on Vermont Ave, just a few blocks from the mansions of Christina Ricci, Natalie Portman, Moby.

It is the presence of coyotes that distinguishes the LA night from all others. More than 750,000 of them live here. Should you find yourself walking along the the foot of the hills that ridge the northern and eastern parts of the city, you’ll likely run into one of these urban carnivores, crisscrossing the streets alone, thirsty thanks to a ten-year drought, and hungry for garbage and small pets. In the hills of Mount Washington, they travel in bold, vociferous packs that wail and chatter with the moonrise, reminding us that this is and will always be a desert. In the lower stretches of this grand city, along its artificially-lit strip malls and lonely alleyways, you’ll also hear howls, not of coyotes but of people. To the west, where the city spills into the Pacific, where the extremes of wealth and poverty are most apparent, the waters are warmest for swimming at night.

I remember walking home late at night along a bare stretch of Hollywood Boulevard. Car headlights blinded me as the city traffic moved along, oblivious. The streets were empty, and I was reminded that “nobody walks in LA”.  A man, drug-addled and raggedy, yelled something as I marched by. I was alert, ready for danger, hairs prickling on the back of my neck. I was a coyote, ready to bolt.


“Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town, I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.”

John Fante in “Ask The Dust” 1939

In California, you can legally start purchasing alcohol at 6 a.m. A handful of dive bars across the city honor this right. Ten years ago, I made it a mission of mine to visit all of those bars, by myself. I would set my alarm for 5 am, and leave the house when the sky was still dark, edged with violet. The freeways at that hour are just beginning to rumble and moan. There is nothing on earth quite like an LA dawn—you can thank the smog and haze for this otherworldly tapestry, this tie-dye factory in the sky.  

I liked the Spotlight, a now-shuttered gay dive in Hollywood that served the 6 am clientele. There, I first experienced the sweet camaraderie that exists among those who linger on the edge of the night. They recognize each other, travel in packs. One such creature was a man,  handsome in a young–Don Johnson sort of way, but with a missing front tooth that had been knocked out by some girl’s boyfriend. He bought a peppermint schnapps and vodka. Then he turned to me and said, “I’ve killed people, you know.” Then he ran across the street to fetch us onion bagels. 

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Like la Puta de la Luna, I felt alert as an coyote freshly risen, drawn to of the treachery of the night, knowing she will survive. 

Savannah Knoop for LA Weekly

Credit: A&E IndieFilms
It’s a rainy night in L.A., and artist Savannah Knoop welcomes her friends to ACP, a small gallery in a private home in Hollywood. It’s warm and steamy as a locker room, and water drips from the ceiling into a saucepan on the floor. The name of the show, “Heads and Tails,” evokes the tensions and fluidity between rules and permission that has shaped her work and remarkable life's path, marked by both fame and anonymity, flip sides in the coin toss of life.
In the space, her sculptures are playful representations of serious ideas in wood, metal, textile and rubber, each demanding to be touched and played with. Two coins dangle from a beam; three iron-clad hats cling to a wall; a small, incredibly heavy softball encased in bronze has mutated into a heart-shaped blob. The space is dominated by two large, comical, wooden “rocking tails” with ass-shaped depressions carved into the thicker end.
In the early to mid-2000s, Knoop was the public face of the imaginary transgender male author JT LeRoy, a persona created by Laura Albert. It came to be known as the biggest literary con of a generation. Much like Knoop herself, this art tests notions of propriety, convention, and identity. It wants to be held, to be worn, to be close, so it can test you. In the case of the large wooden “rocking tails,” it wants you to gently place your ass on the carved depressions fashioned after Knoop’s own ass and rock back and forth. Only then can you fully experience the art — and Knoop — in their fullness.
“I’m scared,” I tell Knoop as I lower myself onto the tail, then, “Oh ... wow!” as the piece forces me to rethink my entire relationship with the ground. “It fires your quads!” Knoop says, watching with a smile. “It truly delights me to see how people move so differently on the tail. Everyone rocks so differently. My practice is social in that way, it requires people. Always has.” I point to the bronze ball on the table. Cast from a softball, it is now a wrecking ball, sprouting outward in the shape of a heart. It reminds me of Knoop. I try to pick it up, but it’s too heavy. “When I made this, I was thinking about time, chance and evolution, and how we frame it, and how we think of time passing as this direct path that is supposed to be really straight, tidy and linear,” she says. “But then life plays a trick on you, because there rarely is a straight line from A to B. And it becomes this chaotic game, a game you’re not expecting to play ...”
I first met Knoop in 2007, about a year after The New York Times had exposed her. JT was the striking peroxide-blond, gay, teenage, truck-stop hustler who had supposedly authored two best-selling books, Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, pieces of tragic, illuminated, brilliant prose that propelled JT into the highest echelons of pop culture. Soft-spoken, and always in a hat and sunglasses, JT found himself the subject of an adoring media, while a devoted army of celebrity friends sang his praises: Dennis Cooper, Winona Ryder, Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, Madonna and Asia Argento; the latter directed and starred in the film adaptation of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. They all fell under JT's spell, even though the books were clearly marked as “fiction” and JT looked kind of a lot like a girl in a wonky blond wig and BluBlocker glasses ... 
If there were an Oscar for sheer goddamn chutzpah, the trophy would have gone to the very young, very punk and very queer Knoop, who had been “cast” as JT by her sister-in-law, Albert, the real author of the books. Albert was desperately shy, damaged and overweight, and refused to go out in the world as herself. She created the cool, mysterious JT as her literary alter ego, and when interview requests starting coming in for JT, she asked Knoop to pretend to be him, and transform herself into the living sculpture that was JT’s public persona.
“I was 19, when JT started,” Knoop says. “I was enthralled by Laura as an artist and a writer, and the feeling was, 'Oh my God, she picked me, she wants me, she sees me! This heavy-duty, amazing person wants to work with me!’ This collaboration was as much a good fit for me as it was for Laura as it was for JT — bless that invisible entity that we occupied together.” As a young artist aching for identity, Knoop felt compelled to put her talents for costuming and physical performance to the test, soon realizing that the world was her stage.
When the veil was lifted in 2006, the fallout was heavy. “I felt like I couldn't get out from under that experience, for a while,” says Knoop, who immersed herself in fashion design, and started an avant garde line called Tinc in San Francisco. “To this day, when I want to relax, I go to look at clothing, Comme Des Garçons or someone good like that. Clothing is always the best art.”
While working on Tinc, she started writing a memoir, as a way of making sense of the JT experience. Had she been looking for JT or was it the other way around? “I realized it was both,” she says. “That idea of moving through the world performatively, playing with my identity — queer people often have those questions, and I feel like even without JT, I would have gotten into all those spaces on my own. I just happened to trip over into Laura’s world. It really was her world. It wasn’t my world.” Her writings were published in 2008 as Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy, which she developed into a screenplay with I Am Michael director Justin Kelly. In 2016, The Hollywood Reporterannounced that “Kristen Stewart, James Franco and Helena Bonham Carter were “circling the biopic of JT Leroy, a Hollywood-set transgender story” with Kristen Stewart “in negotiations" to play Knoop.
After the economic crash of 2008-09, Knoop left San Francisco and headed to New York City, becoming seriously immersed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, in which she could play with those same aspects of power and vulnerability that had always fascinated her, in a safe and controlled environment. “I am obsessed with wrestling,” she says. “In jiu-jitsu, you’re trying to eat space; it’s all about submission grappling, where each person is trying to eat the other’s space and dominate them. When I first started I was surprised by how kinky it seemed even though no one else in my group was framing it that way.”
In 2013, Knoop fully committed to exploring her fascination with fine art, enrolling in an MFA program in sculpture at VCU in Richmond, Virginia. Almost immediately, she fell into an unorthodox routine for a grad student. She'd work on sculpture at school until 4 a.m. or so and then beeline to an after-hours strip joint called the Old Dominion Club, where anyone could get up and dance if they wanted to. “It is almost psychedelic how heteronormative that place is,” she says. “There are all these rules that you encounter according to what body you are being seen as. In a space like that, it’s very hyper-structured — a guy can't get on the pole ... because they are the pole, kind of.”
The pole, the place, the gender roles — they stirred up that old instinct for secret subversion and roleplay that had powered not just JT but her topsy-turvy unisex fashions, her fetish wrestling in New York. To the surprise and confusion of the Old Dominion Club regulars, Knoop started dancing on the pole, wearing “Carhartt's ripped in the ass and weird makeup," performing jiu-jitsu moves. They weren't very happy about Knoop at first, but eventually, she made friends with people, which she says took about eight months. She re-created the Old Dominion experience inside the art department at VCU, complete with a pole, as part of her degree.
She’s not sure if the art is a path, per se, as much as a strategy for living, she says after the opening in L.A. Perhaps the art is actually a way of giving herself permission to explore the things that nurture her. Turn her on. And, in turn, establish those permissions for the rest of us. Permit us to flip our own coin. “I have learned through all this to just be, you know, honest about what I’m interested in, and how I move through the world. That's what these past 10 years have been. Exploring these themes. Not just of my art but my life.”

Robert Rauschenberg for HUMANITY magazine

Read it here.
A successful artist’s work nearly always survives beyond the artist’s death—but how do you actively preserve, and perpetuate their ideas? Take pioneering rule breaker Robert Rauschenberg, whose artworks from the 1950s through to the early 2000s questioned the very meaning of art. Like the blank canvases he called his White Paintings (which were said to have inspired fellow Black Mountain College alumnus and close friend John Cage’s silent musical score, 4’33”), his collages made from Moroccan trash (the ones he didn’t sell he threw into a river), his stuffed goat or his blank piece of paper with the self-explanatory title Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), an artwork said to have taken him one month and 40 erasers to complete. When Rauschenberg died in 2008, leaving behind him a legacy that existed not just in museums but in people’s inspiration, the question was, how do you caretake a vision once the visionary is gone? How do you ensure that ideas live, breathe and continue to evolve?
The task was entrusted to a woman named Christy MacLear, who, as head of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, is dedicated to keeping not just the work but the ideals of Robert Rauschenberg alive. “What we do is defined singularly by the values that we have defined, and those values were defined by the people who were closest to Bob,” says MacLear. “So it’s not just that we give grants, it’s that we give grants to things that are fearless, that are creative problem-solving, that are global-minded and interested in peacekeeping across borders. We will fund projects that may fail because we are funding risk-seeking or catalytic types of moments in an artist’s career.”
The foundation provides a sanctuary where artists can push the boundaries of their own vision, à la Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg’s former home and studio on Captiva Island off the coast of Fort Myers, Florida, is now a 20-acre compound accepting 10 new artists every five weeks from varying geographies and disciplines. And the rest is up to them. “They get to come in, they get a house, they get a studio or a dance studio or a sound studio and they get to work on their artistic practice,” says MacLear. “We don’t expect anything to come out of it and we don’t ask them to give us anything in return. What we find is that most artists come in and with that degree of liberty, they actually expand their artistic disciplines. We find that with that open space for their creative practice, they interact and try something entirely new.”
Performance artist Laurie Anderson is an alumnus—as are many emerging artists. Some go on to become well known for their art, some don’t. While on Captiva, they are all rewarded equally, though. Rewarded for being risk takers and fulfilling the foundation’s goal of seeding new generations of rule breakers—artists after Rauschenberg’s own heart.

Temples for Foxes Magazine

Temples, lauded the best band in Britain by both Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr, are relaxing ahead of their headline slot in the Desert Daze Caravan show in downtown LA. They’re sharing the stage with California psych acts Night Beats, Deap Vally, and JJUUJJUU, in a capsule version of the desert-based psych festival they played a few months back, against a backdrop of twisted Joshua trees, coyotes’ howls and an impossibly clear Milky Way.

The otherworldly Mojave setting was a far cry from Temples’ hometown of Kettering, England—but as Keith Richards, Donovan, and PJ Harvey will attest,  there’s something about the California desert that attracts English rock musicians, a magic so inspiring it warrants getting your Clark’s shoes a bit dusty.

With that in mind, we introduced Temples to a couple of fellow Limeys and desert aficionados—journalist and screenwriter Caroline Ryder (Dazed, New York Times) and Marc Sallis, founder of London’s Art Rocker magazine and guitarist for the Duke Spirit—and invited them to muse on the distinctly special experience of being British in California.
Caroline: Tell me about your connection with the desert — I mean, Gram Parsons took The Stones out there, and a lot of British musicians have recorded out there, just wondering if you guys felt the vibe too?

Temples / James Bagshaw: There's something very beautiful about that part of America. As to whether it's a spiritual haven for modern guitar music is another thing completely. I think you could have a spiritual show in New York as much as out there…but the atmosphere is different. The desert doesn't feel claustrophobic. And for our music, we always wanted a sort of vastness to it, so that sort of connects us to the desert. We love the imagery of that sort of stuff too,  certainly for the first record. In a sense, we were singing about deserts before we had even gone to them.

Caroline: Not many deserts in Kettering.

Temples / Thomas Warmsley : No, no…just the one.

Caroline: When you played Desert Daze,  Desert Trip was happening the same weekend right down the road, with Roger Waters, The Who and the Stones.

Temples / Sam Toms : Oh yeah, Oldchella!

Caroline: At Oldchella, you had artists like Roger Waters who had so much more support and backing when they were young and taking risks. Meanwhile, up the hill in Joshua Tree, were you guys, the contemporary artists who are trying to achieve the same things, but in a world where it's so much more difficult to be a Rock 'n' Roll artist. What are your thoughts on that, on the struggle?

Temples / James: I mean, it's almost like a novelty to have that many, shall we say "heritage acts" play a festival. I'm sure for many it was like their dream line-up, I mean, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney... I can't even imagine.

Temples / Adam Smith: Back then, it was kind of a clean slate. You could test things out and it was more easily accepted.

Caroline: They had the sort of room to invent sounds and equipment, and to pioneer things in a way that, I think, is just going to be so much harder for a band today.

Marc: Well, they had the financial support too, didn't they? They knew they had five albums to get it right.

Caroline: Do you feel distinctly British? Is it a torch that you're going to be bearing the rest of your lives?

Temples / Thomas: Yeah, I think all of our favorite types of songwriting has a British-ness to it. We can't help but to have applied that to our own music. I think it's about not taking it entirely seriously, and not taking yourself entirely seriously. 

Caroline: How do you feel about it, Marc? You've been in Cali a long time.

Marc: I don't know. A lot of people here don't get sarcasm here. So probably when you're using humor in songs, they're taking it quite literally! 

Temples / Adam : There's a bit of that on Volcano, yeah. Hopefully, people will get the sarcasm.

Marc: Do you think the current political climate is going to have a big impact on the arts and music? Because I went back to England the first thing after Brexit, and there was a strange atmosphere.

Temples / Sam: We're certainly feeling it, but I guess we'll have to see just how much. If it's a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit.

Temples / Thomas: A hard-boiled Brexit.

Temples / James: It could actually have an effect on people creating amazing art as a result of feeling disheartened. It was like that with Thatcher in the 80s. So many artists were spurred on, in revolt against it. So maybe it could work like that, or it could be that people just go "I can't do this anymore" because they aren't supported anymore and they have other responsibilities.

Caroline: I recently read Vivienne Westwood's autobiography and she and Malcolm McLaren literally had nothing when they were starting out. At least today, you can be a young broke artist, but you've probably got a cellphone and access to the internet, a way to communicate or upload your music and share it with the whole world. Which gives me a bit more hope, but who knows. 

Marc: I think everyone thinks there needs to be a punk movement, but I don't know if we'll ever see another genre-specific scene happen again. Because obviously guitar bands have the hair and the leather jackets and all that, but also there are people that make electronic music who dress like us now, so you can't associate fashion necessarily with a movement anymore.

Caroline: You sort of developed your own style, but now as you’re touring more, are you working with stylists or do you keep it all in-house, that part of your expression?

Temples / James: The only time we ever work with stylists is if we're forced to. They pin me down and put me in trousers. 

Temples / Thomas: No, only for one or two shoots have we ever had a stylist. I just wear this, the same thing, I'm boring. And 5 or 6 tank tops. 

Caroline: I heard there was a book of Marc Bolan's poetry that one of you was inspired by? Warlock of Love?

Temples / James: Yeah.

Caroline: It’s unbelievably rare, it's like $500 or even more on Amazon.

Temples / James: Oh, I didn't know how much it was, it was a present.

Caroline: What specifically about that collection that has been inspiring to you?

Temples / James: I mean, poetry is such a great way to spark an idea, especially with that book, there aren't really any rules he's abiding by. The imagery is very ambiguous, but the way that he describes things, it made me realize that you can create such amazing imagery just with choices of words in an unconventional way.

Caroline: So it influenced you lyrically, in terms of reminding you that you can be abstract?

Temples: Yeah, like, I think songs like "Oh, the Savior" there are lyrics in there that are definitely, slightly inspired by some of the poems. Phrases like "detox dandy" the alliteration of that, and the strange image of this person that's like a doctor for your health but at the same time isn't wearing a doctors uniform…it’s this strange character. I was sort of channeling a little bit of stuff I had read in that book. Oh, and it's quite English. Very English. 

Temples / Thomas: Which we love, of course…

Tia Sprocket for LA Weekly

Originally published here.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous for a gig in my life,” says country star Shooter Jennings. He's sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar as rain taps on the stained glass window behind him. “Tia was the first bass player my band had,” he continues. “There was this one song that she loved. She said, ‘You have to put that song out there.’ And it turned out to be the first song of ours that anyone cared about, in a lot of ways.” With that, he launches into an impassioned rendition of “Fourth of July,” part of a moving, 45-minute acoustic tribute to his friend, Tia Sprocket, who died in Los Angeles on Friday, Jan. 27.
News of Sprocket's death hit a denim-and-leather-clad swath of the American music scene hard. There was disbelief, depression and heartbreak that this supercharged artist, with her arresting voice, raw charisma and boldly principled artistry, was gone.
“If you ever got to be in her presence hearing her sing one of her songs, you were lucky, one of the blessed,” Hank Williams III tells me. A champion of Tia’s for many years, Hank III had, like so many, been searching for Tia since she withdrew from society sometime around 2012. “Tia could tune a snare drum like no other and could make a kick drum boom as loud as the John Bonham of legends past,” he remembers. “When she picked up a guitar, the songs were powerful, deep and raw. She could paint and create any mood. Then, once she unleashed her voice on you …”
As word of her death spread, a Facebook page called “The Tia Sprocket Project” was started, and a memorial show, “Tia’s Cosmic Memorial Jam,” was rapidly pulled together Tuesday night at HM157, the Victorian home turned arts space in Lincoln Heights, with many of Tia’s friends and collaborators — including Jennings — gathering to sing the Tia Sprocket blues.
That both Jennings and Hank III, former rivals and de facto heirs to American outlaw country, should be grieving Sprocket says much about her standing among the musical community, not to mention the many musicians who performed at and attended her memorial — among them Becky Wreck of Lunachicks, country singer Beth Bladen and Corey Parks of Nashville Pussy and Die Hunns.
Tia Palmisano was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on April 5, 1968. Her first love was the drums, and her mom paid for lessons for four months before Tia decided she had learned everything she needed to know. In her teens, she joined the band Gut Bank, which later morphed into Sexpod, a grungy all-female trio with vocalist/guitarist Karyn Kuhl and bassist Alice Genese. They were days away from a tour when Sprocket decided to quit the band — onstage. “She got up in the middle of the show, said 'I’m out' and walked offstage,” says Stone Sour drummer Roy Mayorga, giving a firsthand account of the legendary incident at the HM157 memorial.
Between 1997 and 2000, Sprocket toured the world with Luscious Jackson, playing percussion, bass, guitar and singing background vocals for their studio album, Electric Honey. Kate Schellenbach, drummer for Luscious Jackson, recalls when the band played Lilith Fair alongside The Pretenders, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris and Sarah McLaughlin.
“Every musician wanted her to jam with them,” she says. “She was strikingly beautiful, cool as hell, but also completely warm and open. She was so fucking talented and a natural musician who could play anything, in any style, with soulful authenticity. We were all rooting for her — she was a true free bird, as she had tattooed on her middle fingers.” Theo Kogan of Lunachicks, with whom Tia played, describes her as “a rock & roll machine. Rock & roll to the core. She sweat and bled rock & roll.”
She moved to Los Angeles in the early 2000s, and lived with Tamra Spivey and Ronnie Pontiac of Lucid Nation, a riot grrrl band on the rise. “When we got into riot grrrl we thought rock was stupid, white guys ripping off black music, and you were a fool to believe anything idealistic about it,” Pontiac says. “Tia absolutely cured me and Tamra of all that. She was an incarnate high priestess of what rock is supposed to be. Tia wasn't a white guy; she wasn’t a reactionary asshole, or a sellout. She lived and breathed this way of being. It absolutely revolutionized how I felt about the music, and I know she did that for many people.”
In 2003, Sprocket became the only woman to ever play drums for Ministry. Max Brody, who played alongside her on that tour, says: “Tia was one tough lady. She could hold her own with the rest of the Ministry guys on tour. ... That oughta tell you something.”
Around that time, she was hired to be “rock coach" for the 2003 movie Prey for Rock & Roll, instructing the film’s stars Gina Gershon and Drea de Matteo (the latter of whom would go on to marry Shooter Jennings and was good friends with Sprocket) on how to carry themselves in the correct, most authentically rockin’ way possible. By the time Hank III invited Sprocket to go on the road with him in the mid-2000s, she was already a seasoned musician with a stunning body of solo songs, the culmination of a life in rock music that she hoped, finally, to share. With Hank III and his fans on her side, Sprocket was on the cusp of success, a bona fide female rock star with the material, style and vision to take her to the top.
I met Tia in late 2004 when she was living in a studio apartment on Wilton Avenue in Hollywood. Sometimes she assisted her close friend, leather maker Agatha Blois, making leather pants for Slash and other rock luminaries. She was writing and recording ferociously. Her only goal, her life’s mission, was to share those songs with the world. “Hip-swaggering, backwoods grooves of thunder and words from lightning,” is how she described her sound.
“After five years of writing, I finally feel like a channel that hopefully offers up the same momentum of sound, story and craftsmanship as the greats before me,” she said. Like everyone who knew her, I marveled at these future classics she had written, and her live performances, which seemed powered by something otherworldly. “I think people are starving for the feeling you get from honesty,” she told me. “I’d like to believe that I can deliver that.”
She did solo acoustic shows at the Viper Room, with her guitar and a tiny amp, stomping rhythm with her feet. She had a monthly night at the M Bar, The Backwoods of Holly, where she invited her friends Beth Bladen (who flew in from Indiana to perform at the memorial) and Shooter Jennings to play. She worked the door at a now-defunct reggae speakeasy in Hollywood, which served notoriously strong punch. She frequented the Little Joy, when it was still covered in graffiti, and Hank’s Bar, a down-home dive in the old, grimy downtown L.A.
She self-released one CD, Pale Moonshine, and a self-titled, five-song EP. Only a handful of Sprocket’s songs are online, on MySpace. By the time social media came of age, with its Facebook sharing, SoundCloud and Spotify, Tia had already gone underground, batting that rock & roll sickness otherwise known as addiction. When she died last month, she was living in a room in a converted Craftsman house near MacArthur Park. Her room was plastered with messages of faith and self-motivation, and she was surrounded by what remained of her recordings; thousands of pages of writing, lyrics, artwork and photos; and mementos of her friends in New York, Florida and L.A. Even a small stuffed monkey that she had had since the age of 2, carefully preserved in a Tupperware box.
Her mother, Stanlee, a graceful and deeply spiritual woman, was the only person with whom Tia remained in constant contact at the end of her life. Stanlee says that in her last years, Tia had adopted the poor and dispossessed street people of Los Angeles as her own. “Mom, they’re the kindest people you’ll ever meet,” Tia told her. She had started to read the Bible. Psalm 51, traditionally referred to as the "Miserere," was her favorite. "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions."
At the memorial, Tia’s mother hugged the tearful kids. She, more than anyone, knows that her daughter was battling a disease that comes with the territory, as the ghosts of Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Gram Parsons and Tia’s hero, John Bonham, can attest. And while the exact cause of her death is yet to be established, the quick answer is that Tia Sprocket probably died as a result, direct or indirect, of an active drug addiction that had wreaked its damage on her body, slowly rearing its head around 12 years ago, after several years of sobriety in AA.
To some, Sprocket’s death holds meaning within a broader narrative; they see her as a martyr of the new era, in which rock has been eclipsed by saccharine corporate pop, in which disc jockeys are chained to playlists, in which record labels have such limited resources to develop talent. Says Ronnie Pontiac: “Kurt Cobain was someone whose art wrestled with the conscience of culture, and he annihilated himself. It’s almost like Tia is the next progression of the story. This is what happens when they can’t even be heard, even though we know there are kids out there who are craving it. Tia represents this era, in that sense.”
“It always hurts when the time is up,” Hank III says in his tribute to Tia. Whether he’s talking about rock & roll, too, I’m not sure. A great flaw of humanity is our tendency to only appreciate things once they are gone. As Tia's mother gathers her daughter's surviving recordings, with the goal of someday releasing them, perhaps we’ll get a second chance to appreciate Tia Sprocket, a star hidden in plain sight.

Musso and Frank for Chandelier Creative

Originally published here.
Musso & Frank Grill shouldn't be Hollywood’s favorite place, but it is. Aging, faded, and steadfastly behind the times, it’s an anomaly in the capital of youth, serving nourishment to dreamers for nearly a century: everyone from Chaplin to Valentino, Chandler to McQueen, the Bohemians of the ’20s, the screenwriters of the ’30s, Noir authors to stars of ’70s New Hollywood cinema. This is where they made deals and drowned sorrows, attended by gray-haired servers in bow-ties. The same as it ever was.
Look for the sign at 6667 Hollywood Boulevard that reads, “OLDEST RESTAURANT IN HOLLYWOOD SINCE 1919.” Inside, the original pink-and-green pastoral wallpaper remains tinted by the cigarette smoke of countless Golden-Age starlets. Something about the place, with its dark wood booths, stoic bartenders, and swiveling bar chairs causes typical L.A. hierarchies to disintegrate. It’s one of the few places in town where tourists, politicians, ingenues and A-listers can eat side-by-side, equals in the pews.
The Old Room hasn’t changed since the ’30s, when people were still allowed to park their horses in the back. The New Room is where you’ll find the bar. The list of writers who drank there is like “required reading for a sophomore survey of the mid-20th century American novel,” according to the late, great California historian, Kevin Starr. Some say it’s the most-mentioned restaurant in West Coast literature. Bukowski was known to order too many Heinekens, and often had to be driven home to his apartment on Carlton Way in his Ford 200 by the legendary bartender Ruben Reuda, master of the Musso’s overpour since 1967.
If Raymond Chandler is your guy, order a gimlet for inspiration, and remember he wrote several chapters of The Big Sleep while sipping the same drink you're holding in the Back Room. Nathanael West was a regular, as you can tell by reading his dystopic masterpiece The Day of the Locust (1939), whose protagonist enjoys a steak and a double scotch at Musso’s. They say that Hemingway propped up the bar only a few times, maybe because Musso’s didn't make a Mojito, his favorite drink.
“Some say it’s the most-mentioned restaurant in West Coast literature.”
William Faulkner drank so many mint juleps at Musso’s, the bartenders let him mix his own. As legend has it, his recipe included seven sprigs of mint, half an ounce of simple syrup, three ounces of bourbon, and a chilled double Old-Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. (It’s said that after a Saturday dinner and some juleps, Faulkner and Meta Carpenter, a script girl at 20th Century Fox, “had dessert” at the Knickerbocker Hotel on Ivar Avenue, beginning their 18-year romance.)
Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall
Dennis Hopper
Kennet Anger
Raymond Burr used to sit at the table by the bar and order double vodka gimlets back-to-back. The bartenders made Bing Crosby his own special punch, the “Picon Punch” (they kept a bottle of it for years after he died). Steve McQueen drank Löwenbräu, always sitting at the first chair at the counter, and sometimes too many (long-time bartender Reuda had him ejected from the premises for trying to start a fight one night; McQueen came back and apologized in the morning.
Of course, it’s the martini upon which Musso’s fame rests (“the best martini in town,” according to Dita Von Teese), made the old way: one part vermouth and five parts gin. The recipe hasn't changed since the martinis cost 55 cents, and likewise, the food here is boldly behind the times. While the rest of the city obsesses about matcha and avocado toast, Musso & Frank's vast, antiquated menu is an encounter with the late-’50s palate: a strange, nostalgic document filled with wrong turns that could land you in some deep jellied consommé (or roast lamb kidneys, Charlie Chaplin's go-to). Chaplin lunched at Musso’s every day, and was also partial to the Irish stew. Valentino loved the spaghetti. Rock Hudson was a fan of the corned beef and cabbage. Keith Richards orders the liver and onions whenever he’s in town (the Stones have their own preferred booth, number 24). The flannel cakes, Musso’s signature brunch dish of thin crepes, have had an illustrious fan club of their own, including Greta Garbo, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, and Sir Ian McKellan.
Wizards, waiters, and wannabes are all pilgrims at this shrine for the faithless. Whether they’re hungry for flannel cakes or the lost traditions wrapped up in them, who knows. Meanwhile, the Boulevard around Musso’s continues to jostle, crowded with vape shops, craft beer, cold drip, selfie sticks, the future encroaching on this ageless diva of the Boulevard, pummeling the vestiges of the city’s more dignified past.

John Outterbridge, for DISTINCT

Photo: Jeremy Rall

When asked what he does, California assemblage artist John Outterbridge, 83, doesn't use the word “artist”. “I try always to be as useful as I can be,” he says by means of job description, hands folded on his lap, recalling a lifetime spent observing the unobserved, acknowledging the unacknowledged and transforming the useless (rags, salvaged junk, metal, detritus from the Watts riots) into the useful. This latter alchemy, perhaps, is the most important work a person can do, in Outterbridge’s eyes.
Outterbridge was born in the Depression-era Jim Crow South, in Greenville, North Carolina, on March 12, 1933. He describes his mother as “a perfect individual” who collected fragments of experience through scrapbooking. His father was “a very beautiful person who came home always to his, his lover, his wife.” A wonderfully selective collector of things, his father was also “a very useful person”, his life devoted to the disposal of unwanted things, for the greater good. 
He remembers his father teaching him how to drive a dump truck on rural winding roads, with Coca-Cola crates under his bottom so his little feet could reach the pedals. “He worked all the time. And when he wasn’t, he was a volunteer fireman,” Outterbridge says. “That’s all that blacks could be at that time, volunteers on the force. They were never allowed to be anything more than volunteers, although they performed all of the same tasks, and more."

There were no art studios for black children at school, but there was, nonetheless, art all around—people hung bottles from the trees and picket fences were decorated with eggshells. Outterbridge grew up watching people express themselves, only it wasn’t called “art”, and it required no signature to have value. For his part, Outterbridge couldn’t resist his instinct to draw on whatever he could get his hands on, even on the blackboards in school. 
“It started with me very early on: the feeling,” he says. “The way you are called upon, at times, because of some gift that you have. I just had a natural knack for the creative momentum.” From a young age, he knew somehow that art was his calling. “So many other people did, too, but we didn’t have any opportunity to take it outside of ourselves ... getting the idea to the outside from the inside was another kind of thing.” So the hardest part of becoming an artist was taking the feeling that lived inside, and making it real on the outside. 
“It was real,” says Outterbridge firmly, reminding us that creative instinct is precious and beautiful, whether or not it has the opportunity to be given shape and form in the physical world. 
For blacks in that era, opportunities to “take what’s inside to the outside” were thin on the ground, but Outterbridge, a gifted painter, was able to secure a place at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. On the side, he put his driving skills to work as a bus driver. School, he says, “offers a lot. There are certain schools that are more academic, focused on theories, and some that are more practical. Either approach is very important. But there are times when you can’t get (everything you need) from an academic kind of arrangement.” This would be the case for Outterbridge, who found his greatest inspiration not in academia, but on the streets of Los Angeles, where he moved in 1963.
There, he and his wife observed the decay and hopelessness on the streets. They drove past the nodding oil donkeys, bending and supplicating as they pumped crude from Inglewood and Windsor Hills. The palm trees looked “like sentinels” watching impassively over the city from a great height, as detached and disinterested as the flat gray monolith of city hall. 
Then, one day, as they drove along 103rd Street, he saw strange towers soaring 99 feet into the air. Bold, chaotic and utterly human, his heart leapt at their aliveness. “Wow, that’s strange,” he remembers thinking. “They’re not bending; they’re just standing, it’s beautiful. Look at it, will you?” Those were the Watts Towers. And they changed his life. Again.
Outterbridge befriended Noah Purifoy, architect of the Watts Towers Arts Center, and leading figure in the already well-established California assemblage movement, alongside David Hammons and John Riddle. Energized by these friendships, Outterbridge moved toward found object assemblage art. 

Affiliating with any movement can be like “gambling with your soul” he warns, but true kinship can shape an artist’s life. “Other people are very, very, very important in terms of what you become and what you are,” says Outterbridge, who still lives in LA. “You don’t know who you might have been, you don’t know who you can be, unless you come out and make contact with people and people make contact with you. All my life, I have been part of family; and my family was very, very creative.”
Some of his earliest and best known sculptures were put together using detritus from the Watts uprising of 1965, launching his work into an unmistakably political space, during an unmistakably political time. From 1975 to 1992, he served as director of the Watts Towers Arts Center in LA, dedicating his life to education and wide-ranging cultural expansion efforts. 
But, only recently has Outterbridge’s work been given the full attention it deserves. In the last five years, he has been featured in a flurry of group and solo exhibitions, including “The Rag Factory,” at LAXART in 2011-12, which marked his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles since 1996. In addition, his pieces have been shown at the Whitney, the MOCA, the MoMA and the Venice Biennale. He received the California African American Museum Lifetime Achievement Award alongside Sidney Poitier—his usefulness as an artist, educator and interpreter of the black experience is now cemented in the annals of art history as rusty tools, rags, twigs and bones, poignant and belonging to us all.


"Let There Be GWAR"
Co-author of the biography of GWAR.  Gingko Press (2015).

"Dirty Rocker Boys"
Ghostwriter of an autobiography by Bobbie Brown, hair metal video star, published by Simon&Schuster. (2013) 

"Sex, Drugs, n Ratt & Roll"
Proposal for RATT singer Stephen Pearcy's autobiography, bought and published by Gallery Books, (2013).

"Kicking Up Dirt"
Ghostwriter of autobiography of deaf X Games motocross champion, Ashley Fiolek. 
HarperCollins (2010)   

"STAYHIGH - The Voice of the Ghetto"
Editor with Chris Pape of book about of the most significant early taggers in New York City. (2010)

"Live At The Masque"
Editor with the late Brendan Mullen of coffee table book about The Masque, the first punk club in Los Angeles. (2008)

Elza Burkart for DISTINCT

Los Angeles-based illustrator Elza Burkart merges the romantic with the deadly: her gamine, playfully-funereal aesthetic features skulls, bones and babes, incubated in her mind and birthed in pen, ink and softcore pink. Like a latter-day Gerda Wegener, Elza embodies the spirit of contemporary literary Bohemia—she reads Anaïs Nin and Oscar Wilde, adores 1920s Hollywood Regency and Art Deco, collects 1970s Playboy magazines and listens to obscure dark-wave and 1960s French pop. No matter where she is, no matter what’s happening around her, she seeks out beauty.
Elza was born in Corsica, France, to nonconformist parents. Their passionate romance was cut short by the untimely death of her father when she was 7, exposing Elza early on to the two most powerful forces in the world: love and death. She’s been observing the strange dance between them ever since. “In art and in life in general, the dark things can sprout ideas, moments in friendships, or forward motion,” says Elza. “I realized, it’s not worth trying to spend your life avoiding those moments.”
Amid the change and loss around her, Elza found refuge in art. For a long time, she had no boundaries in her practice. “I grew up in a very soft and sweet environment where like people were very encouraging, but there was no criticism, no self-reflection.” 
When people asked her what her work was about, she didn’t know how to respond. And that freaked her out. She attended an art studio where the emphasis was on technique, and there, learned the importance of self-imposed limitation. Now, when she meets a creative block, she whittles everything down to black, white and maybe one color.
Currently, Elza is working on a series of pen-and-ink sketches called Boyfriends, delicately-rendered drawings of women and their somewhat sweet, clumsy skeleton boyfriends. She’s also working on sketches for Pansy, a graphic novel about a very juicy, pink-haired girl “who just loves everybody and sees beauty in everybody and is on a sexual mission to find a part of herself … unfortunately, she’s on a completely sterile planet where sex and anything sensual is taboo.”
In life and art, she says one should “be really kind to yourself,” because there is a whole world of people out there who won’t be. “For the longest time,” she says, “I was my own worst enemy. No one criticized me harder than I did, and I’m still my own harshest critic.” 
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword, one that can help us push ourselves, or, can equally stop us in our tracks. In those moments, she lights a candle, has a slice of cake and a glass of champagne and tells herself: “‘It’s okay. You’ll figure it out.’ Sometimes you just have to be your own best friend.”

Anna Bulbrook for DISTINCT

Originally published here.
Music is a challenging, yet beautiful madness for anyone brave enough to embrace it as a career. Take Anna Bulbrook, a former classical violinist who founded and fronts indie band, The Bulls, plays in The Airborne Toxic Event and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and started music and arts collective, Girl School LA. “I was like, a smart, nerdy violinist, from a nice family from Boston,” says Anna, who is based in the Echo Park neighborhood of LA. “I probably should have become a lawyer or something, really.” But, that wasn’t in the cards.
She started playing classical violin at age 4. And, early on, she was troubled by the side effects of her own perfectionism, which were amplified by the rigors of classical performance. “Every time I performed a classical recital, I would feel terrible,” she remembers. “I would just dwell on how imperfect everything was. How I wasn’t ready enough. It’s a really neurotic space to be in, to know that there is something perfect you’re striving towards, yet you can’t identify it, you can’t get there fast enough. In fact, you might never get there.”
It didn’t help that she felt like a fish out of water among her musician buddies, most of whom were 100% sure of their life path. Anna, on the other hand, was interested in many different art forms, like “drawing and writing and painting and building stuff and cooking.” She enrolled at Columbia University and majored not in music, but creative writing, while continuing to seriously pursue the violin in hopes of landing a spot in an orchestra. 
Then, in the last few months of college, something shifted. “It was weird, I actually kind of blew off practicing,” she remembers. “I started to show up less-than-prepared for the first time ever.  And it felt amazing. That precipitated the thought process of, ‘Is this really the lifestyle for me?’” 
There was a voice in her head, quite faint at the time, urging her towards a form of creative expression that was all her own, rather than an interpretation of Beethoven or Mozart. She started to face the reality: classical violin would never provide her with the life nor emotional state for which she yearned. “I had to break up with it. I wasn’t sure yet what other life there was for me as a violinist, so I just broke from it entirely. I killed that person.”
She quit classical violin at 21, with no real Plan B. The result? A whole lot of guilt and uncertainty. She would visit her old teacher’s studio in LA, and it was almost unbearably sad. 
“I’d watch the kids continuing on the trajectory that I had abandoned, and I would just feel terrible. I was really paranoid that I’d let my family down—I had this beautiful violin that they’d bought for me, you know, a professional level violin, and they’d paid for all these lessons over the years and here I was, maybe throwing it all away.” 
Her parents, while shocked at Anna’s change of heart toward the violin, knew better than to question what she was doing. “My mom said the most generous thing anyone’s ever said, which was: ‘We just wanted you to be good at something. It’s yours now to do what you want with it.’”
Anna worked in PR for a while and thought about writing for a living. Then, a chance opportunity arose—to play in a small string orchestra backing Kanye West in Aspen. Sitting behind Kanye on stage, she had a revelation. “I was like, wait, wait, you can do this as a job? You can entertain people with music in this really positive way, and it can be relaxing and it can be fun, and you can wear whatever you want?” 
At the time, she was an intern at Filter magazine, a music publication. The magazine’s editor, Mikel Jollett, also happened to be lead singer of The Airborne Toxic Event. He invited her to play strings live, right around the time the band exploded in popularity. Overnight, Anna found herself on the road, as a touring rock musician. “When I started touring, I was like 23, 24,” she says. “Young and hungry and just excited to do it.”
During her first tour, the band had an alternative radio hit, “Sometime Around Midnight.” “We chased that hit around the world—and then I just didn’t really come home for 18 months.” Suddenly all the things that ran counter to her classical mindset—improvisation, wildness on stage, self-expression, fashion—were key parts of her job as a musician. She had never felt so happy or free on stage before. 
Then, a few years later, the voice started up in her head again. It told her she was ready for the next stage in her evolution as an artist—as a frontwoman, writing and performing her own songs. She formed The Bulls with her friend Marc Sallis, former guitarist for The Duke Spirit,  and faced her insecurities for a second time. 
“I had never really written songs before,” says Anna. “It was a struggle. It was like jumping off a cliff.” She wrote “some really bad songs” until stumbling upon the formula of sounds and singing style that worked for her voice and vision. She spent a year writing and recording The Bulls’ debut, forcing herself to embrace the discomfort of her own growth until the growing pains disappeared. Then, one last hurdle—live performance.  
While she felt relaxed performing as part of an ensemble, being the frontwoman of her own band reawakened the crippling perfectionism she’d suffered from as a classical musician. The anxiety hit its peak in 2015, before the first night of The Bulls’ residency at The Satellite in LA.
“My parents were going to see me front for the first time. I had journalists coming. I had all these motivating factors, the need to nail it. Failure was no longer an option. So the only thing I could do was take a really uncomfortable, really giant risk.” And she did it. She allowed herself to let go. “The door opened—all it took was feeling like I was maybe going to have a mental breakdown.”
Each step in her growth as an artist, from shy classical performer to indie rock goddess, has felt akin to rebirth for Anna. And while rebirth isn’t always comfortable nor pleasant, she has come to embrace it. “If you live your entire life avoiding those moments of sheer panic, you’re avoiding basically being born. And I think we’re all out to be born a few times in our lives,” she says. “That’s what makes it fun, in the end.”

Megan McIsaac for DISTINCT

Photo by Megan McIsaac
Originally published here.
Megan Kathleen McIsaac, 25, first picked up a camera at the tender age of 7, starting a creative path in which photography would provide not just a livelihood, but a portal to self-acceptance and community. “Since I was a kid, I’ve just always known that this was my journey,” says Megan, who often walks the streets of Los Angeles, her old-school Mamiya C330 camera hanging around her neck. “I’ve never once thought that I would stop taking pictures, and knowing that helps me keep pushing myself. Whatever comes out of this, it’s always inspiring, knowing photography will create happiness for me for the rest of my life.”
Completely self-taught, she’s best known, perhaps, for her self-portraits: deeply honest, beautifully composed shots that capture Megan in various emotional states, from depressed to ecstatic, vulnerable to invincible. “The main thing with my self-portraits has always been self-discovery, peeling off the layers of persona,” she says. “Even early on, I had a lot of issues with self-esteem and being uncomfortable with the way I looked. I wanted to photograph myself so I could somehow get closer to my reality through the camera, compared with what I saw in the mirror. I still feel like I am able to tell better truths through photography than just through my own mental process.”

Growing up in a working-class family in Detroit, Michigan, life wasn’t always easy. “My family [was] trying to feed their children and [was] very distracted by all kinds of addictions and monotony. They all struggled with depression,” she says. “But I just wanted to turn things around a little bit.” Her grandfather, a photography enthusiast, gave Megan a Polaroid camera at age 7. And, her father, a police officer, had endless access to Polaroid film for crime scene photography. Using the film from her father, Megan started photographing her pets, then her family and, at age 10, herself. When she was 11, she began posting these self-portraits online, first on LiveJournal and Xanga, then on Myspace and Flickr, building her fan base that now numbers more than 200,000 on Tumblr alone.
When she was 18, she took the train from Detroit to Portland, Oregon. College wasn’t an option—she already knew she wanted to devote her life to travel and photography. Connecting with different artists in different cities was a major influence. “I learned so much about how to be an artist through all those people,” she says. “I learned how artists support themselves, how they keep themselves interested and their daily struggles. It helped me open my mind and see there are all these different ways to live.”

She moved to Los Angeles four years ago. Since then, she has photographed indie musicians including Ryan Adams, Devendra Banhart, The Black Crowes and Vetiver. She also founded a 15,000-strong community of creative women, called Inspired Women of LA, which hosts events and art shows and provides support via its Facebook page. And although she is constantly being contacted by magazines and clients who want to interview or commission her, life is not always stress-free. Megan shoots exclusively on film, which is expensive, and the cost of life in LA means she often has to take on multiple projects far below her standard day rate in order to make ends meet. But that’s okay, she says. It’s all part of the journey. “I’ve had so many people tell me that I shouldn’t pursue the arts, that I should suck it up and get a job,” she says. “But I stand by my decision to choose this life. I think we can think ourselves out of anything, and it’s easy to forget that every passing moment is an opportunity to be happy and do what you love. That’s what I’m trying to do, and I’ve never regretted it, not once.”

Desert Trip essay for LA Weekly

Originally published here

The most surreal thing about this Desert Trip experience wasn’t Roger Waters’ hundred-foot, crowdsurfing pig, with its reminder to "Fuck Trump and His Wall," and the Red Staters in the audience who walked out, middle fingers raised at the insult. Nor was it the fact that he erected Battersea Power Station in a desert.
The most surreal thing about Desert Trip wasn’t Neil Young planting seeds on the stage, nor the crazy dove-shaped piano that descended from the rafters like Spinal Tap's Stonehenge, nor the full moon casting its soft light as he played "Harvest Moon" with Willie Nelson’s sons.
The most surreal thing about Desert Trip wasn’t Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Wood’s incredulous, delighted smiles to one another on this stage, their songs carried on the wind toward Joshua Tree, where the Stones once sat on rocks and dropped acid with Gram Parsons 50 years ago.
The most surreal thing wasn’t Sir Paul McCartney lovingly sharing stories with the audience like we were 75,000 of his favorite grandchildren — “Don’t forget to tell your friends you love them, because you never know when they might disappear” — reminding us that this pop star’s heart is still breaking from the loss of two utterly irreplaceable soulmates.
The most surreal thing definitely wasn’t Bob Dylan turning his back on us, so he could show us his soul. Nothing new there, were it not for the faintest hint of happiness about him, roused no doubt by the Nobel Prize that placed his words alongside those of Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney.
The most surreal thing wasn’t Pete Townshend’s bleeding face as he snarled "It's only teenage wasteland" with Ringo Starr's son on drums (his injury may have been sustained during one of his many guitar-shredding windmills). Nor was it when Roger Daltrey generously reminded us that Townshend wrote all these brilliant songs. Nor when Daltrey faltered on the impossibly hard end vocals of "Love, Reign O’er Me," causing the audience to reward his vulnerability with a standing ovation.
So what was the most surreal thing about this concert? The branding — because there wasn't any.
No giant AT&T banner waving above Neil Young’s set. No Office Depot or Ford logos adorning the Jumbotrons as Roger Waters played. No “phone charging stations presented by T-Mobile” dotted around the grounds. No Coors branded beer gardens, or photo exhibits presented by Red Bull, or Urban Outfitters-sponsored porta-potties. Food stands served (mostly) affordable, delicious dishes by independent food trucks and small restaurants. Signage told you only what you needed to know.
I looked around and pinched myself. For the first time in many years, I was at a major music event where the contents of my field of vision had not been partitioned and sold off to the highest corporate bidder, in the hopes that my weakened mind would, through bombardment, learn to associate an energy drink, car or deodorant with a feeling that only music can create.


The artists on this bill came of age in a time when selling out and marriages of convenience between artists and corporations wasn’t cool. Selling out was the opposite of what artists did, rather than something they aspired to. They didn't have to team up with brands because their fans were buying records, and their labels were investing millions of dollars into their development, taking risks, giving them the resources, time and freedom necessary to create, experiment and live the lives that can give birth to songs that are this good.
As Roger Waters thumbed the sound of a ticking clock on his bass guitar, I flashed forward in a panic to a time when this kind of musicianship will have faded into history, monuments to a time when a song could start a revolution.
I thought about my friends up the road partying at Desert Daze, the tripped-out, scruffy, radical, underground kid brother of this event, and I imagined the kind of music some of those brilliant musicians and songwriters — Washed Out, Kiev, Thee Oh Sees, Connan Mockasin, Pond, Drab Majesty, Toro y Moi and many more — could be making if they hadn't come of age in a world where their greatest hope for financial viability rested in the hands of some suit at a car manufacturer or fizzy-drinks company who has determined that their song might help the right demographic engage with their TV commercials. Because for most independent musicians today, that's their only hope of ever making a real living.
I tried to imagine what it would be like if the Desert Daze performers still working bartending or graphic design side jobs could quit and focus 100 percent on actually writing good music and becoming the very best musicians, poets, philosophers, artists they can be. We need them to do this. Someone has to provide the world with a genuine alternative. Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, stars of the hyper-branded social media age — they can and will entertain and engage us, but they will never ask us to question our realities. Because the companies that helped create them don’t want music that starts revolutions. They want music that trains us to consume.


(Interview with Kate Rothko Prizel, abridged version originally published here.)
Kate Rothko is the eldest child of painter Mark Rothko, a prominent figure in the New York School of artists, poets, dancers, and musicians active in the 1950s and 1960s. Picking up where the Surrealists had left off, its squabbly cabal of painters broke from figurative convention in an attempt to create the purest expression of human emotion ever seen. Pollock did it by “action painting” with splatters of color; Franz Kline did it with violent slashes of black on white, and Rothko did it with hypnotic “multiforms” and “color fields”, luminous windows of the purest, deepest hues with blurred edges that hypnotized the receptive viewer, providing a portal to the beyond. Together, these artists gave birth to the first American fine art movement, Abstract Expressionism, turning New York—and the somewhat cluttered Rothko family home in Manhattan—into the center of the art world. “I was so, incredibly proud of my father, from an early age,” says Kate, on the phone from Baltimore. “I looked at him and thought there could be nothing in the world greater than to be an artist. The art world seemed the most idealistic, magical world, to me.”

The magic faded in 1970 when 66-year-old Rothko, troubled by illness, alcoholism and depression, committed suicide—a tragedy which exposed a then 19-year-old Kate to the shadow side of the “magical” art world. The noble ideas given form by her father on canvas were reduced to dollar signs, as the glittering, larger-than-life artists she had once idolized revealed themselves to be vultures, as exposed in “The Matter of Rothko”,  the "most spectacular and complex court case in the history of modern art in this country” according to the New York Times. A David and Goliath court drama, it placed Kate, then a shy Brooklyn medical student, against a slick, perma-tanned art world kingpin Frank Lloyd, once quoted as saying “I collect money, not art”. 

Lloyd was perhaps the world's first international gallerist, head of a growing empire of Marlborough galleries in London, New York, Rome, Zurich, Toronto, and Montreal. He had, through contractual and emotional manipulation, gained control of Rothko’s entire body of work—798 paintings—and within three months of Rothko’s death had already begun to cash in, selling painting after painting. He might have sold them all, had Kate been any less brave, tenacious, or persevering. By the end of the trial, she had blossomed from shy teenager to formidable woman. Those who had underestimated her forgot how close the apple sometimes falls to the tree—Kate may not have been an artist, but when it came to defending that which she believed to be right, she was very much her father’s daughter.

Kate Rothko was born in New York in 1950 to Mark Rothko and his second wife Mary Alice Beistle, an illustrator known to everyone as Mell. Little Kate adored her father and remembers how each night he would come home from his art studio and tap “hello” on the basement kitchen window, his face in a broad smile. The Rothko of Kate’s childhood was a loving, jovial man, who taught her how to ride a bicycle in Central Park, played Mozart records all day long and rarely cursed, except when hanging Christmas lights and other difficult household tasks. He didn’t like the subway but was too frugal to take cabs—their car’s door was held closed by a string. 

Mell called him “Bunchie”, and he was the love of her life. She was his too — aside, perhaps, from art. Kate cringes at some contemporary depictions of Rothko as a bombastic, glowering alpha male, based more in the public’s imagination than in reality. “Those Rothkos are wonderful characters,” says Kate, “but they are not my father.” That being said, it’s easy to understand why writers might focus upon the dramatic, irascible, tortured aspects of Rothko—those things were very much part of his personality. "What I want,” Rothko had once said to a friend, “is for people to cry when they experience my paintings.” 

Rothko was notoriously protective of his work—he thought of his paintings as children, and could not bear to be parted with them, often turning away buyers whom he thought did not fully understand his work. His paintings were quasi-sentient beings, as far as he was concerned. He wouldn't dream of splitting up various groups of works, nor would he ever sell his work to unworthy owners, for fear of dulling the energy that seems to pulse within the brushstrokes. “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eye of the observer,” he once said. “It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky act to send it out into the world." 

Rothko almost always painted alone. Sometimes, if Mell had an appointment, she would drop Kate off at his studio for the day. Rothko would sit Kate in her own corner with some paints or some crayons and paper, and face her away from him — he hated to be watched, even by his young daughter. As he painted, Kate would make uneven shapes in vivid colors on her little canvas, and when she thought her father wasn’t looking, she would peek over. “I liked to observe him from the corner of my eye,” says Kate.

For years, she thought she would become a painter like her father, but those were some big boots to fill. “I got so upset walking into every class and being asked about him. It eventually turned me off to the idea of being an artist.” Rothko was supportive when she eventually decided to focus on science. “He had been incredibly good at math and science as a younger person, and when I needed help in math it was just always my father I came to. He was happy that I had something I was enthusiastic about doing.”

When she was 16, Kate and her dad took a cross-country train journey from New York to Berkeley. The trip was spent largely in awkward silence even though there were so many things Kate wanted to ask her father, about his art and philosophy. Of course, she had no idea how little time they had left. “It’s painful to think about that because I feel it would’ve been a wonderful opportunity as an almost-adult to have had those conversations,” she says. One thing is certain, she’ll never forget sitting next to her father watching the sun set, as the train passed through Utah in a miraculous explosion of red, amber, and violet.  

Two years later, in the spring of 1968, after completing a series of 14 huge, monumental paintings for the interdenominational Rothko Chapel in Houston, Rothko suffered an aortic aneurysm and was advised to stop painting and clean up his habits. But he continued to drink and smoke, and became dependent on sleeping pills. “He was probably overmedicated and that really affected his mood, as well as other things,” says Kate, remembering the shift in her father’s temperament. Coming so close to death had shocked him into a state of panicked, clinging insecurity.  “Certainly, the frustration of being told he basically should go home and work on a small scale must have been particularly difficult,” says Kate. Rothko’s work became darker than ever, and he created a series of foreboding black on gray canvases. Despite the few pastels he also created in this period, there was no denying the gloom in Rothko’s studio. 

Kate remembers her father as withdrawn, irritable and world-weary during this time. The dour abstract expressionists were falling out of favor as the bright and shiny pop artists - Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein — became the art world's new darlings. His marriage to Mell had all but crumbled, and on New Year’s Day 1969 he walked out of the family home and never came back. He lived at his art studio and became involved with Rita Reinhardt, the 30-something widow of fellow artist Ad Reinhardt. Friends said Rothko seemed rageful, frustrated. He weighed 154 lbs; he had a hernia, gout, and emphysema from smoking. At night he downed blue chloral hydrate tablets with scotch — his homemade Mickey Finn sleep remedy was as powerful as any date rape drug and more dangerous (this same cocktail caused Anna Nicole Smith's death just a few years ago.) He was vulnerable to anyone, anything that made him feel strong again. When Bernard Reis, his accountant, offered to handle his increasingly complicated financial affairs for free, he was relieved. 

Kate had just started her undergraduate degree at Brooklyn college, majoring in science. She remembers her father being completely out of reach. “Communication was hard,” is all she says of that era. She immersed herself in her studies to escape the chaos of her parents’ life, engaged in a "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque saga of drunken spousal warfare. Mell had devoted her life to Rothko, Rothko had devoted his life to art, and both journeys were at dead ends. 

One afternoon, Kate came home from school to a phone call from her mother — Rothko was dead. She was shocked, but not surprised—her father had been so sick, after all. “I knew he had been extremely sick, and we knew it could recur, so, in that sense, it wasn’t an absolute shock on my part.” What she did not know until she got to her parents’ house was that it was a suicide. “I was glad my mother spared me having to ride the hour and a half on the subway with that information,” says Kate. “Because from the moment she told me, it was a nightmare.”

Her father had sliced into the crooks of his arms with double edged razor blades and bled to death in the kitchen of his Manhattan studio. The water was running in the sink when he was found, by his assistant. In the studio was his last canvas, a large unfinished study in reds. Rothko’s friend Theodoros Stamos, who was among the first to arrive on the scene, begged a neighbor to photograph the body surrounded by the artist’s blood. The neighbor refused;  Stamos took Rothko’s paint-splattered fedora as a memento. 

The reaction among Rothko’s friends was one of complete shock. As the painter Hedda Sterne put it: 'Who was this man, Rothko, who killed my friend?’ Why would he take his life now? The chapel murals were yet to be installed, his infamous Seagram murals were about to be installed at the Tate museum in London, the historian Robert Goldwater was working on Rothko’s definitive biography…there was so much yet to do. It seemed to make no sense that he would take his life at this moment—although, Rothko, who had been drinking himself into daily stupors, was not making much sense either.  

Once the police realized how much Rothko’s paintings were worth, they placed the studio under round-the-clock watch. Not that it mattered—unbeknownst to them, calls were already being placed to Palm Springs and Venice and Monte Carlo by Frank Lloyd. “Rothko is dead, buy today while your discount is good…tomorrow these prices are about to rise.”

Kate has vivid memories of her father’s funeral as being “kind of a circus.” People lined up on the street, trying to be part of this art world “happening”. “Not even close friends, just people who wanted to see what was happening.” Inside, a number of “friends”, whom Kate later learned may not have been very close to her father at all, tearfully eulogized Rothko. Rothko’s closest friend, his financial advisor, and executor of his will Bernard Reis, bizarrely, had brought a lawyer to the ceremony. But the strangeness had just begun.

At the will reading, Kate found out she and her six-year-old brother Christopher had been written out of Rothko’s two-page will, which had been written at the height of Rothko’s drunken depression, under the guidance of Bernard Reis. Mell had been given an allowance of $250 a week and the family home. And Rothko’s entire body of work—more than 1000 paintings—had been valued at an outrageously conservative $2million. “My father’s will was very strange and very brief, and basically said that everything was going to the (Rothko) foundation,” Kate recalls. The foundation had been set up a year before Rothko’s death, and the three executors of the will — 70-something accountant Bernard Reis, tweed-wearing anthropologist Morton Levine and mustachioed Greek-American painter Theodoros Stamos — were all members of the foundation. “They wanted to exclude the family, most notably my mother, from what would happen to my father’s estate. She didn’t know what was going on, and there certainly was no effort to reach out to me at that point.” 

Kate’s mother Mell had noticed more oddness. “I think there is some real hanky-panky going on with my husband’s estate,’ she told a friend. “Someone came by to pick up some paintings which she (Mell) wanted to put in storage, and they had mentioned they just picked up twelve Rothkos someplace else,” says Kate. “My mother had no idea how this person would have owned them.” Mell decided to hire a lawyer, but kept her suspicions from Kate, trying to shield her daughter from any further upset. “I really knew nothing of what was going on,” says Kate, who had taken a summer job as an insurance adjuster to make ends meet. “My mother did not share how upset she was with me, even though she was very depressed at the time.” 

Within five weeks of Rothko’s death, a brass plaque was affixed to Rothko’s studio, reading “Marlborough Studio”. The inside was painted, new lighting and comfortable seating installed, and a slide projector set up to project images of Rothko’s paintings to buyers. First in line was Frank Lloyd, who purchased 100 of Rothko’s most treasured paintings en masse for $1.8million, payable without interest over 12 years. He planned to launch a Rothko retrospective in Venice later that year,  and knew that after the retrospective, Rothko’s prices were sure to soar. Which was great for him—he had already negotiated with the Rothko estate the right to sell all remaining Rothko paintings on consignment and collect a higher than usual commission of 50%.  Some years later, New York state’s highest court would rule this transaction “manifestly wrongful and indeed shocking.” 

On August 26, six months after Rothko died, Christopher was watching cartoons in the living room, next to the bedroom. Mell awoke, made some coffee in the electric pot near her bed, crossed the floor to the bathroom and collapsed. She was only 48, and except for her heavy drinking, was apparently in good health—hypertension due to cardiovascular disease was listed as the cause of her death. Kate was in Vancouver vacationing with friends when she found out she was now an orphan. 

Mell’s funeral was held at the same funeral parlor as her husband’s, with far fewer mourners present. Morton Levine was named Christopher’s guardian—the Levines immediately had his pet dog put down, for reasons of cold practicality. They told Kate she would have to schedule appointments well in advance should she wish to visit her little brother, who was now installed in a maid’s room on the top floor of their house by himself. 

Kate, reeling from the loss of her parents, went to her parents’ brownstone to pick up some things and found the entire place had been ransacked, drawers emptied and their contents flung on the floor. Not by burglars—by lawyers from her mother’s and father’s estates, who were busy making an inventory of the Rothko assets. They took Kate’s birth certificate and passport, her ID cards, and all the paintings that had been in the house—including one gifted to her by her father on her 14th birthday.

“The first really real feeling I got that anything was amiss at all was, I think it was early October,” says Kate. “I had some bad feelings about Levine because of the way he was handling things with my brother. It was very uncomfortable. So I asked to meet with the executors, and we did, in Bernard Reis’ backyard.” 

Reis was a super fan of the abstract expressionists who collected their work obsessively and managed the accounts of Kline, de Kooning and Motherwell amongst others. He had become deeply involved in Rothko’s personal affairs toward the end of his life, filing his taxes, establishing trusts, advising on the purchase of Rothko’s house on 95th St. Reis never accepted money from Rothko; he wanted his payment in paintings. In the backyard, Kate, wearing casual jeans and a t shirt,  asked if she could have her inheritance in the form of paintings. At this point, the only Rothkos she owned were two museum posters on the wall of her tiny apartment. Reis and the executors dodged the question. “Because the answer was, there weren’t any paintings,” says Kate. “The whole interaction was so awkward, and they were so obviously trying to cover something, that I immediately became suspicious.”  Before she left the meeting, she made Stamos give her Rothko’s fedora, that he had taken from the studio the day of her father’s death.

Reis had already convinced his fellow executors to allow Marlborough to buy Rothko’s works at below value prices; it was a no-brainer, as they were all set to benefit from any sales made from the estate, financially and otherwise. Levine had the greatest reservations about making a deal with Marlborough and challenged  his co-executors on their obvious conflict of interest—but he had a pregnant wife and was cash-strapped at the time, and was easily convinced to go along with Marlborough’s plan in the end. Stamos, young and struggling to establish himself in the art world, wanted fame—and Marlborough, the most powerful gallery in the world, would represent him if he played ball. Reis, a well-heeled, affected accountant, did not need money, nor fame since he was not an artist. But he loved being around artists, and thrived on the reflected glory of the debonair Frank Lloyd. When Marlborough placed him on its payroll as chief accountant, he was somebody

 Word spread around the art world that Marlborough had bought 100 paintings—and Marlborough promptly resold them at six to ten times their value. Word was that he had exhibits planned in Berlin, and Dusseldorf, despite Rothko having publicly stated he would never want his work to be shown in Germany because of the Nazi atrocities. Kate, by this point, knew she had to act.

Because she was under 21, she had her then guardian, Herbert Ferber (himself deeply immersed in the art world) take Marlborough to court on her behalf. When she was of age, she took over the case herself, with a relatively unknown lawyer Edward Ross.  “Here was just this array of lawyers all extremely, large, prominent firms, including an ex-Supreme Court justice,  in New York lined up on the other side—and me,” recalls Kate. “I had a very good lawyer from a middle-sized firm in the city, but certainly nothing that could compete in power with the firms on the other side of the case…it was just sort of frightening.”

She met her husband Ilya Prizel a month after filing the court case against Marlborough, just before turning 21. She had enrolled in a Russian class at school, hoping to learn her father’s native tongue. Ilya had spotted her outside the class and signed up for the class; even though he was already fluent in Russian. For him, it was love at first sight. He took her to the coffee shops in Greenwich Village, where her father’s bohemian counterparts—Willem de Kooning and Pollock—had lived, where Thelonius Monk still played on the streets. When Kate gained custody of her young brother,  Ilya, 21, moved in with Kate to help take care of the boy.  “Ilya and his parents, who I think knew nothing about modern art, were just incredibly supportive,” says Kate. “They basically adopted me once I started to date Ilya seriously. The whole family was just so supportive through the whole thing. I was lucky that they believed in me.” Halfway through the trial, Kate and Ilya married in a simple, traditional Jewish ceremony. Kate made her own dress.  

Gustave Harrow, a brilliant lawyer and assistant in the Attorney General’s office, knew nothing about art, but had heard about Kate Rothko’s case, and wanted to help her. About 5’4” , he was “a very tiny man with this larger-than-life personality,” recalls Kate. “I think it was his sense that incredible injustice had been done as soon as he read the papers. What struck him most was why would the foundation automatically support the executors, when they potentially had a considerable amount to gain if we won the lawsuit.” Upon studying the details of the case, he decided to help Kate resolve the Matter of Rothko and would become instrumental in bringing Rothko’s “friends” to justice.

The case dragged on for six years. Bernard Reis claimed he could not testify because he was old and infirm. Frank Lloyd, ever wily, never personally signed any documents, and the few times he went to court, was cavalier enough to smile broadly at Kate.  Hardest for Kate though, was having to listen to Marlborough “experts” try to diminish the value of her father’s work. They said his fame would not persist, they questioned his stature as an artist. “Marlborough tried to claim was that my father was really not a great artist and that his work would have rapidly declined in value, and therefore that the sales the estate had made to Marlborough was a wonderful sale, more than they could ever have gotten if they had waited longer because the paintings would simply have continued to plummet in value and no one would have wanted to buy them.” 

Now their argument seems moronic, but back then, pop minimalism was in its ascendency and there were some who questioned whether the abstract expressionists would stand the test of time. “There was the feeling that their moment was tenuous. There was this feeling that they had had their moment in the sun and maybe it would only be that fleeting moment.” 

In November 1977, seven years after Rothko died, Kate won the legal battle to reclaim her father’s paintings. Stamos and Reis were found guilty of conflict of interest—Reis because he was on Marlborough’s payroll and Stamos because he was now represented by Marlborough. “This has wrecked me, and my name,” was Stamos’ bitter lament—indeed, he would never be taken seriously as an artist again. Levine had distanced himself from his co-executors, claiming he had been pressured into signing the agreement with Marlborough—but was found accountable by the courts nonetheless. After the ruling, Lloyd, in his final duplicitous act, decided to haul Marlborough’s assets—seven truckloads—to Europe but was foiled when Gustave Harrow flew to Canada and tracked down the warehouse where Lloyd had stashed Rothko’s works, intending to ship them the next day. Upon finding the work, Harrow had Marlborough cited for contempt of court. Lloyd, who was in the Bahamas, remained there for several years and returned to the US in 1983 to stand trial. He was found guilty of tampering with evidence and could have faced up to four years in court, but miraculously was ordered to present  series of art lectures and start a scholarship fund. He died in 1998 aged 86 and will be remembered both as a criminal and as the man who invented the multinational gallery system of today. As one of his employees told the New York Times upon his death, ''He put the business in the art business.''

Marlborough ultimately returned 658 Rothkos as well as 43 sold overseas. 97 paintings —including the piece Rothko had given Kate for her birthday, and ‘Homage to Matisse’, Rothko’s first multiform - were never returned. Kate didn't have any Rothko works in her home until years after the trial. For years, they made do with the posters. Eventually, she and Ilya had a home that they felt comfortable hanging her father’s work. “I like living with them at home better than anything because that’s the way I grew up. It’s amazing to me now, looking back, that my kids managed to grow up with the paintings just like I did, with nothing in front of them to protect them." Kate jokes that it's a miracle nothing ever happened to the paintings when her children were young and rambunctious. "We managed to have paintings hang floor to ceiling and have no disasters," she says. "But I always knew they would be alright.”

Silver Lake Bohemianism for Openhouse magazine

Published in Openhouse magazine, Vol. 5, 2016

In the first half of the twentieth century, Los Angeles’ artists, leftists, screenwriters, painters, Mexicans, vaudevillians and homosexuals flocked to the hilly enclave of Silver Lake, where, away from police boots and the mainstream dogma, they gave birth to a unique cultural bohemia that continues to quietly shape and influence the very fabric of American society, providing a launching pad for abstract notions of self that trickle slowly into the popular consciousness. In case you have not visited Silver Lake — imagine a landscape filled with Spanish, Moorish, Italian, and modernist architecture, towers abutting terraces, sweet working class bungalows neighboring palatial constructions, nonsensical pairings hidden in plain view among dense bushes of aromatic jasmine and gardena and pink bougainvillea in an undulating topography whose twisted and bent inclines are dotted with stairways that lead to magnificent views across Los Angeles, all the way to the Pacific. They used to say that this part of LA, back when it was a secret sanctum for gay actors and their lovers, “gathered the scent of scandal” …  this is where Jared Frank, an interior designer and former dancer, found his personal slice of bohemia and would eventually decide to share it.

Frank, who has an interior design company, Topsy Design, moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn five years ago, looking to reinvent himself. He stumbled upon a building in Silver Lake called Casa Larissa, a ten unit, Spanish revival colonial style structure dating to 1929 which had long ties to the “scent of scandal”. It is said that James Dean kept a male lover at Casa Larissa, as did Rock Hudson; rumor has it that the Rolling Stones kept mistresses here. Whether or not these stories are true, the building itself seems custom-built for private decadence. As the lines between bohemian and bourgeois become ever more blurred in Silver Lake, where rents are increasingly unreachable for the young and/or working class, Casa Larissa still carries some of that original, stubborn rejection of the bourgeois lifestyle by the bourgeoisie itself, its warm, cracked plaster walls emanating a distaste for the clean, over-curated consumer lifestyle peddled in the new developments, power yoga studios and over-priced juice shops that have sprung up all around.

Frank went to Casa Larissa for an estate sale — a long-time tenant, Lance Gaylord Klemm, had fallen ill and was moving out, and his sister was selling his furnishings. Klemm, born on July 21, 1945, had been a successful fresco painter and at the end of the working day, he would bring his paint brushes and his imagination home with him. Over the many years he lived there, he turned his his two bedroom apartment into a trompe l’oeil fantasy, painting the ceilings, walls and floors of his home in ornate neoclassical styles, turning each day in to a night at the opera. “I walked in and it was incredible; I had never seen a space like it before,” recalls Frank. Klemm had hung thick red velvet curtains from dusty brass curtain rods; the apartment resembled a set, replete with geometric floors, a vestibule dripping with Chinoiserie, an abundance of urns and peacocks and columns. “Carpe Diem” had been painted above an archway.

The landlord however, wasn’t sure what to do with the heavily customized, idiosyncratic home. Who but Klemm could live in his creation? Frank (who was born thirty-eight years and one night later, on July 22nd), apparently. He saw nothing but inspiration, and rented it. “I was so lucky with my landlord—he is not the Marxist definition of a landlord,” says Frank, “he’s a human being; he always chooses creative people, where a lot of landlords do the opposite. And when he met a young kid who said ‘I love it, don’t change anything’, he said OK great!” Frank moved in the day that Klemm officially moved out, and set about envisaging fresh drama for Klemm’s stage. Where Lance had painted a faux rope on the wall, he installed real rope, as homage. He hung parasols from the ceiling of the Asian vestibule. He had a lampshade custom-made from a gramophone speaker; turned a metal crucible into a planter, and made a coffee table from a stack of colorful vintage suitcases which perfectly match the multi-colored floors. There are African masks, a carved african horse head, masks from the Odd Fellows fraternity and an all seeing eye — things that suggest ritual and ceremony. The ambiance is haute flea market meets Bohemian Grove, a place where magicians and intellectuals and and heart broken lovers and Illuminati might share a Moscow Mule and sigh about Matisse and pretty girls. The work Frank does for his clients, he points out, is nothing like the work he has done at Casa Larissa. In designing his home, he channels Lance Klemm, his silent, but always present, client. “We are in a room right now in which he painted the walls, the floors, and the ceiling,” says Frank, over a Moscow Mule. “He’s hugging us. It’s interesting to have such a close relationship with someone i have never met.” (Klemm passed away in 2009, shortly after Frank moved in.)

As the home took shape, he realized more and more that there is no point in having a stage with no performance.  He looked at Lance’s floors and in his mind, he saw people dancing on them. This place wasn’t supposed to be a museum, it was meant for a feast of friends. So he started hosting dinner parties. The actor/comedian Taylor Negron, who lived in Casa Larissa until his death last year, would often come to them, late.  “He would sashay into the room and hold court, telling stories and everyone would shut up and listen.” The home seemed to draw performances out of its visitors, and Frank, yet again was inspired. “It was always a shame to me that the only way someone could see this house could be by knowing me,” says Frank. “I can’t just walk up to someone and say ‘hey, check out my house’. I wanted to allow more people to experience it.”

So, last year, he launched a monthly series of concerts at his home, contemporary parlor room gatherings that started with a performance by a local female harpist, Cristina Black. The evening was a resounding success, and several more took place in the following months. “Anything that requires a hushed form of concentration, and yet doesn't need a serious opera setting is perfect here.” One night in March, around 100 young people gathered at the apartment to for the fifth party, featuring a performance by surrealist comedy musician Reggie Watts, whose Dada-esque, freeform musical performance style is astounding to behold anywhere, but was especially psychedelic at Casa Larissa. Watts sang and beatboxed in front of a repurposed Panchinko arcade game board that has been turned into a light; young people sat on the floor, on each others’ laps, on the arms of couches, peeking in from the kitchen and from the patio that overlooks the twinkling lights of the facing hillside. Afterwards, a bona fide dance party erupted and one was reminded of the party scene in Antonioni's Blow-Up where Verushka takes a toke of her joint and declares “I *am* in Paris!” 

Case Larissa’ secret concerts have no doorman, no list, no promotion. The events have never been posted online, and there is no Facebook invitation. So far, after five months of concert, no one has broken anything, nothing has gone missing. The people who go to the Casa Larissa secret concerts are friends, and a growing circle of friends of friends.  And of course, the spirit of Lance Klemm, which one hopes is hovering around. “All the world's a stage” was a mantra Klemm lived by.  And now it seems his apartment is too. “The things that some people say after these events are so nice,” says Frank, who says opening his home to music and strangers is one of the best ideas he ever had. “"The people who come to these events say the nicest things.  Folks have actually told me that it's the best time they've ever had in LA.  When someone says something like that to you, well, it makes you want to just keep on doing it."

Timeless Modernism

Edgar Orlaineta, Narcissus, 2002, two LCW chairs (Charles and Ray Eames, 1946, for Hermann Miller, reproduction), steel cables, courtesy Sara Meltzer, New York © Edgar Orlaineta.
Originally published in California Homes magazine, 2016

Dotted with softly swaying palm trees and set against the colossal backdrop of Mount San Jacinto, the little desert city of Palm Springs is known for many things — its wailing cicadas at sunset, its film festival, its golf tournaments, its retirees who mingle happily with Coachella-going Millennials, but perhaps most of all, its world-famous mid-century architecture and design, celebrated each February during Palm Springs Modernism Week.       

When Modernism Week started in 2006, it wasn’t actually a “week”. The niche event, organized by a group of local design and architecture aficionados, was a compact one-day celebration of the city’s renowned mid-century modern architecture, tapping into the mid-2000s rebirth of interest in mid-century “star-chitects” like A. Quincy Jones, Paul R. Williams, Richard Neutra, John Porter Clark and Albert Frey, John Lautner, Wexler & Harrison, Palmer & Krisel, along with builders like Paul Trousdale and the Alexanders. 

Around the same time, Mad Men, which premiered in 2007, began beaming the neat lines of mid-century modern into millions of households around the world, re-establishing names like George Nelson, Eames and Arne Jacobsen in the mainstream vernacular; then Coachella sparked a cultural and real estate boom in Palm Springs. In less than a decade, fueled by both Modernism’s and the city’s renaissance, Palm Springs Modernism Week has grown into an 11-day extravaganza, featuring 240 events, tours, lectures, galas and dinners, for upwards of fifty thousand attendees from all over the world. 

They’ll marvel at Elvis’ “House of Tomorrow” honeymoon hideaway, the famed “Twin Palms” estate of Frank Sinatra, Richard Neutra’s architectural masterpiece, the Kaufmann Desert House, Donald Wexler & Rick Harrison’s Steel Development Houses and E. Stewart Williams’ legendary Twin Palms estate, another former residence of Frank Sinatra — these are time capsules, whose long term upkeep and survival have been ensured by the tireless work of the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, whose efforts are partially funded by the proceeds of Modernism Week. 

Many Modernism attendees are now enhancing their experience by renting private pool homes in the style of (or by) their favorite modernist architects, through Airbnb or increasingly, boutique vacation rental companies. True Modernist vacation rental homes in Palm Springs include “Alexander’s Blue Hawaiian”, “Enclave in the Sun”, “Enjoy Life”, and “The Aperture”, through ACME House Co. (see sidebar). A stay in one of these homes ensures a totally immersive Modernism experience, complete with dry martinis by a glittering private pool.

British film director and modernism aficionado Ben Charles Edwards (who debuted his feature film Set The Thames on Fire at the Palm Springs Film Festival this year, and stayed at an ACME property), likens the Sinatra residence to a Grade 1 listed British castle from 1,000 years past. “From the solid steel rods holding up giant concrete ceilings to the sun holes carved out of these ceilings, it all feels here to stay, never changing, standing strong,” he says. “Much like a castle, these structures are built to last into the future, never needing adaption.” 

For Edwards and other Millennial Modernism aficionados, Modernism represents a timeless philosophy for living, that can be easily be reimagined within the context of a post-modern, some might say post post-modern world … a world some academics are calling the meta-modern.  Brooke Hodge, Palm Springs Art Museum’s new Director of Architecture and Design (appointed in June 2016), will give a lecture as part of Modernism 2017 looking at artists who are “appropriating modernist design icons to create entirely new and evocative pieces, altering the meaning and our perception of the original”. Like Edgar Orlaineta, who takes the iconic Eames chair, dissects it and glues it back together in the shape of a modernist butterfly.

Orlaineta explores the quirky, shadow side of Modernism—because behind the mirage of perfection were pill-popping housewives (also the subject of a lecture at Modernism Week 2017) who sweltered in uninsulated glass boxes in the Palm Springs summer months. Unlike their Brutalist, more heavy set counterparts — like the Elrod house, or Kahn’s Salk Institute — mid-century modern homes were not always built to survive the harsh extremes of the desert.

But for actor and furniture collector Udo Kier — who lives in the converted 1965 Francis F. Crocker Library, designed by Porter Clark and Frey — the occasional downsides to authentic Modernist living in Palm Springs (say, the air conditioning bills) are far outweighed by the joy of living among designs by icons like Arne Jacobsen and Eero Saarinen.“Modernism’s timeless in the way Art Deco is timeless,” he says. “I personally don't think it will ever go out of style. And if it does, I don't care.”

Saoirse Ronan cover for FLAUNT

22 MARCH 2016


The 21-year-old Irish actor is present, with or without a broken finger.

Half an hour into our interview, Irish actor Saoirse Ronan makes a confession—she believes her finger may be broken. The finger in question was hurt in New York this morning during rehearsals for The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s classic witch-hunt drama, in which she plays the chief finger-pointer, ironically. “Sorry if I’m a bit distracted,” she says, displaying the true grit and poise it must require to make charming conversation while nursing what must be an incredibly sore digit.
At only 21-years-old, Ronan is Ireland’s most internationally acclaimed female actor— when you Google “Irish actor,” Ronan is the first living female to be listed, alongside her countrymen Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Peter O’Toole, Colin Farrell, and Jonathan Rhys Myers. She’s the holder of two Oscar nominations, for her performances in last year’s Brooklyn (2015) and Atonement (2007), and her Broadway debut in The Crucible, alongside Ben Whishaw, will see her play the controversial antagonist in one of the 20th century’s most powerful dramas. “Plus it’s my first play; so I’ve been thrown in at the deep end,” she says, adding “it’s been a real learning curve every single day, the amount of stamina you need for theatre, and then to wrap your head around Miller’s meaning. It’s so rewarding.”
She plays Abigail Williams, the girl in Salem, Massachusetts, whose false testimony directly brought about the execution of nearly 20 people for witchcraft in 1692 and lead to the deaths of hundreds more. The drama revolves around a series of devastating false confessions—Ronan says that the key to convincingly portraying characters who are deeply embedded in their lies (like Abigail, or Briony, the character she played inAtonement) is to believe the lies alongside them. “I can’t be objective about it,” she says. “I can’t look at Abigail from the outside, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing a very good job. Abigail’s this very intelligent young girl, who is just very damaged, and she has such a strong will that she sort of starts to believe in all this.”
Long after the Salem witches were hung or buried alive under rocks, their story still has dramatists and historians spellbound. Late playwright Arthur Miller (father-in-law to another great thespian, Daniel Day-Lewis) wrote The Crucible in 1953, presenting the tale as a scathing allegory of the Communist purge that was happening at that time in Hollywood by the House Un-American Activities Committee, destroying the lives of hundreds of left-leaning actors, writers and directors. Miller’s friend, famed director Elia Kazan, had buckled in front of the committee, naming some of his fellow directors as Communist “subversives” in front of the Committee, causing Miller to sever the friendship and inspiring him to take his first visit to Salem to research the witch trials.
The play paints a bleak picture of human society, and provides “real insight into attitudes towards women,” says Ronan, attitudes that exist as much in 2016 as they did in 1692, perhaps. “Whether we are female or male, I think, all of us are very hard on women,” says Ronan. “Today, even when a woman is successful, it’s something you’ve got to be apologetic about; you can’t be too confident. It’s been bred into us a bit.” Whatever gender imbalances exist in our times, Ronan seems poised and willing to explore them head-on, or at least talk about them, with that ever-charming Irish lilt of hers.
Ronan is technically Irish-American—she was born in New York’s Bronx in 1994, an only child, whose Irish parents named her Saoirse (pronounced sur-sha), after the Gaelic word for freedom. Her mother and father (also an actor) moved the family to Ireland when she was three. Like the majority of the Irish population (more than 70%), Ronan was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, with all its frankincense-laced ritual, transubstantiation, and until quite recently, social conservatism— divorce was illegal in Ireland until 1996, homosexuality was outlawed until 1993 (gay marriage is now legal in Ireland), and abortion remains illegal unless the mother’s life is at risk. She went to church every Sunday with her parents, and had a First Communion and Confirmation at age 16. “As a Catholic you grow up believing that there’s an answer for everything, and a reason for everything.” Early on though, she started to question things.
For example, when the time came for her to make her first confession in front of a priest— a rite of passage for all Catholic children— Ronan had doubts. “I was six years old, and I had nothing to confess. I remember all of us kids were like ‘what are we going to say? Do we make something up like, we cheated on our homework or in an exam?’ Even as a kid, I didn’t feel like it was right for us to make up something just for the sake of it. So I said to my mum and dad, ‘I’m not doing it.’ I said no. So I’ve never confessed.”
That forthrightness carried through into her adulthood. And if there’s something on her mind, she doesn’t need a priest or a confessional booth to get it off her chest. She just says what she’s feeling. “A huge part of what I do as an actress is about recognizing emotion, accepting it and bringing it to life,” she says. So emoting is just part and parcel of growing up in an acting family? “Yes, film and theatre people are very open and emotional and lovey with each other,” she says. “That’s the way we are, and I like it. Sometimes. Most of the time.”
Ronan has been acting since she was a child. She had parts on Irish television and narrowly missed out on the part of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, before scoring her first Hollywood film role at age 13 in a rom-com, I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007), playing Michelle Pfeiffer’s daughter. The dialect coach recommended her to director Joe Wright, who cast her alongside Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in his adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement. Her performance as Briony, a vindictive 13-year-old whose false accusation destroys the lives of her sister and lover, earned her the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, making her one of the youngest actors in history to get the nomination. Since then she’s gone on to play a dead girl, in The Lovely Bones (2009), an assassin, in Hanna (2011), and a baker with a birthmark shaped like Mexico for Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), where apparently, she experienced Anderson’s remarkable attention for detail firsthand—it took “several hours” to decide what color socks she was going to wear.
And soon, she will be undertaking her second Ian McEwan adaptation—On Chesil Beachis his novella about a freshly wed couple, both virgins, facing the horror/ecstasy of the honeymoon bed. There are some who say the story is unadaptable, a swirling mass of repressed emotions with relatively little in the way of “action”—in other words, Ronan’s speciality. “On Chesil Beach was something I had wanted to do for years but I wasn’t the right age until recently,” she says. She didn’t audition, but met with the director, Dominic Cooke, and the part was hers. She’s excited to see McEwan again, once shooting begins. “I haven’t seen Ian in years!” she says. “That was another draw for me to the project, we all shared a very special experience when we made Atonement and Ian was so supportive and relaxed about it all. Getting to work on another adaptation of his work is so exciting because I’m a huge fan but also because I just love Ian as a person.”
At 21, Ronan has already lived a dozen lifetimes, through the eyes of her characters. Acting, she says, is a gateway to other lives, a wormhole that connects her with minds and feelings that don’t belong to her. “Even if it’s technically not real, when you’re feeling an experience, and treating an experience as though it’s real, you do learn from that. I think of it as getting to know a new friend, who shares something with me.”
Sometimes, her characters help Ronan deal with what’s going on in her own head. Playing an Irish woman who immigrates to New York in the 1950s for a better life in John Crowley’s Brooklyn forced her to confront her own heart-wrenching homesickness. “I know that it won’t always feel as bad as it does right now,” says Ronan. “But that film really helped me understand what I was going through, because the character was going through the same.”
She could not have been more perfectly cast in the film, a soft nostalgic tale about a young Irish woman who falls in love with an Italian man in Brooklyn. She played the role with captivating sensitivity, resulting in her second Academy nomination, this time for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The homesickness and heartache, it seems, served her well, on screen at least.
There’s a line in Brooklyn where Ronan’s character describes Ireland as “calm, charming, and civilized” while gazing out at a wild, deserted Irish beach—calm, charming, and civilized is perhaps an apt description for Ronan herself, as she navigates the wilds of New York City, with a (possibly) broken finger? “Calm and civilized? Maybe,” she says, as the nurse ushers her off to get x-rayed. “We are definitely very fun. And we’re honest. And yes, maybe we are a little bit charming.”
GUCCI blouse, pants, and shoes, and stylist’s own earrings.
GUCCI shirt and skirt, VERSACE shoes, and vintage Dior earrings.
LOUIS VUITTON dress and vintage Lanvin cuff.
GUCCI shirt and vintage Lanvin cuff.
GUCCI jacket, GIVENCHY dress, LOUIS VUITTON shoes, and stylist’s earrings.

Photographer: Carlos Serrao for Beauty and Photo.

Stylist: Julian Jesus for See Management.

Hair: Matthew Monzon for Jed Root using Kérastase Paris Elixir Ultime.

Makeup: Ayami Nishimura for the Wall Group.

Manicure: Martha Fekete for Bryan Bantry using Chanel Le Vernis.

Set DesignerJames Lear.

Photography Assistants: Amy Ground, Corey Williams, James Slater and Rick Compeau.
Follow Caroline Ryder on Twitter (@carolineryder). She’s prolific, having profiled numerous cover stars for Dazed, Cosmopolitan, and now Flaunt.

David Bailey for HUMANITY magazine

(Story originally published here.)
The quintessential Cockney lad made good, David Bailey was a cheeky working-class tailor’s son when, in 1960, John Parsons, the art director of British Vogue, gave him a contract.
Aged 20, he was the youngest—and boldest—photographer in the history of the magazine, replacing its staid photographs of stiff, upper-class women in pearls with offbeat, playful shots of gamine beauties, his photos of Peggy Moffitt, Jean Shrimpton, and Penelope Tree going on to define London in the 1960s. Famously, Bailey became the inspiration for the rakish, jaded fashion photographer “Thomas” in Antonioni’s 1966 counter-culture classic Blow Up, and like Thomas, Bailey loved many iconic beauties—Jean Shrimpton was 18 when she became Bailey’s girlfriend, and Bailey, then 22, launched her career. He married Catherine Deneuve in 1965, took up with model Penelope Tree in 1972, then married Marie Helvin in 1974. For the last 32 years, he has been happily married; he’s been fortunate, he says, in that his loves have always had minds that match their looks. “Penelope Tree was a feminist,” he says on the phone from London. “And I’ve lived with Catherine Bailey, a feminist, for the last 30 years. I like strong women, and I like strong men.”
In a professional career spanning 58 years, Bailey has trained his eye on much more than fashion, his lens drawn to models, monks and murderers alike. “It’s not my place to make moral judgments,” he says. Two of his subjects, Reg and Ron Kray, for instance, were identical-twin gangsters once described as the most dangerous men in Britain, whom Bailey photographed in the ’60s. He has printed some of those photographs in Bailey’s East End, featuring his famous shot of the Krays each holding a snake, among many more. “The snakes were named after the policemen that were trying to arrest them,” says Bailey. Included are some of his photos from Reggie Kray’s 1965 wedding to 21-year-old Frances Shea—the first wedding Bailey ever shot (the second was much more recent—Jerry Hall’s to Rupert Murdoch). “Reg asked me to do it, and you know … it’s difficult to refuse Reg, and I quite liked him,” says Bailey. Fifteen years before the wedding, the Krays had supposedly slashed Bailey’s father’s face with a razor—wasn’t he angry with them? “No. It wasn’t personal. My dad was a kind of jack the lad, anyway.”
Such was life in Bailey’s East End, a dystopic Cockney bubble where everybody had to “make the best of things in order to survive,” with varying success. Bleach-blonde “Aunt Dollies” (“everyone had an Aunt Dolly,” says Bailey) lightened the mood with their gins and tonics and songs over out-of-tune pub pianos. “East End women didn’t all look like Jean Shrimpton,” says Bailey. Growing up in East Ham, East London, he played among the rubble that remained during the Nazi bombings, bringing home shrapnel. Coming from the bottom of Britain’s rigid class system, there were few life choices available to him. “If you had an accent like mine, you weren’t accepted by society,” he says. “But in the end there were just too many working class to ignore.”
Bailey became part of a tidal wave of Cockney success stories in the 1960s. “Myself, Terry Stamp, Michael Caine, my old mate Mick [Jagger]…Mick was best man to one of my weddings.” As Bailey grew into one of London’s biggest success stories, the eye of the East End remained upon him … and his upon it. There’s no place like home, after all. Once in conversation Reggie said to Bailey, “Dave, I wish I could have done it legit like you.” He thought that was quite an endearing thing to hear, from someone with a violent background.
Monographs, for Bailey, are his way of keeping a journal of his life. The first one he published,  Box of Pin Ups (1965), is extremely valuable now—copies have sold for up to £20,000 at auction. And he’s currently working on two more, to follow Bailey’s East End. One is about tribal headhunters in Nagaland, a state in northeast India; the other he doesn’t want to talk about yet. As long as he continues to build and re-examine his archive, he’ll carry on making books, shooting mostly on film, as he always has. “I’ll shoot digital if I’m jumping out of helicopters in Afghanistan, trying to get quick shots, but that’s it,” he says. “As for Instagram, forget it. I don’t even know what an Instagram filter is.”
Iconic as his photographic oeuvre may be, that’s just one of many ways he explores the world. “Photography is just part of the deal, an instrument,” he says, adding that he likes to make bronze sculptures, and worked on a painting this morning—“it’s of a woman with a pussy and a dick.” He got up early and set up his easel in the back yard of his new home, a converted church in London. “Looks like I’m going to die in a church after all,” he jokes. At least he’ll go to heaven, we point out. “I’m not sure,” he replies. “All the fun people go to the other place.”