Beau Beausoleil

February 28th, 2014

Beau Beausoleil is a San Francisco-based poet and the proprietor of the Great Overland Book Company, which is located in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood. Beausoleil has written more than ten books of poetry. His most recent collection, Ways to Reach the Open Boat, was published by Barley Books, UK in 2013.

Beau Beausoleil at the Great Overland Book Company

In 2007 Beausoleil read an article in The New York Times about a car bombing on al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic bookseller’s street in Bagdad. This incident inspired the creation of the al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition, a project which currently has five distinct components: 130 letterpress printed broadsides; 260 artists’ books; a publication of poetry and prose titled Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here; the coordination of poetry readings around the world each year on the March 5th anniversary of the bombing; and most recently Absence and Presence, a call to 260 printmakers for the creation of fine art prints.

The project involves hundreds of artists who have created work specifically as a response to the 2007 bombing; and extensive local and international exhibition schedules, much of which Beausoleil coordinates himself. Complete editions of the visual art responses will ultimately be donated to the Iraqi National Library in Bagdad.

We met in early February over a cup of tea at Beau’s kitchen table.

Whirligig: What is poetry?

Beau: What is poetry? At one point in my life I stood on the corner of Powell and Geary, it was real close to Union Square not that far from Macy’s, and I had a little box next to me on the ground that had a sign that read “Support your local poet.” I would give out multiple copies of a poem that I had printed out to anyone who would take them. They didn’t know that they were poetry. My secret hope was that some patron would appear out of nowhere with a wallet, but of course that never happened.

I usually made enough to print out the next batch of poems. Some people would avoid me. They would go out into the street thinking that I was handing out a religious tract or a political tract of one kind or another. Some people would take them. I’d see them read them. I’d see them crumple them up after half a block and throw them away. But every now and then something would happen. I remember this one guy who took a poem. I watched him walk down Powell and I could see that he was reading the poem. He got about three quarters down the block. He turned around and walked back to me and said in this agitated voice, “I don’t know what this means, but this one line, that speaks to my life.” That’s poetry.

One time I was part of a group that was visiting Folsom Prison where there was a writer’s workshop. The visitors would read and then the prisoners would read. During the break this guy came up to me and said, “Are you Beau Beausoleil?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Did you have a poem in . . .” and he named this small magazine, and I said, “Yes.” He said. “Did it go like this. . .” and he recited my poem back to me. I was pretty stunned. He said, “I just wanted to tell you that that is the poem that started me writing.” That’s poetry.

Lorca, the Spanish poet, tells a story about duende. Duende is the inexpressible in art, in beauty. It’s there and you can feel it. Some people can recognize it. It’s an important part of the life of any artist who is really at that point. He tells a story to illustrate it.

There was a flamenco contest in this basement in Spain. All these young women are assembled. They are all in their 20s and beautiful. They are getting ready to go on the stage to perform before these three judges. Suddenly the door opens. A woman in her late 50s walks in, walks straight up to the stage, throws her arms in the air and the judges declare the contest over because they could see that she had duende. That’s poetry.

Poetry is something that gives you back part of your own life. It allows you to see your own life in another form, another way. That’s what poetry is.
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Paul Davies

March 10th, 2013

Composer, music educator, and concert pianist Paul Davies recently completed his first full length opera based on the life of Charlotte of Belgium who was Empress Carlota of Mexico during the period in Mexican history known as the French Intervention.

Davies received a Ph.D in music from the University of California at San Diego. He currently teaches composition, music appreciation, music theory, and a course on the Beatles at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California. Davies has also appeared as soloist with the Foothill Wind Ensemble, the Winchester Orchestra, and the South Valley Symphony.

Paul Davies at the piano

Whirligig: You recently completed the writing of an opera, Carlota. What inspired you to write an opera?

Paul: I had been invited to give a talk about my music and present a new composition, an instrumental ensemble piece, at the Ernest Bloch New Music Festival in Newport, Oregon, in July of 1999. I was at one of the festival concerts where another composer premiered a new chamber opera of his when the idea of doing an opera myself flew into my head. I had been thinking of the tragedy of Empress Carlota for quite a few years before this, but never with the idea of doing an opera on the subject.

I suppose another impetus was that I’ve always been fascinated by history and of the possibility of traveling back in time. So doing an opera on Carlota is the closest I’ll ever get to time-travel, so to speak. I realized that my research would involve reading every major book on the subject I could get my hands on and also traveling to Mexico City to visit Chapultepec Castle, where Carlota and the Emperor Maximilian lived during their short reign. I very much looked forward to this.

Whirligig: What path did your research for this project take you on?

Paul: Since I was intent on doing the text myself, I spent a lot of time researching how to do a good libretto, and I also consulted with two dramaturges who gave me much invaluable advice. I analyzed quite a few librettos to gain further insight. Also, I came across very interesting photographs of the time period. I remember being at the library of San Diego State University and finding a photograph of the moment Maximilian and Carlota enter Mexico City in June of 1864.

Every time I read about an historical event, there’s always at the back of my mind this very small sense of myth, a sense of maybe what I’m reading about didn’t happen since I wasn’t there to actually see it. It’s not that I don’t believe the event happened, or that the historical figure in question never existed, It’s just that tiny feeling of “unreality” since I didn’t experience it myself. But when I saw this photograph I almost jumped and said to myself, “Wow, this really did happen.” I get the same kind of feeling when I look at a life mask of Beethoven, or some other figure for whom the only visual representations are idealized paintings. If I hadn’t been a composer, I probably would have been an historian.

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Diane Cassidy

October 13th, 2012

Diane Cassidy After Manet's dejeuner sur L'herbe

Bay Area photographer and artist Diane Cassidy celebrates her 82nd birthday this month with the showing of a new series of photographs at the annual San Francisco Altered Barbie show, and the launch of her first website. Cassidy studied photography at San Jose State University in the late 1980’s, and continues to take classes with respected photographers through various peninsula venues. A monograph of Cassidy’s work is scheduled for publication by Hunger Button Books in 2013.

Whirligig: How did you come to be an artist?

Diane: For me, becoming an artist was an indulgence. Throughout my formative years I was equally interested in making art and natural science. An unfortunate marriage ending in divorce left me, at a very early age, completely responsible for myself and my two children.

My first plan in preparing myself for a well-paying job was to get a degree in Art Education. Being young and impatient, I just couldn’t tolerate the necessary Mickey Mouse curricula; those how to educate courses were so so boring. I had trouble staying awake. One day while conversing with fellow classmates I learned that with a degree in a related science I could qualify for an internship in Medical Technology. I made the switch. How I relished those difficult chemistry and physics classes. A welcome relief.

During my 20 year stint as a Medical Technologist I was always taking art classes and workshops. Art was my hobby. Then one day in the 70’s while on vacation I stopped at the Script’s Institute. I noticed some images of shore life displayed on their walls that I really liked. Upon asking I learned that they were hi-contrast photographs. Thus began my foray into photography.

One day I attended a photo workshop in portraiture with Margo Davis at the Palo Alto Cultural Center. While she went over her bio she mentioned that though she had a BA in French from San Jose State, she returned to get a MA in photography. I had gotten a BA in Biology from San Jose State years ago; maybe I could return to get a MA in photography. Which I did. I retired as early as I could from Valley Medical Center and concentrated on photography in earnest.
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Lisa Hochstein

July 10th, 2012

Lisa Hochstein, Wrap 2Lisa Hochstein is a Santa Cruz, California-based artist who works in collage, painting and fiber arts.

She recently curated the exhibition Earth • Science • Art for the R. Blitzer Gallery in Santa Cruz. The exhibition paired 16 scientists from the USGS Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center with 16 Bay Area and Santa Cruz artists.

Hochstein has a BFA in painting from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Whirligig: What is art?

Lisa: My answer to that depends on whether I am in the role of artist or of audience. As someone who creates objects, art making is a response I have to the world’s bumping up against my awareness. Making art feels very instinctual though I can’t completely explain why I feel drawn to this particular activity. It has always seemed a little strange to me—that awareness leads to a desire to make something. When I am in my studio, my frame of mind is one of openness and curiosity and a certain amount of discontent or unease. Each piece grows from a combination of feelings, ideas, memories, associations and formal considerations, plus elements of chance and luck that I always hope to be awake to. I regain some kind of equilibrium through my work, but it’s not just about that. I also want to be surprised by what I’m doing.

Lisa Hochstein, Origins When I’m in the role of audience, I take in someone else’s work and want it to transfer some of that initial response/art-making impulse from its maker to me. As a viewer I also look for something I recognize as much as I look to be surprised. Elegance, honesty, technical skill, originality, narrative truth and aesthetic truth are some of the touchstones for deciding whether I regard something as art or creative output, which strike me as different from each other. There is a lot of creative work that may be artistic but not what I would call art. For me, something that is awkward and raw can be art while something beautiful and harmonious can easily fall into a creative-but-not-art category. Art needs to sing. Read the rest of this entry »

Valerie Raps

October 27th, 2011

Valerie Raps sculpture

Bay Area artist Valerie Raps recently completed a public art commission for the Alum Rock History Corridor Project.

Cultivating Community is a life-size, stylized spring tooth harrow created from fabricated steel and cast bronze. The tines of the harrow are made from casting the arms of ten San Jose community members. The sculpture is located at Tropicana Shopping Center in East San Jose.

Raps has a MFA from San Jose State University and a MA in Holistic Counseling from JFK University. She is also the Resident Curator of Art Ark Gallery in San Jose.

Whirligig: You recently completed a commission for a sculpture for the Tropicana Shopping Center. Tell us about this project.

Valerie: The project was commissioned by the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs in collaboration with Don Imwalle, who is the property owner of the northeast corner of Tropicana Shopping Center on King and Story Roads in San Jose.

About three years ago the city put out a call for participation for submissions to be part of an artists catalogue. They selected 30 out of 300 applicants for this catalogue which was then made available to developers who build commercial and residential spaces. I was one of three artists to present proposals for a public art project for the Tropicana Shopping Center. The site is part of a larger project called the Alum Rock Cultural History Corridor, an area in East San Jose which has pinpointed several locations for public funds to commenorate the rich and diverse history of the area.
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